How to Fight Off Densification: Skyscraper Farming, Virtual Presence and Electric Cars!

CORRUPTION WATCH-We complain when we’re dissatisfied but we insist on ignoring Pogo who identified the origin of our problems: ourselves. More specifically, our refusal to think about the future allows others to plan our lives for us. Surprise! They’re choosing what is best for their pocketbooks and not what enhances our lives. Here are some things we should be discussing while the Davos Set makes their own plans for our lives. 


Turn DTLA into a Forest of Vertical Farms 

The best time to look at new ideas is when they are new. When we ignore new concepts, we abrogate our rights as citizens to participate in planning our own communities. 

We have the technology to grow food in high rises. One huge benefit would be that the carrots would not need to commute from Van Nuys to DTLA each morning. If DTLA’s skyscrapers were vertical farms, we could solve our rush hour traffic and the problem of auto emissions (which is a short-term concern.) With lettuce, carrots and broccoli (yes, I said broccoli) occupying the office cubicles, people would need to work in places closer to home. 

Perhaps some of us do not know about vertical farms. That’s why we have Google. The agricultural advantages to high-rise farming are considerable. It takes less land area. A 20-story building has 20 times the ground area as the plot of land it sits on. Pests cannot get at veggies growing inside and since the farming is mostly hydroponic, the nutrients can be tailored to the plants. 

If we turn DTLA into high-rise farms, we will have a hedge against the real estate crash. Despite the years of non-stop propaganda from the true believers and goniffs at City Hall, people do not want to live in hermetically sealed high-rise prison cells in the sky. Los Angeles is set to construct thousands more apartments downtown just as an exodus of Family Millennials is underway. Constructing more of an already unwanted commodity is not a wise economic decision. 

Since the dawn of agriculture, crops were gown in fields, then brought to a central market. Now is the time for us to act like wise homo sapiens and start thinking: food should be grown in the center of town and sent to the population living far away from the high-rise core. People really hate new ideas, especially when they challenge human patterns which are at least 8,000 years old. Nonetheless, as a society we should discover the advantages of high-rise farms; we should flip our attitudes concerning which activities are best for the urban core and which should take place in far-away fields. 

Virtual Presence – the Friend to Skyscraper Farming 

We already have one foot into Virtual Presence, but are rather myopic about where our next foot will land. We are standing on the step of tiny mobile devices which allow us to go out and about while remaining in contact with virtually everyone else no matter where they are located. The next step in Virtual Presence will be Stationary Megazation. Okay, this is a new term I just invented -- no need to Google it. 

We are all already familiar with Stationary Megazation. It is Jimmy Kimmel’s Wall of America inside each of our homes. The technology has existed for some time, but our minds have lagged behind these developments. With wall size monitors, cameras and mics that can track us as we move about a room, we are no longer confined to small monitors at a desk.  

People already prefer tele-commuting over mass transit, which is slow, dirty and increasingly dangerous. Since time is money, avoiding an hour commute is money in one’s pocket. Soon people will wake up and question the folly of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a subway, to which they must walk, and which will take them to very few destinations over a long period of time – they will wonder why we can’t save that money and let private enterprise provide them with a virtual presence system that could take them anywhere in the world in an instant. 

The only reason we squander hundreds of billions of dollars on subways and fixed rail transit is that our brains are not functioning properly. Our brains run on data and logic, but we are fed a constant diet of Lies and Myths and gobbledygook. As a result, we think it’s smart to invest in 19th Century choo-choo trains running on fixed tracks, while shunning 21st Century technology. 

Virtual Presence, like vertical farming in DTLA, will solve the problem of traffic congestion. According to the 1993 Telecommuting Study by the City of Los Angeles, using 1992 technology we could reduce traffic congestion by 30%. Here we are twenty-five years later with so many more technological advances, but we cannot comprehend how to employ them. If we had listened to ourselves 25 years ago, we would have encouraged tele-commuting and stopped the densification in the Basin. 

