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TIMES BOARD OF ADVISERS

Exposition Park Could Become a Model of Beneficial Growth

October 30, 1994|J. Eugene Grigsby III | director fo UCLA's Center for Afro-American Studies

To improve economic and social conditions in cities, local decision makers are constantly looking for ways to stimulate job growth. What policy makers desire most are strategies that result in high-wage employment opportunities with minimum adverse environmental consequences such as air pollution and traffic. Programs designed to reduce unemployment in inner-city locations are, of course, particularly desirable.

For years, a number of cities promoted downtown revitalization, both to remove blight and to stimulate new employment. With local governments as advocates and the federal government providing needed capital, private developers systematically built thousands of square feet of office and retail space in major metropolitan areas across the country, Los Angeles included.

Unfortunately, mounting empirical evidence suggests that this approach has redistributed jobs, not produced new ones. Downtown redevelopment removed retail establishments that employed low-skill workers and replaced them with office towers that cater to a different work force.

A weak economy has resulted in shrinking demand for both office and retail space--and for the time being, at least, has caused policy makers to abandon the downtown revitalization approach for more fruitful means of job creation.

In Southern California, two kinds of economic development strategies are emerging.

One is regional initiatives, as exemplified by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 20-year plan and Calstart's efforts to establish an electric car industry. Proponents of this strategy assume that growth in jobs throughout the region will serve as a stimulus to improve the quality of life for a large number of the region's residents, as well as uplifting distressed neighborhoods.

An inherent weakness in the regional strategy is that it provides no direct link to the low-income communities that contain the largest number of chronically unemployed and low-skill workers. Thus, as with the old downtown revitalization approach, there is little likelihood that regional initiatives per se will provide much in the way of economic benefit to the growing number of residents in low-income neighborhoods.

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On the other hand, strategies designed specifically to overcome the weaknesses of the regional approaches are being advocated by a host of community-based organizations, including the Coalition of Neighborhood Developers, Communities for Accountable Reinvestment (CAR) and the Assn. of Street Vendors.

The problem with these approaches, however, is that they often are limited in scale and do not tie in with broader regional economic development forces. So while their objectives--reducing hard-core unemployment and redirecting capital into low-income neighborhoods--may be laudable, success again will be difficult to document.

What clearly seems to be missing is a better way to link the two approaches so that regional economic growth will continue and low-income workers and neighborhoods will derive direct benefits from that growth.

One step toward achieving this linkage might be to identify how regional initiatives can explicitly address issues associated with the alleviation of poverty, notably job creation. The flip side is evaluating current opportunities for neighborhood-based development to capitalize on regional dynamics.

A good opportunity for pursuing this type of linkage exists in Exposition Park. Over the next decade, at least $200 million in public investment will be made in the park with the building of a new Museum of Science and Industry, a science-oriented elementary school and a community center, renovating the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena, redoing the park's landscaping and improving traffic patterns.

The opportunity to forge a link between regional and community-based economic development strategies exists if policy makers think of Exposition Park as four parks in one: an events park consisting of the Coliseum and Sports Arena; a museum park containing the Museum of Science and Industry and the Natural History Museum; an educational park to surround the new elementary school and focus on the educational link between the school and the museums, and, finally, a community park whose major facilities will be a community center and swimming pool.

The first three parks conceptually link to regional strategies by virtue of the fact that their "customer base" is drawn from throughout Southern California. Historically, this has meant that decision making was focused primarily on serving regional needs--sometimes to the detriment of local residents. Current challenges the regional strategists face are marketing these parks to even more regional customers and providing additional parking space. For community-based strategists, meanwhile, the challenge is to minimize adverse community impacts of traffic congestion created by regional users and at the same time derive direct economic and community benefits.

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