In Defense of Whether It Happens or Not: Queen Mary Re-Design (and Every Idea Before or After It) Is Good for the Long Beach Spirit
Renderings courtesy of Benoy. Above: the theme park-y, hokey, and wonderful design for the proposed Queen Mary development that many hate but can’t be entirely wrong.
Long Beach loves renderings of things that aren’t in existence yet—and make no mistake, the same goes for the massive, proposed build out of the land surrounding the Queen Mary, complete with its array of renderings that show an entertainment complex filled with people as much as faded hopes. It’s like we feign for talking about what could be and, like we’re chasing the dragon until morn, further fueling our addiction with visuals. Shit tons of visuals that sometimes make the loss all the worse should these dreams not become tangible.
Remember the Port Disney proposal?
Sure, some of these projects are more dead than Jeannine Pearce’s hopes at reelection and some aren’t necessarily dead but just… They reach for the sky.
And y’know what? That is perfectly A-okay.
I used to not think so.
Show me rendering after rendering of what we are capable of, whether it happens or not. Show me affordable housing that is actually affordable. Show me a Queen Mary that will attract a family vacationing from Ohio. Show me a tower reaching for the sky and housing a woman who would rather build her tech empire here rather than Santa Monica. Show me every damn idea you have.
I used to be perpetually frustrated—if not flat out angry—that Long Beach was always up-and-coming but never upped and never came.
And any decent Long Beach denizen eventually hits a wall and I hit that wall. If I saw one more damned beautiful rendering of what could be, I would be instilled with such a deep-seated vitriol that I would want to stand up and utterly lose my shit. As in throwing the scraps of poster board at Pat West, losing my mind enough to want to leave the city. (Sorry, Pat, your dream of that happening won’t be happening soon.)
But now, I think these things are important. I think possibilities, and the discussions along with them, are important—just as important as to whether those possibilities come to fruition or not.
And the new Queen Mary complex being proposed? It’s $250M price tag? Along with its theme park-y theme and aura? They’re perfectly okay—and here’s why.
For one, when it comes to this project specifically, it’s time for designers to avoid the pretense and examine things for what they are.
When Urban Commons unveiled the first set of renderings—showcasing a Parisian World Fair-like lobby and entry way, a strong focus on food and entertainment over retail, hints of the Art Deco design that fill the ship’s interior all the while harkening to a time when ports and piers were the epicenter of human wonder—I actually applauded the efforts put forth by designers from Gensler. However, many design and architect friends were dismayed by my support.
“You’re kidding me, right?” he wrote. “While James Corner, West 8, and other innovative designers are creating exciting, forward-thinking waterfront destinations worldwide—not just renderings but actual projects—we get this faux village wrapped in a tired nostalgia. We have real history here with the Queen Mary.”
This all went unhinged when he said “real history”—because the Queen Mary isn’t really ours, isn’t really American, and is, whether we want to admit it or not, beyond kitschy. With its attachment to Long Beach itself, its almost ahistorical.
It’s like… Well, it’s like Disneyland.
Polished and removed from history, it serves the distinct purpose of transporting folks without the heavy baggage. To add the gravity of serious design that isn’t playful or even outright tongue-in-cheek is detrimental to the fact that we love the Queen Mary because it isn’t really ours.
It’s old—really old. It’s tied to a country that has been around long enough to imperialize, apologize, and still serve curry with only a shrug of internalized shame and little public rebuke. It’s grand. It harkens to a legacy that we just weren’t really a part of. And in that sense, we use it to escape and, in that sense, Gensler’s throwback, theme park-y, cheesy, tongue-in-cheek design is quite a fit.
I remember mocking the Pike Outlets: “Who the hell wants outlets?” It turns out a lotta people do. Spoke to the Cinemark manager and was told their numbers have quadrupled. I see families. Kids playing. Teens skating and hanging out. I was inherently wrong in thinking that the Pike had to be incredibly unique, incredibly contemporary, incredibly Long Beach to work.
Turns out Long Beach is way more diverse than those who want to keep it all insular, all local, all us. Turns out kids need an H&M. And this project might just become the place in which families who need a theme park-y place to hang out might actually get one. They might just want a place that reflects when the Queen Mary was at its peak, not surrounded by hyper-contemporary, over-analytical design.
Which brings me to the big point: the fact that I said “this project might just become…”
The theme of Long Beach if there ever was one.
Well, pardon the language, but how about we just fuckin’ own it? Because y’know what? Long Beach isn’t up and coming anymore; we’re here. We’re not in the Shadow of LA and we aren’t the Weekend Lease for OC. The world knows about us; we’re not a hidden gem.
And with that has come difficulties. We are dealing with a housing crisis and increasing homeless issue. We’re dealing with gentrification, cultural eradication, and skyrocketing rents. We’re dealing with being a city that was once largely removed from the regional discussion to now, where we are an active player in it, becoming home to refugees of displacement in LA.
We’re in dire need of possibilities, of the idea that something good can come of the ideas that Long Beach is generating. And no, this is not me saying that the renderings being churned out always equate to something great—I have been critical of many of them, calling them uninspired for lacking affordable housing or not catering to the needs of those that were already here.
But I am over calling everything bad, horrible, ugly, and unwanted. I am over this odd desire to have everything remain the same yet simultaneously retort that living costs are becoming too high—that, in and of itself, is cognitive dissonance. I am over xenophobia being painted thinly with a liberal We Were Here First mentality that romanticizes unsafe streets of past. I am over being told that we haven’t moved forward as a city when it was just a handful of decades ago that our own Mayor Ernie Kell supported city council members in not wanting “queers swinging from the trees” during Pride.
Turns out Long Beach is way more diverse than those who want to keep it all insular, all local, all us. Turns out kids need a H&M and it might turn out that families need a theme park-y place to hang out. They might just want a place that reflects when the Queen Mary was at its peak, not surrounded by hyper-contemporary, over-analytical design.
I am over a lack of belief in that we can do better. I am over the belief that in order to be better, we must remain the same, not change, exclude outsiders, cater to a status quo, or always seek something the opposite of that, something new and shiny.
So y’know what, Long Beach? Dream away.
Show me rendering after rendering of what we are capable of, whether it happens or not. Show me affordable housing that is actually affordable. Show me a Downtown that doesn’t cater to a banal gastropub crowd of white dudes with mustaches. Show me a Queen Mary that will attract a family vacationing from Ohio. Show me a tower reaching for the sky and housing a woman who would rather build her tech empire here rather than Santa Monica. Show me a park on the Westside that treats its inhabitants like they’re humans and treats their community like a space worth protecting.
Show me every damn idea you have. The only thing I ask is that you are seeking to make Long Beach better in a way that you can back up, defend, and show off—but remain showing up when the trolls and NIMBYs, the naysayers and the curmudgeons, the desperate and the uninformed try to shoot you down.
Show me every damn dream you have.