People who live in single-family houses shouldn’t throw stones

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne made reference to Echo Park’s proposed skinny townhouses (pictured) project in an article on Sunday as the most recent flap over increased density. Councilman Eric Garcetti came out against the project in what Hawthorne said “is a sign that L.A. to a large degree still sees itself as a single-family metropolis, a place where even three-story town houses can seem as threatening as skyscrapers.”  Garcetti, who has advocated for more housing along major boulevards, “remains vulnerable to the prevailing political winds, which often blow strongly against the idea of a denser city,” Hawthorne wrote.

Yet, when it came to buying property, Hawthorne and his wife did not select a three-story townhouse. They purchased a single-family house in Eagle Rock in 2006, according to online property records.  The zoning immediately surrounding the property prohibits the construction of apartments and other types of multi-unit housing – as well as “threatening skyscrapers.”

When reached by telephone, Hawthorne declined to comment on the record about the property.


  1. Note, Garcetti comes out for votes by saying he opposes this project (as now proposed,but wait until you see what he comprises for!). This is the same Garcetti who paved the way for the ordinance to allow such extremely narrow construction in the first place!

  2. Hhis Hawthorne guy is areal hipocrate. He also wrote that the Meadow area at the Silver Lake reservoir should be turned into housing, instead of leaving it open space.

  3. I don’t think Hawthorne’s personal preference for single family homes change the fact that LA has no choice but to grow up- literally.

    Los Angeles’ population continues to grow. The city has sprawled to its geographic limits. Building housing further out on the urban fringe no longer works because the commute times are from that distance are insane. Therefore, the city WILL get denser. Echo Park or Hollywood or any other neighborhood can complain that “townhomes don’t belong here” all they want, and they may win individual battles. That’s fine. But in the long run, the city will get taller. You can’t fight economics.

  4. Don’t forget that Garcetti lives in a single family residence adjacent to Elysian Park. Same hypocritical thinking. It is OK somewhere else but not for me.

  5. Are you seriously calling Hawthorne out for buying in an R-1 zone? That eliminates most of the City of Los Angeles. Is he only allowed to live Downtown? Or in Santa Monica?

    Not only is this kind of internet sleuthing kind of creepy, it’s unwarranted. I read the Times article, and nowhere does Hawthorne come out as a passionate pro-density advocate; in fact, most of the article is about mass transit (which he’s for). He mentions the Garcetti/Echo Park condos flap at the end of his piece, but he doesn’t take an obvious side. See the pull quotes in your blog post — he’s reporting, not opinionating.

    Believe me, I love a good indignant rant as much as the next guy/girl. But this is pretty weak sauce. Give the guy a break.

  6. @eaglerocker2000 Well said.

    I thought the piece was very well done. In particular, I thought Hawthorne distilled the insanity of the Westside subway’s opponents perfectly with this passage:

    I’m a fan of Lacter’s writing, but like many subway opponents he sees the issue of transit through an exceedingly narrow lens, assuming that the only plausible reason to build a line across the Westside is to make life easier for Angelenos driving around in their cars. For Lacter, McDonald and others, new mass transit will “improve their lives” only if it makes car traffic move measurably faster. Its only benefit is as a mechanism for “traffic relief.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to either writer that anybody in Los Angeles will actually want to, you know, ride the new trains.

  7. Generally correct but file “weak sauce” alongside “thrown under the bus” and “it is what it is” as phrases that should be retired.

  8. Do as I say, not as I do.

  9. Garcetti has completely caved in to a few shrill NIMBYs. That townhouse project is exactly what the city needs: It’s smart growth, sustainable and practical. If all the NIMBYs can come up with is crying “what about YOU” to a LA Times writer who stuck up for the project as an argument against it, then they are just as ‘hypocritical’ as they claim Hawthorne to be.

  10. A serious problem with this is not that “townhouses” are being built. These are NOT the kind of townhouses you know. This are super narrow, providing for cramming even more on a lot — and the hideous narrowness of them is what makes the difference.

    I would see the issue quite differently if these were not the width of trailers, were something more akin to the townhouses we already are familiar with. This is NOT a trailer park!

