Tag Archives: cycling

The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space on the Lower East Side

The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space is amazing. Its very existence, its declaration of ongoing resistance against gentrification and displacement, and the many wonderful urban spaces to be found on the Lower East Side. A testament to all those who have fought to build community and to preserve it in that face of brutal development pressures driven by the commodification of land.

Ah, the Lower East Side…

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For so long it was only known to me through Neil Smith’s work, his descriptions of the battles over Tompkins Square Park and a vibrancy in the squatting/camping/we-will-not-be-moved-from-these-spaces organising that I always found so inspiring.

I saw it on the map, saw this museum marked there and so we headed that way after the inspiration of Harlem — where better to go?

Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space

As a living history of urban activism, the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) chronicles the East Village community’s history of grassroots action. It celebrates the local activists who transformed abandoned spaces and vacant lots into vibrant community spaces and gardens. Many of these innovative, sustainable concepts and designs have since spread out to the rest of the city and beyond.

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We wandered through the small museum staffed by volunteers — hardly a museum, a wonderful community space of two rooms, one ground floor and the basement where a video is running. The walls of both are lined with pictures and stories of the people who squatted these buildings to create and save housing, transformed vacant lots into vibrant gardens and community spaces, developed movements to push for political will in support of bicycles over cars, as well as cycling lanes, bike racks and respect. This building itself was squatted, which is how this place can exist at all. Every community should have such an accessible shopfront space telling such important stories, with people wandering in and out.

I got a birthday present there! The Architecture of Change , edited by Jerilou Hammett and Maggie Wrigley, an amazing collection of 36 articles from DESIGNER/builder magazine describing movement and struggle around space, design, art, architecture, education and justice (so far, I am only a quarter of the way through) around the country. I opened it up and within the first few pages found a picture of the Vilchis brothers lounging around Boyle heights which made me so happy.

I was less happy that the article failed to mention Union de Vecinos, co-founded by Leonardo and one of the grassroots organisations in LA that I love and admire most. Opportunity lost, they have so much to teach. Ah well.

Tompkins Square Park is still a cool public space full of life and people (though perhaps too much concrete), a very different one than Smith described if I remember rightly (but so much bigger than I was expecting! So maybe my memory is faulty…but still closes at midnight, so no one is welcome to sleep here). And look, Charlie Parker Place.

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A public park alongside a medley of community gardens, they are everywhere, and I was truly smitten. Especially after reading the love and fierce resistance it took to first build and then keep them.

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I wish we’d have had more time here to see some of the other radical spots here, but we were heading over to Williamsburg to meet my cousin. We had a quick walk to the metro — and a quick stop in Bluestockings bookstore on the way. I sent them a lot of emails in my PM Press days, and their amazing selection did not disappoint. Two of the books I’ve worked on under Postcolonial Fiction (!) by Gary Phillips and James Kilgore — seeing that is such a pleasure:

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On the way — Joe Strummer saying know your rights:

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Housing co-ops:

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Such cool city streets and a wealth of things to see and places to eat (omg the best pastrami sandwiches ever at Harry and Ida’s Meat & Supply Co), we loved this place:

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New YorkAnd finally, a wonderful map of the radical spaces of the Lower East Side produce by the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space — I wish we had had more time to explore! Get the pdf here.

 

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Under the bridge, same L.A. river

I’m still impossibly sad. So this is reflecting on past glories. We headed east from Frogtown on Monday. Frogtown will get its very own post because it’s such an amazing place, but today it is the river. A piece of it, because there was too much.Here is one of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful places I’ve encountered in L.A., and one that actually scared me. You are always being watched here. And no one can hear you scream.But enough of the melodramatics, I respectfully took no pictures of the watchers, so let me show you the amazing and incredible bridge.

This is the outside, but it has unguessed depths, and that’s where you are being watched from. More of my people with nowhere else to go but the depths and darkness.

The ground is littered with spray cans and strange sculptures of rocks and wood piled high on top of each other. The world of graf artists and those seeking some kind of home coming together.

And the cars, I don’t know how they got down here, or when.

I love twisted pieces of rusted metal, I find them…beautiful. I think beautiful is the right word. But it’s a dark, jagged, decaying beauty of sharp lines and curves and deep shadows.

And the combination of rusted twisted metal, architecture, nature, and graffiti? Stunning.

