About 10 days ago the New York Times ran a fascinating Room for Debate topic asking: Should Los Angeles New Yorkify? I think this is a fascinating debate and it is very prescient considering that the American Planning Association is hosting their annual conference in LA this week.
Unfortunately for me, I am unable to attend this year’s APA conference. This won’t stop me from weighing in on the matter even though I have only visited these two cities exactly once.
As an urban planner, I have had a lot of preconceived notions about what exactly LA is and is not. I thought I knew it to be a sprawling, low density, suburban template with no real sense of place and no urbanity. The reality is much more nuanced than this. Yes, LA has sprawl, but did you know it is actually the most population dense metropolitan area in the country? Now, of course, this is in terms of metro areas and not a direct comparison of Manhattan vs. the San Fernando Valley. LA has urban, really urban pockets. Hollywood is really urban. So too are many of the suburbs like Pasadena and Santa Monica.
So it’s established that LA is its own kind of city, albeit in an urban form that is nothing like New York. New York is built the way it is exactly because of its dense mass transit system, among the largest in the world, and the constraints of geography. LA is building a mass transit network worthy of its size only because it has finally reached the limits of its geography (hemmed in by mountains on all sides). And I think LA has realized the limitations to the car and the auto-centric urban form that is ingrained in its fabric and has realized that the LA of the future can be many things to many people. It won’t be New York, but who cares? New York is New York.