Co-editor Ed Soja's "Los Angeles,
1965-1992: From Crisis-Generated Restructuring to Restructuring-Generated
Fifteen million strong and often touted as the world's tenth-largest
(?) economy, Greater Los Angeles includes an incredible diversity
of talents, quirks, problems and opportunities. In spite of this
complexity, it continues to beguile artists, analysts, academics
and others into efforts to decode it in order to distill a manageable
story. The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the
Twentieth Century, edited by Allen J. Scott and Edward W. Soja,
brings togther a group of prominent thinkers who are the latest
to try to tell us what America's most interesting city is all about.
As the title suggests, the editors and many of the authors are
concerned with "urban theory". Some readers might expect
that there is more than one urban theory but that one of them would
rise to the top, on the basis of the best available evidence. Unfortunately
this does not occur. Theory as rendered by Scott, Soja and others
is not supported by the evidence that they and their collaborators
The economist Milton Friedman once remarked that he felt indebted to the sweatshops
of turn-of-the-century lower Manhattan because they made it possible for his
immigrant grandmother to find employment and start her family on the road to
American success. Left unsaid was the understanding that the woman would surely
have preferred a professional or executive position with corresponding perks
and pay. The volume under review is also very much about immigrants. Southern
California has often been cast as today's Ellis Island. It too provides the
first rung on the ladder for many who make up the current wave of newcomers.
The remarkable part of their story is that they too move up. Median income
rises with time in the U.S. (for all immigrants, citizens and non-citizens).
In 1995, the median incomes of naturalized foreign born citizens exceeded that
of natives (Commerce, 1997).
Yet, most of the contributors to the volume under review do not see it that
way. Right from the dust jacket's rendering of an L.A. freeway interchange
as viewed through the windshield of a police cruiser, most of the contributors
describe class warfare and victimization. In the Preface, the editors write
that, "... the social structure of Los Angeles is no longer characterizable
in terms of (numerically) dominant and relatively affluent blue-collar working
class but is deeply divided into two distinctive segments, as represented on
the one side by an upper tier of highly paid managers, professionals, and technicians
and on the other side by a lower tier composed of low-skill, low-wage workers,
the vast majority of whom are immigrants, many of them undocumented." The
problem with their "postmodern" view is that it dwells on oligarchs
and victims. Lost is any perspective on the broad middle class, the emerging
immigrant entrepreneurial class, its growth, its successes and even its failures.
Modern Ellis Island? Perhaps. West Coast Manhattan? Not at all. Though once
widely expected to become the new financial capital on the Pacific Rim, Los
Angeles is no such thing. It has become, instead, a place where immigrant entrepreneurs
make a start. Here, again, some of the authors of The City have a story to
tell which does not pause for the facts.
In Los Angeles and through most of the U.S., brains and skills matter more
than ever; the returns to human capital keep growing (Murnane and Levy, 1996).
But just when schooling matters most, the failure of the public schools monopoly
hurts the poor the most. These two observations highlight what is probably
the best and the worst of Los Angeles. Yet, they get very little acknowledgment
in this book. Ong and Blumenberg write that, "Unfortunately, as studies
have demonstrated, human capital investments are necessary but not sufficient
in alleviating poverty" (p. 323). If only the accomplishments of the welfare
state had as much documented success as human capital investments.
Where do these authors go wrong? One answer is that Scott-Soja and many of
their contributors commit the journalists' mistake when describing income distributions:
they skip the dynamics. Just as there will always be some who are below average,
there will always be the lowest income strata. The most important insight to
be sought from income distribution data is: What are the odds that any individual
will remain at the bottom (or at the top or anywhere in between) and for how
long? Social mobility is the real news. For example, citing national longitudinal
data, Gottschalk (1997) reports that, of those in the lowest earnings quintile
in 1974, 42 percent were still in that quintile in 1991, but 58 percent were
not; 23 percent had moved up one quintile; 14 percent had moved up by two;
13 percent by three and 8 percent had gone all the way to the top. This comparison
understates mobility because those found to be in the same stratum in the first
and last years were not necessarily there in every year. The odds are even
better if we chose another time period. For example, comparing 1979 to 1988,
86 percent of those starting in the lowest bracket had moved up.
What are the dynamics in a port of entry? They are more favorable. From an
examination of L.A. county immigrants, Myers (1995) concludes that, "...
what is especially noteworthy is the rapidity with which immigrants transform
themselves and move up in the world." A more recent study based on Census
PUMS data concludes that, "... the U.S.-born Latino middle class is rapidly
achieving near parity with the overall Southern California population. They
enjoy improving education levels and show definite signs of increasingly successful
integration into Southern California's burgeoning white-collar economy. ...
Comprising almost a third of foreign-born Latino households, the more nascent
foreign-born Latino middle class has only recently begun to create a toehold
in Southern California's economic landscape" (Rodriguez, 1996; p. 1).
Another writer reported in 1994 that, "The ten most common names for recent
home buyers in California include Lee, Martinez, Rodriguez, Garcia, Nguyen
and Wong; among Orange County home buyers, Nguyens outnumber Smiths by 2 to
1" (Kotkin, 1994). The census bureau reports that minority-owned businesses
in the U.S. grew by sixty percent between the 1987 and 1992 economic census
(compared to 26 percent growth in total firms). The growth of minority firms
was concentrated in the three western states ...
The perennial "fairness" debate has recently been expanded by critics
of the Consumer Price Index who suggest that real wages have been growing much
faster than government statistics lead us to believe (Boskin, et al. 1997).
