Like most employees of AHBE Landscape Architects, I ride public transportation to get to and from work. Riding public transportation in Los Angeles can feel like an act of defiance against the dominant automobile culture. The protective bubble of autonomy and self-determination that accompanies driving a car is dissolved when riding the train. Sharing destinations and overlapping zones of personal space are a few of the trade-offs one makes for the economy and reduced environmental footprint associated with riding public transportation. The train also offers a dramatically different experience of moving through the landscape of Los Angeles.
My daily route is on the Metro Blue Line train, beginning from the Willow Station in Long Beach traveling to the 7th Street/Metro Center station in Downtown Los Angeles. Based on the direction the train is traveling (northbound or southbound), the direction of the car (north or south), and the position an individual stands within the car (facing east or west), there are eight ways to ride the Blue Line train. In the morning, I prefer to ride facing north while sitting nearest the east facing window. The sun is behind me, and the San Gabriel Mountains are in front of me. Crossing over the Los Angeles River, I enjoy watching black-necked stilts fish along the edges of the low flow channel, and I occasionally spot great blue herons and snowy egrets along the soft bottom section of Compton Creek (a tributary of the Los Angeles River).
However, the most picturesque view to be seen from all eight various riding positions on the train comes into focus near the Slauson Station, where the train car is elevated about 25’ above street level. From here the view’s fore, middle, and background vibrates with visual interest. The San Gabriel Mountains (sometimes snowcapped) form a backdrop to the industrial landscape of Vernon – neat piles of wrecked cars and towers of wood shipping crates – our city’s version of the ox carts and windmills that once littered the paintings of 17th century Dutch landscape and cityscape artists’ works. Anchoring the foreground of this particular view near the Slauson Station is a caricaturization of a television with the hand lettered message “UNN PLUG IT NOW,” an unexpectedly resonant statement most likely rendered with spray cans under the cover of dark.
If I travel southbound after dark, the ride always feels claustrophobic. The landscape is compressed into silhouettes and the dark outlines are disrupted by sharply detailed views into the private lives of people living along the Blue Line route. If I’m fortunate enough to get to the top floor of the Willow Station parking garage before dark, I’m rewarded with a striking view. The parapet walls of the garage act as a horizontal framing device, blocking out the pedestrian landscape and directing the eye toward the distant landscape of Downtown Long Beach and the hills of Palos Verdes, with the mellowed light and soft focus of the rosy atmosphere framing a pleasing return back into my private car and a return to my private life.