As we take the time to recognize the innovative companies across the wide variety of industries that make up L.A.’s community of business, we should also take a moment to look at the innovations that made the existence of this city possible.
When thinking of innovation, we may picture the culture-defining apps dreamed up in Silicon Beach or perhaps the visual wonders happening in Hollywood, yet many of this city’s earliest innovations were the result a very basic human need – access to water.
Even before colonial forces swept into the L.A. Basin, water was integral to the region and the Native American tribe indigenous to Los Angeles gathered around natural springs.
Once the first Spaniards began to settle in the river valley that now constitutes the City of Angels, the issue of access to water reared its head. Los Angeles’ early colonists constructed a distribution system of dams, water wheels and ditches – known as zanjas – to ensure their access to the water that flowed in the Los Angeles River.
As Los Angeles expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so did the city’s need for new, more reliable water sources. And in a reminder that innovation doesn’t come without costs, the likes of William Mulholland set their sights on the Owens River, which after an extended fight with the local population of farmers, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was constructed, and the river was diverted to Los Angeles, providing its residents with a more reliable source of water, but essentially ending agriculture production in the Owens River Valley.
Recent history shows that we might very well be at another crossroads when it comes to water in our continuously expanding city. After five years of drought, it’s time Los Angeles’ community of business turned its innovative streak to ensuring that this city remains habitable as climate change makes our climate more arid.
Whether through new ways to recycle wastewater, improving our rainwater absorption (and thus helping to replenish our groundwater) or discovering new ways to make this city more self-reliant when it comes to water access, perhaps it’s time we turn our innovative streak toward an issue that is certainly less glamorous but is nonetheless imperative to the future survival of our city.
It also might be time to consider where and how we build. Los Angeles is a real estate town, but it might be time to flex some innovative muscles on that front. After the Woolsey Fire devastated the northwest portion of the county in recent days, it seems to make sense to try and find ways to mitigate the physical damage and loss of human life that comes when wildfire patterns are ignored.
The business community is at its best when pushed to solve pressing problems, and both water issues and fire concerns are just that.
Time to do what we do best: innovate.
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