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Dreaming Up Ideas for a More Livable L.A. : Growth: Residents are asked to help achieve goals proposed for an updated General Plan.


Now more than ever, Los Angeles is looking for a future.

It could look something like this: A metropolis where neglected boulevards are teeming with life, where more people move more easily through the urban landscape, where the isolation born of freeways and gate-guarded enclaves gives way to a sense of community, and where the benefits and burdens of new development are spread evenly throughout the city's fractured neighborhoods.

Halfway through the two-year process of redrawing the city's long-term blueprint for growth, that is the Los Angeles that residents from communities as diverse as Westwood and South Central and San Pedro are telling local officials they want.

How to get there is the subject of a series of community meetings taking place across Los Angeles. Armed with colorful sketches of different communities, urban planners are showing residents what the future could hold for their neighborhoods and explaining how to make it happen. Meetings are scheduled Wednesday in West Los Angeles and March 31 for the Hollywood and Wilshire areas.

Planners hope to present the plans to the city Planning Commission in November.

But whether the vision of planners and residents leaps from colorful maps and charts into reality depends on the will of politicians and the willingness of residents to accept changes that may be unpopular in the short term, those involved in the process agree.


"We're selling this as a plan for people's children," said Los Angeles planner Ron Maben, who is helping update the city's General Plan, the document that guides future growth.

The General Plan--last updated in 1974--establishes broad policy. Although it does not govern how individual pieces of property should be developed, it sets the tone for smaller, more specific community plans that do.

Over the past several weeks--and continuing until next month--planners have taken preliminary ideas on the road to ask residents across the city what they think of a plan that seeks to accommodate more people without overloading the freeways and the sewers or worsening the quality of the air.

The preliminary ideas stem from community meetings last year, at which members told planners what they did and did not want Los Angeles to be. Although each neighborhood had specific ideas about its future, planners were struck by the similarities in what residents wanted in Los Angeles as a whole.

They wanted more parks, more livable neighborhoods and more affordable housing. They did not want more traffic, more smog or more of the other headaches that go with urban living.

In short, they all agreed that something has to change.

Indeed, early data compiled by planners demonstrates that if Los Angeles continues to grow as it has--namely, an auto-dependent suburban sprawl--the results could be disastrous. Sewer systems will be overloaded. Roads will be gridlocked. Air quality will worsen. And the need for imported water will outpace supply.

So planners devised a preliminary vision for the future that borrows heavily from the past. Their preliminary ideas include:

* Encouraging denser development around mass-transit centers and along major transportation corridors. That would allow more people to live within walking distance of subways or buses, thus reducing the need for automobiles.

* Mixing different types of development, such as putting apartments or condominiums on top of retail shops or commercial offices. That way, shopkeepers or office workers could live and work in the same area.

* Converting flood-control channels and utility rights of way into greenbelts that connect regional parks, thus opening up recreational areas in communities where vacant land is scarce. If bike paths are built, planners speculate more people might pedal to work.

Recognizing the diversity of the city's neighborhoods, planners are drawing preliminary sketches to detail how the broad guidelines might be applied in different communities. Venice, for instance, might develop with a different "feel" than, say, Pico-Union, but both communities would be subject to the same rules.

Planners hope to present the ideas to the city Planning Commission in November.

Many of the ideas actually were contained in the city's last General Plan. That plan called for major urban hubs such as Downtown, Los Angeles International Airport and Warner Center to be connected by a network of transit lines.

Except the rail lines never got built. And many elements of the plan were never followed. Now the plan is out of date. Some of the centers envisioned in the plan developed; others did not.

But much has changed since 1974. Growth has slowed. The luster of the Golden State has faded. Employers are leaving. The federal government is leaning on Southern California to clean up its air and its water and to bring its sewer systems up to par.

All of those factors could combine to force Los Angeles to abide by the plan it ultimately adopts.

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