The graffiti was incredible, I have to go back. You could spend days I imagine, documenting some of the tags, and a sunny day would be better. But I love rivers as much as dark places, and the river has nothing of the bridge’s enclosed creepiness, with all of the characters.

The view looking out from the caves was incredible too, if you like mazes of concrete and bridges and freeways

I do. And to turn this place into a home? Someone had tied up things all along the fence. If I were a believer I would say this was brujeria, a witchcraft protection or warning, a wrapping of potent charms in black plastic bundled with flowers and wrapped in yellow cord and shoelace.

I’m not much of a believer at any rate. This guy was just fun.

From here we headed further east, even though that required cutting cross country. But more on that later…Save

Los Angeles River, part 1

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful river delta.

And now it is LA. The river flooded its (natural) banks and mocked the mighty city for the last time in 1938. The flood killed good citizens (must have been white and wealthy given the kerfuffle that followed) and led to the recall of a corrupt mayor (I have to look into that story a bit more, sounds like a good one…). Many would say that building a massive city in the middle of a flood plain is just not a good idea. But the army corps of engineers decided to take the river on, and I do believe they won.

It is now a long line of cement wells, a giant drainage ditch running from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro. And it is still beautiful, but a different sort of beauty. There are remnants of natural beauty of course, birds still abound here, there are islands of trees and long grasses. But it is all full of garbage, and the beauty rather heartbreaking in its proximity to ugliness.

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Still, it’s a nice place to sit, relax, think about what once was, with all the comfort of home.

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And the graffiti, the graffiti is incredible. It’s enough to make you love concrete and wide open fucked up spaces…And I do love this place

On Sunday we headed west from Frogtown, down towards the zoo and Burbank. Above are the old pylons that carried the red cars, another memory of LA’s catastrophic environmental policies…we scrapped them all in return for freeways. Who needs good public transportation anyway? Or a river. Still, the youth have reclaimed them and turned them into something very cool and particularly their own. And while I don’t care much for clowns, these two were pretty spectacular.

And I suppose biking down a path that runs directly beside a very busy freeway isn’t the best possible thing for your lungs, but the views are pretty sweet…

We biked, and hauled our bikes under the bridges when we had too, some of the most interesting stuff is down there anyway, I love this one

And I also love the fact that someone has a sense of humor

The “heroin addicts can’t spell” definitely made me laugh, as did “what if my parents saw me?” just to the left of it. And I love stencils, especially ones that make you pause for a minute and think…I love this one:

The bridges are a riot of color underneath, a mix of art and gang graffiti and tags and stupid shit, all on top of each other. Everything is covered. Here’s a taste of it, along with a glimpse of our hot rides…

But it’s also the dark side of LA, the place where people live who have nowhere else to go. Sets me raging of course, that we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet cannot take care of our people. Ah capitalism… In fact, for all of our bridges, we don’t have enough of them to serve as shelters for the 70,000+ homeless in LA County. Though they are the shelter that exists, especially when it rains. The number of available beds does not even cover a fraction of the need. People live on the islands in the middle in blanket forts like the ones I made when I was a kid, and here…and what they leave behind them is always tragic, makes this sort of adventure smell much worse than it should, and is sometimes humorous. Often all of them at the same time.

A belt, a pair of boxers, and…er…it really pays not to look too closely at these things.

Love and hate, I love and hate this place as always. I would recommend you take a look, but definitely not alone.

Alleys of East downtown Los Angeles

Every now and then people ask me what I do for fun…I enjoy life quite thoroughly and I could knock out a long list, but today I’ll just look at one…riding my bike through the garbage-filled alleys of downtown L.A. and taking pictures. And writing about it. I believe I am allllmost alone in this, which is why Jose is one of my favourite friends.

Riding through this sort of place is not so fun on your own. I don’t mind the smells, or the rats of course (though I do sometimes worry about the bubonic plague, people still die of it every year in Arizona)…the east side of downtown is industrial, it holds the remnants of skid row and  sweatshops. Its alleys are the city’s margins where everything is swept to keep it out of sight and out of mind, to me they are a strange beauty curled around a dangerous sliver, they are all that is fucked under urban capitalism and the bright face of rebellion against it. They are full of rats, syringes, deals, desperation, drunkenness, art like you’ve never seen it before.

