Homes That Look Like Big White Boxes Have Taken Over the Westside’s Landscape

The big house on the next block rose in 2014, startling in its size, its whiteness. The design was simple, almost austere—two rectangular stories and a balcony, the stucco expanse broken only by three wood-framed windows. In an older, mostly modest Westside neighborhood five miles east of the beach, it seemed an aberration. In fact, it was just the start. Today clones of that house stand on every street, hulking white squares, sometimes accented with black or gray, sometimes with wood. Inside they have five bedrooms and six baths, open floor plans and floating staircases along with a bonanza of window glass. The realtors’ fliers that regularly arrive at my door announce them as the latest and best in “modern” architecture: “luxury modern,” “coastal modern,” “modern masterpiece,” “reimagined modern designed jewel.”

The Great White Box (as I call this style) is slowly but inexorably transforming where I live. Its cookie-cutter looks and the astronomical prices it commands—most recent peak: $2.8 million—have filled me with wonder. All the boxes near me were built on spec by a constellation of individuals, companies, and mysterious LLCs. How had they all simultaneously decided to build nearly identical houses? In a city where the median home price is about $700,000 and median household income less than $58,000, that’s a 5-percenter question for sure (though—as GWBs spread through Venice, Mar Vista, south Santa Monica, Culver City, West Hollywood, Beverly Grove, and even parts of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver—not an idle one). It’s pretty clear how a fashion craze takes off: A model or celebrity wears a dress, TV and Instagram explode with images of it, H&M cranks out a version for $29.95. But who and what was behind this architectural steamroller? What human first gazed down the block of an aging postwar tract, slapped his or her forehead, and shouted, “By God, what this place needs is a box!”?

If there’s a specific person or dwelling from whose loins the GWB sprang, I never found it. The realtors, designers, and builders I asked seemed taken aback by the very question, replying with, essentially, “Dunno, but not me.”

“We’re not trendsetters,” said Jay Lappen of the Riviera Property Group, a six-year-old investment company specializing in new construction, particularly west of the 405. Small-scale West L.A. builder Yigal Sadgat was even more blunt: “I have no idea. I just follow what houses in the area have been selling. I put my finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing.”

The GWB seems not to have been planned as much as to have materialized out of a powerful cultural-economic convergence—think of those spots in the ocean where opposing currents smack to create monster waves. Building big is nothing new. Homes in L.A., as in the rest of the U.S., have been expanding for decades, even as the number of people who inhabit them shrinks.

In 1950 the average single-family American home was just 983 square feet. And even the latest round of local fighting over how big is too big is more than a decade old. The urge to demolish older homes and replace them with something grander spikes during economic booms; cases in point, the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2001 the Los Angeles Times reported that a recent demolition binge of 1,211 homes per year, or around three a day, had created a new sort of “ghost town in the city.” Stupendous, architecturally ambiguous McMansions replaced those specters, especially in some of L.A.’s pricier neighborhoods. In 2008 pushback from preservationists and neighbors left in shadow led the city to pass a “Baseline Mansionization Ordinance,” which aimed to put some limits on home-to-lot ratios. Tweaks and updates to the ordinance followed in subsequent years, each igniting fresh debate.

The current rush to bulldoze ’n’ build has unfolded at an even more frenzied pace. Nearly 8,000 L.A. residences were replaced between January 2013 and June 2017 (that’s an average of five a day, around half on the Westside.) Literally hundreds of the new homes, at $2 million per, have come from a single developer, Aliso Viejo-based Thomas James Homes, which Builder magazine admiringly called “one of the nation’s largest tear-down, scattered-lot, production builders.”

Since developers monitor what sells, these spec houses share a pattern, though three dominant variants seem to have emerged: the Cape Cod, with a steeply pitched roof and “coastal” feel; the Modern Farmhouse (slightly more rustic); and the GWB. All are white, feature open floor plans, and hit new levels of gigantitude. When the anti-mansionization movement began, the median size of a new L.A. home was 3,520 square feet; that’s where these babies start.

A cube is simple to construct, can be plopped almost anywhere, and accommodates the requisite bells and whistles an upwardly mobile buyer demands

Unlike the Cape Cod and Modern Farmhouse, designed for family living—“My builder won’t do a ‘modern’ here because it won’t sell,” one realtor told me at a Cheviot Hills open house—the GWB targets the two-income, no-kids hipster market. And it’s no coincidence that unlike its McPredecessors, known mostly for their size and opulence, the GWB uses the description “modern” to claim an elite aura and pedigree. (GWB style may be called “modern,” “modernist,” or “midcentury modern,” terms that have real and different meanings but that have become sloppy shorthand for anything with a flat roof and white walls.)

