L.A. Just Called. It Says Go Find Another Dystopia.
By Heather Smith / grist.org

In 10 years, Los Angeles plans to reduce per capita water use by 22.5 percent. It will no longer get any of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. It will turn public library lawns into urban gardens and lay out rain barrels like a city full of survivalist homesteaders. In 20 years, at least half of all journeys in L.A. will be taken on foot, by bike, or by using public transit — which is another way of saying that in 20 years, Los Angeles will be San Francisco, circa right now. Though probably more glamorous.

Historically, Los Angeles has been the site of some of the U.S.’s most lavish dystopian futures (Exhibit: Blade Runner). So reading a speculative plan for the city — one which was created at the behest of Mayor Eric Garcetti, signed off on by every city manager, and released this week — makes for a surreal experience. All these years of being America’s fantasy dystopia, and Los Angeles turns out to have its own plans for the future.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 2.30.47 PM
pLAn

Sustainability plans are something of the hot new dance craze in American cities — New York has one, Washington, D.C., has one, nearby Santa Monica has one. The terrible acronym for Los Angeles’s sustainability plan — pLAn — echoes the eccentric capitalization choices of New York’s plan (PlaNYC). But while many of these plans are superficially similar — more parks, more walking — there are huge regional differences.

New York is an already dense urban landscape whose main priority is protecting itself from the property damage caused by storm surges. Los Angeles was a sprawling city even in the days before private cars (the L.A.’s streetcar lines actually enabled the city’s first suburbs), and it’s less at risk from storm surge than from drought. Rising temperatures from climate change will also make temperature inversion over the city, which traps air pollution near ground level, even worse.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 2.33.12 PM
pLAn

A day before the sustainability plan was released, a group of researchers at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA released another first: an Environmental Report Card for the County of Los Angeles, which gave the city a C+ for importing over half of its water from more than 200 miles away, for not keeping sufficient track of where its recycling and hazardous waste is going, for having groundwater tainted by aerospace-industry runoff, and for having air that is pretty hard to breathe, especially near the ports and freeways.

Mark Gold, the lead researcher on the report card, sees L.A.’s “pLAn” as a good sign — for one thing, it sets goals with hard numbers, percentages, dates, and timelines, instead of using vague language like “endeavor to.” Gold also approves of how the pLAn frames sustainability as a social justice issue rather than just an environmental one.

The pLAn, for example, sets out to reduce the number of annual childhood asthma-related emergency room visits to 14 per 1,000 visits in the next 10 years, and 8 per 1,000 by the next 20. Currently, in some neighborhoods the rate is more like 30 per 1,000. It also sets a goal that in the next 20 years, 75 percent of all Angelenos will live within half a mile of park or open space, and within half a mile of fresh food.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 2.33.41 PM
pLAn

“We’re not going to be successful if there are communities that are left behind,” Gold said in a phone interview. “This is tailored to L.A. This is embracing the diversity that is L.A. -– not trying to change the character of the city. That’s the optimistic part about what the mayor is pitching. We can make a change in the environment and make it unique to Los Angeles.”

L.A.’s previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, laid the framework for this idea of cutting pollution and putting in transit as the kind of economic and public health issue that cut across lines of class and race. Among other things, he passed a voter-approved sales tax that will fund much of the mass transit the plan needs to meet its goals — right now, construction of the city’s transit system is one of the largest public works programs in the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 2.31.41 PM
pLAn

The hardest part of the pLAn, according to Matt Petersen, chief sustainability officer for the City of Los Angeles, will be water. Los Angeles expects to add another 500,000 residents over the next 20 years, and it doesn’t even have enough water for the amount its current residents use.

The city has already changed its definition of “local water” so that water pulled in from the Owens Valley, 200 miles away, no longer counts. Instead, L.A. is trying to clean up the San Fernando Basin, which was polluted by the aerospace industry, so that water can be added to the city’s water supply. But, Petersen adds, dealing with water has an easy side, too — because it’s about changing people, instead of infrastructure or technology, and people are spooked by the drought.

“We use 50 percent of our water for outdoor landscaping,” Petersen said. “The green lawn, the car, and the swimming pool — that’s the dream out here. That’s going to change.”

4.1 ·
3
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 23,777 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,830 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 11,565 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 10,820 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 9,286 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 7,398 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 6,821 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 6,697 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 5,884 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 4,733 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 3,892 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 3,781 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 3,100 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 2,619 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
American Cartel: How America's Two Major Parties Helped Destroy Democracy
Frank Castro · 1,963 views today · Cartel: An association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
Forest Man
16 min · 1,603 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 1,268 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 1,182 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 1,163 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
A Woman Who Makes This Statement Today Needs Revolutionary Courage
Sabine Lichtenfels · 1,156 views today · I want to live in a community with men and women, with children, animals and plants so that I am not continually forced to hide my actual being from the others. Perception and...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
L.A. Just Called. It Says Go Find Another Dystopia.