Los Angeles is a Lot Like Paris?

This article on development in Los Angeles is an incredibly fascinating read. I love the conclusion: nothing I ever would have thought of but so true! It describes how the urban form of Los Angeles is more similar to Paris than New York in its decentralized nature.

Unlike New York, there isn't really a reason to be in downtown Los Angeles. On the surface, you could say this is because the city is too suburban and has cut off the air supply to its downtown hub. However, this type of development can not only be ok in some circumstances, but it's ingrained in the DNA of the city. Rather than being suburban, it's more comparable to a city like Paris (which has suburb problems of its own). There, the center of the city is paralyzed because it is a historical "museum" where there is resistance to change, and the main business district La Défense developed on the outskirts.

The article goes on to show how rail lines are different in these two cases: it's focused in a more dispersed rather than hub-and-spoke model (something I always used to wish for when I wanted to get to middle of nowhere Queens from the middle of nowhere Bronx!) However, I think another conclusion to draw is this dispersed development ends up being more equitable than a monocentric form.

Suburbs may be unsustainable in the long term, but so are diverse city centers when looked at in this angle. There is by definition a limited amount of space within a reasonable distance to the center, and the most efficient transit system in the world won't change this. Jobs will concentrate in the center. The rich will concentrate and create a homogeneous downtown that takes away from the diversity that actually makes city centers desirable. The poor and middle classes are dispersed with little access to centralized public services and economic activity, and everyone suffers from the lack of income diversity in the city.

In a dispersed city, there is no "center" to encourage this concentration and its ill effects. Of course there will still be rich and poor and middle class neighborhoods, but their distribution will be more random and not focused into groups on a metro scale. There will be no such thing as being marginalized from the city center and probably less of a disparity between commuting times of the rich and the poor. No one will be able to live in their isolated bubble and ignore marginalized populations.

The one downside to this versus a centralized city is that there is no natural inclination to dense less-car-dependent development, which is why Los Angeles is Los Angeles. Incentives have to be carefully managed to encourage dense development, because the natural inclination with no center to be close to will be sprawl. Getting back to the point of the article, if you have a transit system that connects various "mini-hubs" in a grid-like way, it will provide a nice skeleton for future transit oriented development.

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