Modernism is one of L.A.’s few native architectural aesthetics, observes Dana Cuff, director of the UCLA architecture think tank CityLab. “The indoor-outdoor living that’s part of the modern tradition is a California model,” she says. It’s also one with zeitgeisty cachet. This popularity has varied roots: Mad MenDwell magazine, Design Within Reach, the casting off of maximalist ’90s glam for simplicity and vast expanses of white, and even the clean, spare lines of Apple products. More to the point, the style’s most passionate adherents are educated, wealthy, and youthful. Mollie Carmichael, a principal at the real estate, data, and technology advisory firm Meyers Research, pointed me to the results of her company’s survey of more than 6,000 new-home shoppers. Younger buyers overwhelmingly wanted a home with a “casual contemporary” interior and “modern” exterior, a preference, Carmichael says, that was especially strong in the “more affluent price points.”

Which brings us to Venice, possibly the GWB’s ground zero. Geometric neomodern architecture appeared here in a dramatic way in 2003 with Mark Mack’s Bay City Lofts, and it was a style well suited to a community that had money, lots too small for sprawling homes, and a reputation to uphold. In 2007, for example, a $2.25 million, three-story modern with a music studio, media room, and roof deck squeezed 3,154 square feet of living space onto a 2,250-square-foot lot. But it was the arrival of tech firms in 2010 and after that brought hordes of modern aficionados, “dual-income, educated, frankly moneyed buyers who were moving to L.A.,” as Joanna Leon, a designer for Riviera Property Group, described them. “Young buyers who loved contemporary design and wanted something that was very highly curated.”

As neomodernism spread through coastal neighborhoods, then into an increasingly large adjacent area that real estate magic made part of Silicon Beach, curation—perhaps inevitably—gave way. The architectural firm Marmol Radziner has specialized in modernist work for several decades and is known for a careful restoration of Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House in Palm Springs. True modernism, in which a house and its setting exist in harmony, “is less a stylistic response than it is a way of living…a philosophical perspective,” founder Leo Marmol wrote in an email. It’s “about proportion, efficiency of materials…the relationship of the interior to the exterior garden.” Doing it right, he emphasized, requires “rich, deep, thoughtful design.”

But when 8,000 homes have been torn down to make way for updated models, and the point is return on investment (not artistic vision), rich, deep, and thoughtful is not a viable option. It’s not as easy as you might imagine to make money on a spec house, longtime Westside realtor Ron Wynn told me. He explained the economics: Take the cost of the teardown, the price of construction, the interest on the cash you must borrow to buy and build, and closing costs/commissions for selling the finished product—and putting up a 3,000-square-foot house in a hot Westside neighborhood will quickly set you back a few million. If you want to turn a respectable profit, you need to build something that goes up smoothly and sells fast. A cube is simple to construct, can be plopped almost anywhere, and accommodates the requisite bells and whistles an upwardly mobile buyer demands: en suite bathrooms, big closets, a kitchen full of gleaming quartz and chrome. Standardized plans and inexpensive finishes also save money.

Perhaps the resulting homes aren’t really a “slow, steady cancer upon the landscape,” as Marmol has called them. Yet the irony is that even as historical modernist designs are found wanting—in 2013 the Pacific Palisades Kingsley Residence that was the last unaltered home designed by J.R. Davidson, a Neutra and Rudolph Schindler contemporary, was flattened and replaced by an $11.7 million “modern traditional estate”—the postmodern “modern” flourishes. Still more ironic is that a sophisticated demographic, one whose members wouldn’t dream of buying something that might be called a McMansion, have embraced something equally as generic. “A pile of geometric forms that maxes out the building envelope in order to market at the highest price,” as Cuff put it. “A minimal articulation. The crust of a style.”

Earlier this year I went to open houses at two nearby GWBs, asking prices $2.3 million and $2.7 million. They were big, blandly pleasant spaces, pale wood floors and a palette of black, white, and cream. Every bedroom had a walk-in closet and a bath, and the two master baths were huge, each with a freestanding soaking tub. Multiple sliding doors opened to rooftop decks and rear yards. It was churlish of me—who couldn’t afford either house—to notice the cheapness of the windows, the stark, treeless landscapes. One home’s second-floor deck offered a view of the 10 freeway.

