What a Good City Is: Analysis of Charles Ravine


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In the year 1949, a photographer happened upon a small closely-tied community comprised of mainly Mexican-American residents. The small village like settlement according to the video, was located upon a hill that happened to have an overlooking view of downtown Los Angeles. Don Normark, (the photographer) who was absolutely mesmerized by what he saw decided to capture the small community in a series of photographs, little did he know that his photographs were about to be last know physical memories these families had of their home.

The year following Don Normark’s arrival, the city council of L. A had voted to evict and pay each of the three hundred families of Chavez Ravine a fair market value for each of their homes, and had also promised the families to be among the first to be able to get a home within the new low-income public housing projects that had planned to built over top their previous settlement. However business outside forces such as, the real estate lobby had saw an opportunity to do something greater and better in their eyes and decided to frame the man leading the project, Frank Wilkinson, of being an agent of communism and the backlash had caused a downward spiral leading the city to reel back and fold to sell the land to the owner of the Dodgers who in-turned turned the land into what is known today as the Dodgers stadium. The conflicting problem that this video seems to have is an underlying argument of this notion of what a good city is or what happens to constitute a good city.

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In the video, the residents who appeared in it expressed an understanding of a good city being something of which that did not involve how much money one had earned or had in their bank or pockets, but one of which only mattered if you enjoyed your environment and enjoyed where you grew up and felt a sense of belonging and being safe. Never being scared of anyone because you are all one big family. The residents then felt as if their own government had betrayed them, the thought of their families needing to break up was a mythical or something that was not real to think of. The thought of betrayal and the notion of being used slowly started to creep in as the families returned from war only to find out they had been uprooted and must leave, being told that they were going to get the first pick of the crop when it comes to housing in that area being built. Frank Wilkinson was the man who lead the project on this, the government had granted him 110 million dollars in order to create and maintain the successful vison of these housing projects being built or in other words, the governments version of the good city. According to the short film, Frank believed he was doing something great, it would have helped made L. A look absolutely beautiful and at the same time help the lives of those he perceived to be struggling and having a very hard time getting by. He had little to no knowledge knowing despite their poverty the families did enjoy their lives very much and was very happy. The government’s intentions in this case same to be pure and unmaliciously trying to help with the actual intent of doing good for the people in order to help them do well in the process. The government had been working on the projects for months, they had plans in place to make schools, churches, parks and other resources to help the families who would be moving in to have a much easier time at everything, and the most updated equipment to help further them. The original plan was to build 10, 000 units of public housing, and the people of Chavez Ravine had certificates saying they would get first crack at the homes, but that never happened. Frank Wilkinson was publicly shamed in what he called the worst tragedy of his life which also kick-started the campaign to take the Ravine away from the idea of public housing and moved it into the light of private ownership and property, all while the original residents of Chavez Ravine was still under this guise or notion they would still get a home and be able to see their friends and families again. The events leading up to this was, said land owner wanted to 100, 000 for the land at the time and the Government did not want to comply with that then led into a fierce battle for property and lawyers had attacked from both sides, however no lower attacked so bold like the lawyer the private parties had, he had confronted Frank with a question that he chose not to answer and that later led the conspiracy that Frank was a communist and in-turn was completely discredited and eliminated from the project. Private entrepreneur and mogul who owned the Dodgers had picked up the land for about a fraction of what the original asking price was, with no intention of ever looking to help those people from Chavez Ravine, a Good City to them meant nothing. Money was the only good city, and they later began construction on Dodgers Stadium. The residents of Chavez Ravine were mortified by these events but could not do anything. Furthermore, there was no real need to build the stadium over profits and motive. Leaving the residents high and dry with fake attempts at reconciliation such as plant stems and half-hearted apologies. These different visions bring in a classic case of misinformation and one could argue miscommunication, the government did have an intent of being helpful those in need, not only for those three hundred people who lived in Chavez ravine, but also to those people who still could not afford to pay 12, 000 to 20, 000 for a home anywhere else in L. A at the time. These different view points of each of the parties (besides residents’) involved had one underlying goal, it seemed to be further all of their own political agendas without actually considering what the people really and truly wanted, without asking someone what they want; or in this case without asking how this change would affect the community is absolutely irresponsible.

In today’s society there would more than likely be many public meetings and hearings on what to do with said land and how to approach it in a certain way as to not upset certain residencies and others may be affected by such change. A good city, is something that considers all parties, political, business and above all residency. However, it is something that is hard to reach since every citizen has their own version of it. This story does not just affect us here in Toronto, but impacts of this story should be read all around the world, for example we are told that a good city is something that has amazing buildings, clean streets, great education, low crime, all residents making around the same wage and an amazing community. Though I agree with most those points, this video really opens one’s eyes into showing us that not all materialistic ways lead to a good city. A good city should be defined as if the people are happy with what they have and can do with that happiness as they please as coupled with the low crimes rates. In todays scope of things, we as a society is so focused on trying to make things better and more convenient we sometimes forget to take a look and see who this might be affecting and hurting, in a large city like Toronto its all more prevalent that we take better care of our communities which will then lead us to that desired better city. We need to take into consideration peoples lives and well-being not just a dollar or how rich we as a city will look to other private investors, if the citizens are happy, the city does well, which will lead to more active ventures to help both sides of the coin.

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