MILL CREEK, say the site’s barriers. PEOPLE · PLACES · RELATIONSHIPS. Words like this repel thought, which seems not-accidental. Has anyone ever stood here, beside five lanes of traffic, and plugged the URL into a phone? They have now: 20,000 apartment homes built since 2001, apparently. Twenty thousand lives being lived right now in six-, 12-, 18-month installments all around America, laid out in space and time by Mill Creek. And soon another 220, here.
They’re person-high, the barriers. (PEOPLE · PLACES · RELATIONSHIPS. But stay out.) Though this is not particularly a foot-traffic part of town: it’s a leaving stretch, the bungalow-speckled hills of Los Feliz smug at your back, and ahead, suburbia. “Walkable area,” says the press release, and — yes — there’s Costco next door, a storage facility across the street. The city’s spare bedrooms, receptacles of surplus crap old and new. A few blocks down, there’s a bakery with a paneled ceiling like a school canteen. I picture a Saturday morning, 440 new people trying to find seats — though households, of course, come in all shapes. Five hundred croissants. Two hundred and twenty lattes.
The crane swings, improbably sure of itself, and lowers its mouth to the side street. Men in hardhats feed it elaborate squares of raw wood, and up it goes. Thirty feet in the air, these slats will separate silent masturbation from dead-eyed TV-watching from dinners ruined by inappropriate recipe substitutions. One day, someone will place their forehead on the wood’s plaster covering and roll it softly from side to side, wondering how they got it all so wrong.
The site fills a block, walled on the west by train tracks. It seems dangerous, to live by such a defined line. It gives the mind permission to run constantly along it: in this case, between Glendale and Burbank; or on expansive or desperate days, from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, gliding along the ocean, hitched to the back of an Amtrak.
Things are about to change for Gardena Ave. Until now, it’s been nothing but anxious pet owners to and from the animal hospital, harried to near blindness. But cross street to a major complex is a role with responsibility. There’ll be Ubers, food deliveries, dates beeping horns. Halfway down the block, there’s a clear tunnel through the site’s unnervingly even cells — a future hallway, maybe — and through it, if you stand for long enough, you can see a forest growing, obstacles rising.
Behind it all squat a couple of old geezers: DELTA DRUGS — NOW HIRING and NOVA AUTOMOTIVE. Farther, the San Gabriel Mountains crunch into the sky, ancient and aloof.