Whatever. A GWB that set neighborhood price records in 2015 sold again this year for $300,000 more. A five-minute walk away, a tiny pink ’50s house with a bay window had sold in nine days for $1.27 million, and the construction fence with a demolition notice was already up.

“The demand right now for a $2.5 million, 3,500-square-foot house on the Westside is tremendous!” Wynn says, practically shouting. “It’s overwhelming!” Architecturally, he acknowledges, maybe GWBs “aren’t so pretty. But builders will stop building them when people stop buying.”

The Paradox of “No-Kill” Animal Welfare Policies

It felt like a good summer for animals. In mid-August Julián Castro became the first (and so far only) Democratic presidential candidate to release an animal welfare policy statement. In September, Michigan became the second U.S. state to announce it had reached “no kill.” (Delaware was the first.) After years of the Trumpian death machine, it was like a rush of fresh air into a suffocating, fetid room.

And yet in the real-world context of dog and cat rescue, one couldn’t help but feel a bit … underwhelmed. “No kill” was “an amazing first for our state,” said the chair and founder of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance. It was “a different path,” offered Castro. “My hometown of San Antonio achieved no-kill status in less than a decade.”

If only it were that simple. America as a whole has been working toward a “no kill” goal for decades, reassured every few years that we’re about to arrive. We haven’t. There are reasons why—and they’re why, as a current call to action, those words are almost meaningless.

To be clear: Criticizing “no kill” isn’t calling for an end to adoption and rescue or a return to the truly terrible old days when rampant killing of shelter animals was just a fact of life. As recently as the 1970s, loose animals—both strays and pets—roamed America’s streets, and otherwise decent people thought nothing of dropping the resulting litters at local shelters to be “put to sleep.” Somewhere between 13 and 23 million cats and dogs died yearly back then, and that no one knows the exact figure is another sign of how little anyone cared: No national reporting structure even existed. Today, shelter euthanasia rates are down dramatically—as much as 90 percent —thanks to the spread of sterilization followed by increased advocacy for adoption and rescue. There are around 14,000 rescue groups of different sizes and focus in this country, and a 2017 paper published in the journal Animals confirmed what these hard-working people already knew: that for dogs, rising adoption rates had helped to bring the killing down.

Credit “no kill” advocacy for some, maybe many of these changes? Sure. Whoever first coined the term, it was brilliant—immediately graspable, a slogan, philosophy, exhortation, declaration of moral outrage, and promise, all in one. Millions of animal lovers have gathered under its umbrella. But the simplicity that makes the phrase so compelling has also made it difficult in practice.

On the most basic level, there’s no consensus on what it means. Most extreme believers say that no animals should be euthanized unless they’re terminal or irredeemably suffering, and that with enough effort, homes can be found for all the others. (Those few deemed unadoptable can be sent to “sanctuaries.”) More common are those who believe in “mostly don’t kill,” that while some animals are sick and screwed up enough to justify putting them down, an array of efforts can save the rest: increased spay/neuter campaigns, adoption promotion, fostering, rescue group alliances, transporting animals from places of oversupply, shelter management changes. Within this vision, a shelter (or city or state) reaches “no kill” when at least 90 percent of the animals it takes in come out alive.

Concrete numbers may be reassuring, but they can be slippery. In a 2018 Psychology Today piece, Hal Herzog, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University and long-time researcher on animal-human relations, offered his own analysis of the Animals study data. Herzog reported that (as most rescuers already knew) euthanasia averages mask huge geographic variation. Within the U.S., for example, far more animals are put down in the south than in the north; in California, euthanasia is higher inland than it is on the coast; in the Los Angeles metro area, it’s higher in shelters run by the county than the city, and higher in some city neighborhoods than others. Even as Michigan celebrated its new status, the Pet Fund Alliance chair acknowledged that “we still have a few communities struggling.”

The reasons behind these differences add a further layer of complication. Animal policy is set locally, so even within a single county separate small cities may have different laws—for how much it costs to license an intact versus sterilized animal, whether or not to impose mandatory spay and neuter laws and how rigorously to enforce them, how shelters are funded and what programs they adopt. (For example, only 32 states require dogs adopted from a public shelter to be sterilized.) Communities vary culturally in how animals are viewed and treated, how aware pet owners are of available resources, how accepting of practices like sterilization. Herzog, for instance, notes that “states with higher rates of gun ownership had more dog deaths,” maybe because “people in the South don’t like restrictions on the sex lives of their pets any more than they like zoning or gun laws.”

