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Los Angeles: A Tale of Two Ecologies

The late architecture critic Reyner Banham and social historian Mike Davis had opposing viewpoints regarding Los Angeles' ecology, but in many ways their disparate takes complemented each other, writes urban planner Jonathan P. Bell.
July 24, 2015, 10am PDT | melaniecj
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Over time, the definition of ecology has broadened beyond the natural sciences' definition, enabling urban theorists to tap into the science to examine city life in new ways.

Two key figures in the ecological study of Los Angeles were the late architecture critic Reyner Banham and social historian Mike Davis, who examined the city's ecologies from opposing viewpoints, writes Jonathan P. Bell, an urban planner.

Banham had a benign view of the suburban sprawl surrounding Los Angeles, while Davis, concerned about the effects of uncontrolled growth, offered a more critical take on the spread, says Bell. For example, Banham saw the development of the foothill communities as inevitable due to rapid growth. Davis was more cautious and concerned, seeing foothill development as a danger to the city’s already vulnerable natural environment, Bell writes.

While their perspectives differed dramatically, the manifestos of both Banham and Davis fit together to offer a fuller picture of Los Angeles’ urban ecology.

According to Bell: "Abstracting and adopting another term from the natural sciences, one sees symbiosis between Davis’ and Banham’s ecologies. The Architecture of Four Ecologies and the Ecology of Fear are two sides of the same “ecological coin,” so to speak. They complement each other in that one provides a counterpoint to the other. Thus, each of Banham’s benevolent Four Ecologies has a darker, perhaps more realistic side according to Davis. Read together, Banham and Davis’ ecological analyses provide the reader a holistic, sobering, and revealing alternative history of Los Angeles."

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Published on Thursday, July 23, 2015 in UrbDeZine
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