I remember a pretty girl in high school who, during a dreamy interlude before science class one day, described the kind of guy she wanted to date. He'd be smart and witty but kind and gentle. He'd have sensitive eyes. He'd want to know the soul of her.
After school that day, she roared off with the school biker on the back of his motorcycle. As I recall, his eyes were kind of felonious.
Los Angeles reminds me of that girl. Los Angeles doesn't seem to know what it really wants.
Take density. Many business folks and officials talk dreamily of their desire to create more urban density. Los Angeles is too sprawling, they say. We need more mixed-use projects, condo towers and office buildings. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talks about the need to build up, especially housing, and how the crane is the official bird of Los Angeles and all that.
But as soon as such projects get proposed, L.A. essentially says it doesn't want them after all. The main problem is that such projects cause more traffic, you see, and L.A. needs more vehicles about as much as Barack Obama needs more Jeremiah Wrights.
L.A.'s tug of war with itself over density was on display last week when the Beverly Hills City Council approved a project to add a couple of condo buildings and a Waldorf-Astoria hotel to the Beverly Hilton site. But local residents, saying they couldn't abide more traffic at the already teeming intersection, are vowing to gather signatures and force a referendum.
Of course, that brings up the next big issue: traffic. Lots of people say they'd like L.A. to solve this nagging problem. But again, Los Angeles seems genuinely conflicted about what it really wants.
On the one hand, a subway network or similar mass-transit system is often talked about dreamily, but little is done because it would be breathtakingly expensive.
On the other, improvements to the street system could speed along traffic, but little is done because, well, I've never been sure why. But there's clearly little will to do much. Even the fairly modest proposal to turn Olympic and Pico boulevards into something akin to thoroughfares has met with sturdy resistance from residents and businesses that don't want motorists racing through their neighborhoods.
Nobody asked me what to do, but since I have a few more column inches to fill, here goes:
More density makes sense. Los Angeles needs to keep pace with demand for office and housing space, and going up is the only real option. Besides, an increase in supply of units may help make housing prices and office rents more affordable.
Mass transit would be great. Who wouldn't like to see it? But at best it will be decades before we'd have a subway network with true point-to-point utility, such as in Tokyo or Paris or Manhattan. Mass transit is a long-term solution.
Traffic improvements are short- and medium-term solutions. More one-way streets, timed lights and left-turn signals would improve traffic flow. After that, construction of a few parkways or thoroughfares (yes, eminent domain may need to be employed) would help even more.
Alas, Angelenos, like that high school girl, may talk about those things and dream about them, but they really don't want to do them.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com .
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