On top of this, economists have found that income is an inadequate index of
material welfare. Harvard's Dale Jorgenson has studied consumption data. He
reports that, "The corrected statistics show that the standard of living
is rising, inequality is falling and poverty is disappearing." The census
data show that the poor spend $1.94 for every dollar of income that they report.
The same points were documented by sociologists Susan E. Mayer and Christopher
Jencks (1991) who pointed out that expenditure inequality fell even as income
inequality appeared to grow. Consumption or expenditure data correct for underreporting,
spending out of family assets, non-cash incomes, whether from the government
(consider Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) or from the underground economy (Lebergott,
1993). None of these issues come up in the volume under review. The chapter
devoted to income distributions (Ong and Blumenberg) admits in passing that
many of the poor are recent immigrants (see below) but the authors never follow
A second theme that connects many of the chapters is the concern with globalization
and accompanying "restructuring" of the economy which many of the
contributors see in mainly negative terms, even as some sort of capitalist
plot that they try to link to increased income dispersion, homelessness and
other problems. Yet, here again, the data do not support them (see below).
Globalization is a minor factor in explanations of income inequality. Rather,
new technologies greatly increased productivity contrasts between workers (within
as well as between occupations). Brains over brawn may strike some as moving
us in the direction of more "fairness". They key is human capital,
barely mentioned in The City.
In the modern economy job insecurity is up, even in places like in Germany
and Japan. Increased trade and capital flows inevitably cause dislocations,
but they increase rather than decrease job opportunities. On average, trade-related
jobs pay better than others. What about the lower prices that trade brings?
Surely these benefit rich and poor alike. Peter Lynch often points out that
the country is better off with a smaller rather than with a larger AT&T.
European welfare states persist because they service the middle class. Recent
U.S. experience has shown that there is no political future in a welfare state
for just the poor. For the poor, placing their fates in the hands of welfare
bureaucracies has never been promising. There are no correlations between welfare
state spending and poverty rates. U.S. poverty rates (proportions of persons
below the poverty levels) began their long-term decline many years before the
War on Poverty kicked in -- and began to rise when it did. More recently, the
proportion of persons below the poverty level peaked in 1982, fell through
the 1980s, rose with the most recent recession and is now falling (Report to
the President on the Activities of the Council of Economic Advisors During
1996, Table B-31). In light of all this, the refrain about the dire consequences
of a reduced welfare state completely misses the point. Glenn Loury has recently
concluded that were the denizens of South Chicago to experience changed skin
color, their life prospects would not change. Human capital is a much more
powerful theory than class warfare and the size of the welfare state.
As many of the contributors to The City are thoroughly pessimistic about the
region, many of them are just as optimistic that the area's dangerous condition
can be arrested by redistribution, industrial policy and similar public sector
initiatives. While few policy details are offered, one author (Susan Anderson)
laments that after the 1992 riots the Blood/Crips' "reasoned demands" to
guide a $4 billion recovery effort received no support.
We will show that the weak empirical underpinnings of most of this book's sweeping
analyses undermine the arguments. Most of what is known about the region contradicts
the class warfare analysis that is presented.
Top The Introduction by Scott
The Introduction by Scott and Soja outlines their view that in
Los Angeles in the years between the 1965 and 1992 riots ("insurrections", "rebellions", "uprisings" and
other interpretations are introduced throughout the book) there
was an auspicious restructuring. "The major political question
is, will this restructuring be the centerpiece of a new right-wing
version of the post-Fordist/postmodern metropolis? Or will it be
the foundation for the growth of new kinds of local social democracy,
a new vision of citizenship (literally, the quality of being a
denizen of a city) and the responsibilities it entails, and a concern
for the quality of life rather than for a narrowly defined notion
of the business climate?"(p. 17). Scott and Soja lean to an
interpretation that looks like the former. To avoid it, they prescribe
enhanced political representation of newcomers, including "citizens
without U.S. nationality", affordable housing programs (to
make up for an "unresponsive private housing market"),
a "regional and multisectoral planning process that deals
systematically with employment, mass transit and land use, and
environmental issues." This is necessitated because "urban
restructuring has had a turbulant effect on the jobs-housing balance,
lengthening journeys to work in many outlying areas, clogging the
freeways elsewhere, and increasing pollution". They cite the
region's enormous public transit plan (then pegged at $180 billion
but since reduced considerably) and suggest that ways be found
to use the effort, "to stimulate local economic development,
in particular by creating new kinds of advanced ground transportation
equipment industries in the region ... Important to this multisectoral
planning process is the development of regional industrial and
employment planning ..."(p. 18).
Many of the same themes emerge in Scott's chapter on "High-Technology
Industrial Development in the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County".
That discussion summarizes industrial development in the region since the 1920s
and reports the results of a survey (35 usable responses) of high-technology
manufacturers operating in a broad corridor that crosses the L.A.-Ventura county
boundary. The history traces the outward migration of manufacturing firms and
the important historic role of defense contracting. The survey data are used
to estimate three equations. The first attempts to relate the proportion of
the firm's Hispanic employment to distance from downtown Los Angeles. The relationship
is inverse as might be expected from residential patterns. But, the fit is
poor and one does not know what to make of a function that omits all other
possible predictors or controls. Another equation attempts to explain the proportion
of employment that is female, also as a function of distance as well as Hispanic
employment. There is now a positive relationship with both predictors. Scott
concludes that there is a substitution between non-Hispanic females and Hispanic
females but also between non-Hispanic females and males! It is unclear what
the point is. Do employers care about skills and productivity or do they simply
trade off the genders and races? A third equation examines subcontracting behavior
of the surveyed firms. There is less of it further from the downtown and less
by older firms. Again, what is the point? Does location explain subcontracting
or vice versa? How does any of this address Scott's major themes? He closes
with industrial policy recommendations, specifically electric cars and "other
advanced transportation technology industries".
