Less Bike Lanes, More Jobs: 100 Civic Leaders Ponder L.A.’s Future

Upon visiting L.A. in 1926, journalist H.L. Mencken noted “there were more morons collected in Los Angeles than in any other place on earth.” If he were still alive to be argued with, the movers and shakers at Tuesday’s Future of Cities launch event—including LACMA director Michael Govan, Moby, and our own editor in chief Mary Melton—would have taken Mencken to task.

Founded by longtime city activist and Democratic Party consultant Donna Bojarsky, Future of Cities is an initiative that seeks to galvanize Los Angeles leaders into doing away with L.A.’s overt lack of civic cohesion and replacing it with an invested network of impassioned citizens. The fete, which was held at totally bonkers Beverly Hills home of Jeanne and Tony Pritzker, drew a slew of big wigs including L.A. County Public Health’s Mitch Katz, KCET’s Mary Mazur and Juan Devis, DWP commissioner Michael Fleming, CicLAvia founder Aaron Paley, retired county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and Zocalo Public Square’s Gregory Rodriguez among many others.

More than anything, the evening provided a platform for partygoers to sound off about where we as a city fall short and how the Future of Cities initiative hopes to turn things around. “One thing New York definitely has is a sense of civic responsibility and leadership,” Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney|ABC Television Group, said. “It’s almost considered a tax to participate in city life. This has existed in L.A., but what happened, and why?” Speaking on behalf of the entertainment industry, he posited that disengagement is the result of an overwhelming number of transplants. “People in the entertainment industry are not from here,” he said. “They don’t have the feeling that they have a responsibility to [the city].”

Zocalo’s Rodriguez spoke out most vehemently against our current focus on quality of life over more pressing issues like, say, the creation of jobs. “How many people voted in the last election? No one, because we’re talking about things no one cares about,” he said. (In fact, he asserted that we’re preoccupied with an “Anglo triumphalism about bike lanes”—I couldn’t see Aaron Paley’s face, but surely he scowled.) Rodriguez barreled on: “Building a bike lane at the farmers’ market won’t build a great city. It would build a great Danish village. I miss the notion that we’re building a great city by talking about ports and jobs.”

If nothing else, the evening was a reminder that we could all be more invested in helping Los Angeles recognize its potential as a world-class metropolis. “People are not better in other cities,” Bojarsky reminded the crowd. “It’s our time.”

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