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A View of L.A.: Beneath the City's Gloss, a Rotting Underbelly

September 10, 1996

From the preface to "Rethinking Los Angeles," edited by Michael Dear, H. Eric Schockman and Greg Hise:

The Los Angeles region is increasingly being held up as a prototype (for good or ill) of our collective urban future. Yet it is probably the least understood, most under-studied major city in the United States of America. Very few people beyond the boundaries of Southern California have an accurate appreciation of what the region is, who lives there and what it does.

Instead, popular perceptions rely on the exaggerated images promulgated by television and movies, and print media predictions of the impending Southern California apocalypse. . . . Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" evoked a futuristic metropolis of perpetual darkness, a polyglot inferno of high-tech crime. But Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" captures the reality more accurately: a superficial gloss of striking beauty, glowing light and pastel hues, which together conspire to conceal a hideous culture of malice, mistrust and mutiny.

Casual observers, visitors and residents alike, catch little of the city's underbelly. They are instead persuaded by the glossy, utopian images of the burgeoning World City--a collage of prosperity, fantasy and play: the corporate glitter of a downtown citadel; the sunshine, surf and mountains; the city as a giant agglomeration of theme parks.

Beneath such images is a cityscape more reminiscent of a Third World nation, a dystopia that is increasingly polarized between haves and have-nots, where neighborhoods increasingly resemble combat zones as warring gangs struggle for turf supremacy. Here, the air, earth and water are perpetually being poisoned. Here, public responsibility for basic human services, including shelter, education and health care are being abdicated.

The origins of this book lie directly in the events of April and May of 1992, when some of the worst unrest in American urban history transformed Los Angeles into a fire zone.

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