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LA's Big, Complicated Infrastructure Causes Big, Complicated Problems

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The broken water main geysers keep gushing in Los Angeles--nearly 50 since September 1. Landscape architect Chris Reed diagnoses our infrastructure problem over at Design Observer: "Initiatives to extend, expand and upgrade these infrastructures have failed — in part due to the fiercely independent character of the populations that have settled here and who resist comprehensive planning; in part due to the fact that actual decision-making occurs on a more localized level and at a very quick pace...Exacerbating these challenges, public funds for such initiatives — long scarce — have dwindled dramatically in recent months, due to national recession and California’s prolonged budget crisis." That comes from a review of The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles, a book of essays edited by former SCI-Arc faculty member Kazys Varnelis, that scrutinizes LA as a function of its impossible-seeming infrastructure.

And all the money and political and planning problems are so crucial because we have enormous amounts of infrastructure. Reed lists, "Roads, freeways, rail corridors, ports; electric lines, gas lines, oil lines, communication lines; imported water for drinking, for cleaning, for treating waste, for irrigating crops: each system built according to its own independent logic, then overlaid on a landscape — and an increasingly complex urban terrain — to maximize efficiency, to maximize flows. Through time, these infrastructures have snaked over and under and across one another, with expanding regional and continental and sometimes global reach." It starts to look pretty incredible that it all works most of the time.

Reed's observation about the Lane Barden photographs throughout the book, which portray "the river (the Los Angeles River), the street (Wilshire Boulevard), and the trench (the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority’s rail and truckway)," gives an idea of how thorough our infrastructure is and how invisible it can become when you live here: "At first glance, it’s even difficult to distinguish one [location] from the other, since all are laced with power lines, bridges, channels, roadways and rail corridors, and surrounded by subdivisions, warehouses, distribution hubs, glass-skinned buildings, parking lots and automobiles."
· The Infrastructural City [Design Observer]
· 2 water mains break - in LA, Orange County [KPCC]