A rereading of “City of Quartz” by the recently departed Mike Davis is necessary to appreciate how brilliant it is, with insights dripping from every page, delivered in writing that is beautiful in its smoldering anger.
Who else could convey, by invoking the metaphor of the hellish Eastern Front of the Second World War, the reality of the class war behind the debate over public toilets?
“Public toilets…are the real Eastern Front of the Downtown War on the poor. Los Angeles, as a matter of deliberate policy, have fewer available public lavatories than any major North American city. On the advice of the Los Angeles Police Department…the Community Redevelopment Agency bulldozed the remaining public toilet on Skid Row. Agency planners then agonized for months over whether to include a ‘free-standing public toilet’ in their design for South Park. As CRA Chairman Jim Wood later admitted, the decision not to include the toilet was a ‘policy decision and not a design decision. The CRA Down prefers the solution of ‘quasi-public restrooms—which can be made available to tourists and office workers while being denied to vagrants and other unsuitables.”
Who else could better capture the anti-community, elitist elan of the LAPD?
“Technology helped insulate this paranoid esprit de corps. In doing so, it virtually established a new epistemology of policing, where technologized surveillance and response supplanted the traditional patrolman’s intimate ‘folk’ knowledge of specific communities…As reformed in the early 1950’s…the LAPD was intended to be incorruptible because unapproachable, a ‘few good men’ doing battle with a fundamentally evil city…[a police marked by] prudish alienation from a citizenry composed of fools, degenerates, and psychopaths.”
Every great city deserves its clear-eyed, hard-nosed, and bloody-minded Marxist chronicler. Los Angeles was fortunate to have its Mike Davis. Manila, Bangkok, Lagos, Mumbai and other great cities await theirs.