Postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who passed away last month, must be chuckling in his grave. In a flattering LA Times profile this weekend, LA’s promising new chief planner Gail Goldberg waxes poetic about her experience in San Diego, where she helped spearhead the movement to reinvigorate San Diego’s downtown. After she left the comforts of suburban Del Mar for a condo in downtown SD, Goldberg says, “I loved it from day one. I remember sitting on the terrace and the streets were all lit up and carriages were going by and I said, ‘I think I’m in Disneyland.'”
Much like the blissed-out vacationer who stares at a sunset and swears it looks just like a postcard, Goldberg has succumbed to the power of the imitation — or the simulation, as Baudrillard describes it. In his landmark essay on simulations, Baudrillard reserves a special place for Disneyland, which he regards as an imaginary world that manages to usurp the real one:
Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation.
So isn’t it just dandy that the future of Los Angeles, the capital of fakery and cinematic dream-weaving, has been placed in the hands of a city planner who believes that a successful urban landscape is indistinguishable from Disneyland’s Main Street, USA? If you’re wondering what Baudrillard might say about this, I suggest you ask him — well, his avatar — in Second Life. Goldberg’s not the only one who thinks that a little Disney-fication can do a town good. During the Lear Center’s park design competition, known as the Grand Avenue Intervention, Lear Center senior fellow Neal Gabler proposed a heady mix of Walt Disney and Frederick Law Olmstead for the Grand Avenue Park. Personally, I can’t wait to see what LA’s new imagineer will do with Skid Row. Rollercoaster ride, anyone? The final dip’s a doozy!