Urbanizing LA

A hopeless quest—as it is in Sacramento, see K Street history—but one the LA urbanists are trying anyway, which Joel Kotkin dissects in this superb article.

An excerpt.

Southern California faces a crisis of confidence. A region that once imagined itself as a new model of urbanity – what the early 20th century minister and writer Dana Bartlett called “the better city” – is increasingly being told that, to succeed, it must abandon its old model and become something more akin to dense Eastern cities, or to Portland or San Francisco.

This has touched off a “density craze,” in which developers and regulators work overtime to create a future dramatically different from the region’s past. This kind of social engineering appeals to many pundits, planners and developers, but may scare the dickens out of many residents. They may also be concerned that the political class, rather than investing in improving our neighborhoods, seems determined to use our dollars to subsidize densification and support vanity projects, like a new Downtown Los Angeles football stadium. At same time, policymakers seek to all but ban suburban building, a misguided and extraordinarily costly extension of their climate-change agenda.

This effort works against the region’s basic DNA. Our Downtown, for all its promotion, is not a dominant business or cultural center. It accounts for barely 1/10th the share of regional employment that Manhattan – at more than 20 percent – provides for its region and less than one-sixth the share of regional jobs accounted for by San Francisco, less than one-third that of much-maligned, spread-out Houston.

Some people contend that, by investing heavily in mass transit, we can re-engineer our region towards a more-19th century model, which Los Angeles, as a 20th century city, never had. Some, like economics and political blogger Matt Yglesias, suggest Los Angeles’ $8 billion-plus investment in rail is making it the “the next great transit city.”

Well, after 30 years of relentless spending on subways and light rail, the share of transit commuters in the region (comprising Los Angeles and Orange counties, the Inland Empire and Ventura County) is about where it was in 1980 – roughly 5 percent – compared with greater New York’s 27 percent or Chicago’s 11 percent.

Village people

Transit has limited effect in Southern California because this region functions best as a network of “villages,” some more urban than others, connected primarily by freeways and an enviable arterial street system. Inside our villages, we can find the human scale and comfort that can be so elusive in a megacity. This arrangement allows many Southern Californians to live in a quiet neighborhood that also is within one of the world’s most diverse – and important – cities.

These villages span all the vast diversity of Southern California. Some areas, like Downtown Los Angeles, increasingly appeal to young professionals who seek a version of dense urban living. They share a universe with cohorts found in many older cities: young hipsters, a small sample of empty nesters and a sizable population of homeless who live on the edges of the gentrification zone.

Retrieved July 29, 2014 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/004448-dont-be-so-dense-about-housing

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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