It is hard to take any of this seriously. The region's transit policy has been
a disaster. Expensive rail transit proposals have been sold on the basis of "doomsday" traffic
forecasts that the authors accept but for which there is no evidence. Rather,
having added three-million population in the 1980s, the area's 1990 mean traffic
speeds were still midway in the top ten metro areas; average commuting times
were just over 26 minutes (one-way; Gordon and Richardson, 199x). Also, to
date, after billions of dollars worth of new rail capacity have been added,
Los Angeles county's transit ridership has fallen by 25-30 percent! The $180
billion (mostly rail) plan has been scaled back but remains a porkbarrel institution
that reduces mobility. Indeed the NAACP and others representing bus riders
have had to sue the MTA to get a court-approved agreement to improve bus service
in poor neighborhoods. This was in response to the cost overruns associated
with poor rail performance that disposed the MTA to cannibalize the bus system,
making a bad situation worse for many of the poorest citizens.
The big news in automobiles is the public's interest in high-performance sports-utility
vehicles. This helps to explain why General Motors recently lowered prices
of its EV-1 by 25 percent, having been able to lease, on average, just one
a month by each of the 26 Saturn dealers that handle it. Low EV power and range
are the exact opposite of what people want. Yet, it is subsidized and still
expensive. California's EV mandate has resulted in an unintended self-parody
of industrial policy, usually based on an embarrassing ignorance of the market
but designed to impose that ignorance on everyone else. The consequences of
this approach have been on display throughout the world's planned economies.
Top Martin Wachs, "The Evolution
of Transportation Policy in Los Angeles"
Martin Wachs ("The Evolution of Transportation Policy in
Los Angeles") presents a history of personal transportation
in Los Angeles. What is widely thought to be the prototype of the
auto-highway shaped metropolis actually owes much of its horizontal
form to an extensive rail transit system that was developed as
a way for entrepreneurs to develop real estate in outlying areas
by linking numerous suburban and exurban villages to the center.
Wachs makes the point that while similar transit systems were added
to older U.S. cities that had already been formed at high densities
because walking was the primary means of access, L.A. was actually
shaped by its far-flung system of street railways.
Yet, physically inflexible, heavily regulated, and politically weak, rail transit
could not compete with the automobile. Patronage started falling in 1924. The
good climate as well as low-density development favored early road expansion
and the auto's quick spread to the middle class. Wachs adds the interesting
point that, "Lower densities also made personal storage and handling of
gasoline -- very important in the early days of autos -- just a little safer
than it was in the crowded eastern cities" (p. 112). Low-densities were
as much a cause as an effect of rapid auto acceptance. In fact, both interacted
with rapid regional growth. Public policy quickly followed the public's shifting
tastes. "... the private car was counterpoised to public transit as the
epitome of modernity and stylishness. ... Using a private car, in addition
to being modern and stylish, was also a way the working man could strike a
blow against monopoly capitalism. ... While Henry Huntington was portrayed
as a villain, Henry Ford was seen as a saviour ... The view of most citizens
of the day was that the trains were late, the cars filthy and stifling in summer;
the drivers were always insolent and sometimes drunk and the owners were tyrants
and monopolists" (p. 118-9). Wachs shows how much reality contradicts
the urban myth that General Motors destroyed an efficient public transit system.
The mood of the times strengthened planners' efforts to help promote low-density
living along with new roads and highways. Suggestions for grade-separated parkways
appeared as early as 1924 in the City's "Major Traffic Street Plan for
Los Angeles". A much more thoughtful and ambitious expressway plan that
included transit rights-of-way and bus transfer stations was proposed in 1939.
A less sophisticated freeway plan was eventually developed and implemented
but after WW II had been won and federal resources through the Interstate Highway
System were made available.
While there were rail transit plans proposed ever since 1925, most of the early
ones only had the support of railway and downtown interests. In any event,
motor buses, cheaper to operate and much more flexible than rail, were seen
as the real transit alternative to private autos. The freeways were not an
unmixed blessing, bisecting many neighborhoods and promoting scales of traffic
and development that surprised and shocked some. Many elaborate rail transit
proposals were suggested but rejected by voters. It was not until public officials
saw new offers of lavish federal funding (as high as 75 percent share in some
years) that rail transit was seen as a real possibility. At the same time,
construction unions were seeing their members engage in fewer road and highway
projects and began, "looking for greener pastures" (p. 136). Wachs
shows how eventually transit advocates took advantage of circumstances and
finally became "sophisticated enough to win", meaning they achieved
a winning coalition by promising the impossible. A sales tax to raise the local
funding share was passed in 1980. The ballot measure included a map of possible
rail lines. "The map featured extremely broad lines so that nearly every
neighborhood in the city was shown as being served by or accessible to the
rail service" (p. 138). Wachs does not mention that only a ten percent
voter turnout helped achieve victory.
Transit advocates' win has been everyone else's loss. The region now has the
worst of both worlds, rising transit costs and declining ridership. The Metropolitan
Transit Authority's ambitions $180 billion plan is sinking under its own weight.
