CityWatch, June 8, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 45
City Hall’s best shot for survival consists of heeding the call of the wild and looking to the natural world for inspiration, a strategy that will position LA to not only survive the current budget crisis but to emerge from the battle ready to take its place as a Great City.
LA’s Mayor and City Council would do well to look at the unbending rules of nature and to imitate the time-tested sustainable behavior of the those who have gone through worse and have still prevailed.
*Nature thrives on diversity. LA’s City Hall is filled with fruit from the “yes” tree and rubber stamping commissions, reinforcing incestuous behavior and the magnification of weakness.
LA must embrace its human infrastructure and celebrate the rich and vibrant wealth of talent that makes LA the richest city in the world.
*Nature rewards specialization. LA’s Mayor touts LA as the “cultural capital,” the “Greenest Big City,” the “Undisputed Creative City,” the “Biotech Capital,” the “Eco-Fashion Capital,” the “Solar Capital,” and the “Green Technology Capital.” Along the way, the titles that LA actually accumulated are in Homelessness, Foreclosures, Unemployment, Traffic Congestion, Failing Infrastructure, Budget Shortfall and Disappointment.
LA must pick something, stick with it, and become the Capital of (insert something BIG that draws on LA’s unique challenges) setting a Great City standard and charting the long-term course for comprehensive municipal recovery and dominance.
*Nature loves transparency. LA’s Predators share the same watering holes as LA’s Prey, artfully seducing them with promises of immense comfort, protection, and long careers. They look alike, they sound alike, they smile and act professionally. They’re not here to serve the people of LA. They’re the Predators.
Lobbyists, Developers, Fixers, Handlers, Consultants, and Contractors alike must be required to conduct their business while wearing the appropriate stripes, spots, patterns, plumage or rattlers, so that there is no mistake when a Predator is in vicinity.
*Nature operates systemically. LA’s unique balance of power is “provincial” at best and the Mayor and the City Council squabble just enough to set the tone for the 45 City Departments and Bureaus who go along to get along, all the while building silos for protection.
LA must attack its problems systemically and stop addressing homelessness, housing, employment, crime, traffic congestion and infrastructure as local community based issues. Metrolink’s new CEO, John E. Fenton explains “Real systemic improvement of performance comes when you manage by exception. I’m always going to manage the bottom quartile in every case.”
*Nature rewards groups. LA’s community infrastructure is its greatest asset and yet the notion that communities should be supported and that regional organizations should be embraced is still treated as a novelty. Constituents groups in packs, swarms, mobs, and prides indicate health, not a threat to the Lords of the Manor.
LA’s Neighborhood Council system must be supported with the full force of the Mayor and the City Council. Connecting the people of LA with their City and with their neighbors will only edify Los Angeles. Resistance comes from those who thrive on the status quo and who fear progress.
*Nature loves information. LA’s data infrastructure is sorely outdated and in dire need of an overhaul. 45 Departments and Bureaus each have their own protocols, collectively unique enough to isolate us from our neighboring municipalities, from the County, and from the State. Los Angeles actually asks its partners to “dumb down” their communications in order to connect to LA.
Smart Cities react in real time to data that announces predictable events and everything including emergencies is predictable. Know what to monitor, pay attention, act accordingly. Soon!
*Nature keeps improving. LA’s legacy is the ability to commit the same mistakes over and over, never learning from them but always hoping that the sheer size of LA will allow for the rules to be bent. Sometimes it works, temporarily, but it often fails.
LA’s ability to take its place as a Great City depends wholly on its ability to commit to a long-term plan for survival that demands consistent evaluation and improvement, not simply the continuing avoidance and postponement of catastrophe or collapse.
*Nature right-sizes. LA’s ability to rationalize failure is exceeded only by its ability to fail. When funding presents itself in bulk, LA’s leaders have actually sat at the table and explained that “We didn’t have the staff in place to spend the money and we didn’t notice for two years.” LA is lean when it should be fat, LA is fat when it should be lean.
LA must look to other larger cities to determine an effective strategy for matching the needs of the city with the size of City Hall. Larger cities thrive so its not simply size, its the right size at the right time in the right place. LA must get it right.
*Nature thinks long term. LA’s Mayor and City Council plan for the duration of their terms and for their next campaign. They are currently very busy consuming LA, exploring every means possible to increase fees, raise rates, bump penalties, add licenses, and otherwise extract more money from the people of Los Angeles. At the same time, the city’s physical infrastructure decays as maintenance and repairs are further curtailed while anything of value has already been appraised and buyers are being courted.
LA’s course must be charted by those who are committed to LA’s future, not those who are already packed and ready to head off to political office elsewhere, leaving LA to pay off their debts.
*Nature rewards good stewardship. LA’s City Hall is where is starts, literally. The people of LA must grab City Hall by the recycling bin and address the gross inefficiencies and underutilization of its resources, establishing a standard for the City Departments and for the City of LA.
LA will take its place as a Great City when it is led by good stewards, people who are committed to being resourceful, productive, and faithful as they turn waste into wealth.
Last week, Enci and I spent a few days in Yosemite National Park, a familiar experience that is always daunting and overwhelming, as if for the first time. At every turn, we were reminded by park management of our responsibilities as guests and as stewards. Most of all, we were impressed by the hugeness and awesomeness of nature as we walked along the waterfalls, as we hiked through the woods, and as we stood quietly under a star-filled sky and experienced millions of years of balance and perfection.
Los Angeles is no different. It is a huge and awesome city that is bigger than any one person but totally dependent on our collective service and good stewardship. LA exists for our benefit and it is our responsibility to serve the City as good stewards; anything less would be unnatural.
(Stephen Box writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)