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LA Story

By Matthew Yglesias  

"LA Story"

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I went to see Changeling last night. The movie itself is so-so. There’s a very strong film lurking in there somewhere, but the beginning is slow and the end far too long and pointless. That said, the reconstruction of Los Angeles in the late-twenties and early-thirties is noteworthy to readers of this blog for the attention it lavishes on LA’s historically transit-oriented neighborhood. It was a city built along streetcar lines, that converged at a traditional downtown area.

But you also see the origins of the contemporary car-based city. Cars exist in Changeling but they’re rare. Consequently, there’s little traffic and driving around looks extremely quick and pleasant. Thus, over time more people will buy cars. But as the number of cars increases, their speed and convenience declines. Then planning takes a fateful turn deciding that infrastructure spending decisions and regulatory mandates will be made in an effort to further facilitate car use. That winds up creating a landscape where cars are the only option — the streetcar lines are gone, and auto-oriented development (parking lots everywhere! giant blocks!) makes walking impractical — which becomes, in turn, a landscape uncomfortably crowded with traffic.

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