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Pittsburgh's Lessons for Los Angeles and Beyond: Reinvest in Planning

The rules are changing, Tom Murphy says, and cities need to change, too.
November 2, 2016, 1pm PDT | Elana Eden
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Sean Pavone

At the Transit Oriented Los Angeles conference in October, local leaders shared valuable insights drawn from experiences throughout the Southern California region. Tom Murphy—senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute and former mayor of Pittsburgh—offered something different: an outside perspective that synthesized broad trends, observed from work in more than 100 cities.

Murphy urges cities to take advantage of what he calls our "Horatio Nelson Jackson moment," referring to the first person to drive across the United States in an automobile. Cities today stand on the brink of a new economy driven by technological innovation, population growth, and the effects of climate change, he says. To keep pace, they will have to create new tools and forge new ways of doing business.

"The federal government is sort of out to lunch," he says. "State government is largely in the black hole of American politics. That leaves local government to decide whether your community is going to succeed in a world where the fundamental rules are beginning to change."

Since the 1980s, he explains, local government in Pittsburgh has succeeded in transforming "one of the most environmentally degraded and one of the most economically depressed places in America" into one that has been called "the most livable city in America."

The takeaway for Los Angeles—where ballot-box planning has become increasingly common—is that local and regional governments must reinvest in city planning and develop clear, long-term visions for growth and livability.

"I didn’t hear this morning about strategy,” he noted. "What I did hear is that Los Angeles is doing a series of individual transactions without a broader strategy for the kind of community you want to have. This community needs a strategy—a vision. You need to know where you want to go."

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Published on Monday, October 10, 2016 in The Planning Report
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