Then there’s the huge issue of human economics—or more specifically, the fact that truly helping needy pets requires helping their equally needy owners. The Animals study data showed something else rescuers and shelter workers already knew:  States with lower average incomes kill more domestic animals than wealthier ones, and so do shelters in low-income neighborhoods. Shelters in low-income neighborhoods also have higher rates of owner surrender. Behind those figures: poverty.

In low-income areas, spay/neuter services or routine veterinary care may be unaffordable or inaccessible—in some rural areas and inner-city neighborhoods, there literally are no veterinarians. The animals of the economically challenged are far more likely than those of the affluent to be impounded by animal services (for instance when they escape a badly-fenced yard), then trapped in the system when reclamation fees and fines are beyond the family budget. (These escalating fees mirror other “poverty penalties,” such as license suspension for drivers who can’t afford to pay traffic tickets.)

Staying housed while caring for a pet can be an ongoing struggle. Women without means trying to escape domestic violence find few shelters that will take animals. (Even as research shows that abusers frequently threaten to hurt or actively harm their partners’ beloved pets as a means of control.) For homeless pet owners, sociologist Leslie Irvine observed in My Dog Always Eats First, the choice often comes down to keeping a beloved pet or being housed—traditionally, homeless shelters have not accepted animals. Similar choices face low-income families. One of the key findings in a 2015 study published in Open Journal of Animal Sciences was that pet owners with incomes below $50,000 were significantly more likely than those with money to re-home animals due to cost, particularly of medical care, and housing issues like lack of access to pet-friendly housing ability to pay housing pet deposits. In fact, other surveys show that among the top reason Americans surrender their pets are moving, cost, and a landlord who doesn’t allow pets.

The very real connection between pet ownership and rental housing issues—landlords’ use of previously unenforced “no pets” clauses to push evictions; the shortage of apartments that allow pets makes Julián Castro’s call for pet-friendly policies in federally affordable new housing construction a good start to a necessary conversation. It’s too bad he offered a plan that didn’t address existing housing. Around 4.8 million households receive federal rental assistance, and both private landlords offering Section 8 housing, and public housing authorities can and do restrict pets, whether banning them all, or just specific breeds — most typically pits, Rottweilers, and chows. Human economics also governs what animal welfare efforts can realistically be. Cutting euthanasia by finding pets new homes requires human capital—a roster of volunteers, local rescues and available foster homes — and budgetary support that may be beyond a city’s reach. Just two hours south of Castro’s No Kill San Antonio, for instance, is the city of Edinburg, in the impoverished Rio Grande Valley. Its Palm Valley Animal Shelter, was once described by Best Friends CEO Julie Castle as among those “that are so dramatically under-resourced and over-burdened that they might as well be operating in the 1970s.” A partnership between that mega-organization and the shelter has reportedly raised its save rate from 36 to (a still not great) 51 percent, and even that success had setbacks: During an effort to hold, then transport 800 puppies and small dogs out of the area, many developed distemper—which is endemic in the Valley—and had to be euthanized. Some got sick after they were in their new homes.

To tangibly help these struggling communities, Castro called for the establishment of a $40 million Local Animal Communities grant program within the USDA to “expand access” for vaccinations and spay/neuter in underserved communities, as well as support adoption programs and efforts to reduce thousands of existing feral cat colonies through the strategy of Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR). Activists I spoke to heard that figure and laughed. The year Austin, Texas, a much-celebrated “no kill” city reached its goal, the shelter budget went up more than $1 million and the next year, it requested a million more in “emergency” funds.  TNR remains both logistically difficult—a big percentage of skittish felines must be caught to bring any colony’s birth rates below replacement level—and controversial. A 2013 analysis from the Smithsonian conservation biological Institute and the Fish and Wildlife service estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds in the Continental U.S. each year. In late August, the New York Times reported that a toxoplasmosis infection responsible for killing up to 8 percent of California sea otters had been traced to outdoor domestic cats. It also costs big bucks. According to a 2010 study prepared for Best Friends Animal Society, even supposing the use of volunteer labor and veterinarians offering a discount rate, eradicating the national feral cat population through TNR would cost $8.7 billion.

Even all the money in the world “isn’t enough,” says Lori Weise of Downtown Dog Rescue, who has been working for over 20 years in L.A.’s most challenged neighborhoods. “Money doesn’t help without a plan.”

