An art group's mini-golf links take on L.A. zoning, density and Trump's Palos Verdes golf course
Sandwiched between a quinceañera dress shop and a Sbarro Italian takeout in downtown Los Angeles is a golf course. It’s certainly no Pebble Beach, but these unusual mini-golf links offer a fine opportunity to tackle challenging fairways and hone your putting — all while learning about city zoning.
Welcome to “The Back 9: Golf and Zoning Policy in Los Angeles,” a mini-golf course designed by artist Rosten Woo and the Los Angeles Poverty Department (or LAPD as it wryly refers to itself), a downtown cultural group known for staging exhibitions and theatrical events with and for members of the skid row community.
Located at the Skid Row History Museum & Archive, a narrow storefront on Broadway, each hole touches on a different issue related to zoning and development. This includes the impending rezoning of skid row, issues of density, and the ways in which powerful developers often find ways to do end runs around zoning laws.
Naturally, there is the requisite mini-golf windmill. But this one isn’t just inspired by pastoral Dutch landscape. It nods to California’s Costa-Hawkins Act, which bars rent control on single-family homes and apartments constructed after 1995.
“The back nine is a colloquial expression of a place where deals happen,” says LAPD artistic director John Malpede, seated amid golf clubs and power tools and under-construction golf obstacles featuring skyscrapers and maps of Los Angeles.
He says golf is the perfect metaphor for the clubby, behind-the-scenes deal-making that goes into urban planning in Los Angeles — “the process that happens behind the public process.”
“The Back Nine” kicks off Thursday evening with a performance inspired by golf and zoning. And, beginning Saturday, the public will be invited to play all eight holes. (The artists couldn’t quite jam nine into the storefront space.)
The marriage of golf and zoning works in other ways too, says Malpede.
There’s the fact that golf has received a lot of airtime since President Donald Trump took office. Not only is he an avid golfer — he has made 23 golf trips since he was inaugurated in January — he is also the proprietor of golf courses around the world. In fact, serving as a backdrop to the LAPD’s mini-golf is a mural inspired by one of his courses.
“The whole mural is based on Palos Verdes,” says LAPD associate director Hënriette Browers, gesturing at a landscape of undulating green. “It’s taken from a promotional movie of the Trump golf course.”
Moreover, golf carries with it attendant issues of land use, which fits in nicely with zoning.
“It’s the most conspicuously egregious use of space — creating this massive, private, open space,” says Woo. “This private space, this is the place where the underlying decisions are getting made.”
“The Back Nine,” therefore, serves as a playful primer for explaining the complexities and nuances of zoning — a subject that has attained greater urgency as Los Angeles revamps its decades-old zoning code as part of an initiative called Re:Code LA.
“Zoning determines so much, but it’s so boring and so arcane,” says Woo. “If you hear someone talk about it — ”
“— you zone out,” interjects Malpede with a wicked smile.
The installation, for example, looks at the ways in which the city’s landscape could evolve under the new plans — in particular, for skid row. The neighborhood currently lies in the midst of a downtown zone that is largely industrial but which could be opened up to commercial residential development that would result in market-rate housing springing up along 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th streets.
“This is a place where homeless and formerly homeless have lived for decades and decades and decades,” says Malpede