Arguably the most important book written about Los Angeles in the last four decades—and easily the most controversial—City of Quartz is about to turn 25.
Another capacity crowd gathered in Oxy's Choi Auditorium to hear an architectural critic, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles, an art historian and a literary expert assess how well Mike Davis’s landmark book City of Quartz—with its polemical, darkly dystopian vision of Los Angeles—holds up 25 years later.
Remarkably well, agreed the panel assembled by Los Angeles Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne for the third session in the Third Los Angeles series. While Davis declined to participate in person, Occidental students read excerpts from his email exchanges with Hawthorne that showed the author is as acerbic and insightful as ever.
Davis’ thesis that Los Angeles had become an ever-expanding megalopolis has been disproven, and his take on Fortress LA and the LAPD now come across as somewhat dated, said Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin. “But the power of his insight and ideas have changed the trajectory of the region in a positive way,” said deputy mayor Rick Cole ’78. “That his worst predictions didn’t come true is a profound validation of his thesis.”
City of Quartz’s concept of the pseudo-public sphere still exists, albeit in modified form, argued Amy Lyford, professor of art history and visual arts at Occidental. “I think of the branded malls like the Americana [in Glendale], the Paseo Colorado [in Pasadena] and everything that’s happening around the Staples Center … It’s not the Fortress L.A. as Mike Davis described it – it’s a kind of soft, gentle, happy fortress of consumption.”
The panel agreed there’s a still a need for the kind of trenchant analysis that Davis said began when he worked as a tour bus driver and decided to write his own script. In his email exchange with Hawthorne, Davis rattled off a long list of issues that demand our attention, from the inequities of the current system or property taxation to the failure of our drought-stricken region to capture stormwater runoff.