Another unfortunate reality of the 90 percent “no kill” goal is that even when reached, it may be less real than it appears. Shelters under public and political pressure to have “good” euthanasia numbers also have the incentive to play good numbers games, whether that means adopting out sick or potentially dangerous animals to avoid having to put them down or conversely calling them “untreatable” so they can be euthanized without marring the live release rate. In June, for example, Gothamist reported that Animal Care and Control in New York City (which was supposed to have reached “no kill” five years ago) was excluding from its euthanasia rate statistics owner-surrendered dogs and cats with “problems” like mouthing on their leashes, jumping, and cowering in fear. “Transport”—sending shelter animals from one state to a (presumably better) other, also can be subverted. One “coalition partner” in L.A.’s current “no kill” effort proudly describes its contribution as moving small breed dogs from local shelters to … New York City.

Another strategy: policies that deliberately limit shelter intake. In “no kill” San Antonio, says a source long involved in that city’s rescue world, a “diversion” program allows anyone who finds a stray to keep it at home, while classifying the animal as a shelter impound. “Then, if it’s given away—to whoever— or even escapes, it can be counted as a successful live release.” San Antonio also requires residents to make appointments before surrendering animals, and its website warns that if the shelter is full “you may be asked to seek alternate arrangements.” In practice, says the source, “people turned away just abandon the animals when they leave.”

Or the statistics race leads to not looking too carefully at adopters. The growth of disreputable rescues and outright rescue scams is a constant source of anguish in the rescue world; social media warnings like “There is a Reckless Rescue that has been taking dogs from L.A. Shelters. Please BEWARE!!” appear daily. Worse are organizations that take in more animals than they can properly care for, and individuals who use the guise of rescue to mask hoarding. Yearly, thousands of dogs and cats are removed from “rescue hoarders”—Someday Acres (Tennessee), Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue (Arizona), Road to Home (New York), Elk Grove Animal Rescue (California) … A much-celebrated “live release” from a shelter may land a dog or cat in a fate worse than death. At the Elk Grove rescue, animal service workers found 58 dogs and sick, dehydrated puppies living in a barn “with a strong odor of urine and feces” who hadn’t been been given food or water for 24 hours, as well as “a large Pit Bull dog inside a plastic crate that was not large enough for the for the dog to turn around in, its head was crouched inside, and it was unable to extend its tail.” Road to Home was closed after whistleblowers released a video of over 100 dogs living in a dilapidated warehouse, locked 24/7 in cages filled with urine and feces.

Finally, even when adoption efforts successfully move adorable puppies and apartment-friendly small “fluffies” to new homes, legions of the less desirable—seniors, overbred pit bulls, middle-aged chihuahuas—are left behind. This past June, TV station KVUE in “no kill” Austin reported that the city’s three shelters were at “critical capacity” with nearly 800 dogs and cats, some of which had been held over 3 years. Animals were being housed in pop-up kennels placed in meeting rooms and offices because, said the Austin Animal Center’s communications manager, “we have nowhere for them to go.”

The contradictions of “no kill” are no secret within the rescue world, debated (sometimes quietly, sometimes very loudly) by rescue groups and rescuers, shelter managers, vets. In 2018, an editorial in the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association journal denounced the movement as “destructive” and called for a new model, “socially conscious sheltering” with similar animal welfare goals, but without a numerical end point. Any shelter could save 98 percent of the pets that came in, the authors noted, but only if it was to “manage to a single statistic, and not to the best interest of animals.”  In August, 2019, those principles were adopted by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control.

Maybe “socially conscious” will be a popular new model, maybe not. Maybe other Democratic candidates will declare their own support for animal welfare — if they don’t, we should call them on it. But perhaps it’s time for all of us to dump slogans and platitudes in favor of addressing a complicated, nuanced issue with similarly nuanced action. That means spending as much or more effort on keeping animals from going into shelters as getting them out. Offering humane education “is a cost-effective approach that’s barely being tried,” says Aaron Fisher, founder and CEO of Atlanta Rescue Dog Café, which teaches responsible pet ownership to children as young as pre-K, many in underserved communities. “Hardly a sliver of grant money supports it. Then we wonder why kids grow up and don’t know how to care for their animals.”

It means subsidizing sterilization services and making them easily accessible and providing affordable vet access in poor and rural areas. (Encouraging vets to embrace this effort, suggests Lori Weise, means finding a way to do it that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their own income.) It means legal services that help tenants deal with pet-related housing issues, and more programs that help pet owners with problems hold onto their pets. Shelter-based “intervention” programs, like those run by Downtown Dog Rescue and Home Dog L.A. “don’t have the sexiness that adoptions do, but we can’t adopt our way out of crowded shelters as long as animals keep coming in,” says Kerry Armstrong Lowe, HDLA’s founder and executive director. By offering vet vouchers, food, dog houses, fence repair and help with reclamation fees, since 2013 the two organizations have kept more than 15,000 dogs out of two city shelters.

