Shall We Build for 1890 or for 2050?

VIEW FROM HERE-While most the nation was rural in 1890, those who lived in urban areas were crowded together as walking was the most common form of locomotion. 

As a city’s radius became too great for walking, horse drawn trolleys were introduced.  Soon motorized trolleys were the wonder of intra-urban transit – when compared to their alternatives: horses or walking.

The thrill of New York City and skyscrapers like the Empire State Building ingrained in our minds how futuristic city-life could be.  While Manhattan seemed large and bold, we did not realize it was a tiny island only 2.5 by 11 miles – certainly no blueprint for the endless open spaces of the American west. Yet, those who owned land in the city cores fought to keep businesses and offices centrally located even if people wanted to live farther away from the centers.

In 1954 Fortune Magazine Succinctly Stated the Relationship Between Density Hawks and Intra-urban Mass Transit.

“As a generation of city and regional planners can attest, it is no simple matter to draw up a transit system that will meet modern needs. In fact, some transportation experts are almost ready to concede that the decentralization of urban life, brought about by the automobile, has progressed so far that it may be impossible for any U.S. city to build a self-supporting rapid-transit system. At the same time, it is easy to show that highways are highly inefficient for moving masses of people into and out of existing business and industrial centers.” Fortune July 1954, page 106

Evident in almost all writings by urban planners is the concept that mass transit is good, but individual choice is bad.  Proponents of mass transit want to decide where you will live and shop and when you can go there and how fast you can get there and always you must pay-as-you-go.  They frequently attribute the line about Los Angeles’ being “72 suburbs looking for a city” to Dorothy Parker in order to make densification sound profound.

Politicos and Developers Crave Money

Angelenos have consistently rejected the false idea that density is good. Citizens want a decent quality of life.. Angelenos are not seeking a densely crowded urban core like Manhattan, where a tree can survive only if it can withstand constant dog urine.  Nonetheless, to this day we are hounded by Wall Street and its cohorts in mass transit and high-rise construction to make LA as dense as possible and then construct exorbitantly expensive mass transit.

None of this Densification Is Good Nor Is it Necessary.

There is no need for someone working in downtown to be physically near the people in the other skyscrapers.  There is no benefit for a worker in Granada Hills to get up an hour earlier and arrive home an hour later so he can work on Bunker Hill or in Century City.  In the 1890's, dense cities laced with mass transit were the best we could do; today that pattern is the worse we can do.

Los Angeles Should Have Remained 72 Suburbs Wise Enough Not to Look for a Core

In contrast to densification, in 1915 we already knew the folly of dense cores and mass transit. The distribution of the courthouses throughout the county shows the wisdom of sprawl.  Suppose all LA County courts were located in DTLA and everyone from Pomona, Santa Monica, Lancaster etc. had to travel each morning to 110 North Hill Street to work in a 40-story office tower. Who would benefit? Certainly not the public! Not the attorneys, not the judges, or the secretaries. 

The same applies to police stations, to schools, to grocery stores, and it applies to offices and residential towers.  The only persons who benefit from densification and mass transit are the people who construct the high rises and the subways.

Billions of Dollars of Theft of Land Value Occurs Under our Noses

The fiction of “the highest and best use” for property is propaganda to deceive people into believing that the most moral use of property is to make the greatest profit for the owners.  If all those Bunker Hill, Century City and now Hollywood towers were spread out to the farthest reaches in the county as small, low rise garden style office buildings interspersed with residential areas, then land values would likewise depart DTLA and move to the thousands of owners of these smaller properties. The densification of The Basin is theft of land value from the valleys.

The Great Deception of the City’s Mobility Plan 2035

Garcetti’s Mobility Plan 2035 was a fraud as was his 2012 Hollywood Community Plan. It had one purpose – to lock LA into excessive densification and unbearable mass transit even though people hate both densification and mass transit. Hollywoodians Encouraging Logical Planning (H.E.L.P.) told the city and Judge Mitchell Beckloff that the city should consider Virtual Presence as a form of transportation.  Virtual Presence includes all the forms of telecommuting, social media, teleshopping, attending classes, Cisco Telepresence, Portals, Zoom, Peleton Bikes, etc.  People are doing a lot of life’s tasks via Virtue Presence rather than physically going to specific places.  But Judge Beckloff could not grasp the concept. Maybe, its significance dawned upon him during the Pandemic when the Supreme Court ordered him to use Virtual Presence for his courtroom.

The Pandemic Hastened the Move to Virtual Presence

VP reorients the technology of the last twenty years, where mobile devices are king, to macro-devices for our homes with large wall screens.  Directional mics are already here and Portals+’s cameras visually follow one about the room. Yes, we are free from sitting at a computer!  The future has arrived.  We’re on the doorstep of the inevitable constant improvement of macro home telecommunications.

The Death of Densification Is Nigh – Hopefully

As the pandemic has shown, physically commuting into DTLA is neither desirable nor necessary.  Being home requires more space.  We cannot live in cramped apartments. The American dream is more in demand now that in 1910 and 1955.  We need larger homes: large enough for solar panels to fuel our homes and our electric cars, large enough for separate Virtual Presence rooms for different family members, and large enough for much larger yards to plant hard wood trees which to sequester CO2 the longest. Lawns too can help fight climate change.  “S] ome lawns can sequester between 46.0 to 127.1 grams of carbon per square meter per year.” We can actually return to small town USA where people have individual homes with white picket fences and a higher standard of living.

Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch. You may email him at RickLeeAbrams@Gmail.com)