Scaled down and still unable to arrange financing, Eli Broad’s grandiose vision for L.A. is in deep trouble.
The Grand Avenue project was supposed to be the Central Park of L.A., the masterpiece of human ingenuity that was finally to make downtown the true center of the city, the place where all roads led and all people came to celebrate the wonders of urban life in Southern California.
In truth, the project exposes everything wrong with the city.
There is utterly no grassroots support for it, no public demand or interest, only the vision of a philanthropic billionaire who truly believes great monuments and a great downtown make a great city and has the clout to bring politicians to their knees to do his bidding.
Ever since Tom Bradley won election in 1973, the insider power structure has invested the city’s wealth into downtown with massive public subsidies that robbed neighborhoods everywhere of services, infrastructure investment and support necessary for community health.
Instead of a transit system that moves people where they want to go, we have a subway and train system that only goes downtown but doesn’t go to the airport, the Coliseum, Hollywood Bowl, the Westside, anywhere in the Valley.
We could have had a transit system that works with all the tax dollars that were spent and by now we could be enhancing it with a subway and train lines along the most heavily traveled routes.
But the problem was and remains today, the exclusionary nature of L.A.’s political system.
I don’t blame Eli Broad. He had a vision, money and influence and believed rightly that great monuments and a vibrant core do make Paris, London, New York, Chicago and other “old” cities great.
But not L.A. For better or worse, it sprawled outward rather than rising upward and the only way to make it great was to create satellite centers in various parts of the city, places where people walk and socialize, shop and play, where local culture in all its diversity flourishes.
In fact, that was once the plan. It gave rise to Century City and Warner Center but the Bradley revolution abandoned that vision and replaced it with a scheme to build an artificial downtown. The developers who helped elect Bradley have made billions and downtown for all its growth remains a bizarre area, the yin/yang of a city of light and dark, rich and poor and a beseiged middle class being chased out of the schools and out of the city entirely.
The lesson to be learned should be clear: Until the people in the neighborhoods are empowered — or seize power themselves — L.A. will remain a place and not a city.
With its climate, its myths of absolute freedom and stardom, the richness and diversity of its population, L.A. could become a truly great city, a beacon to the world of what can happen when democracy and freedom flourish.