For much of the past quarter century, the San Fernando Valley has been treated and often thought of itself as the stepsister of Los Angeles, the butt of jokes and the place the rich and famous chose to avoid. Such resentments have been one of the key drivers behind the drive for Valley secession.

Yet now, perhaps it's time to rethink the idea of the Valley as perennial also-ran and consider a novel notion: the Valley as the vital new center of the city.

Indeed, if you look at Los Angeles as a region, the Valley, not downtown, is rapidly becoming the fulcrum around which the economy turns. With the most rapid population and economic growth, particularly in technology and high-end services, occurring on the suburban fringe, the Valley is increasingly the one place that is convenient to both the historic core, the Westside and the burgeoning Nerdistan on the periphery.

The Valley's renewed strength can be seen in its office vacancy rates, which are in the single digits roughly half the rates in central Los Angeles. It can be seen in new development that is rising from the eastern edges of Burbank and Glendale to the western fringes of Calabasas. It can be seen in the fact that the Valley, in contrast to downtown, actually is adding companies to its array of Fortune 500 firms.

This emerging status as what I describe as a "midopolis" is critical to understanding the incipient new role of the Valley. With the Red Line extension to North Hollywood set to open later this month, the Valley now has easy access to Hollywood and the immigrant-dominated central city. It has an emerging cultural district in NoHo, and a growing archipelago of sophisto hangouts from Studio City down to Encino that are turning Ventura Boulevard into an ersatz nouveau Beverly Hills.

The new Hollywood

Along with Burbank and Glendale, these areas are actually emerging as the center as well of Los Angeles' entertainment district. The expansion of Disney's facilities in the Valley, plus the increasing likelihood that DreamWorks SKG will settle permanently there, fuel this growth.

Activity is also growing along the midsection of the Valley, as epitomized by a new 33-acre industrial project near the Van Nuys Airport. Gradually, once-empty buildings in the area's industrial and warehousing heartland along such boulevards as Sherman Way and Victory Boulevard are being filled up.

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