“No kill” was a powerful starting point for a movement toward change, but the words have become short-hand and a catchphrase that doesn’t lead us forward in the real world. The future demands more than a number.

Opinion: A dog, a neighborhood and a different way of seeing

Los Angeles Times


My chow-shepherd Casey and I have walked the same streets for almost 15 years. Every morning, every night, seven days a week, rain or shine. Like most city dogs, Casey enforces this clause of the human-canine contract with meaningful looks, insistent pawing and (when all else fails) a snout-thrust to the laptop that allows no dissent.

I’d like to describe our hundreds of hours spent wandering the neighborhood as meditative, but they have often driven me nuts. Casey chooses the same route, greets whatever dogs are out, sniffs the same bushes from five angles before deigning to pee.

Still, the ritual has shifted some. Many familiar canine faces have vanished, and Casey’s painful shuffle tells me that our time together is short.

And lately, I’ve also come to realize what our walks have given me.

When I tell people about the pocket Westside neighborhood where I live, I always say I’ve never known or felt so deeply connected to a place. I realize now that’s not because my neighborhood is special. It’s because of Casey.

He is why I know every house around me — which lawns are always overgrown and which manicured, which yards have peach trees, and which cacti: walking at a dog’s pace forced me to see them. Casey is why I know every nearby family that ever had a dog, because he pulled me into the canine social orbit — of Blue and Sarah, on the next block; of big Valentine and golden Ollie and a dozen others.

The dogs in turn brought me into the lives of dozens of human neighbors. There was Frank, whose parents’ lives were ruined by the Cultural Revolution; Dan, the dogless dog-lover who drinks beer with friends outside his apartment, a giant jar of treats at his side. Some have become real friends, like Michelle, who came via Ava, a Great Dane mix and his sweet giant pack-mate Baxter. These people watch for me, ask after me, worry if I don’t show.

Fifteen years beside Casey have given me my own slice of Los Angeles. Work and politics and my daughter’s endless soccer games introduced me to a hundred neighborhoods sprawled across the basin. But I know them only from a distance, a camera’s panorama shot of mountains, the sweep of landscape framed by a car window. Walks with Casey are close-ups. I notice the increasingly neglected look of a home newly split by divorce and waiting for sale, the car whose weekly fender-bender damage suggests its driver’s dementia is worsening. In close up, the passage of time becomes concrete — the front lawn swing gives way to a soccer net; the porch steps are replaced by a wheelchair ramp.

The close-ups hold the quiet history of the streets themselves – the scrawled initials “CS 1973” in a driveway, the tiny plaque set in the sidewalk: “WPA 1940.” In our atomized, scattered world, there may be nothing else that roots one in a way so intensely, intimately local as walking the same streets, day after day, at a dog’s pace.

In L.A., 15 years is a long time. My tech-adjacent neighborhood is shifting, its 1940s bungalows giving way to large, white “modernist” boxes, its Subarus being replaced by Teslas. I feel the new world most acutely in the passing of the generation of dogs that first anchored me here. Val, Sarah and Blue are all gone. When Ollie died, his owner walked through the neighborhood crying, hiding Ollie’s rubber balls in bushes for other dogs to find. The day Ava died of cancer, I joined his owner to grieve beside his still body.

And yet, some things hold. Casey and I greet the few remaining old-timers including Albee, a white jindo, now deaf and stiff-legged with arthritis, who has always been Casey’s fiercest enemy. When we ran into him a few weeks ago, the two dogs paused to glare, their hackles raised, then both moved on. They’d still like to kill each other, but it just would be too much work.

As the new houses are finished, we meet the dogs and people who move in. There’s a young woman with a small, sweet-faced pit, a man whose bouncy long-legged mutt has the majestic name of Titan. We navigate the familiar streets, the phone pings relentlessly and headlines pull me toward the human world and its horrors, but Casey will not be rushed. Pee on this tree? No, maybe that one.

Meanwhile, I notice the cloud of purple bougainvillea that looks especially striking against a new home’s gray wall, and the spectacularly gnarled trunk of a 79-year-old pepper tree. Time must be taken, attention must be paid. It’s the gift dogs give us, and what they leave with us when they go.