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How to make the city shine / What would finally civilize
L.A.?

Build a plaza, please

December 26, 2007|HEATHER HAVRILEVSKY | Heather Havrilevsky is TV critic for Salon.com.

When I first arrived in Los Angeles from San Francisco, I was tired of bitter beer and bitter coffee and bitter hipsters sneering over their copies of "Might" magazine. I relished the big shopping malls and massive cineplexes and themed restaurants, all symbols of the Southland's unabashed, unironic overindulgence.

But over the years, I've developed a distaste for the fact that almost all of L.A.'s public spaces are commercial spaces, like the Grove, Paseo Colorado and other glorified outdoor malls. We congregate in spaces designed not for citizens but for consumers.

Yes, there's Griffith Park. But I'm not talking about grass and trees. I'm talking about urban, public spaces, like the massive, open square I visited in San Sebastian, Spain. There, adults sat and sipped beers or red wine while kids ran screaming through the square. Did the parents pay $8 a head for the privilege of entering this urban Gymboree? No. Did they even once shout, "Don't run!" or, "Use words, not fists!"? No. They sat there, obliviously sipping delicious Pilsners and nibbling aged cheeses.

That's when I realized I don't want to stand shoulder to shoulder with shoppers watching water shoot into the air to the strains of Shakira while my kid fiddles with the latest iPod in the Apple store. No, I want my child to scrape her knees across unforgiving cobblestones while I feast on cured meats and a nice glass of Rioja. Doesn't everyone? Isn't that the American dream?

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