Every city needs its angels, and Los Angeles has plenty of them.
It has been several weeks since I returned from Los Angeles. My trip there as a panelist for an American Institute of Architects SDAT was a rich, if exhausting, experience. Three intense days there bred a familiarity I will never shake off. I know downtown Los Angeles now.
Whenever I make one of these trips I expect to discover a city that is somehow better off than Pittsburgh. I expect to find a city that somehow has its act together. Los Angeles, after all, is the second largest city in the United States covering almost 500 square miles. In 2008, it was named the world’s eighth most powerful city by Forbes.com. Full of significant architecture, with a rapidly growing residential population it is easy to imagine that downtown Los Angeles should be the envy of every other city.
And yet, like most other American cities, it is rotten at its core. It is the hole in the donut. It has some serious problems to overcome.
Politics keep its nine districts distinctly divided, reinforcing the already existing and striking differences between them in both architecture and population. A civic center with great building stock, historic Broadway with a vibrant ethnic community, Skid Row with a sad and unwanted population and a manufacturing district, unheard of in most downtowns, essentially all ignore each other. Its streets are wide, fast and disruptive, a convict population continues to be discharged at alarming rates into the city center, and the economy has stalled the growing residential population and is endangering the vitality of historic Broadway.
Like every other city one needs to look beyond these physical issues to really understand it. Here, just like in Pittsburgh, I met a group of passionate and hopeful people all working tirelessly towards improving their downtown. They are not elected officials. They will not be paid for their work. This is their neighborhood and they have claimed it. They are the city’s angels.
Who knows better than them what the problems are? Who knows better than them what the potential is? If I were Mayor of Los Angeles I would let them rise up, craft their vision and give them the resources to fulfill it.
I came home happily, eager to see Pittsburgh’s beautiful downtown again. Our problems seem small now compared to Los Angeles. Yet one is the same. Our angels, plentiful and passionate, are all too often ignored.