Mayor Garcetti takes the stage at Keck for interview

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A conversation with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne took place last Thursday in Keck Theater. The conversation ranged from issues of the urban environment to the soul of the city, with a musical interlude taking place halfway through the presentation.

“We are lucky to have a mayor who combines the improvisational skills of a jazz pianist, the leadership skills of a naval reserve officer and the intellectual curiosity of a Rhode Scholar; and he was all three of those things,” President Jonathan Veitch said in an opening address to the audience before yielding the floor to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne outlined his intentions before diving into the conversation, noting his desire to facilitate a public conversation and gain Garcetti’s honest perspective on architecture, urban planning, the public realm and the future of L.A.

An introductory slide show on the urban environment of L.A. led into Hawthorne’s first question. After describing L.A.’s ongoing transition from privatized urbanism to a new interconnectedness, Hawthorne asked about Angelenos’s apparent enthusiasm for this change.

“I think Los Angeles has always been a very porous city, philosophically as well as demographically,” Garcetti, a former professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental, said, “and we should think about ideas of moving the city forward in that way.”

Hawthorne, his intellectual counterpart for the evening, also has ties to the college. Hawthorne currently teaches a Los Angeles architecture course in the Urban and Environmental Policy department.

The mayor spoke on a wide variety of issues and successes, of problems and goals. He noted some of his accomplishments as city councilman, as well as his general strategy in City Hall.

Recurring themes in the conversation included social justice, sustainability, transportation, public space, economics, policy, L.A. history, planning,specific neighborhoods, L.A. River, political power and the built environment. In keeping with the theme of the conversation, the mayor continually spoke of the importance of focusing on improving quality of life before designing the aesthetic features of architectural projects.

A musical interlude paused the conversation temporarily. Composer and song-writer Gabrielle Fahane, a native Angelino, took to the stage to perform. The songs he performed off of his soon to be released album relate to the built environment and architecture of Los Angeles.

His first song, performed on guitar, was about the now-closed Ambassador Hotel, designed by Byron Hunt, the architect who designed most of the Occidental campus. The second song, performed on piano along with an iPad-provided background beat, was about why Hollywood villains tend to live in Modernist houses.

The conversation then continued and Garcetti took questions compiled by Hawthorne’s Occidental students and adjunct instructor of Urban and Environmental Policy Mark Vallianatos.

The discussion came to a close with a final discussion on a mission for Los Angeles.

“We become folks that listen and actually hear the city around us,” Garcetti said. “We look at the differences between each one of these nodes that we call neighborhoods and figure out ways to connect them in strong, innovative, new manors. But also, at the end of the day, realize the city breathes around us. It requires us to write history, not to rewrite history, not to predict history, but to do something in between which requires patience, it requires good listening, it requires bold moves in unique moments, but not shouting all the time.”

Reaction to the meeting from members of the Occidental community was positive.

“Eric combines a visionary with a pragmatist,” Urban and Environmental Policy Professor Peter Dreier, who was mentioned by both the mayor and Hawthorne throughout the conversation, said. “He understands the big picture and urban planning, as a politician and as a native resident; he understands every inch of this huge city.”