California Dreamin’: A French Perspective

By Lily Munson

We do not have this kind of space, we do not have this many trees, we do not display so much enthusiasm. I would not say people are less welcoming in Paris, but they definitely show it less.

From a French perspective, the UCLA campus, along with the city of LA, represents a new scale and a new approach to defining urbanity. Seen plenty of times on the big screen, read about in novels, the city appears even once in front of our eyes as features of an ongoing Californian dream.

I was looking forward to comparing these symbolic images to the everyday experience of an ungraspable city where our habits of walking around were quickly defeated. We definitely felt at first that such a spread out city like Los Angles was an anomaly: how can environmental policies really be implemented if cars are so central and lawns so green? How can people move around when all we see is traffic? It seemed like urban and social problems were appearing more starkly along side displays of wealth, of which I find the fancy dog spas to be the most noticeable example.

The teachers of the Luskin School helped us untangled this first impression. The Design and Development class taught by Vinit Mukhija got us drawing the streets we liked while making us understand how the urban morphology had such a great impact on our experience of certain spaces. Our different classes also got us to focus on the things that were actually being done to overcome these challenges like the Metro plan or the sustainable pLAn. I also became interested in the importance given to communities in urban planning issues such as neighborhood improvement and gentrification, a subject where I feel the French mentality is really lagging. Moreover, as opposed to the way education is completed in France, almost every student here seems to have had many experiences before choosing their master’s program. This education allowed the discussions and debates to be both rich and opened minded, especially since the way classes are organized leaves more room to personal opinions.

By living here, we also had to accept that any journey takes time, requiring you to move at a different pace then you would have expected in such a large metropolis. The constant light creates a set of colors with a melancholic and pastel tone, suiting perfectly those slower moments of transit. Unexpected objects then progressively started to replace the original images. We started forgetting about the palm trees and the mansions in favor of the lights and lines of the cars on the highway, the very kitsch lawn decorations and the neon lights of taco trucks.