Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Big, Big, Way Too Big City

Today, an organization called Smart Growth America released a report by Christopher B. Leinberger and Patrick Lynch of George Washington University. The report ranked the 30 largest metro areas in America by 'walkability', meaning how easy it is to walk around the urban area as defined by the location and size of various types of key locations within those metros, and then again by how easy they project it to be in the future based on current trends. Ranked in the top three are Washington DC, New York and Boston; the bottom three are Tampa, Phoenix and Orlando. I'm not exactly inclined to disagree with these.

As for the future rankings, the same three cities lead, but there's a change in the bottom three, showing San Diego, Kansas City and San Antonio instead. Tampa had moved up to 10th, Phoenix to 12th and Orlando to 18th.

But let's talk about Los Angeles, going from 18th in the current rankings to 11th in the future rankings. The LA Times seems optimistic about the study and talking about how bright the future is for the city. They focus on tearing down and rebuilding their rail transit system, and consolidating certain parts of the metro. But I'm not sure if the rankings are too high.

Los Angeles needs a lot of consolidation. A lot. You can get from Santa Monica to Dana Point to San Bernardino without leaving Los Angeles. Hell, in Katy Perry's song California Gurls, Snoop Dogg consecutively identifies Venice Beach and Palm Springs, two places that are 122 miles and over a 2-hour drive apart, as part of Los Angeles. Just a massive, massive chunk of land. I don't care what you do, that is not a walking environment. This is a city in which, when you go there on vacation, you will be told not to attempt to see the entire city. You will be told, as I was when I first visited for a week, to pick a section of the city, see that, and then go back another time to see another part. In a total of two weeks there as a tourist, I have yet to venture south of LAX, or east of Little Tokyo.

Quite frankly, for LA to get to walking size, there's more than one outlying area that will need to be more or less emptied out and shunted toward the coast. Even within the 'main' part of the metro, getting from one hotspot to another involves a decent-sized drive. Santa Monica to Hollywood, to downtown, to Culver City, and then back to Santa Monica is a hellacious undertaking. As I noted, you can have an entire vacation without ever leaving that area, and you will still be doing a lot of driving.

And this is a place where Smart Growth America essentially dodges the issue. In another report earlier this month, they measure sprawl in 221 metro areas throughout the country, and they scored Los Angeles, Anaheim, and the Inland Empire- the part with San Bernardino in it- as three different metro areas, and scored Anaheim 10th, Los Angeles 21st and the Inland Empire 215th. I think this merely highlights the issue. Los Angeles is so big and sprawling they had to split it into three metro areas. An urban rail system isn't going to solve that.

 To make LA more walkable, what you need to do is get a time machine and build it more compact in the first place. I don't know how you intend to get, say, Pasadena any closer to Venice Beach. But any compacting that can be done is always welcome.

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