L.A. Just Called. It Says Go Find Another Dystopia.
By Heather Smith / grist.org
Apr 10, 2015

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
Trending Today
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 7,787 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 5,055 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 4,731 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 3,889 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,754 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 2,181 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,950 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Thich Nhat Hanh: How We Can Learn to Love Our Enemies
5 min · 1,687 views today · This is a short excerpt from Peacemaking. I often think about this story when I think about the kind of activism I would like to bring into this world. I want to help build a...
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 1,585 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,534 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
True Justice Should Have Compassion in It
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,390 views today · I believe that true justice should have compassion in it. When someone does something harmful, destructive, the destruction is done not only to the person who is the victim...
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
3 min · 1,355 views today · In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws...
The Charter For Compassion
2 min · 1,252 views today · The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 753 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Price of Certainty
7 min · 724 views today · It’s alarming to see how polarized politics have become in the United States. The wider the gulf grows, the more people seem to be certain that the other side is wrong...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 619 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 421 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
Meet the Earthship
7 min · 374 views today · Outside of Taos, New Mexico, you'll find a community of people living in off-grid homes made of garbage. The homes are called Earthships and were invented by Michael Reynolds...
The Importance of Empathy
3 min · 352 views today · With an increasingly polarized and divided world, we need empathy more than ever before. Too often we are talking at each other, unable to listen and jumping to entirely wrong...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 348 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
L.A. Just Called. It Says Go Find Another Dystopia.