Although we started with overcast skies, today the weather was mostly clear and sunny. I am hoping that this clarity coupled with the nine weeks of reading about LA, preparing presentations and listening to a series of boring lectures I delivered on the city and the themes of the trip will mean that it all began to make sense today. Fieldwork is about trying to ground complex ideas in concrete, if confusing reality.
Our day comprised of tours of a number of areas of the LA to get a sense of the scale and complexity of an urban space that many are now holding up as the model that other global cities are following. After giving the students 30 minutes to mark the route on their maps (not that all of them managed to – see below), we set out for Beverly Hills.
In Beverly Hills I wanted the students to do something that the environment is not really designed to allow –to walk. Security patrols, warning signs, CCTV, the lack of sidewalks and various forms of defensive architecture, make this extremely wealthy area unwelcoming to non-residents. When we visit other areas of the city more renowned for imparting fear and discomfort, the sense of being out of place in this extremely wealthy area will be placed into a different context. Sadly however the walking route that I had planned was completely closed off and we had to make do with a driving tour of the plush residential streets. I think they got the idea though.
Leaving Beverly Hills we travelled towards poorer areas of the city, skirting around the top of South Central LA. This section of the day gives the students a real sense of just how close to one another extreme wealth and extreme poverty are in this city. It was also set up to give an idea of the ways in which different neighbourhoods and districts in the city express themselves in terms of architecture and iconography. This is a remarkably diverse city culturally, socially, economically and aesthetically.
We took lunch at the Farmers Market in Hollywood and then headed up to the Hollywood Hills to take in views of the San Fernando Valley. It was at a viewpoint overlooking the valley that I pondered my teaching technique on the pre-trip module – when asked what area they were looking at, the answers were not what I expected: Seattle, San Francisco, South Central, Orange County were some notable ones.
We then travelled along Mulholland Drive to overlook Los Angeles again from a viewing area above the Hollywood Bowl. Here, the students made a field sketch of the city. The object of this exercise was to get them to think more deeply about what being a field working geographer means and some of the problems and possibilities afforded by that position. I hope it worked. This is not, as you’ll see from the examples below, about accurate representation, but about the limitations of the classic geographers’ view from a high place.
One regular feature of the trip is that students are asked to be navigators. Ella T was the first lead navigator today and did a great job. She was the one that was able to navigate a different route through Beverly Hills when we had to abandon the walking tour. Dan H was the first navigator in the second van and ‘on the ball’ according to Catherine. Giulia was apparently brilliant in Martin’s van too. The afternoon navigators were not however a match. Shay used the ESP method of navigation which consisted of not actually using a map or using a map on which there was no route marked. Nadia had also failed to mark the route on her map although this might not be the reason that Catherine got lost coming out of the Farmers’ Market. Katie, Martin’s navigator was another with a route-less map, but apparently knew where she was going.
We’re off to Orange County tomorrow. Let’s hope they know where that is.