Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Years and upcoming Journey to Israel-Palestine

For once, I will not be getting intoxicated this New Year's Eve. That is because early tomorrow morning, at 10:46am, I will be boarding a flight for Tel Aviv, beginning a ten-day educational trip to Israel-Palestine with the Olive Tree Initiative.

It will have been exactly a decade since I last set foot in the region.

The circumstances on the ground will have drastically changed, as has the nature of my trip.

In my last journey, made during the dying days of the Second Intifada, I encountered a nation locked down under the (purely) psychological siege of suicide bombers and ready to brutally retaliate against the "existential threat" of Palestinian militancy, whether from the secular Fatah or religious Hamas.

Today, with most of the "Separation Barrier" (or "Security Fence," per Israel, completed), Israelis not only are freer from violence than they have ever been in their state's tumultuous history but they have become ever more detached from the troubles of the Occupation. The experience of the Intifada, however, continues to embitter many, even on the Left, towards Palestinian nationalism. As a result, the silent majority of Jewish Israel cares about doing nothing to change the status quo.

On a personal level, my political orientation has changed from Zionist to non-Zionist in the course of time.

Since I traveled with a Jewish Day School on my last trip, I was naturally immersed in a traditional Zionist milieu. We traveled only to sites associated with Jewish history (e.g. Jerusalem, Masada, the Palmach Museum), avoiding even rest stops in Palestinian towns. The maps we received showed an "Israel" that encompassed towns like Hebron and Schehem, from the river to the sea...

This trip, I will be traveling with a Conflict education group, dedicate to equal exposure of both sides. In the course of 10 days, I will traverse Israel-Palestine, warts and all, from the Separation Barrier to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Western Wall to the Golan Heights.

Through it all, I hope to gain first-hand observations that can substantiate (or challenge?) the nuanced positions that I have acquired through years of research on the subject.

I hope everyone has a happy New Year and hope to have lots to discuss on my return.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Los Angeles' New York moment

I was inspired to write this post while waiting for Lyft requests at 2am in the late-night, on Tuesday (technically Wednesday). More accurately, I was parked on the corner of La Brea Avenue and First street in the number of Miracle Mile watching, to my surprise, a rather steady cascade of cars pass by.

 This was no traffic jam for sure,but rather a steady flow of traffic that indicated, if anything, that even on this odd hour on a weeknight, life was happening.

This, in turn, brought to mind the Halloween weekend, on which Beverly Blvd backed up for over a mile, from La Cienaga Blvd. to Doheny Drive. For most of the two point five miles that I drove, from around Highland Avenue to Doheny, traffic moved at a snail's pace. Meanwhile sidewalks, at every stretch of the journey, teemed with costumed-clad many walking, as waiting for a car.

For eons, Los Angeles has been ridiculed as a subpar exemplar of a Global metropolis. Huxley's quip about  "Nineteen suburbs in search of a city" captures the perceived lack of urban contiguity and, indeed, cosmopolitanism, quite wittily.

However, lately, the city has accrued a remarkable degree of cosmopolitan urbanism that can be seen almost as a coming of age.

Part of this has come in the form of a diversified, respectable food culture (with Los Angeles recently being named the best food city in America). The sophisticated theater and arts scene in this once-named "city of plastic" have also drawn acclaim.

But perhaps the biggest boon to Los Angeles' status as a city has come in the form of an increasingly concentrated population.
 It is no longer a secret that Los Angeles is one of the five densest cities in the country (if not the densest, depending on the measure you use).LA boasts a concentration of people and events that once associated with cities like NEW YOrk.
Moreover, this density appears to be considerably concentrated, particularly focusing on what one USC grad student calls a "Santa Monica-Wilshire corridor" stretching linerly across the central LA basin.
True, there are significant job clusters beyond this confined space, in parts of the San Fernando Valley and the South Bay, for instance. Residential development spreads out much farther apace.
However, even the different job cores are relatively close together and culture and entertainment are concentrated even more tightly.
LA's public transit infrastructure is notoriously undeveloped. Less well-known is the fact that Los Angeles roads are also woefully outdated, lacking the width or the surface structure necessary to support the millions of automobilesthat traverse them daily.
Then again, the near ubiquity of automobile ownership in Los Angeles is another problem requiring desparate attention.
In any case, if Los Angeles, is to truly shine as the next New York, it must do or die. Policy makers should seize the moment to more forcefully advocate smart growth strategies such as, expanding public transport and improving walkability. In this way, they can tailor the city's growth to the new realities.