Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is Los Angeles a Green City?

These are exciting days. Classes begin at Tufts next week. This week my new book titled "Green Cities" will be published by the Brookings Press. This weekend I was in Los Angeles studying its rental real estate market and observing its day to day quality of life.

A few observations.

1. Los Angeles certainly offers beauty

A. I loved watching the sunset while at the Santa Monica beach
B. The UCLA campus and the local community around UCLA is charming and quite pretty.
C. Homes in fancy places such as Brentwood feature beautiful flowers, plants and landscaping. Everything grows in the LA climate and sunshine.

2. The Market signals that LA is great. We saw many $1.7 million dollar homes that back in Boston might sell for $650,000. These were okay structures (some 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths) that are transformed into multi-million dollar homes because they are in the fancy parts of LA. As a Chicago economist, this says to me that there is a lot of love for LA among upper-middle class and wealthy folks in this nation.

3. Los Angeles also has its ugly parts --- here I don't mean poverty areas.

A. I like to walk. In many places in LA I didn't see sidewalks. For example in Bel Air up in the Northeast corner above UCLA as you go up the Canyon --- hard to walk there!
B. noise and traffic density on I-405 and Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles is certainly a car city. I found the air quality quite good when we were there but there are so many cars that Yahoo maps lie to you about travel times between any two locations. You must take the yahoo time and perhaps triple it to estimate the "true" travel time.

There also seem to be some strange land use patterns in Western Los Angeles. Enormous country clubs around UCLA and enormous graveyards and government buildings taking up land that might be more valued by home owners. I doubt that the country clubs represent "green space" that everyone can enjoy. I wasn't invited!

We also observed interesting spatial discontinuities and we drove through LA. Beverly Hills is adjacent to West Hollywood. The latter is funky and I were 25 years old again I would want to live and party there. Beverly Hills is not funky now that Eddie Murphy is no longer cool. The Los Angeles Times had an article that Beverly Hills is worried about losing its luster as a leading place to shop for the rich. To make itself more attractive for rich shoppers the Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive strip is thinking of placing in fancier granite for people to walk on!

Overall, we really like LA but we will need to rob a bank or two to live there!
My green cities book will yield me $1 per sale --- so if you feel altruistic, buy it!

1 comment :

East-West Girl said...

Hi Matthew,

I stumbled upon your blog by accident, and I really enjoyed your post!

However, a few points. Being a Chicagoan by birth who recently spent three years living in the heart of Washington DC and who moved to Los Angeles 10 months ago, I would posit that you were, perhaps, spending your time in L.A. in the wrong neighborhoods for some of the things you were hoping to find.

The first time I visited, before moving out here, I made that mistake as well.

Beverly Hills does seem 'dingy-rich'. Westwood is cute, but lacks a certain something, and is trapped in an area fairly out-of-reach from the rest of L.A. And indeed, homes in Brentwood and Beverly Hills are ridiculously expensive.

Slightly east of there, however, are interesting neighborhoods that are very worth exploring. I live in the LaBrea/Hancock area, where I can walk through my neighborhood on sidewalks, walk to Trader Joes (2 blocks), Ralhps (same as Kroger - 2 block), Whole Foods (5 blocks), to a giant community park (Pan Pacific, lots of green space! - 3 blocks), and a community pool and lovely library (3 blocks). Two of my favorite coffee shops are both 3 blocks away. There is also a Museum 5 Blocks away, and another is 2 Blocks from there. And all are accessible via sidewalk. :)

I would next point to the residential neighborhoods (not the 'business district') of Hollywood, followed by the very walkable neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, West Hollywood (it's not all bars and clubs beyond the surface ;), Culver City, Pico-Robertson, etc. Little worlds of delicious and inexpensive restaurants unfold, local groceries, inexpensive farmers markets, apartments that rival any rent in D.C. - and Chicago, as my friends there have confirmed - and homes at much more affordable prices (though still too much for my pocket book!). Indeed, though my salary has only slightly increased and I have been forced to purchase and use a car here, my cost of living has decreased significantly from that in Washington, DC, even though Los Angeles is purportedly more expensive. *And* my neighborhood feels just as safe.

As for green space, you only need look as far as Griffith Park, the largest municipal park in the country. There are dozens of community parks, and a number of preserves and recreation areas as well. Coldwater Canyon Park is a lovely, 45-acre park (part of a larger 1,000-acre park) in the middle of Los Angeles. Other green spaces include the Arboretum and Botanic Garden, the Debs Park Audobon Center, the nearby Topanga State Park, and other privately owned yet publicly accessible gardens and parks.

Add to all of that the easy access to recycling and, to me, it's a little slice of perfection.

As for traffic, yes, the freeways will bog anyone down. But unless you're one of those folk who LOVE to commute to work from a very distant place, the freeway is generally not a part of most Angelinos' plan unless it's absolutely necessary. Think global, act local. It applies to the roads here too.

L.A. still needs a lot of work to become more sustainably green, without costing lots of green, but it seems to be working on those issues. Juxtaposed next to the horrible traffic density and the smog, I would point to a dramatic increase in the number of green and LEED-certified buildings currently being constructed in the county, and the recent call by the Los Angeles World Airports consortium for installation of a Compressed Natural Gas station for private and public use, along with many other community and city-wide initiatives.

Either way, I enjoyed your post! Hopefully my thoughts will draw you back to L.A. in the future for a bit more exploring. I will certainly explore the rest of your blog, and look into your book. You mentioned Tufts - I'm planning on applying to the Fletcher School for Fall '07, to study similar subjects. You've just reinforced my belief that they are a rather good school :)