Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Los Angeles Suburban

It is the epitome of the California suburban dream, hated by the urbanists but loved by its residents—until freeways quit being built—who appreciate one of the greatest blending of polycentric living on the planet, an important insight concerning development that has not yet been understood by local leadership but noted by Bogart (2006):

“The dominant intellectual approach to describing cities during the twentieth century was the monocentric city model. In a monocentric city, all commercial and industrial activity takes place in the central business district, while the rest of the city consists of residential areas. This description was reasonably accurate as recently as 1950 in most cities…

“Even by 1960 observers such as Jane Jacobs and Jean Gottman had discerned a new structure for metropolitan areas, although popular interpreters of their work have neglected this insight. This new structure was called the polycentric city, in recognition of the multiple centers of economic activity that now comprised the metropolitan area. While some people have recognized this change for more than forty years, it still has surpassingly little impact on the design of public policy.” (p.9)
Bogart, W. (2006). Don’t call it sprawl: Metropolitan structure in the twenty first century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

LA is now in trouble, culturally and politically, as reported by New Geography.

An excerpt.

“Los Angeles today is a city in secular decline. Its current political leadership seems determined to turn the sprawling capitalist dynamo into a faux New York. But they are more likely to leave behind a dense, government-dominated, bankrupt, dysfunctional, Athens by the Pacific.

“The greatness of Los Angeles stemmed from its willingness to be different. Unlike Chicago or Denver or New York, the Los Angeles metro area was designed not around a central core but on a series of centers, connected first by railcars and later by the freeways. The result was a dispersed metropolis where most people occupied single-family houses in middle-class neighborhoods.

“Lured by the pleasant climate and a business-dominated political economy, industries and entrepreneurs flocked to the region. Initially, the growth came largely from oil and agriculture, followed by the movie industry. Defense and aerospace during World War II and the postwar era fostered a vast industrial base, and by the 1980s Los Angeles had surpassed New York as the nation's largest port, and Chicago as the nation's leading industrial center.

“The region hit a rough spot as the end of the Cold War led to massive federal cutbacks in aerospace. Los Angeles County lost nearly 500,000 jobs between 1990 and 1993. But it bounced back, adding nearly 400,000 jobs between 1993 and 1999. Aerospace never fully recovered, but other parts of the industrial belt—including the port and the apparel and entertainment industries—grew. An entrepreneurial class of immigrants—Middle Eastern, Korean, Chinese, Latino—launched new businesses in everything from textiles and ethnic food to computers. The pro-business mayoralty of Richard Riordan and the governorship of Pete Wilson restored confidence among the city's beleaguered companies.

“Then progress stalled. Employment stayed relatively flat from 2001 until 2005, when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was elected, and then started to drop. As of this March, over the entire L.A. metropolitan area, which includes adjacent Orange County, unemployment was 11.4%—the third-highest unemployment rate of the nation's 20 largest metro areas.

“Why has Los Angeles lost its mojo? A big reason is a decline in the power and mettle of the city's once-vibrant business community. Between the late 1980s and the end of the millennium, many of L.A.'s largest and most influential firms—ARCO, Security Pacific, First Interstate, Union Oil, Sun America—disappeared in a host of mergers that saw their management shift to cities like London, New York and San Francisco. Meanwhile, says David Abel, a Democratic Party activist and publisher of the influential Planning Report, once-powerful groups like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation lost influence.

“The machine that now controls Los Angeles by default consists of an alliance between labor and the political leadership of the Latino community, the area's largest ethnic population. But since politicians serve at the whim of labor interests, they seldom speak up for homeowners and small businesses.

“Mayor Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, has little understanding of private-sector economic development beyond well-connected real-estate interests whom he has courted and which have supported him. He has been a strong backer of L.A. Live, a downtown ports and entertainment complex, and other projects that have benefited from favorable tax treatment and major public infrastructure investments. He's currently supporting a push to build a new downtown football stadium, though L.A. has no professional football team. His biggest priority is to build the so-called subway to the sea, a $40 billion train line to connect downtown with the Pacific.

“But L.A.'s downtown employs a mere 2.5% of the region's work force; New York's central business districts, by contrast, employ roughly 20%. "To put the entire focus of development on downtown L.A.," says Ali Modarres, chairman of the geography department at Cal State Los Angeles, "is to ignore the historical, cultural, economic [and] social forces that have shaped the larger geography of this metropolitan area."