Observing Los Angeles

Examining Los Angeles from within is all the rage

foc-standup.jpgAudience at the Future of Cities event was invited to stand and meet the person next to them. Photos by Jonathan Alcorn.

The new group that calls itself Future of Cities: Leading in LA held its first public event last night, a gathering of about 500 people in the Bing Theatre at LACMA. They heard from panelists such as sports macher and philanthropist Casey Wasserman, the musician Moby, restaurateur Bill Chait, LACMA chief executive Michael Govan, UC Regents chair Monica Lozano, preservation developer Wayne Ratkovich, City Councilman David Ryu and CicLAvia founder Aaron Paley. (Whole list at the group's website.) This was the follow-up "summit" to the event last June that organizer Donna Bojarsky called to get a conversation going about civic leadership in Los Angeles. Some of the other panelists Monday night included community activists, education reformers and media types such as ABC 7 anchor Marc Brown, Los Angeles Magazine editor Mary Melton, KCRW host Madeline Brand, KCET senior VP Juan Devis and LA Times arts and culture columnist Carolina Miranda.

I spotted Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA Conservancy CEO Linda Dishman among the full house of attendees, who heard about the need for better schools, better transit and more engaged and creative civic leadership. The mayor, interesting enough, wasn't there but possible wishes he was after the reception he received at a forum in South Los Angeles.

In the days prior, Zócalo Public Square began posting an interesting set of stories looking at its home city of Los Angeles from many angles. There's Raphe Sonenshein on how LA mayors from Yorty to Bradley to Garcetti have reflected the aspirations of the moment, Bill Boyarsky on what remains of the Los Angeles Times he helped build, Claire Peeps on the evolution of LA's art scene, Mary Nichols on how smog was improved, Fernando Guerra on coalition building in LA politics, Jessica Levinson on how Angelenos never really cared much about local politics, Anita DeFrantz on the 2024 Olympics, Manuel Pastor on how transit and the reviving downtown are making LA feel more inclusive — and more!

From Zocalo's California and innovation editor Joe Mathews on the downsizing of the city of outsized dreams:

In the last century, Southern Californians dreamed so big and global that the size of our aspirations came to define this place. We created a 20th century cosmopolitan metropolis, extending from the mountains to the sea, a cultural and commercial trendsetter. We shaped the city into the entertainment capital of the world, and sought to be the sunniest, wealthiest, best educated, most sports-friendly, most entrepreneurial, most beautiful (in terms of people and landscape), and coolest region anywhere….


Today, ambition has given way to trepidation. Our most powerful aspirations are no longer about growing the city or its global footprint, but about splitting it into pieces, shrinking it into smaller communities. With our working class squeezed and the number of children in decline, we dream not of economic advance—but of finding a grip on some small ledge of L.A. that we can make our own, and hold onto as we age.

Our region’s current visionaries have convinced many of us that the best way to cope is to turn L.A. into a group of small villages, self-contained and sustainable—on the scale of the sorts of places previous generations fled to come to the big city.

We no longer want to attend big school systems (reformers are busy creating charter schools), work in big industries (we’d prefer one of those downtown or Playa Vista start-ups), or drive on big roads (we’re narrowing them to fit in bike lanes and new rail lines). We don’t even want a sprawling regional Olympics; our bid for the 2024 Games envisions a sporting festival divided up into five tight clusters in different parts of town.

And when it comes to the innovation and creativity that shape the future, we’re content to cede leadership to Silicon Valley. Hollywood now goes to great lengths to do much of its creative work elsewhere, at least when it isn’t cashing in its state subsidies.

Interesting times to be observing Los Angeles.

Meanwhile: More Jonathan Alcorn photos from the Future of Cities event.

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