EDITOR’S NOTE: No one has described the decline of Los Angeles more accurately, clearly and factually in the last 20 years than Joel Kotkin An internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends, Kotkin in recent month has taken a hard look at how L.A. is doing and provided David Abel’s “The Planning Report” a glimpse into his findings. L.A. has been outperformed in almost every possible category of prosperity by other major cities, he says in the interview, and suggests a “decade of secular decline” can be turned around with an honest public debate and real leadership. (Read the full report at The Planning Report interview.)
L.A. is in the midst of a secular decline, which can be reversed, but before we reverse a decline, we have to know what the problems are and where we stand. You can read accounts by organizations like the LAEDC–the last effective business group in town–and have no sense that time is running out. There is very little public discussion or recognition of what’s going on. Not that we were unique in suffering from the recession, but we have actually underperformed compared with both our old rivals and some new ones over the past decade.
In virtually every critical sector, L.A. has declined more rapidly than many of its major competitors. In finance and business sectors, L.A. has done much worse than Houston, New York, Dallas, and many of the other regions it competes with. In manufacturing, we’ve done much worse than Texas and other newer competitors.
idea of Los Angeles as a model, as a city of the future, as a city
that people around the world are thinking and talking about–that’s
gone. L.A., as a great metropolis, which we all were hoping it
would become, that concept has faded.
One big problem has been the loss of business leadership…There’s no real sensible debate
about where the city is going. Under these circumstances, business
seems to me to be more interested in accommodating the political
power structure as opposed to challenging it.
The cynic in me says the only thing that will get serious
discussion is when we start to see the reduction in the quality of
life and services. We’ve been, in a funny way, like our fellow
Mediterranean metropolises, like Rome, Barcelona, and
Athens–living way over our means and maybe some signs of that
decline will start to make us act decisively. That may be the only
hope. Governor Brown’s decision to go after the CRA may be a sort
of wake-up call to the L.A. business community and the real estate
community: The gravy train’s gone, and if you want to build in
L.A., you have to figure out how you do it with real value, making
products that people want and that can be afforded by a population
that’s actually engaged.