Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who Really Runs L.A.?

On April 10, an at-capacity crowd gathered at the Mark Taper Auditorium in the downtown Central Library to discuss “Who Really Runs L.A.,” a discussion by city observers and leaders moderated by Mariel Garza of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Just outside of this lively discussion, several dozen angry residents, many who had driven from the far reaches of the city to attend, were kept out of the event per strict orders of the fire marshal that the event was too full.

Many of us pleaded to be allowed in, blaming our tardiness on the relentless traffic that plagues this city, truly believing that enduring it to get downtown entitled us to a seat. A woman claimed to have sat in traffic for an hour from North Hollywood and others complained of the terrible parking conditions, sacrifices that they hoped would secure them a ticket.

Eventually, most of the crowd left, but not without expressing their anger at the poor volunteers who staffed the sign-in desk and arguing with the fire marshals about their right to stand in the hallway. With a little perseverance and luck, a few of us who stuck around got to sit in to the last hour of the debate.

The participants, which included political consultant Kerman Maddox, LA Weekly reporter Dave Zahniser, political scientist Jaime Regalado, and Los Angeles Magazine writer Jesse Katz, gave their insightful perspectives on how immigration, gang violence, and a new Latino political leadership, among other forces, are shaping the future of LA. Although I missed a good chunk of the beginning, the events I witnessed in the hallway were a great example of the challenges facing this city.

The Zocalo series, named after the word for “public square” in Spanish, seeks to create a public forum for intellectual thought and debate. The crowds clamoring to get in proved that the city is eager for a real public space that provides these learning and gathering opportunities. The Zocalo in Mexico City is a bustling public place where artists, vendors, local residents and tourists all intermingle with no capacity limit. The downtown library proved to be an inadequate place to fill this need.

Secondly, the angry commuters underscored that creating a downtown center is going to require a lot more than a pretty Gehry building, but also a hard look at how this city moves. Already, residents of the farther west and north sides of the city avoid heading downtown because of the traffic. Without a clear plan to alleviate this congested city that provides effective alternative solutions, LA will continue to be a sprawled city with no cultural core.

For us who did manage to get in, this attempt to recreate the Zocalo did provide for meaningful discussions, and an opportunity to hear from non-mainstream LA pundits. However, I look forward to the day when this city has a real, organic public square where traffic and parking aren’t a concern.

No comments: