What’s your favorite city?

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That’s Oaxaca, as seen from Monte Alban, which, for the sake of argument, and because I love it, I named as my favorite city Monday night. I was starting, and didn’t want to choose a place that would be the same as anyone else’s favorite at the Eurocentric table.

I was the only non-architect, designer or architectural historian at the table, too. I clinked my glass and began the game, citing the great colonial Mexican city I used often to visit when in graduate school for its beauty and its zocalo, the central square where everyone in town comes to stroll each night.

Then Liz, an architect, said London, where she lived for years as a student, for its walkable charm and historic fabric. Phoebe, an architect, said Paris, — where, hey, she lived as a student. Martin, a movie designer, said Tivoli, north of Rome, where he studied Hadrian’s Villa. Stefanos, an architect, said Rome, where he also studied. Gloria, an urbanist and author, said, with glee, “Cities in general! New York! Everywhere! They’re sexy!” She recalled the joy Minneapolis brought when as a rural Wisconsin girl she would visit with her family. Leon, an architect, said Lucca, the Tuscan town famous for its Renaissance walls.

What’s your favorite city in the world, and why? What could we learn from it here?

Leon Krier vs. the Pasadena Center

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Iconoclastic Luxembourgian urban planner and critic Leon Krier – best-known to Americans as “Prince Charles’ architect” — spoke at the Pasadena Center Monday night, weighing in against what local architect Stefanos Polyzoides, his host in town, called in an introduction “the kind of architecture that has given us entertainment rather than the human scale.”

Immediately on beginning his talk, Krier declined to let relatively preservationist Pasadena off the hook: “I have visited here before, and I wondered why these awful buildings were springing up in this wonderful city and on its geography. … The major cause of this derailment is the fear of backwardness, of not being in the avant-garde. But in fact most of humanity could never be at the front lines in the battle — we would all be killed.”

After drinks and dinner across the street in the Paseo Colorado after his talk, a group of us were walking along the north side of Green Street. I nodded toward the new Pasadena Convention Center buildings across the street, surrounding the Bennett & Haskell Civic Auditorium, which many have praised as at least trying to be respectful of the classic Civic, unlike the ’70s carbuncles — to use Charles’ favorite phrase about London atrocities — they replaced.

Krier merely shuddered and looked away. “An abomination,” someone else said. Krier nodded. “As the last ones were replaced within 30 years, so will these be.”

It’s not easy, being on the leading edge of the true avant-garde.

A classic kneeboard, handmade

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Photo credit: James Duck

On my annual November birthday San Onofre surfing safari on which I’m always lucky enough to be accompanied by a crew of great surfers and campers from up and down California, Pierre Smith this year brought along a short board crafted 40 years ago by his dad, Caltech English professor and Master of Student Houses David Smith.

You know Pierre from his guitar work in El Vez and Human Hands . His late father, more than a mere Conrad scholar, was a classic gray-bearded longboarder I grew up watching surf at Sano in the ’60s. We never got this beauty wet during the three-day weekend, so it served as more of a mascot for the trip — but Pierre rode it at Point Dume this summer and it reportedly works great.

Celebrating Learning Works

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Learning Works Charter School out on light-industrial Daisy at Walnut in Pasadena has an extraordinarily clear target group of students: drop-outs. Since being approved by the PUSD board last year as the district’s fifth charter, it now has over 200 students — kids in the ultimate at-risk group. Many are parents. Many have had lots of run-ins with the law. Many are recruited back into the groves of academe by young people just out of school themselves whose stories are much the same. Monday night Learning Works director Mikala Rahn had a bunch of people by to celebrate success, including school board member Renatta Cooper, above, and to hear talks by Homeboy Industries’ founder Father Greg Boyle, S.J., and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino. Also in the crowd: state Sen. Carol Liu; former school board member Mike Babcock and his wife Carole; Pasadena Community Foundation Exec Director Jennifer Duvall; former school board member Marge Wyatt and her husband Joe.

Harbour Surf Day ’09

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A bunch of us guys (plus two women) who ride Rich Harbour’s surfboards out of Seal Beach got together Saturday at Bolsa Chica to celebrate Rich’s 50th year shaping boards. A lot of them are on view above. The waves were overhead, closing out: not exactly made for my 9’11” Sano cruiser model, so I stayed dry. But I won’t be dry much at all at San Onofre this Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so see you in the lineup at Old Man’s …

Within the vale of Annandale

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Staff Photographer Walt Mancini took this shot of the 20 acres of Annandale Canyon in the Linda Vista Hills in far west Pasadena that last week were formally dedicated in perpetuity to open space.

He’d been having a hard time getting a shot that truly showed the whole, wild canyon, and as he was leaving the ceremony he was visiting with a nearby homeowner who lives above the canyon and who offered his house as the best place to get the definitive shot.

The news photo that ended up running in the paper showed the electeds and activists who had gathered at the classic ribbon-cutting ceremony, which took place on the open graded area in the middle distance of the photo. (It’s a lot owned by former John Muir and now NBA basketball player Stacey Augmon; wonder if he’ll build there to retire to a view after this, his 15th year in the league?) Newspaper photos are biased toward, and properly so, shots with people in them; but it’s nice to see exactly what is being saved in the deal worked out with the former owner, who was going to build a bunch of luxury homes there. Pretty steep territory, but a trail will go down the steep canyon bottom someday …

No waiting — step right up and vote!

When I went to my polling place, the Linda Vista fire station, this morning at 8:20 to vote, the combined precincts there were staffed by eight election workers.

But after the polls had been opened already for an hour and 20 minutes, poll worker Bill Denzell informed me that I was the sixth person to have shown up.

More poll workers than actual voters.

Admittedly, there is just one race on the ballot — the PCC Board of Trustees Area 1 contest between incumbent Geoff Baum and PCC student Steven Gibson.

Not exactly Obama-Palin, er, McCain.

Still and all — Pasadenans are always going on about their love for their city college. What could be more important than deciding on a crucial leadership issue at the college?
Where is the love, people? Where are the votes?

Polls stay open until 8. Take those election officials away from their novels and newsapers and give them something democratic to do.