Los Angeles' Smart Growth Saga

<p>The city is working hard to increase density, but with Angelenos firmly attached to their cars and the region's transit moving at a snail's pace, can smart growth really work in L.A.?</p>
June 11, 2007, 5am PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Los Angeles leaders are pinning their hopes on smart growth, the utopian planning vision that seeks to halt the suburban sprawl that comes with endlessly expanding cities. Politicians, planners and policy types say smart growth, sometimes described as "new urbanism," will relieve the region's housing shortage, diminish its traffic woes and solve L.A.'s overall unlivability."

"With a real estate boom serving as the spark, smart-growth projects have spread like wildfire, rising near subway and light-rail stations. Hollywood is adding thousands of condos and apartments along the Metro Red Line. Koreatown is ground zero for hundreds of new multistory homes and offices near the subway. Little Tokyo is a magnet for four- and five-story condo projects, largely because of a Metro Gold Line station slated to open in 2009."

"Beyond this construction near the area's few rail lines, the city's many bus corridors are also attracting apartments, lofts, town homes and condos - La Brea Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard, Vine Street and Ventura Boulevard, Western Avenue and Washington Boulevard. Higher-density housing is being recommended for any corner where a bus arrives every 15 minutes or less.

And that leads to one huge problem: For all the talk of a subway to the sea, Los Angeles is a bus town. For each mile of rail operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, there are 40 miles of bus routes. And in 2007, the average speed of the widely used orange bus is just 11.7 miles per hour. Buses, which will serve in many ways as the backbone for smart growth, are stuck in traffic along with everybody else.

If smart growth is about changing behavior - getting people to give up the car, the backyard, the five-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac - then planning gurus are taking a tremendous gamble in Los Angeles, the city that made sprawl the urban form of the 20th century."

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Published on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 in LA Weekly
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