Opting Public / by Johnson Favaro

 
INVESTMENT IN COMMUNITY Why would a city and its taxpayers go to the trouble to build a community center— a building that will never generate a profit nor even pay for itself?

INVESTMENT IN COMMUNITY Why would a city and its taxpayers go to the trouble to build a community center— a building that will never generate a profit nor even pay for itself?

On the UCLA campus in Boelter Hall, the engineering building, there is a room that has been converted into a small museum.  It was once a research lab led by Professor  Leonard Kleinrock where the first “e-mail” was sent across an electronic communications system (then known as ARPANET, now known as the internet) in 1969 between UCLA in Los Angeles, CA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Palo Alto, CA. As a practical application of his team’s seminal research in the fields of computer science and electronic communications, this was the first of that which became a messaging system among colleagues within the academic world, a modest, quick and easy way to share research among peers working at a distance. 

INVESTMENT IN THE ACADEMY Professor Kleinrock and his colleagues at UCLA and Stanford Research Institute invested their time and our public dollars in research that ultimately led to a revolution in communications and transformation of our economies world-wide.

INVESTMENT IN THE ACADEMY Professor Kleinrock and his colleagues at UCLA and Stanford Research Institute invested their time and our public dollars in research that ultimately led to a revolution in communications and transformation of our economies world-wide.

PRIVATE ENTERPRISE BUILT ON PUBLIC INVESTMENT The communications revolution was popularized, monetized and advanced by highly motivated and highly performing individual entrepreneurs.

PRIVATE ENTERPRISE BUILT ON PUBLIC INVESTMENT The communications revolution was popularized, monetized and advanced by highly motivated and highly performing individual entrepreneurs.

Thirty years later, the internet became available to everyone. It got commercialized and popularized as the “world wide web”. Websites were created, dotcom became a thing, we got the cell phone and apps and all that.  Start-ups became big tech, the world changed.  “Making the world a better place” was often the stated motive and profit was the incentive. And since 1995 in the fields of computer science and digital technology both the motive and the incentive have driven innovation ever since.

INVESTMENT IN SCIENCE American taxpayers funded the mostly unglamorous work of over 400,000 people who together put a man on the moon and returned him to earth.

INVESTMENT IN SCIENCE American taxpayers funded the mostly unglamorous work of over 400,000 people who together put a man on the moon and returned him to earth.

INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE Steve Johnson’s father, a mechanical engineer, worked at NASA in the 1960S on the Saturn program — the precursor to the Apollo program. Above: Steve (second from left) and family at Cape Canaveral Florida; Below: Steve’s father in the control room (third from left).

INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE Steve Johnson’s father, a mechanical engineer, worked at NASA in the 1960S on the Saturn program — the precursor to the Apollo program. Above: Steve (second from left) and family at Cape Canaveral Florida; Below: Steve’s father in the control room (third from left).

ENTREPRENEURS TAKE ON SPACE TRAVEL Neither Musk, Branson nor Bezos (top to bottom) invented space travel, nor its associated technologies nor anything close to it. They are personalities, figureheads, building businesses that rely on the experience of scientists and engineers whose knowledge was built on the foundation of years of public investment that preceded them.

ENTREPRENEURS TAKE ON SPACE TRAVEL Neither Musk, Branson nor Bezos (top to bottom) invented space travel, nor its associated technologies nor anything close to it. They are personalities, figureheads, building businesses that rely on the experience of scientists and engineers whose knowledge was built on the foundation of years of public investment that preceded them.

But all that innovation—the appearance, dissemination and now ubiquity of so called “high-tech” (or “smart technology” driven forward, we are led to believe, by smart people) was preceded by a century of behind-the-scenes, blind alley wandering, fits-and-starts enduring, plodding and grinding, incremental innovation driven forward mostly by the desire to expand the boundaries of scientific and technological understanding and knowledge. At places like UCLA, a public university, and Stanford, a private university with lots of post war federal funding, the foundations laid for all that came later.

INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE The federal government funded the transcontinental railroad and its expansion into a nation wide system. Railroad entrepreneurs then built business empires based on that infrastructure (Above: the transcontinental railroad under construction; Below: clockwise from upper left: Leland Stanford, Walter H Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie).

INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE The federal government funded the transcontinental railroad and its expansion into a nation wide system. Railroad entrepreneurs then built business empires based on that infrastructure (Above: the transcontinental railroad under construction; Below: clockwise from upper left: Leland Stanford, Walter H Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie).

IT’S NOT THE TECHNOLOGY, STUPID Elon Musk and his team at Hyperloop (the technology of which is at least 200 years old) don’t get that the challenges of a transportation system are less technological then they are societal, governmental and political. The challenges facing the bullet train aren’t flawed technology, but rather logistical having mostly to do with property ownership and civil engineering.

IT’S NOT THE TECHNOLOGY, STUPID Elon Musk and his team at Hyperloop (the technology of which is at least 200 years old) don’t get that the challenges of a transportation system are less technological then they are societal, governmental and political. The challenges facing the bullet train aren’t flawed technology, but rather logistical having mostly to do with property ownership and civil engineering.

Earlier in the 1960s over 400,000 people employed either directly by the federal government or by companies contracted with the federal government worked individually and in teams to rocket a man to the moon and back. It was a heavy lift. It was expensive, paid for by the American taxpayer, not at all a sure bet.  At government’s highest levels it was perhaps primarily motivated politically and ideologically (to best the communists), but the dividends since then have more than made up for the initial investments. The technology now firmly established the private sector (with typical fanfare bordering as always on hubris) has taken up the task of commercializing and popularizing space travel, once again ostensibly “for the sake of mankind” and justly to make money.

INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION The wisdom of the Americans from the founding of the colonies has been an on-going and consistent investment in public education. This more than anything has fueled our quality of life, the prosperity of our economy and our seemingly endless ability to remake ourselves. (Above: Boston Latin Public School the first public school in America established in 1645; Below: The Los Angeles Unified School District serves 750,000 students at 1,000 schools across 750 square miles).

INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION The wisdom of the Americans from the founding of the colonies has been an on-going and consistent investment in public education. This more than anything has fueled our quality of life, the prosperity of our economy and our seemingly endless ability to remake ourselves. (Above: Boston Latin Public School the first public school in America established in 1645; Below: The Los Angeles Unified School District serves 750,000 students at 1,000 schools across 750 square miles).

This is an American story and not a new one. Abraham Lincoln got Congress to pay private companies to build the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s and expand the railroad system which in turn spawned the railroad industry, “civilized the west” and enriched highly performing and motivated individuals (of which Leland Stanford was one).  Taxpayers paid for roads and highways in the 1950s then, while General Motors, Ford and Chrysler thrived.  (Sometimes it worked in reverse: In the early 20th century Andrew Carnegie paid for hundreds of libraries across the country, while local governments ran them. And, in the early mid-century health care in America started out as a entirely private affair, led by innovative companies like Kaiser Steel--whose empire was built on America’s investment in WWII-- but now seems headed toward a public system, optional or otherwise). We now mostly honor innovation but never in this country has innovation occurred without the systemic framework of public investment.

INVESTMENT IN LIBRARIES One of two buildings first built on the UCLA campus almost one hundred years ago, Powell Library — like every library on every university campus in America — has been at the heart of the university ever since. Over the years that followed it expanded into a system of 10 libraries serving specialized communities across campus.

INVESTMENT IN LIBRARIES One of two buildings first built on the UCLA campus almost one hundred years ago, Powell Library — like every library on every university campus in America — has been at the heart of the university ever since. Over the years that followed it expanded into a system of 10 libraries serving specialized communities across campus.

RE-INVESTMENT IN LIBRARIES Young Research Library, a mid-century bunker of a building, is the largest library on the UCLA campus. It requires some work to bring it to life, to become a place that’s more integrated into the life of the campus, a place where people want to be.

RE-INVESTMENT IN LIBRARIES Young Research Library, a mid-century bunker of a building, is the largest library on the UCLA campus. It requires some work to bring it to life, to become a place that’s more integrated into the life of the campus, a place where people want to be.

NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD LIBRARY The traditional idea of a great reading room such as that which can be found at Powell is here transformed into a glass membrane embedded in landscape and filled with light.

NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD LIBRARY The traditional idea of a great reading room such as that which can be found at Powell is here transformed into a glass membrane embedded in landscape and filled with light.

Around 1980 we began to believe that innovation was an entirely individual thing, that we didn’t need the supporting framework of public investment (“government is the problem not the solution”).  All we needed were highly motivated, highly performing, incentive seeking individuals and a “free” market to push innovation. We could do it all on our own and the market would make it so. This, we now know, is not supported by the evidence. Not even Bill Gates (who certainly made a profit off years of prior public investment) believes it to be entirely true especially in areas where he has focused his philanthropy — such as education and healthcare. (Although his billions are a mere drop in the bucket compared to what we as the public could invest and in turn achieve).

INVESTMENT IN SCHOOLS The LAUSD is so large with so many campuses that it by necessity engages in a perpetual building and rebuilding enterprise, renewing campuses on an equitable basis continuously over time throughout its sprawling service area. (Above: campus redevelopment with new classroom building at Canyon Charter School, a public school in an affluent neighborhood in Rustic Canyon between Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

INVESTMENT IN SCHOOLS The LAUSD is so large with so many campuses that it by necessity engages in a perpetual building and rebuilding enterprise, renewing campuses on an equitable basis continuously over time throughout its sprawling service area. (Above: campus redevelopment with new classroom building at Canyon Charter School, a public school in an affluent neighborhood in Rustic Canyon between Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

As architects, how many individuals have we met through our work with government agencies—counties, cities, school districts—who do what they do because quietly and without much monetary incentive they want to make the world a better place?  How much innovative thinking within local government and school systems have we witnessed where the only incentives are wanting to do a better job?  How seemingly thankless is the job of a librarian or a teacher who must know but rarely gets to directly experience the influence of their work?  And yet, how many times have we heard from a tech billionaire or a prize-winning author that it was the local librarian or that special teacher that changed their lives?

INVESTMENT IN SOCIAL SPACE La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills, CA will soon reside less than ¼ mile from a major subway stop of the Los Angeles metropolitan subway system connecting downtown to Westwood. This will engender increased pressures on land development, land values and put a premium on open space. Open spaces in cities are vital for unstructured social interactions that strengthen the fabric of our communities.

INVESTMENT IN SOCIAL SPACE La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills, CA will soon reside less than ¼ mile from a major subway stop of the Los Angeles metropolitan subway system connecting downtown to Westwood. This will engender increased pressures on land development, land values and put a premium on open space. Open spaces in cities are vital for unstructured social interactions that strengthen the fabric of our communities.

INTEGRATION OF COMMUNITY The complex of recreation and community facilities planned for the redevelopment of La Cienega park will put in one place an array of activities so broad and so rich in social interaction that the place will become another center of life for the Beverly Hills community apart and distinct from its shopping district, performing arts center or even civic center. (Above top to bottom: aquatics, community center, recreation center, tennis center).

INTEGRATION OF COMMUNITY The complex of recreation and community facilities planned for the redevelopment of La Cienega park will put in one place an array of activities so broad and so rich in social interaction that the place will become another center of life for the Beverly Hills community apart and distinct from its shopping district, performing arts center or even civic center. (Above top to bottom: aquatics, community center, recreation center, tennis center).

There are some systems—our social infrastructure—where the rules of the market do not apply, where unceremoniously and without celebrity innovation lives, free of market incentive, and where nevertheless, the foundations are laid for markets to thrive, where our society and our economy are made possible. Our systems of public education—our schools and libraries, our network of community, civic and cultural institutions—are perhaps foremost among them.  If architecture is a way to both reflect and enable our priorities as a society, then it is for this reason that we as architects have opted to do what we do and chosen with whom we do it. What is architecture as an art form if not, after all, mostly public?

WHY COMMUNITY This community center in Rancho Palos Verdes will never yield a profit, it will probably never pay for itself and yet dividends yielded to the community will benefit generations to come.

WHY COMMUNITY This community center in Rancho Palos Verdes will never yield a profit, it will probably never pay for itself and yet dividends yielded to the community will benefit generations to come.