The L.A. Weekly's David Zahniser is out with a cluster of stories on one of the least talked-about big stories in Los Angeles: the push by planners, pols led by Mayor Villaraigosa and the real estate industry to promote much greater urban density in the city. Zahniser frames it as a cultural shift (in a city that obviously likes its cars, sprawl and backyards) and does a good job skewering the ways the catch phrase "smart growth" has been manipulated by developers and fans of urbanism to sell more of the unplanned overbuilding that got us into today's traffic mess. From the main piece:
Los Angeles leaders are pinning their hopes on smart growth, the utopian planning vision that seeks to halt the suburban sprawl that comes with endlessly expanding cities. Politicians, planners and policy types say smart growth, sometimes described as “new urbanism,” will relieve the region’s housing shortage, diminish its traffic woes and solve L.A.’s overall unlivability.
Real estate developers have caught on, using the phrase shamelessly to gain public support for enormous developments, from a hillside subdivision near Santa Clarita to the Westside’s Playa Vista, the massive, 5,800-home development near Marina del Rey. In a city where growth was once a dirty word, smart growth is the spoonful of sugar that suddenly makes bigness palatable.
From a sidebar on the misuse of the smart growth concept:
In just a short decade, smart growth has become the chameleon of urban planning, changing its appearance depending on the need of the lobbyist, real estate developer or investor. Politicians use the phrase to quiet angry neighborhood leaders, even arguing that new development will fight congestion, not increase it. Developers insist they are pursuing smart growth simply by adding stores and restaurants to residential projects.
Somebody was going to finally look at the rush to densify and how it could change the city's culture, and I'm not surprised Zahniser got on the board early. His piece on gentrification last year was widely lauded. Expect the coming culture clash between urbanists and whatever you want to call the car-driving, yard-aspiring Angelenos west, south and east of downtown and in the Valley to be a running political and media story over the next, oh, couple of decades.