Thursday, December 31, 2009

CityWatchLA - The Year of the Well Connected

CityWatch, Dec 30, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 105

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!"

The City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a crisis of unprecedented proportions and that presents LA with a rare "do-over" opportunity. A chance for the people of Los Angeles to embark on a new direction. One embracing the tactics of other Great Cities and charting a course driven by a connection to our destiny, our vision, and our purpose. If LA Mayor Villaraigosa wants to change the City’s downward spiral, he'll quickly establish Los Angeles as the Capital of the Well-Connected. He'll appoint a Czar of Connectivity. Not just somebody to fine-tune the Mayor's Tweeting skills, but somebody to rally the people of Los Angeles around our history, our story, our legacy and our journey.

Here are a few places that Los Angeles, the land of the well-connected, can start:

1) Los Angeles needs to connect with its history. Its story. As the City struggles with the budget crisis, now more that ever, the people of LA need to define the city's purpose.

Brisbane, Australia has a museum at its City Hall, and in that museum is an exhibit that presents the "City Machine" concept and tells the story of Brisbane from its early days to the present to its vision for the future.

It is acutely clear that the city's purpose is based on meeting a hierarchy of needs that starts with public health and public safety and moves through infrastructure and transportation to education and the arts.

Brisbane's motto is Meliora sequimur, Latin for We aim for better things. LA needs to connect with its past and maintain that connection as if it were the rudder steering the ship. It's the sign of a Great City.

2) Los Angeles needs to connect with its personality and character. As the City struggles to service the many communities in Los Angeles, the diversity of people and the variety of needs is often offered as an obstacle and as an excuse for inactivity.

Sydney, Australia by way of contrast, is a city with 25% more people and it positions itself as a "City of Villages," capitalizing on its diversity and celebrating the many choices to be found.

Los Angeles is the greatest brand in the world and it is made up of people from over 100 countries and speaking over 200 languages. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we recognize the people of Los Angeles as our greatest asset and position the patch-work quilt of LA's demographic landscape as a strength, not as a weakness. It's the sign of a Great City.

3) Los Angeles needs to connect physically with itself. Our communities are bisected and divided and children learn from an early age "Stay away from the street!"

We are a city of fences, boundaries, and borders, all of which contribute to the anonymity that prevails and prevents us from coalescing as a Great City with a shared purpose. There is no better time to embrace the development of open space, green space, and public space as tools for connecting the people of Los Angeles.

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council recently hosted a team of Planning Gurus from around the country as part of a sustainability survey and their recommendation for LA was to create "zippers" of public space that united neighborhoods and communities. LA needs to embrace the concept of streets that are designed for people. It's the sign of a Great City.

4) Los Angeles needs to connect with its clearly defined vision. The Mayor can talk about issues all day long and he even has a section on his website labeled "issues" but he does not have a clear VISION for Los Angeles.

Shame on us for waiting. It's acutely apparent that LA is currently a city focused on symptoms and that it is up to the people of LA to imagine the future and to create a vision for Los Angeles.

The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council has commissioned an "Imagine East Hollywood" project that is collecting the stories, experiences and visions of the individuals who make up the community. From the schools, the library, the streets, the transit hubs, the businesses and the churches, people are being asked to "Imagine!"

It is imperative that we as a community can collectively answer the questions "Where do you see LA in 5 years? Where do you want to go? What's your vision for Los Angeles?" It's the sign of a Great City.

5) Los Angeles needs to connect with its legacy. I appreciate Villaraigosa's enthusiasm but he has declared LA the Commercial Capital and the Culture Capital and the Biotech Capital and the Creativity Capital and the Eco-Fashion Capital and the Solar Capital and the Green Technology Capital and the Basketball Capital and the Electric Car Capital. Whew!

When reality sets in, it's apparent that LA is actually the Capital of Homelessness, Unemployment, Traffic Congestion and Air pollution.

We're also vying for titles in Unaffordable Housing, Wage Disparity and Failing Infrastructure. Toss in the fact that the City is in the middle of an economic meltdown and that the City staff is in the midst of an induced exodus and LA's legacy is now the Crisis Capital.

Almost fifty years ago, President-Elect John Kennedy quoted John Winthrop's sermon to the colonists as they prepared to settle in the new world. ""We must always consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us."

Kennedy warned that history sits in judgment based on the answers to four questions: Were they truly people of courage? Were they truly people of judgment? Were they truly people of integrity? Were they truly people of dedication?

The eyes of all people are upon Los Angeles. It is imperative, now more than ever, that the people of LA connect with their legacy as the Do-It-Yourself Capital and take responsibility for introducing courage, judgment, integrity and dedication into the governance of Los Angeles. After all, it's the sign of a Great City!

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

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