Don’t get me wrong, I like nature too. But there is something about it here…

We went down an alley alongside a burned out garment factory, stark brick and charcoal against the sky

As I was taking pictures two men came up to us, one white and one black, the same hollowed cheeks, dull eyes, brittle frames. They were arguing, voices rasp-edged and angry. They came closer, voices smoothing into friendly calm, they said that the fire had started in the blanket warehouse and spread, an electrical problem. They said they did not beg, they would sing. And they did. And it was beautiful, perfect harmony, perfect rhythm, clearly the fruit of long practice. We gave them some money, Jose mocked me for enjoying it too obviously, and then we passed them again on our way out, their voices rough with edges anew.

We passed rottng fruit, and a shrine to la virgen in a triangular parking garage hung with last years Christmas decorations, we passed shops full of cheap clothes, vendors selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon and tiny live turtles. We passed people hurrying home. We passed a sweatshop awning for a label once called Affluence…but the Affluence had been scraped off and it’s ghost painted over with Shanna K. Beside it was the label Felicity and the alley in front strewn with trash. We passed L.A. Babe…

We passed the extraordinary row of shops that sell everything you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta

There are fashions in pinatas, superheroes come in and out of style, barbie is replaced by bratz, seasonal variations mean Frankentein and green faced witches are followed by santa claus, there are usually huge corona bottles that can only be for adults…I would admit I would have a great deal of fun swinging blindfolded at a pinata once again.

We found an alley guarded by its own figurehead, or screaming a warning

I suppose if Jose hadn’t been there this just might have scared me a very little bit. From here we reached a couple alleys full of the most extraordinary graffitti art I’ve seen in some time, worth stepping into rotting garbage with my flipflopped foot, and fending off the advances of a very drunk Indian (see what I mean about the importance of traveling companions!).

and this

and this

And it got darker and darker and so we went faster and faster. We passed more solitary walkers in the dusk, more working girls, we passed this place

There are some dive bars even I won’t go into, and this is right up there with el Chubasco. We ended up at Olvera Street and hung out and looked around and ate, and then back home. I made Jose come back through the Terminator tunnel because I wanted to take pictures of that, but all of the damn lights were working! I don’t believe I have ever seen that. Ever. Perhaps that alone was worth taking a picture. But I love it when all the lights are off, when the tiles shine with the reflections from the white of headlights, the red of brakelights, the green of the semaforos. But not tonight. So we rode past the long line of homeless folks already sleeping.

And two last images to finish, this of amazing skill and art and terror

and this:

A face of suffering or sleep or resignation somehow emerging unbidden from a painted-over, tagged-up street sign. This world is full of such awful, terrible, beautiful things.

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street art graffiti art and art etc.

I’ve gotten over myself finally and am almost back to sunniness…and I’m sitting here pleasantly tired, think I biked over 10 miles today, almost bit it too, made me happy about the small things in life like a face, and no broken bones of course. Some stupid city official felt it necessary to cut a square out of the road about 1X3 feet and I’d say a good 6 inches deep…hitting that at high speed on a road bike almost brought on a strong attack of religion. As I flew I swear I prayed, but I hit the ground safely though my front wheel isn’t so happy…That was in South Central off course.

Anyways, I’m back to things I love about LA because I’m leaving I’m leaving I’m leaving (I’m singing this, I’d like to write a ska tune about it, with lots of horns and a mellow reggae section in the middle). I believe this is graffitti, though I could be wrong, somehow, though, I don’t belive it is a city comissioned art piece though it’s kept up…

I like it though, it’s just around the corner from the Morrison Hotel on Pico. I suppose when the building finally sells it will get painted over. These two are from Pico Union, but Selena has definitely seen much better days

She used to be directly opposite from a mural of Princess Diana…I always wondered what exactly Lady Di was doing in the heart of the largest Central American population outside of Central America…she did get painted over years ago, and I still regret that I never got a shot of her. But they have painted this mural which is beautiful

I shan’t get started on the war or who exactly are the Americans fighting it, they’re all recruited from this neighborhood though, fucking recruitment centers in high schools, immoral is what it is.

And art etc? Check this thing out

What is it?? I have no idea…it looks like one of the forts I built with my brothers back in the day…much nicer though, we didn’t have access to that kind of material. I like building forts, how long has it been since I built a blanket fort in the middle of the living room? Might be fun to do, I’d take in a bottle of wine, lots of pillows and a couple of good novels and just chill…

Anyways, here’s my contribution, a little still life

Bet that kid is sad he ever forgot his toys and let me get my hands on them! Hope he comes back to collect them, nothing sadder than toys ownerless and unplayed with!