Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Watts Riots 1965

The Watts Riots of 1965 was a reaction against racism and segregation that lasted for 5 days from August 11 - August 15. The Riots started when police officers pulled over a car driven by an African-American man under the pretenses of drunk driving. A crowd began to grow around the officers, and in response they called for backup. This led to a series of events which ended with five days of rioting, looting, and vandalism.

Obviously the tensions that started the rioting and looting stem deeper than someone being arrested for drunk driving. Considering Watts had been suffering long before as a result of high unemployment, high rates of crime, poor maintenance and public transportation, etc., its no surprise that so much violence eventually occurred (especially considering the major reason for Watts' condition was racism). If anything, the initial premise of the riots is inconsequential: the tensions building up to the riots could have easily occurred before or after the starting incident.

The amount of damage caused by the Watts Riots stands as one of many testaments to the consequences of racism. However, how do we progress from such violence? Considering the Rodney King riots of 1994 and even the current Occupy movement, what lessons were not learned from the Watts example?

As such, I will be focusing much of my research on what happened before and after the Watts Riots rather than during. What lead to the Watts Riots, and how did the area rebuild? What was efficient at diffusing the tension, and what caused it? In the next post, I will be answering these questions and more, so keep checking for an update!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What is a Public Space?

In the last post I talked about how Santa Monica Pier acts as a public space. However, what exactly is a public space?

A public space can be described as any place that promotes social interaction by welcoming all members of the community regardless of class or ethnicity. The space should be easy to access and should be safe without prohibiting or preventing people from entering. Additionally, the interests of the overall public should be represented in the public space. Obviously, the public may not agree as to how the space can best serve the community. In such a case, a resolution in which the majority of the public is left satisfied should be reached.

Public spaces should be as welcoming to the public as possible. Therefore, things such as proper facilities, public performances, benches (if outdoors), etc. should be included. There would be no purpose to a public space if it did not attract people to the area.

The problem of safety versus accessibility should also be addressed in a way that satisfies the majority of the public. There have been some instances where, in the interest of safety, certain citizens have been excluded from using a public space. For example, charging people to use a public space would exclude lower class residents from making use of the area. Rather than exclude these citizens, a more effective way to maintain safety while simultaneously welcoming all members of the public would be to hire public security to patrol the area. In fact, such security could even be a part of the attraction of a space.

Recent events have called into question the legitimacy of some public spaces and how "public" they truly are. Specifically, the Occupy movement has sparked debate as to whether or not protesters truly have the right to "occupy" spaces that are considered public. Many protesters have been arrested for occupying spaces that were / are considered public, including those in OccupyLA (which I witnessed firsthand). To my readers, I ask what your opinion is of the issue. Please note that I am only asking for your opinion as to whether or not the protesters have a right to the space; I would like to avoid any political arguments about the 99% versus the 1%. I simply find the debate over the rights of people to public spaces both interesting and relevant.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Santa Monica Pier

If you ask someone what the essential image of the California Dream is, you will most likely get a response that involves "sunny beaches". To this end, the Santa Monica Pier seems like the quintessential place for the California Dream. As a public space, the pier has done much to be inviting to the general populace as is evident by its history.

The pier was first opened to the public in 1909. Since its inception, the pier has undergone various transformations, such as the addition of an amusement park in 1916 and a yacht harbor in 1933 (for more information about the various additions / transformations, click here). What's interesting is that the property on which the pier was located was owned privately until it was sold to the city in the early 1970's. When the pier was in threat of being destroyed in favor of building a man-made island resort, the public responded with discontent, eventually causing the plans to be scrapped.

What I find interesting about this bit of history of Santa Monica Pier is the fact that the public felt so strongly about the issue of the resort that they were able to prevent the change from happening. Furthermore, it seems that the Pier has always striven to attract a wide range of people. That is, there doesn't appear to be discrimination against any specific ethnic group or class. From firsthand experience, as well as some reviews which I believe confirm my observation, I believe the pier is truly a public space - that it does not try to exclude any one group of people.

My opinions on the beach as a public space will change as I research more, but for now I would like to ask to any readers your opinions of Santa Monica Pier as a public space. Do you believe the space is truly welcoming to all? If not, why? Any sort of firsthand experiences of visiting the pier would also be appreciated!