Los Angeles Isn’t Planned, It Just Happens, Right? Not So Fast!

“Call it ugly, call it beautiful, call it dysfunctional — but don’t call Los Angeles unplanned.”

So begins a chapter titled “Challenging The Myth Of An Unplanned Los Angeles” in a new book out this week that you’ll definitely want to know about, if not read right away.

Hot on the heels of the American Planning Association‘s first national conference held in Los Angeles since 1986 comes the debut installment in a new annual series from APA Press.

Each year, Planners Press will bring out a new study on a major American city.

Natives, newcomers, and out-of-towners will get insiders’ views of today’s hot-button issues and a new way of seeing the patterns and perils of urban evolution…and the very first installment in this series is Planning Los Angeles, for which we provided research assistance.

Despite Los Angeles’ reputation for spontaneous evolution, a deliberate planning process shapes the way Los Angeles looks and lives.

Editor David C. Sloane has enlisted more than 35 essayists for a lively, richly illustrated view of this vibrant metropolis.

Together they cover the influences and outcomes of planning for a diverse population, regulating land use and providing transportation in a sprawling city, protecting green space, and supporting economic development.

At 325 pages, there is something for everyone interested in local planning, architecture, history, environmental studies, demographics, and Los Angeles in general.

Chapter titles include:

  • History of Planning
  • Evolving Demographics
  • Land-Use and Environmental Policies
  • Mobility and Infrastructure
  • Parks and Public Space
  • Economic Develpoment

While the entire volume is intriguing and attractively packaged, the sections on Transportation in Metropolitan Los Angeles and the 1970 Centers Concept Plan for Los Angeles are of particular interest to us.

(Click to enlarge)

One of our historic Pacific Electric Railway maps graces the pages describing the early sprawl of 1920s Los Angeles which coincided with the region’s early adoption of the automobile for personal use.

This section of the book discusses the slow demise of what was once the largest streetcar system in the world:  Pacific Electric traffic peaked in 1924 and by 1931, revenues were no longer covering operating costs.

The seminal Centers Concept is also worth a detailed look.

When the Los Angeles Department of City Planning recommended a new framework for a general plan, they set in motion the concept of our polycentric region.

It proposed a network of 29 centers with high- and medium-density housing and a suggested total of 48 centers spanning the 77 cities then in existence as well as the unincorporated County of Los Angeles.

Concept Los Angeles Report, 1970 (Click for more information)

More than 60,000 people participated in the planning process focusing on housing density options, spatial structure, a transportation framework and an open space network which have created the form of Los Angeles we know today — the last time the City explicitly suggested a detailed growth and development framework for the entire County.

Los Angeles is the first city to be profiled in this new annual series, and this work covers everything from the watershed 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew report to present-day CicLAvia.

David C. Sloane is a professor and director of undergraduate programs in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He serves as an associate editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association and recently completed his second term as a regional representative on the governing board of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.