Writer Dorothy Parker once described Los Angeles as 72 suburbs in search of a city. Since then the number has grown to almost 100, reflecting LA’s robust diversity and the fact that Angelenos tend to identify more with their neighborhood than with their city.
Some of the most heated battles in recent history have taken place over neighborhood boundaries as communities seek to claim unique identities that reflect their cultural, economic, and political personality and character.
The boundary between Hollywood and East Hollywood continues to stir debate just as the formation of Lake Balboa and Valley Glen did when portions of Van Nuys were renamed, giving real estate agents a shot at a better commission.
In some cities, this rich diversity of neighborhoods is celebrated in a municipal demonstration of the fact that the whole is greater than the parts. In other cities, such as Los Angeles, City Hall seems to struggle with this vibrant cast of community voices, urging community members to homogenize their message.
Sydney, Australia is a city of 4.6 million people, divided into 649 neighborhoods and 40 local government areas. Sydney identifies itself as a “City of Villages,” not just in words but in behavior. The Lord Mayor uses public transportation to take the business of City Hall to local communities, demonstrating that a large Alpha+ World City can be an international power at the same time that it establishes a connection with local politics.
Nagoya, Japan is one of LA’s Sister Cities, a relationship that is working better for Nagoya than it is for Los Angeles. The Mayor of Nagoya celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sister City relationship by conducting a special seminar that featured LA’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and demonstrated his commitment to the concept of participatory democracy at the local level.
EmpowerLA’s General Manager BongHwan “BH” Kim and Russell Brown, then President of Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, were guests of Mayor Kawamura who embraced the concept of local governance so much, he has since moved to devolve the City Council in favor of empowering local neighborhoods. He was recently reelected by a landslide, demonstrating that this is “The Year of the Neighborhood” in Nagoya!
A delegation from Venezuela recently toured the United States as guests of the Department of State, stopping by EmpowerLA’s office for a lesson on “Grassroots Democracy and Citizen Participation in the Political Process.” America’s International Visitor Leadership Program recognizes the power to be found in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the value of sharing that power with other countries.
Meanwhile, City Hall stands tall as if a neighborhood unto itself, requiring communities to trek downtown to participate while other cities take their municipal show on the road.
With citywide elections on the horizon, Los Angeles is at a crossroads.
Will the candidates for Mayor, City Controller and City Attorney celebrate local politics and declare this “The Year of the Neighborhood!” or will they simply continue in the centralized silo approach with Neighborhood Councils lined up as spectators?
Will the candidates for the eight City Council seats commit to empowering the many neighborhoods that make up their districts or will they tender the usual promises of city services in an effort to quell any hint of discontent?
Most importantly, will the members of LA’s Neighborhood Councils declare this “The Year of the Neighborhood!” by supporting the candidates who have risen from the EmpowerLA community and answered the call?
Posted: Tuesday, 8 May 2012