Politicians are vying to have the last leg built on their turf. When the dust
clears, a rump system will remain. But, this is typical for the region; Wachs
observes that, "the Los Angeles transportation system actually consists
of an accumulation of poorly integrated elements representing different concepts
of political expediency ..." (p. 107). Although he is careful to contradict
the hype and explain the rail plan's limited possibilities, even he did not
foresee the considerable net losses of ridership that have taken place.
Top Mike Davis "How Eden Lost
Mike Davis ("How Eden Lost Its Garden") retraces the
history of the region's development. Growth and freeways and cars
usurped the promise of greenbelts and garden cities. Davis holds
planners and politicians beholden to developers responsible. His
table "Lost Landscapes" is revealing. It is a chronology
of the region's development since 1900, in his words the story
of "landscape loss and ecosystem decline". Davis likes
Baldwin Hills Village and wishes more of the region looked like
it. "After more than a half century, it remains one of Los
Angeles's most vibrant, as well as integrated and ungated neighborhoods" (p.
167). But, what has stopped developers from putting up more such
developments? If most newcomers wanted to live that way, some greedy
developers surely would have some gotten some pliant planners to
let them build many Baldwin Villages. Davis does not pose or answer
questions like this.
Top Michael Dear's chapter "In
the City, Time Becomes Visible: Intentionality and Urbanism in
Los Angeles, 1781-1991"
Michael Dear's chapter ("In the City, Time Becomes Visible:
Intentionality and Urbanism in Los Angeles, 1781-1991") takes
up a much larger historical sweep than the other contributors.
Nevertheless, his message is much the same: ".. L.A.'s peculiarities
invite us to think differently about aspects of contemporary urbanism,
both in Southern California and in the nation as a whole" (p.
76). He hypothesizes a historic public/private dialectic that now
yields insights into a "postmodern urbanism" (his italics).
This means, "... that land use planning, as it has been practiced
for most of this century is defunct, irretrievable, and that new
legitimacies and intentionalities must be sought if L.A.'s urban
development is to be channeled away from a dystopian future" (p.
77). Babar the Elephant and Mickey Mouse are invoked: "...
between the rigidities of modernist planning (in Babar's colonial
guise) and the departicularized places of modernity (in Disney's
theme parks), there is a world of difference" (p. 78). More
specifically, "The particular genius of the modernist city
plan lies in its 'empty vessel' quality; anyone can pour identity
or signification into it. The abstract ahistoricism and aspatiality
of modernist thought allowed a split to occur between the material
side of modernism and its spiritual side. In this division that
has given modernist thought its remarkable resilience -- a chameleonlike
ability to satisfy all persuasions at once. At the same time, however,
the qualities of ahistoricity and aspatiality betray modernity's
greatest flaw, that is, its separation of the political economy
of modernization from the culture and spirit of modernity. Thus
the rationalities of production and reproduction in capitalist
urbanization have been divorced from the utopian ideals of planning
thought as well as from the minutiae of planning practice" (p.
81). These conclusion follow from a discussion of Brasilia's failures
which others have described as a case of spectacular political
and bureaucratic overreach. But, this is only a part of the problem,
Dear's deeper concern is that the modern urban boulevard represents
a "... perfect symbol of capitalism's inner contradictions:
rationality exists in each individual unit, but an anarchic irrationality
in the social system results when all these units are brought together" (p.
83). One can ask: were it not for the spontaneous ordering that
markets manage to deliver, would we all be left with no choice
but to inhabit various versions of Brasilia? This is not the way
he sees it. "So what is Los Angeles, the postmodern archetype,
trying to tell us? In social terms, postmodern L.A. is a city split
between extremes of wealth and poverty, in which a glittering First
World city sits atop a polyglot Third World substructure" (p.
98). There we have it. Class warfare and a world of extremes, "emergent
privatism ... the reassertion of individual rights over community
obligations resulted in an atrophy of community" (p 98). This
brings on the rock cocaine epidemic and the collapse of the welfare
Top Jennifer Wolch "From
Global to Local: The Rise of Homelessness in Los Angeles during
Jennifer Wolch ("From Global to Local: The Rise of Homelessness
in Los Angeles during the 1980s") writes that, "Los Angeles
became the homeless capital of the United States in the 1980s.
In alarming numbers, Angelenos were cast away from traditional
anchors of family, job, and community as waves of economic and
social polarization resulted in spreading homelessness. In 1990-91
an estimated 125,600 to 204,000 people were homeless in Los Angeles
County at some point during the year, and between 38,420 and 68,670
were homeless on any given night. Many thousand more were precariously
housed, living in fear of eviction or foreclosure ... Combined,
they created a swelling population of economically marginalized
and precariously housed people ... outcasts from the city's riches
and entitlements" (p. 390). Like many of the other contributors
to The City, Wolch takes it for granted that there is a clear link
between "globalization" and poverty. She also blames
reductions in the construction of public housing in the 1980s. "As
pressure on the housing stock mounted, its physical quality declined
..." (p. 401). This is not usually how it works. Quigley dismisses
similar hypotheses, endorsing instead O'Flaherty's argument that
what mattered most was the 1980s decline in housing demand by the
middle class. This caused the prices of lower quality housing units
to rise while the quality of units at the other end fell. "Inexorably,
the incidence of homelessness has increased -- not because there
are more poor, but rather because homelessness has extended --
by rational calculation -- further up into the income distribution" (1996,
p. 1939). There is a difference between more poor vs. fewer middle
class (in large cities). These would have opposite effects on the
stock of low quality housing. O'Flaherty's analysis was for six
cities. Unlike Wolch's approach, it has no obvious villains. Is
Los Angeles, then, special in terms of its harsh treatment of the
poor? Wolch appears to think so but is unpersuasive for all the
reasons that Ong and Blumenberg do not make their case (below).
