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This isn’t your father’s Los Angeles. Long derided as a city of cars, shopping malls, backyard hermitage and disconnected sprawl, there’s a rather profound movement underway in this city to embrace the public sphere--parks, cycling and public transportation.

The passage of Measure R in L.A. County brings the promise of real citywide public transit network. New subway and light rail lines are being built, cycling is being discussed by public officials as a legitimate form of mass transit and local non-profits are experimenting with mobile free clinics to address the health needs of the region’s uninsured.

Thanks to cicLAvia, Los Angeles saw its streets transformed from car-choked transit arteries, to parks. 7.5 miles of city streets were shut down to traffic—if only for a day--allowing bikes and pedestrians to rule the streets for a day: a vision of what this city could become if we want it to.

For this current generation of Angelenos, our conception of what constitutes “quality-of-life” extends far beyond our own backyards.

The timing for this turnabout couldn’t be better. Los Angeles is the most park-poor metropolis in America. 4 percent of our land is devoted to public greenery. By contrast, parkland comprises 17 percent of New York City and 9 percent of Boston (where 97 percent of the city’s children have immediate access to a park—as opposed to one-third of kids in Los Angeles). Not surprisingly, childhood obesity is rampant. And, given the state of the economy, our lack of public life keeps us disconnected from our fellow Angelenos—largely ignorant of their struggles and concerns.

While small victories in the battle for a healthier, community-minded city have been won in recent years, the widespread implementation of the community vision hasn’t gone too smoothly. It’s a strange, Orwellian time in Los Angeles. A time when the local government uses the language of green to justify subsidizing the construction of more sprawling shopping malls, because they’re located next to a bus stop. It’s a time when the city is crying poverty in the midst of a growing budget deficit, but it has tens of millions of dollars for the construction of new parks squirreled away unused. The long dreamed of “Subway to the Sea” now seems to have been downgraded to the “Subway to Westwood” in the face of NIMBY protests and Libertarian penny-pinching. And with unemployment continuing to hover over 13% in Los Angeles County, a public health crisis could be on the horizon as the pool of uninsured grows along with the ranks of the unemployed.

But despite the desperate times and the often hallow rhetoric of enlightened reconstruction from those in power, hope remains that the dawn of a walkable, car-free, healthy Los Angeles could still be near.

 
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