A businessman in Santa Monica can convene a meeting with his lawyer in Glendale, his designer in Paris, his supplier in Malaysia, his manufacturer in China and his marketing consultant in Costa Rica at the same time. Each person can see and converse with the others as if they were all in the same room. With high speed scanners, documents can be transmitted around the world in virtually no time.  We can aim for this model or we can spend our money on subway tunnels and pay ever-increasing health and welfare benefits to the union workers who build them. 

A mother in Woodland Hills and her two daughters who are in Atlanta and Pasadena can shop online in a Paris boutique’s virtual store via their avatars. They can virtually try on clothing while conversing. Then the mother, who may be an actuary, can help her third daughter at home with the mathematics underlying her science project. 

Virtual Presence Will Encourage Suburbanization 

When Stationary Megazation of Virtual Presence has taken over our lives, we will encounter a problem – cabin fever. People cannot spend that much more time at home without going stir crazy.  Thus, they will insist on having more living space. Already Family Millennials are moving away from DTLA and the freeway black lung lofts the City is trying to cram into Hollywood. Virtual Presence will make these apartments seem like torture chambers. Even now, people who work at home want to have yards so that they can go outside. Even if one does not stay home 24/7, Virtual Presence will increase the time at home and that much home-time will place a premium on going into the back yard to play with the dog. 

Stationary Megazation of Virtual Presence goes hand in hand with vertical farms in DTLA. We could leave the high-rises empty or we could turn them into farms. The latter makes more sense. 

These next two matters are well-known but we have failed to make sensible plans for them: electric cars and self-driving cars. 

Electric Cars Wipe Out a Major Rationale for Subways and Light Rail 

A major motivation for mass transit is that it allegedly gets people out of their pollution causing cars.  But within twenty years, all cars will be electric. Furthermore, people will “fuel up” at home using the solar power panels on the roofs of their homes – their larger detached homes with yards. Not only will people not have to pay Shell or Exxon, but they won’t have to pay the DWP or ConEdison. 

The electrification of cars will dovetail with Virtual Presence and the demand for larger homes farther from any urban core. If you live in a 500-square foot apartment in a high-rise complex along with 100 other families, you’re not going to have any room for your solar cells or your dog. If you want a German Shepherd, a field Collie or a Golden Retriever, he or she will want a nice yard. Dogs like lawns! After all, a dog that spends time at home with you all day doesn’t want to live in a Hollywood apartment. 

The Revolution of Self-Driving Cars 

Self-Driving cars will come of age after cars are all electric. Nonetheless, now is the time to plan ahead since we can foresee the changes that self-driving cars will bring. 

When people do commute, the time it takes will be less of a problem because it will be possible to use the car’s Virtual Presence. People who work in high-rise offices are disproportionately the professional information workers like lawyers, accountants and consultants. For psychological reasons, some may still go “into the office” one or two days a week, but even a long commute will not be a hassle when one is able to accomplish other things. Thus, even exurban areas will become more desirable. In brief, all these changes favor decentralization.   

As Uber and Lyft have already done, self-driving cars will also create a significant financial threat to subways and light rail. Cars solve the “last mile” problem of mass transit. People will not walk more than a half a mile to use mass transit. With self-driving Uber and Lyft, along with Virtual Presence, there will be no demand for subways or light rail. A bus system may still be feasible due to its flexibility to change routes and to make more stops closer to people’s homes. And as Virtual Presence reduces traffic congestion, buses should be able to travel at faster speeds. 

If We Do Not Think about Our Future, the Davos Set Will Design Our Lives for Us 

These are things we need to ponder. Vertical Farms and Megazation of Virtual Presence, and self-driving electric cars will not work out the way anyone presently envisions, but we need to collectively contemplate these new technologies. If we don’t, the financial implications for cities like Los Angeles will be devastating. A subway fixed rail system could end up with so little ridership that its costs would either bankrupt us or cause us to close it down. That is what Angelenos had to with the first Hollywood subway.  

These technologies also highlight the folly of densification of the core area like DTLA, Bunker Hill Century City, and West LA. The demographic data prove that the citizenry favors decentralization that allows them to have more living space, own their own home to build equity, have a yard for their dog, and live away from the urban core.


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.