and Gottlieb "Bounding and Binding Metropolitan Space"
FitzSimmons and Gottlieb ("Bounding and Binding Metropolitan
Space") note that, "Los Angeles forces us to notice both
historical and geographical ironies: the ironies of history --
utopian Los Angeles become an environmental dystopia -- intersect
the ironies of geography -- the oasis city in the desert, the city
whose climate and clean air drew settlers from across the landscape
become a world symbol of urban pollution" (pp. 186-7). They
add, however, that, "This is not a story of environmental
defeat. .... Though often presented as an example of the calamitous
environmental consequences of modern urban growth, Los Angeles
should also be seen as a locus of successful innovations in environmental
management" (p. 187). The authors discuss concerns over the
number of agencies with overlapping and competing responsibilities,
citing a recent report by LA 2000 that itemized 72 local state
and federal agencies responsible for 179 types of permits in the
related areas of environment, water quality, hazardous waste, sold
waste and air quality. Yet, they are suspicious of that group's
recommendations for consolidation, "... it is power over land
use, over the profits of land development and the exigencies of
industrial siting, within the region that stands revealed as the
central agenda for regional consolidation ..." (p. 202). Should
we be surprised? Should not calls for public sector amelioration
of "market failures" be tempered with concerns over possible "government
The authors address this issue in their discussion of the possibility of environmental
management via pollution permits. They certainly overplay the weight given
to cost-benefit analysis by Washington policy makers. FitzSimmons and Gottlieb
elaborate with an oddball contrast between microeconomics, macroeconomics and
regional economics, suggesting that the latter two have been neglected in favor
of the former. They suggest that microeconomic analysis restricts itself to
the firm but misses the interfirm and interregional responses to environmental
measures. While such analyses may have been practiced, the indictment would
surprise many economists. In fact, the authors reveal their real concern in
their discussion of markets for water rights, "The greater ability of
urban users to pay for water should not in itself be used to justify large-scale
reallocations of water from rural to urban uses" (p. 209). In other words,
politicians and bureaucrats know better "what is important to the state's
economy, to farm communities, and to those who consume California's myriad
agricultural commodities" (p. 209). "What is needed, in both rural
and urban areas, is a better sense of ... the community, not the commodity
value of water" (p. 212). The authors' criticisms of markets for air pollution
permits also rests on the idea that these cannot address, "the regional
environmental effects of production in particular sectors" (p. 212). Their
industrial policy vision (p. 217) would utilize regional employment multipliers
in the evaluation of alternative plans. Of course, employment maximization
is politics, not economics. In addition, it is hard to see how the authors
can have it both ways, unhappy with past political allocations and suspicious
of likely market allocations.
Top Richard Weinstein's description
of Los Angeles "The First American City"
Richard Weinstein's description of Los Angeles ("The First
American City") rings true. He sees it as the logical expression
of mid-twentieth century American cultural norms, remarkably close
to "Wright's vision of a decentralized extended and repetitive
pattern based on the automobile and preserving contact with the
earth ..." (p. 32). Yet, it is found lacking. Weinstein looks
for a communitarian new public realm: "Neither governmental
reform nor private initiative operating through the market alone
can be relied on to restore a valid sense of community. Instead,
we must look to an enhanced role for voluntary associations that
Tocqueville identified ..." (p. 37). Weinstein is remarkably
optimistic about these groups and leaves us to imagine how they
will grow to fulfill their auspicious role. Yet, somehow they will
foster new "urban villages and boulevards ... distinct from
the prevailing interstitial tissue of the region .. places of enhanced
activity supported by transit, the sense of security will be provided,
in part, by 'eyes on the street' and by the influence of benign
value-oriented institutions with a communal mission and communal
experience. ... these voluntary institutions ... will increasingly
mediate between ethnic subcultures and move between the political
and private sectors to reduce social conflict, improve education,
and articulate and promote the commonalities of interest that bind
the citizenry to a sense of common purpose" (p. 42). Weinstein
ends on the class warfare theme and suggests that the villages
and boulevards that he proposes will be some sort of "...
middle ground, a spatial zone protected from the fearful extremes
or privileged isolation and squalid misery ... where common purposes
may be pursued by a mixture of people with just tolerable levels
of risk" (p. 43). So, it is class warfare but with a physical-spatial
resolution garnered by the voluntary sector.
Top Charles Jencks
Charles Jencks calls Los Angeles, "a heteropolis, a new form
of urban agglomeration that thrives on difference ... a global
city of more than eight million with a high concentration of multinational
corporations and having a variety of economic sectors, multiplying
lifestyles, and a diversifying ethnic population heading toward
full minoritization" (p. 47). Oddly, he lists other places
headed in the same direction, including Tokyo! Nevertheless, he
suggests that the "Los Angeles school of architecture" is
best explained by its enjoyment and exploitation of variety, difference,
plurality. Wide open descriptions like this will accommodate almost
everything including Jencks' parade of recent Los Angeles projects
(including even Jon Jerde's Horton Plaza which is in San Diego).
Yet, Jencks reports that, "The mood conveyed by such buildings
is an ambiguous mixture of aggression and hedonism, sadism and
restraint, functionality and uselessness, self promotion and withdrawal
..." (p. ). Hetero, indeed.
