IV. Simulated Cityscapes
After the riots of 1992, architects set out to build City Walk, one in a series of contained entertainment centers that would pop up around the city’s more affluent areas. Chris Welsch of The Star Tribune writes, “MCA, Inc. built a two-block-long outdoor city, a place where tourists and Los Angelenos would feel safe, where they would not have to deal with panhandlers, drive-by shootings, knife fights, or any other urban hassles.” In his City of Quartz, Davis is eager to point out that violence, especially gang-related, very rarely occurred across ethnic, socioeconomic, and community lines. But the fantasy of gang warfare was now part of the Los Angeles image. This image was propagated by the likes of Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors, and by the lyrics of rap artists who either romanticized or participated in the rampant gang warfare that began to bring southern Los Angeles to its knees. People who had never set foot in the famed Compton began to discuss that neighborhood’s warring gangs, the Bloods and Crips, as though they were a common feature of any Southern California neighborhood.
Welsch continues, “As diners enjoy sushi or gourmet pizza, the rumble of explosions and distant gunfire can be heard. Not real danger, though. It’s manufactured for tourists in Universal Studios theme park nearby.” True danger, in the form of “gangsters and rowdy teens,” is deterred by a $6 parking fee and City Walk’s tight security.
The creators of City Walk tried especially hard to make sure that visitors were able to enjoy all the pleasures of Los Angeles in this simulacrum of a city. One store went so far as to install an artificial ocean, where a constant crowd of watchers can peer into the enclosed tank in order to observe as “small waves splash against the wall.” Sections of the city began to fossilize their boundaries, preferring to be trapped inside glass-encased environments, like snakes at a zoo.
City Walk emerges out of a cultural psychology that Thomas Pynchon seems to lampoon in the California novel, Vineland. One character wishes to start an amusement park with “automatic-weapon firing ranges, paramilitary fantasy adventures, gift shops and food courts and videogames for kids.” A game called Scum of the City would give all visitors the chance “to wipe from the world images of assorted urban undesirables, including pimps, perverts, drug dealers, and muggers, all carefully multiracial so as to offend everybody, in an environment of dark alleys, lurid neon, and piped-in saxophone music.”