3.31.2008

LA FOR EFFORT

As much of an LA hater as I am, I have to give them their props for trying to shed their sprawling ways. This is according to a recent article in The Economist: "Tackling the Hydra." Legislators are loosening restrictions to allow for more density near transit stops and stadiums, while halting plans for development in far-flung places, "signaling that the metropolis must now grow up, not out." '

Of course, this being LA, these shifts are not happening without a fight. "Density" is, to too many, a fighting word, conjuring up loss of breathing room and even more traffic. And, if people are honest, fear of "those people" moving in - insert your own bugaboo of who you don't want sharing your kids' classrooms and playgrounds.

Another tool legislators have is to get the price right so that peoples' day-to-day economic decisions are in sync with a more appropriate built environment. For example, free parking isn't free: it's absorbed by the provider of the parking lot, who then passes it on to all customers. There is therefore no incentive for an individual to conserve parking usage. Or, as the article puts it:

"A big reason Angelenos drive everywhere is that they can park everywhere, generally free. Businesses must provide parking spaces according to a strict schedule. This raises the cost of doing business and hugely lowers the cost of driving. Free parking is, as Donald Shoup of UCLA put it in a recent book, 'a fertility drug for cars.'"

But legislators can change the equation by increasing parking taxes, resulting in a more efficient supply of parking space vis a vis other land uses. Even die-hard Angelenos are changing their behavior in light of rising gas prices; get the price right in other aspects that affect the car culture and you could conceivably arrive at an equilibrium that is environmentally sustainable and economically logical.

So there's hope that the City of Angels can get it right. But frankly, I'm pessimistic. LA has a great transit system but it's sadly under-utilized, poorly understood, and scoffed at by the typical resident. The article mentions that the proposal for a single, 130-unit complex on Ventura Boulevard was vilified as portending the transformation of the neighborhood into another Manhattan. There's even talk about putting an initiative on the ballot that bans all high-density housing developments.

So if, a generation by now, all the ice caps have melted, the LA shoreline has washed away, gas is $20 a gallon, and yet Angelenos still own more than one car per adult and drive everywhere, then may I resume my LA hating?
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