Top Harvey Molotch "L.A.
as Design Product"
Harvey Molotch ("L.A. as Design Product") suggests that "Local
art is a factor of production" (p. 225). He shows the extent
to which this matters for the case of Los Angeles, in the process
illustrating that it is a great place to use in making his important
point. Molotch engagingly sets out his version of L.A. culture
and then "finds it" in all sorts of goods. Not all of
these are produced there (Japanese autos) but find their inspiration
in local design shops.
Discussing the history of the region, Molotch argues that besides the "pull" of
job opportunities emphasized by demographers, there is also, "... a selective
migration based on cultural leanings ..." (p. 232). Good weather, for
example, breeds athleticism and attracts athletes. Molotch points to abundance
of individualistic as opposed to team sports, including surfing and rollerblading,
bicycling and swimming. These have lifestyle connotations that deliver all
sorts of "collateral" vaguely related consumer goods.
Entertainment ("The Movie-Industrial Complex") including tie-ins
and licensed products gets special mention as it should. Molotch notes that
in some, "Hollywood trades, fewer than 10 percent of those paying unions
dues are at work at any time." But, rather than "moving on",
they survive by taking on unrelated work while waiting for other opportunities.
They stay and their influence grows. A two-hundred fold increase in real per
capita consumption of video-audio products in this century (Lebergott, 1993)
illustrates the growing importance of these occupations and helps to explain
their expanded cultural influence.
Top Paul Ong and Evelyn Blumenberg's
discussion of "Income and Racial Inequality in Los Angeles"
Entertainment, food, tourism, furniture, apparel all work to make
the author's point. The immediate corollary is the importance of
immigrants and especially immigrant entrepreneurs. Why is their
success hardly touched upon in Paul Ong and Evelyn Blumenberg's
discussion of "Income and Racial Inequality in Los Angeles"?
Because so much of The City hinges on class warfare and inequality, it falls
to Ong and Blumenberg to make the case. They fail to do so. "The City
of Angels, the city of sunshine, palm trees, suburban living, and movies with
happy endings, has an underside -- declining wages and rising poverty" (p.
311). The authors are certain that this caused the riots of 1992. In Buchanan-Perot
fashion, they are equally certain that increasing inequality since the early
1970s is the consequence of the emerging global economy. This is not the conclusion
reached by economists in a symposium on "Income, Inequality and Trade" in
the Summer 1995 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives who show that, "trade
matters, but it is neither all that matters nor the primary cause of observed
changes" (Freeman, 1995, p. 30).
Ong and Blumenberg are equally casual about what they chose to measure (changes
in the distribution of family incomes without controlling for changing family
sizes and more female-headed households, especially among blacks, p. 314),
the adequacy of their variables (census data on reported dollar incomes) and
how to interpret their own tables (see social mobility discussions above).
The most serious problem is in their comparison of cross-sections that they
admit contain different people in different years. Nowhere do they qualify
their Gini coefficients with the observation that were the 1989 low-income
group which they admit contains many recent arrivals ("Certainly, the
entry of unskilled immigrants with little formal education contributed to rising
poverty levels" p. 323) to be included in the Gini calculations of the
previous decade with their then place-of-origin wages, we could as well document
these people's immense welfare gains.
The authors' most serious attempt to make their ethnic disparities case is
via multiple regression estimations where annual earnings (and the natural
log of annual earnings and the natural log of hourly wages) are explained by
years of schooling, potential years of labor market experience and ethnicity
(black, Chicano, Asian). The equations are estimated separately for males and
females. In all three of the males equations, all three ethnicities have effects
that are significantly negative. In all three females equations, two ethnicities
(black and Chicano) are significantly negative; the coefficient for Asian women
is significant and positive. Adjusted R-squared values are between 0.157 and
The Ong and Blumenberg view of the world is perhaps best revealed by the following
quote: "Los Angeles' evolution into a multiethnic world city was built
on ethnic and racial inequality. Minorities were consistently pulled into the
region to fill the growing supply of low-wage jobs, jobs often dismissed by
white workers ..." p. 325.
Top Susan Anderson "A City
Susan Anderson ("A City Called Heaven") describes the
history of blacks in Los Angeles. Once a desired alternative to
the Deep South, Los Angeles became less hospitable after the massive
post-WW II immigrations into Southern California. Anderson calls
attention to the migration of large numbers of working class and
middle-class blacks to the outlying suburbs in San Bernardino and
Riverside counties, remarking that, "This flight from Los
Angeles of working black families can be considered a long-term
quiet revolt with consequences far outweighing the city's outbreak's
of violence in 1965 and 1992. ... One consequence is that only
7 percent of black Angelenos live in 'all-black neighborhoods compared
with 37 percent in other cities" (p. 346). Some people would
call this progress. Anderson steers to the views of sociologist
William Julius Wilson, emphasizing the negative consequences for
those left behind.
Anderson reports that L.A. was last of the major U.S. cities to elect blacks
to mayor and other high offices, the victories of Tom Bradley and other African-American
politicians. Much is made of the author's view that these leaders failed to
deliver for South Central. Bradley, for example, never exercised control over
Anderson goes overboard when she writes that, "Extremes of poverty in
Los Angeles rival the Third World ..." (p. 358). She quotes a "UN
analyst" cited in the LA Times, who said that the 1992 riots, "were
part of 'an urban revolution taking place on all six inhabited continents,
brought on by conditions very similar to those in Los Angeles'" (pp. 358-9).
But, choosing to take the global view, she badly misses the point. What occurred
on the world stage was an international rejection of policies she seems to
advocate. To be sure, Anderson wants "programs" that are run at the
level of the community rather than out of city hall. She believes that the
program put forward by the Crips/Bloods, "... reveals a faith, amounting
to an apotheosis, in the virtues of capitalism ..." Others may be less
sanguine about demands for "' ... state work and product manufacturing
plants...'" somehow to be administered by gang members.
