It would be an enormously fruitful, job-creating investment. Light industry would spring up all along the corridor from the Civic Center to the ports, predicts Joel Kotkin, a longtime analyst, author and teacher of business.
Still, all is not cooperation. The region's entrepreneurs are as active as ever, pushing into the new multimedia fields which range from video games to digital software for entertainment, medicine and education. But they may not be getting a helping hand from big business in Los Angeles.
"Multimedia companies tell me that dealing with the movie studios is very difficult," says Tom Turney of NewCap Partners, an investment bank that backs small companies.
To be sure, there is ferment with clusters of interactive video and video game entrepreneurs in Woodland Hills and Canoga Park, with the growth of innovative financing and with new thinking undoubtedly percolating in frequent meetings between Michael Ovitz and Bill Gates of Microsoft.
Unfortunately, to most of Los Angeles, multimedia can be a yawn. What do Hollywood deals, or, for that matter Caltech and computer-aided manufacturing, do for a city in which tens of thousands live in poverty--people for whom the information revolution promises only another low-paying job?
They do a lot. Economic development anywhere in the region can offer opportunity to all, especially if they have education to handle the work and transportation to get to it.
That's the thinking that informs the economic policies of Mayor Richard Riordan's Administration at City Hall. True economic development comes from creating jobs wherever possible, improving education and transportation so the poor can take the jobs and then providing social work to deal with the many other problems of poverty, from malnutrition to despair.
It's a policy that reflects new thinking in other cities, notably Philadelphia, Cleveland, Jersey City and Houston, which are trying to get away from the often self-defeating system of interest-group politics.
Also, it's a policy that fits the coming times, in the vision of futurist Alvin Toffler, who makes his home in Los Angeles.
Toffler sees communication being substituted for transportation wherever feasible, moving work close to people, relieving the burden on freeways and air quality at the same time. "A set of intermediate institutions will spring up, companies that facilitate home work and contract services," Toffler says.
Such developments will put even more pressure on the education system--a California institution critically in need of new thinking--to prepare youngsters for independent, self-starting work.
Even more than the education system, or earthquakes and recession, there is another big issue looming over Los Angeles, and that is crime.
The problem is so acute that James Q. Wilson, criminologist, philosopher and UCLA professor, is frightened by it. As recently as 1980, Los Angeles' crime rate dropped, Wilson notes, but it turned up again in 1985. It has many causes, drugs among them, he says. And a revived economy would alleviate the problem by giving young men jobs.
But crime, and many other problems of Los Angeles and other cities, demand new thinking about citizens' obligations to live in harmony with their fellows. Wilson's new book, "The Moral Sense," attempts to define and reawaken very old and yet very new ideas: self-control, fairness, duty, morality. As much as on repairing freeways, Los Angeles will have to work on rediscovering those qualities.
New thinking is needed to get over the nostalgic illusion of Los Angeles as an idyllic seaside resort or a leafy small town; the city's novelists, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and John Gregory Dunne, never saw it that way.
This is not a village in Michoacan or Fujian or Kansas, it is Los Angeles. And perhaps it needs new bravado, too. In 1969 there was a billboard towering over Olympic Boulevard, advertising a radio station that said: "Smile Los Angeles, you're the center of the universe." There was no truth to the sentiment then.
Ironically, there is some truth to the sentiment today, but no one would think of putting up such a billboard. Maybe someone should.