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Notes to a Generation of Future Leaders

January 10, 1988

Paul Ziffren, a prominent attorney, was chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, has served on the Democratic National Committee and the Los Angeles Music Center's board of directors, and has lived in the city for more than 40 years. His thoughts on what the region needs from its next generation of leaders:

Los Angeles isn't like most other American cities. I think of it as an "unfinished city," poised uneasily between unity and provinciality, between great spatial freedom and a growing awareness of limits. And that presents a host of unprecedented problems that future leaders will have to confront.

Los Angeles has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. When I moved here in 1943, the area was a disconnected jumble of suburbs and isolated communities. I remember how we used to go down to the Philharmonic Auditorium building to hear the orchestra, feeling a little depressed that this somewhat seedy music hall was the closest we had to a metropolitan cultural center.

Since then, we've lived through the greatest migration of human beings in the history of this country. We've turned into a conglomeration of ethnic neighborhoods, trendy restaurants and inventive architecture, with a revitalized downtown area and a sophisticated cultural life. The sprawling nature of the place, combined with the extraordinary energy of its expanding population, has instilled in our residents a flair for invention that keeps us refreshingly vital and unpredictable.

Still, if the area is to continue to thrive, it will require a special kind of leadership. The new leaders will have to preserve the region as an imaginative and healthy place to live, even while safeguarding it from the disastrous consequences of unrestrained development. Everywhere we travel in Southern California, we're confronted by warning signs of a new age of limits. When I first moved here, you could see the mountains from downtown practically every day; now, the smog often blocks the view. Ethnic groups have little interaction with one another, even though they live side by side. To make matters worse, we're still stuck with a multiplicity of local governments whose provinciality and pettiness sometimes seem ridiculous. I remember not long ago when a parade was planned to traverse Los Angeles. When one community adamantly refused to allow the parade to cross its turf, the marchers had to disband and reassemble a couple of miles down the road. That kind of thinking defies logic.

Consider, among others, two models of leadership in the past three decades of Los Angeles history: first, the construction of the Music Center in 1964, which not only allowed this city to shed its reputation as a backwater, but also sparked a downtown renaissance. Then, of course, there was the triumph of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. The Games did more to rouse citywide pride and establish Los Angeles as a global metropolis than any event before or since.

We need leaders who can build on our accomplishments. We should be grateful to Tom Bradley, who has been able to conciliate among the city's different groups. With regard to special interest groups, their leaders should follow Bradley's example and maintain a clear responsibility to the city and the region, rather than to the narrow agendas of their immediate constituents.Together, we can create a symphony of diversity--a festival styles and cultures that will keep our region vital.

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