Top Raymond A. Rocco "Latino
Raymond A. Rocco ("Latino Los Angeles") begins with
the important point that L.A. hispanics can now be found throughout
the region clustered in a variety of distinct Latino communities,
many of them linked on the basis of common overseas origin. But, "Our
ethnographic research also revealed that the dispersion and residential
mobility of Latinos throughout Los Angeles is so great that many
of their social networks overlap in spatial terms ... Thus it is
clear that the tendency to identify communities primarily or only
in terms of physical space boundaries is of limited value" (p.
369). Rocco's story loses some force when he reverts to the big-think
themes of the book, "The restructuring process has been driven
by policies adopted by capital since the late 1960s to change its
relationship to labor" (p. 371).
Rocco's attention to four households is revealing. He highlights dislocations
and hardships associated with restructuring. One wishes that he would have
included at least one Latino entrepreneur. "A majority of the households
we interviewed had an annual income of less than $20,000 ... " (p. 386).
One consequence is that Rocco's political analysis fails to mention that Latinos'
political views cover a much wider range than most other immigrant and minority
groups. Rocco argues for reconsiderations of the idea of citizenship. He seems
to feel that this would provide an antidote to political tensions over immigration.
Top Co-editor Ed Soja's "Los
Angeles, 1965-1992: From Crisis-Generated Restructuring to Restructuring-Generated
Co-editor Ed Soja's "Los Angeles, 1965-1992: From Crisis-Generated
Restructuring to Restructuring-Generated Crisis" is the volume's
final chapter. This is not a small-think chapter. "Compressed
within the spatiotemporal brackets of this period and place is
a remarkable story, one that has implications far beyond the local
context. Through its telling can be seen a symptomatic history
and geography of the contemporary world, a revealing glimpse of
what it has meant to be alive over the past three decades not only
in Los Angeles but nearly everywhere on earth" (p. 426).
According to Soja the 1965 Watts riots dramatically revealed the contrived
nature of conventional L.A. images (see Kevin Starr's Inventing the Dream,
1993) and exposed weaknesses in, "one of the crown jewels of the Fordist-Keynsian
'social contract' that allowed Big business, Big labor, and Big government
to lead the great American postwar boom. ... Perhaps nowhere else were conditions
more ripe for rebellion" (p. 430). The author makes much of the region's
industrial boom of the 1970s while much of the rest of the nation was de-industrializing. "How
could this extraordinary countercurrent be explained? Why had it been invisible
for so long?" (p. 423). Of course, the post-WW II southern California
aerospace boom as well as the frostbelt-sunbelt shift are staples of even the
popular press. Yet, Soja suggests that a deeper understanding of these and
subsequent events is gained from his "six geographies". This where
readers should ready their dictionaries.
The first of these ("Exopolis. The Restructuring of Urban Form")
retells the fairly well known story of the region's dispersion and decentralization
of jobs and residences which is now being repeated in many U.S. metropolitan
regions. Soja prefers of divide the L.A. area into four major "Outer Cities" (Orange
County, Greater Valley, Pacific Shores and the Inland Empire). He is especially
critical of the latter. "It's rapid population growth, fed by the sprawling
development of relatively cheap housing, has created some of the cruelest repercussions
of the restructuring of urban form, especially in terms of what policy makers
call the 'jobs-housing balance.' Lured by the success stories of other Outer
Cities, hundreds of thousands of people moved to planned new communities in
anticipation of soon finding local employment opportunities. All too often,
however, the promised jobs do not arrive, leaving a huge population stranded
up to sixty miles from their places of employment" (p. 437). In fact,
in 1990, 70 percent of Riverside county residents and 68 percent of San Bernardino
county residents had jobs in their county of residence. Seventy-eight percent
of workers residing in these counties had one-way commutes less than 45 minutes.
(Census data are only available for time distributions). At the region's average
speed of 35 MPH that suggests the overwhelming number commuted less than 26
miles. Not nearly as "cruelly stranded" as Soja asserts. Both counties
continue to rank highest in the region in housing affordability. Many young
families trade off commuting for the chance to own a home. The available trade-offs
would surprise Soja if he would bother to look.
"Flexcities: The Changing Geography of Production" analyzes "deindustrailization" and "reindustrialization".
There is as yet no standard nomenclature for the computerized economy. Accelerating
change hurts some but boosts others, accentuating the penalty for being unskilled
and unschooled. Yet, "indirect genocide" and similar epithets (p. 440)
are pure overreach. Similarly, "Growth in the FIRE sector has fueled the
emergence of Los Angeles as a major challenger to the triumvirate of Tokyo, London
and New York atop the global hierarchy of 'capitals of capital'" (p. 441)
sounds good but is wrong. The major banks have been leaving Los Angeles. But,
that does not fit the script. Helping to sustain the oligarchs "... is a
teeming underground economy and an immigrant-fed pool of low-wage labor ..." (p.
441). The teeming underground economy generates incomes that are invisible to
the authors of The City.
"Cosmpolis: Globalization and World City Formation" magnifies the error. "...
downtown development in Los Angeles more directly reflected the effects of economic
and clutural glocalization (sic). Its specific geography was split in two, with
a half-city of First World skyscrapers and financial power standing starkly above
a half-city of Third World cultures and street scenes. Capping this divisive
moiety and holding it together is the governing doemstic 'Citadel-L.A.' a band
of social control and surveillance ..." Actually, the decline of L.A.'s
downtown is clear from the 1987 and 1992 economic census small-area employment
data: the CBD incurred net losses of both retail and services jobs in the five-year
interval. This was on the heels of a 25-year $2.5 billion downtown renewal effort.
