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What a weird look at Los Angeles and the American Dream

Apparently the authors of this study haven't noticed how many New Yorkers, Chicagoites, and even Lexingtonians are moving to temperate California!

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A recent article in The Economist really tweaked my sensibilities. What was left out of the article's premise was as important as what was included! What, you ask?

Heralded as "A much-criticised city turns out to be one of America's greenest", the article notes that the Brookings Institution rates Los Angeles as the greenest city on the mainland. Huh?

Sorry? Los Angeles is, after all, a symbol of environmental degradation. It became car-oriented well before most other cities...These days the metropolis is renowned for jammed freeways. Talk to the mayor of almost any Western city and they will outline their plans for avoiding Los Angeles' fate.

That sounds like the story I hear bandied about.

Brookings's number-crunchers calculated carbon footprints mostly by studying highway traffic and household energy use. They excluded local traffic and industry because the statistics are bad.


Given that transportation is probably our TOP challenge, to leave it out of the analysis makes the study, well, as slanted as our mudsliding hills!

Weather is one explanation. Six of the ten most virtuous metropolitan areas are on the west coast, where Pacific breezes lessen demand for heating and air-conditioning. The worst scores for energy use go to places like Cincinnati and Washington, which have appallingly humid summers and bitter winters. Urban areas in the Midwest receive black marks because so much of their electricity comes from coal. In Los Angeles just under half does, and that will drop steeply as new environmental laws come into effect.

Okay...that makes sense. I personally have no air conditioning and use heating maybe a couple days a year. Yes, I live near the coast...not inland. However, much of Los Angeles isn't so temperate.

What makes this effective is that our regulators have required our utility companies to invest in alternative energies. Compliance seems to be the major motivator, even in California.

Another reason is that Los Angeles sprawls less than it appears. It may be a low-rise city, but a surprising number of people pack into its "dingbat" houses and bungalows.

Poverty and high cost of living have something to do with this "environmentally friendly" approach to lifestyles. Wages and city infrastructure just don't quite measure up to other areas such as San Francisco or middle America.

It is true, however, that since nature is often seen as a "nuisance" in the urbanized sprawl, large yards, gardens and neighborhood parks are few and far between...and create less need for sprawl. Los Angeles has one of the lowest levels of open space and parks in the country. Especially when you take out the Santa Monica mountains that are claimed as park space.

Having moved here from North Carolina, I must say that there is a difference in how communities are situated. If you look at a map of North Carolina compared to California, you see that NC has a little town every five miles. California, on the other hand, has uber mileage between cities because of our natural terrain, military bases, and agricultural swaths. And our transportation focus, of course.

Places such as New York and Portland have pockets of abstemiousness--just 9% of Manhattanites drive to work alone, compared with 75% of Angelenos.

Which leaves me with incredulity written all over my face. Our public transportation system is just now developing vs. the trains, bus systems and subways of eastern cities. Why would they leave transportation out of their equation?

These days Los Angeles is trying to improve its environmental image by encouraging developers to build blocks of flats. The Brookings report suggests this approach is wrong, or at least inadequate. The metropolis should build more bungalows rather than force families who want them to live farther inland, where temperatures are higher. There is plenty of room for more concrete on the coast. Between Orange county and the city of San Diego, for example, lies little besides tomato farms and a military base. To save the planet, fire up the bulldozers.


Apparently the authors of this study haven't noticed how many New Yorkers, Chicagoites, and even Lexingtonians are moving to temperate California! While I certainly mourn every square inch of our beautiful natural systems that are covered with concrete...I think the problem lies in how many people are being born in the world and moving to California in search of the American dream -- and that dream is being crafted in the high rise concrete jungle of ad agencies in New York City. :-) LA is playing catch up with the flow of people seeking opportunity, shelter and a little slice of the American dream that was also authored on the other coast. Maybe LA can help write the NEW American Dream!

REFERENCE: The Economist

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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