Lessons from one Olympic city to another

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on March 13, 2020. An image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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Los Angeles is a continental-sized economy that fits into a city’s footprint. Its economy is larger than Australia’s, so it’s not hard to see why it has commanded outsized attention. With the center of the American movie industry, its chief export has always been dreams and chief import is ambitious dreamers.

Los Angeles and California more generally have become a punching bag to some who don’t like the culture and choices on the West Coast. But the left coast’s record is much more mixed than that. Their economy is as strong as it is here in Colorado Springs, they still command the world’s attention, and the place that launched the careers of John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t be all bad, can it?

Despite LA being twenty times the population of the Pikes Peak region, what can we learn from our larger neighbor to the west?

What can the Olympic City learn from the American city soon to have held the most Olympic games?

LA is spread out. If New York never sleeps, LA never ends. It’s nearly 500 square miles (to our roughly 200 square miles) is more dense than here but needs to be denser. Because there’s no green space left. The problem is that they’ve overroaded themselves to the point that it’s become a giant parking lot.

Increasing density would go a long way to making houses more affordable there. The homeless population is enormous (over 50,000 amongst a total population of 13 million). While there recently, I saw couches and full living rooms set up under overpasses and pan handlers walked intimidating circles around cars while they waited at intersection, a much more aggressive form that I haven’t seen here in Colorado Springs. I’ve heard LA Mayor Eric Garcetti point out that homelessness is when “trauma meets high rent.” While we may not be able to directly address every trauma, it seems we can do something about the high rent problem.

Roads make LA into a collection of little island communities. Hoofing it around LA is dangerous and nearly impossible. Fresh in my mind is the “pedestrians prohibited” sign at a roadway to get from Hollywood up into the hills beyond. The physical barriers have led to political segmentation: LA is made up of over 80 small cities and towns, making coordinated action difficult for the first-among-equals mayor Garcetti.

While it means each city or municipal government may be more responsive on some issues, the city is less able to tackle that big problems that cross boundaries like transportation and homelessness. As a friend put it, no matter what borough you’re in, New York feels like one city, while LA does not.

What LA does well, better than anywhere, is tell its story. Of course, the city is known for stars, music, and entertainment, the economic well runs much deeper than that. LA’s economy still includes oil wells (when you leave the airport, you’ll spot miles and miles of oil pumps), and it’s got one of the world’s largest sea ports. All that ship cargo goes on rail, which means much of the western rail lines terminate in LA.

Three lessons from LA present themselves for our own little angelic part of the world.

Balance growth with a vision for the future. Housing that’s affordable shouldn’t ever mean a city that’s not livable.

With acknowledgements to places like Monument and Manitou, there are benefits to having a single, strong mayor that can deal with problems that cross roads and neighborhoods and boundaries.

We’ve got to tell our story, all the way down to the roots. While people tend to see our Olympic rings around town an Pikes Peak as well—our economic foundations are built on unique military and government organizations.

While LA may be the City of Angels, maybe our high achieving, high climbing, and high flying city should be known for dominating the highest ground. Olympic City sounds pretty good.

 

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