  11. Isn’t the argument for density usually tied to things like non-personal auto transit options and mixed use? How’s that going to realistically work in this context? Being located near the end of a DASH line and a few small businesses hardly qualifies.

    I’m all for increased housing density, but I’ve seen enough poorly thought out attempts at it where residents still rely on their cars. Plopping it down in the middle of a largely (single family) residential area that is topographically isolated from other parts of the city doesn’t really make sense to me. It’s just going to mean more vehicular traffic up Echo Park Ave.

  12. I’m guessing that the last 2 paragraphs are implying that Mr. Hawthorne’s opinions about Los Angeles’ overall population challenges with its related density evolution are incongruous to his recent home purchasing choice.

    How does his opinions about a development in a growing metropolis and a growing neighborhood and his own personal home purchase choice warrant such specific scrutiny?

    The reality of Los Angeles’ changing housing landscape of is a true one regardless of what type of home he lives in.

    I like this type of development. However, I don’t like it in Echo Park either as I don’t see where this type of development can be appropriate.

    This article’s tone is still an immature personal bitchkrieg.

  13. It’s possible to be pro-density and still not like the project on Echo Park Blvd.

    If it was on a major street or closer to a transit hub it would be an entirely different story. If it was a little shorter or had fewer units I think it would be more accepted by the neighborhood, but then it probably wouldn’t pencil out.

  14. @Henry

    “Hideous narrowness”? Please don’t project your taste in housing form-factors on the rest of us.

  15. Look. Density is a pain in the ass. Let things grow the way they always have in LA – we are a city of single-family homes, basically. That is what I, and many others like about it. I am tired of these people throwing around terms like “smart growth”, acting like the “smart” part is a foregone conclusion.

    Stop trying to micromanage everything.

  16. To elaborate, I agree with commenter “anty” above. Echo Park is not the proper place for a building like this. The density arguments are not one-size-fits-all. Advocates need to take into consideration the topography and character of a region before they start trying to impose their pseudo-Utopian views on the rest of us. You can’t force people to ride the bus…especially in Los Angeles where anyone with any shred of sanity and any choice will not. Unless they make below minimum wage and can afford the extra time that it takes to sit on the bus doing nothing. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but it comes at a cost.

  17. @Big Daddy Kane

    “You can’t force people to ride the bus…especially in Los Angeles where anyone with any shred of sanity and any choice will not. Unless they make below minimum wage and can afford the extra time that it takes to sit on the bus doing nothing.”

    Helloooo blanket statement!

    I ride the bus. I’m neither insane nor anywhere close to minimum wage. I just feel that one car per-household is enough for us, and I gladly let my wife use the car for her commute, since hers is 30 miles while mine is 5. Its nice to use all the money we save on things like travel and entertainment.

    I find the buses here to be efficient (shocking eh?) and comfortable. It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, which is only 10 minutes longer than it takes by car. Also, since I discovered there’s a Netflix iPhone app, I squeeze in an episode of 30 Rock or Arrested Development on the way. I love it.

  18. Your anecdotal evidence apparently trumps the overall rule.

  19. The overall rule that you just made up?

  20. @Big Daddy Kane

    You seem to have this view that if the planners would just leave LA alone, things would just continue on merrily, the way they’ve always been- single-family homes aplenty.

    This is simply not the case. Its not planners that are mandating density, its economics. Supply and demands. Simple as that. Land is a scarce resource, and as it runs out prices invariably rise, exerting pressure to build more densely. That’s how cities grow, and LA is not somehow an exception just because there happens to be a lot of single-family homes.

    Despite what you might think, planners have no desire to “meddle” or impose some kind of social control. They are just realists. They know the density is coming, so they do their best to guide that density to the most appropriate locations.

    That’s the way its supposed to work. Granted, LA is so politically fucked up that it doesn’t always work this way. But gradually, the city seems to be working its way towards a coherent planning process.

  21. Almost forgot- the above reasoning is where the term “Smart Growth” comes from.

    “No Growth” – Ain’t gonna happen.
    “Unchecked Growth” – Is what happens without planning departments.
    “Smart Growth” – Realization that growth is coming, so an effort is made to steer that growth towards transit nodes and activity centers to cut down on car trips.