The sum does not count the mega-dollar downtown focused rail transit system or
the $500 million convention center expansion. Yet, those skyscrapers now have
some of the nation's highest vacancy rates. The Economist (1997) reports "...
today not a single major bank, department-store chain or telecoms company calls
the nations' second largest city its home" (p. 25). This is why the Los
Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency is, "facing what may be the worst
financial crisis in its 49-year history ..." (L.A. Times, 1997a). There
is even talk of converting empty downtown offices to lofts (L.A. Times, 1997b).
"Splintered Labyrinth: The Repolarized Metropolis" repeats concerns
over a "missing middle" (p. 446) and the plight of immigrants who surely
should have figured it all out and sent word back home that their followers should
blaze a new path. "Unending Eyes: Revamping the Carceral City" scoffs
at "security-obsessed urbanism" in Los Angeles. Soja may not have heard
that "4 of 10 in L.A. Know a Victim of Violence" (L.A. Times, Feb.
10, 1997c). These tragedies fall heaviest on Blacks and Latinos who are clearly
not imagining the whole thing. But, "The policed metropolis is augmented
by the quieter presence of what may be the most extensive network of military
installations around any major city, a global strike force allegedly prepared
to take on any challenge anywhere in the universe" (p. 450). When Soja sees
class warfare he apparently is not kidding. "Simcities: Restructuring the
Urban Imaginary" takes on the "theme parking" of urban life, "...
a duplicitous spatial terrain in which fraud is practiced with the ultimate hypersimulated
honesty" (p. 453). It is then a hop-skip-and-jump to junk bonds ("invented
in Beverly Hills") , the "..hyperreality that was practiced in the
Reagan-Bush years ..." (p. 455), S&L fraud and other plutocractic excesses,
all culminating in the 1992 riots. Soja verbally strings all of these together,
apparently expecting that the standard Pavlovian response to each item is enhanced
by bundling them. Yet, a case cannot be built on arm-waving. He ends the book
by repeating its greatest weaknesses.
Morrison and Lowry (1993) document the growing ethnic tensions between blacks
and the rapidly growing Latino and Asian populations in L.A. They also call
attention to the violent acts of "young males with time on their hands
... 60 percent had criminal records and only a third were employed. Three-fifths
were high school dropouts." They conclude that families and schools had
both failed these young men. They also note that all this had little to do
with the political protest that started in front of the downtown police headquarters.
Details and data like these are not as interesting as class warfare.
Many new arrivals to Southern California do get an education and move up. Some
manage to overcome the obstacles created by bad schools. Others are casualties
of failed schools. Still others engage in behavior that contributes to their
own problems. The power of human capital is profound, documented in a huge
empirical literature. There, in contrast, is little serious support for the
Class Warfare view of the world. Moreover, immigrants do not endure the risks
of migration casually. Most know the score. There are no examples of enduring
migrations where the migrants are perennially fooled into making the wrong
move. An analysis that does not bother with the facts is bound to miss the
most important conclusions and to mislead.
Boskin, Michael J. and Ellen R. Dulberger, Robert J. Gordon, Zvi Grilliches,
Dale W. Jorgenson (1997) "The CPI Commission: Findings and Recommendations" Papers
and Proceedings of the 109th Annual Meetings of the American Economic Association.
Vol 87, No. 2, pp. 78-83.
Council of Economics Advisors (1996)
Freeman, Richards B. (1995) "Are Your Wages Set in Beijing?" Journal
of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 15-32.
Gordon, Peter and Harry W. Richardson (1995) "Sustainable Congestion" in
J. Brotchie et al (eds.) Cities in Competition: Productive and Sustainable
Cities for the 21st Century. Melbourne: Longman Australia
Gottschalk, Peter (1997) "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The
Basic Facts" Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol 11, No. 2, pp.
Kotkin, Joel (1994) "Immigrants Lead a Recovery" Wall Street Journal (April
L.A. Times (1997a) "Lagging Property Values Put CRA in Financial
Pinch" (p A1, May 21).
L.A. Times (1997b) "Downtown L.A. Looks to lofts for Possible Revival" (p
A1, June 9).
L.A. Times (1997c) "The Times Poll: 4 of 10 in L.A. Know a Victim
of Violence" (p A1. Feb. 10).
Lebergott, Stanley (1993) Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the
Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mayer, Susan E. and Christopher Jencks (1991)."Recent Trends in Economic
Inequality in the U.S.: Income vs. Material Well-Being"
Meyers, Dowell (1995) The Changing Immigrants of Southern California.
University of Southern California: Lusk Center Research Institute Research
Report No. LCRI-95-04R.
Morrison, Peter A. ands Ira S. Lowry (1993) A Riot of Color: The Demographic
Setting of Civil Disturbance in Los Angeles. Santa Monica: RAND (P-7819).
Quigley, John M. (1996) "The Homeless" Journal of Economic Literature.
Vol. 34, No. 4. pp. 1935-1941.
Rodriguez, Gregory (1996) The Emerging Latino Middle Class. Malibu:
Pepperdine University Institute for Public Policy.
Starr, Kevin (19xx) Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive
Era. New York: Oxford University Press.
The Economist (1997) "How to remake a city" (p. 25, May 31).
U.S. Department of Commerce (1997) Census and You, June, 1997, Vol 32.
No. 6, p. 6.
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