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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

L.A., You're No New Hampshire

March 10, 2001|NANCY SNOW | Nancy Snow is associate director of the UCLA Center for Communications and Community

I know New Hampshire. New Hampshire is where I used to live. Los Angeles, you're no New Hampshire. Or so says a just-released study by Harvard University that equates trust, civic engagement and neighborliness with homogenous places like New Hampshire.

According to the survey, L.A. has a small, market share in trusting neighbors, shopkeepers, co-workers and comes in last place in something called "social capital equality"--the gap between civic participation of rich versus poor.

What's next? If you want a friend in L.A., get a dog? In fact, President Harry Truman said that the canine companion was the preferred choice for friendship but he was referring to life in our nation's capital.

Los Angeles, you're no New Hampshire, you're better. I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2000 to accept a position at UCLA. Is there anywhere else in the world that comes close to matching the richness in ethnic and racial diversity that is Los Angeles? Sure, L.A. is a large urban environment and that first freeway trip seems intimidating. And yes, the disparity between rich and poor here is a negative that should never be downplayed. This city reflects the world around us and we have much work yet to do to build up all our communities. We are not all wealthy but we are very rich--in neighborhoods. If you break down L.A. into neighborhoods, then you begin to develop a sense of place and neighborliness that the Harvard survey says is so lacking here.

I always felt a bit cheated in New Hampshire, knowing that the United States is the most multicultural nation in the world and seeing so little of that in such a homogeneous state. I was thankful for the diversity of tree species in New Hampshire that kept my dreams alive to one day live in a place like Los Angeles.

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