Heavy Trash takes on gated communities in the States by building public access ‘viewing platforms’.
In April of this year, arts collective Heavy Trash deposited three bright orange viewing platforms in front of three Los Angeles gated communities: Brentwood Circle, Park La Brea and Laughlin Park. The platforms are intended to draw attention to the growing phenomenon of gated communities where the Haves can lock themselves away from the Have-Nots in our society. According to Setha Low, a professor at the City University of New York, there are now more than 1 million homes behind such walls in the greater Los Angeles area alone.
Heavy Trash intend the platforms to call attention to the walls of gated communities and provide visual access to parts of the city that have been cut off from public use. They also profer a replacement solution for the fear and loathing in society. According to their blog, Heavy Trash advocates:
Unrestricted pedestrian access. Since it is difficult to commit a property crime in Los Angeles without a car, unrestricted pedestrian access could be provided to all gated communities. This would return the parks, streets and sidewalks that have been removed from the public realm back to the residents of Los Angeles.
Investment in public infrastructure. Encourage investment in public infrastructure — like parks, streets, sidewalks and schools — by restoring local control over property tax revenues, essentially fixing the unintended consequences of Proposition 13.
“More eyes on the street.” Amend zoning code to encourage more mixed-use residential neighborhoods with 24-hour activity. Legalize second units (“Granny Flats”) in single-family homes. Both of these actions would put more people outside during the normal course of a day, and nothing works quite as well to make neighborhoods safer, friendlier and livelier.
Gated communities and other examples of the rich barracading themselves off from society are hardly a new phenomenon. As Mike Davis wrote in the seminal City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles back in 1990,
The dire predictions of Richard Nixon’s 1969 National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence have been tragically fulfilled: we live in ‘fortress cities’, brutally divided between ‘fortified cells’ of affluent society and ‘places of terror’ where the police battle the criminalized poor … The old liberal paradigm of social control, attempting to balance repression with reform, has long been superseded by a rhetoric of social warfare that calculates the interests of the urban poor and the middle classes as zero-sum game. In cities like Los Angeles, on the bad edge of postmodernity, one observes an unprecedented tendency to merge urban design, architecture and the police apparatus into a single, comprehensive security effort.
For me, Davis’s dystopian vision of a city that repels its poor is typified in the ‘bum proof bench’ – a bench that it is impossible to sleep on without rolling off.