“Gathering and staring is one of the great pastimes in the countries of the world. But not in Los Angeles. We have forgotten how to gather. So we have forgotten how to stare.
“And we forgot not because we wanted to, but because, by fluke or plan, we were pushed off the familiar sidewalks or banned from the old places. Change crept up on us as we slept. We are lemmings in slow motion now, with nowhere to go.
“I have a plan for a whole city block where we might meet as in the old days, and walk and shop and sit and talk and simply stare.
“And not just one block. But 80 or 90 city blocks spread over the entire freeway-junket-run of all 80 or 90 of the separate lonely Ohio-Illinois-Kansas-style towns, which is what Los Angeles truly is.
“But to show you my L.A. tomorrow, I must first show you what L.A. was like when I grew up here.
“In the thirties, with TV unborn, you listened to radio or walked to the movies. Who could afford a car? No one. And, going to the movies, you stopped at the sweet shop next door for candy and popcorn, and after the show you came back to the same sweet shop for a malt or the corner drugstore for a Coke, and you lolled at those soda fountains until midnight with all your friends.
“For, you see, in those days there was a microscopic community in every neighborhood: the theater, the sweet shop, the drugstore fountain. Your friends? Why, they were always there!
“Well, that dear drugstore and its hissing fount, through economics, has vanished. The few that are left have no fountains at all. The few with fountains close at six each night. The sweet shop? That was shot dead when theaters installed their own lobby popcorn and candy stalls.
“So, there go two of your most important social halls. Today, 50 years later, as if by proclamation, we have all been told: Move On! So we climb in our cars. We drive … and drive … and drive … and come home blind with exhaustion. We have seen nothing, nor have we been seen. Our total experience? Six waved hands, a thousand blurred faces, seventeen Volkswagen rears and some ripe curses from a Porsche and an MG behind.
“And when we do occasionally get somewhere, the Strip, or Hollywood Boulevard, what do we find? Ten thousand other Dante’s Inferno Souls, locked in immovable ice floes ahead, irritably inhaling their exhausts, unwanted by themselves and the traffic police. So the exasperated madness and the inhumanity grow.
“Here is my remedy. A vast, dramatically planned city block. One to start with. Later on, one or more for each of the 80 towns in L.A.
“My block would be a gathering place for each population nucleus. A place where, by the irresistible design and purpose of such a block, people would be tempted to linger, loiter, stay, rather than fly off in their chairs to already overcrowded places.
“Once it was everywhere in some form. Now it must be thought of and born all over again.
“If we could summon Mark Twain back from the dead he might well point out, ironically, that we already have many such plazas in Los Angeles, which have languished and fallen into disuse. We have forgotten why Pershing Square and the Olvera Street Plaza were built: as centers about which to perambulate souls and refresh existences.
“We have been yelling for years against the Orwellian world of 1984, and at the same time have been busy building such a world and walling ourselves in.
“Now we must remember that drama and theater are not special and separate and private things in our lives. They are the true stuffs of living, the heart and soul of any true city. It follows we must begin to provide architectural stages upon which our vast populations can act out their lives.
“The hour grows late. We must give us back to ourselves.
“For what finer gift is there in all the world?”
Click here to read the whole, detailed plan Ray Bradbury laid out in 1970.