Van Nuys (b. 1911) began as a town, centered around a main street, connected to Los Angeles by streetcar and rail.
It built its fire station, library, city hall, police station, and its churches, schools, shops and post office steps apart. On foot, a person could buy a suit, take out a library book, mail a letter, and walk to school.
Come to think of it they still can. But it was all there in downtown Van Nuys.
Today you might stand outside the LAPD Van Nuys Station and smoke a joint, drink a can of beer, pee against a wall and nobody would raise an eyebrow.
The librarian, the cop, the priest, the attorney, they would walk past you and shrug their shoulders and mutter, “What can I do?”
We are so tolerant these days. Everything degrading is welcomed, while everything worthwhile is rare, expensive or extinct.
Surrounded by orange and walnut groves, the growing town nonetheless managed to provide safe, civilized and opportune situations for its newly arrived residents with affordable housing, subsidized by low interest government backed loans after WWII.
And plentiful, well-paying jobs. Imagine that!
Somehow it was lost after 1945. The enormous shopping centers robbed Van Nuys of its clientele. The street widenings turned boulevards into raceways and the village feel was destroyed. Factories closed, banks shrunk, stores fled, and crime settled here to afflict, rob, disable and kill.
Why does Van Nuys flounder, while all around it other cities like Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and sections of Los Angeles, like North Hollywood, Studio City, Mid-City and Highland Park flourish?
A journalist from Curbed LA called me yesterday. He is writing an article about Van Nuys and wanted to talk.
I mentioned many things that I wish were changed here, from road diets to better housing, from cleaner streets to more law enforcement for illegal dumping.
But I also told him that so much of our political leadership is devoted to working on problems like prostitution, rather than building a coalition of architects, designers, investors, and planners who could build up Van Nuys and make it, once again, a coherent, safe, stimulating, and pleasant place to live and work.
I know what’s bad here. But what about making it good? Where are our dreams? Why can’t we be as artistic as our studios, as wild in our imaginations as our writers, directors, cinematographers, animators, and designers?
Why isn’t the whole energy of creative Los Angeles devoted to overcoming our civic afflictions?
The deadest and more depressing areas of Van Nuys are closest to the Orange Line, which is also a good thing. Because this is where Van Nuys should work to build new, experimental, and innovative housing and commercial buildings.
From Kester to Hazeltine, north of Oxnard, the “Civic Center” district contains an empty post office, vacated stores, underutilized buildings, and dystopian spaces of concrete, homelessness, garbage, and withering neglect.
The pedestrian mall on Erwin, south of the Valley Municipal Building and surrounded by the Superior Court, the library and police station, is a civic disgrace.
Ironically, all the law enforcement, all the government agencies, all the power that resides in Van Nuys….. presides over the ruins of it.
Meanwhile up in Portland, OR.
On Dezeen, there are posts about new, infill buildings in Portland, OR and Japan where the general level of architecture and design far outpaces Van Nuys. These are sophisticated, modern, but humble structures with ideas for living.
Look at these and imagine how, perhaps 25 new ones, could transform Van Nuys.
In the midst of our wasteland, we need to go back to working to demanding the best for Van Nuys, rather than accepting squalor and mediocrity.