Stair allows public access to the “closed” Triangle Park at Santa Monica and Bundy, June 1997. All photographs Heavy Trash
|Location||Los Angeles, California, USA|
|Date||Viewing Platforms, 2005; Stair to Park, 1997|
On the morning of April 24, 2005, residents of three Los Angeles subdivisions awoke to discover bright orange structures peeking over the gates of their communities.
Some assumed public-works officials had placed them there for tree maintenance, but others soon discovered their true purpose. Stenciled on the structures in a militaristic style was the Web address of an organization calling itself Heavy Trash.
Since 1997 this anonymous grassroots organization of architects, designers, and urban planners has been forcing Angelenos to confront the planning and policies that shape their everyday lives. Heavy Trash installed its first project—a 2,000-pound (907-kg) stair in a park after the city had fenced it in to prevent homeless people from using it. For three weeks the stair allowed community members to access the park, calling attention to the way tax dollars had helped remove the park from public use.
The group struck again in 2000, this time with a series of official-looking “Future Subway Station Site” signs outlining the route of the “Aqua Line,” a fictional transit corridor between Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Part tongue-in-cheek art installation, part architectural agitprop, the project drew attention to inadequate public transportation.
Most recently Heavy Trash took on the gated community, America’s fastest-growing form of housing. Gated neighborhoods are marketed as friendly, safe places to raise families. But according to the group these gated subdivisions rarely cultivate the sort of front-porch dialogue with neighbors that has come to represent the “good life” and instead may actually erode the texture of urban life.
Heavy Trash argues that by walling themselves in to “flee a disintegrating society,” residents actually accelerate the decline around them by replacing a city tax system that feeds a wider community with private homeowner association fees whose benefit ends at the subdivision’s gates. The group also claims that gated communities sever links between neighboring developments, segregating not only their residents but all those surrounding them. Armed with plywood and two-by-fours, Heavy Trash sought to subvert the notion of the walled city. While the viewing platforms provoked amusement, anger, and intrigue, they also inspired conversation between residents on both sides of the gate.
above image: A viewing platform outside the gates of Laughlin Park, Los Angeles, April 2005
left image: Another Heavy Trash viewing platform outside the Park La Brea apartments in Los Angeles, April 2005