    Seriously, how can you be against this?

  22. Ahh, Eastsider. Why discuss anything on it’s merits, when you can find some personal details and go on an ad hominem rampage?

    Sadly, I don’t think Jesus Sanchez has quite gotten to the bottom of this story. Those skinny townhomes look like they’re for young professionals and childless couples. Does Christopher Hawthorne have kids? Has Mr Sanchez interviewed the kids yet? Keep digging!

    And following the logic expressed here — people who live in apartments but would prefer to live in single-family homes are obviously total hypocrites who deserve nothing but scorn.

  23. Mr. Hawthorne gets points for buying in Eagle Rock.

  24. As if LA doesn’t have other modes than “the bus” such as LRT, HRT as well as BRT. For some complete idiot like BDK to use code language to convey race and class prompts shows you why we need smart growth and stronger planning policy. To force density, transit and social engineering down your hateful throat.

  25. @Chris L: I see your point, I just disagree on the premise that we necessarily need to cut down on car trips – or that all of us should, across the board. I hope that we can agree to disagree on that point.

    Also, LA has seemed to develop in a sprawling fashion (for better or worse) – while I can see that not everyone sees this as a good thing, I and many others do not necessarily share that view. I like that LA, unlike other major cities where I have spent time, does not feel dense. I like the feeling of space, even if it comes at the cost of having to drive more(which I don’t mind particularly – my sound system is buuuuuuumpin’).

    Basically, some parts of LA would be better with more density – I just don’t think that Echo Park is or should be one of them. As a previous commenter noted, it would just lead to more traffic on EP Blvd, which would be a net negative.

    @fallopia simms I seriously have no idea what you are saying.

  26. I think the kind of home Christopher Hawthorne buys is totally fair game. If the Times can post the names of teachers along with their effectiveness scores and the names and employers of people contributing to the Prop 19 campaign, why not this? It’s public record after all.

  27. I still don’t see the point.

    Smart growth isn’t about forcing everyone to live in a condo. Its about giving people more housing choices. Why should Hawthorne have to live in a certain type of house just because he’s advocating for more choices in housing types?

    I was vehemently opposed to the Iraq war…am I some kind of poser because I didn’t go there and chain myself to the front of a tank?

    I think the policy towards immigrants in Arizona is entirely f’ed up. So, am I not allowed to say that unless I move there, get elected to the state legislature and vote against it?

    Do you see yet how retarded and transparent this argument is?

  28. People act like “density” is a bad thing, or that apartments and condos are bad. I live in Santa Monica, in Ocean Park specifically. Santa Monica’s overall density is about 50% more than the City of L.A.’s, and the population is about 70% renter (and that doesn’t include condo-owners). Of about 50,000 housing units, about 30,000 are apartments. Santa Monica is already “post-sprawl” — and yet it is one of the more desirable communities to live in in SoCal. Ocean Park in particular, for the few single-family homes remaining (most of the nabe went rental in the 50s and 60s, and since then there have been condos built, along with affordable-housing) has some of the highest per-square foot housing prices in the region. People have to get over this one way or the other way mindset — as someone up there already posted, it’s all about choices, and choices make for better places. By saying this I’m not opining about the particular project — from the look of the rendering, it has garages facing the street. That’s a bad thing. If they can’t make the parking entrances from the back, they need to figure something else out. And one more thing — it’s mindless to say that Hawthorne can’t make comments about all kinds of urbanism because he lives in a particular kind of house.

  29. The statistics on housing development no longer support the idea that Los Angeles is a single family city. The 1990 Census showed 512,000 single family (detached) units out of 1,300,000 units citywide. So even then single family units were a minority, less than 40%. By the time of the 2000 Census the city had added 38,000 housing units, of which less than 12,000 were single family detached housing. So less than 1/3 of the units added in the 1990’s were single family. By 2008, the City estimates that another 50,000 units were added, of which 14,000 (or less than 30%) were single family. So the single family percentage of LA housing continues to fall, as it in fact has for decades. There are single family neighborhoods, especially in the Valley and East LA, but it is not a single family city.

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