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Climate and Environment

The '15-Minute City': A Strategy To Reduce The Traffic, Pollution And High Housing Costs In LA

An artist's rendition of a city block with brick buildings, lush trees, bike lines and people running on the sidewalk, biking and eating outside cafes.
A reimagined Washington Boulevard in Culver City.
(Livable Communities Initiative)
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These are two things we can probably all agree on: L.A. is increasingly unaffordable, and it has too much traffic.

But what if you could get everything you need within 15 minutes of your reasonably-priced apartment — without having to set foot in a car. Doesn’t sound like L.A., right?

Jenny Hontz thinks it is possible. She heads the Livable Communities Initiative, a group of urban planners, architects and climate and housing advocates who are pushing for L.A. to be a 15-minute city.

"We are in the ultimate car city in Los Angeles," Hontz said. "And so if we can change the culture here and build this way here, we can do it anywhere."

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Hontz said cars are a culprit when it comes to high rents: cities require developers to build parking spots with housing. In L.A., each spot can cost more than $50,000, upping rent prices.

Higher costs push Angelenos out of the city and into longer commutes, adding to planet-heating emissions. According to 2019 census data, 13% of Angelenos who commuted to the Westside for work drove more than 50 miles to get there.

Cars and trucks on the roads also produce about 20% of L.A.’s planet-heating emissions and contribute to health-harming smog.

A Google image of a wide, paved street with low buildings and overcast sky.
Westwood Boulevard currently.
(Livable Communities Initiative

Hontz said building smaller housing developments without parking, close to jobs and public transit, coupled with redesigning streets to be more walkable and bikeable, would lower rents and pollution.

For example, she said Westwood Boulevard is one street that could be totally redesigned and it would have a big impact. More than 100,000 people commute to UCLA by car every day, according to university data, often from dozens of miles away.

An artist's rendition of a street with lush trees, bike paths, people outside cafes eating.
Westwood Boulevard reimagined.
(Livable Communities Initiative

A UC Berkeley study found that reducing vehicle commutes and building housing in urban areas were two of the most effective strategies at lowering emissions in L.A.

"Building equitably and building near job centers reduces traffic," Hontz said. "So it makes life better for everyone and it helps the climate, too."

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A Google image of a street corner with a bike lane, palm trees and low buildings.
Washington Boulevard in Culver City currently.
(Livable Communities Initiative

Implementing the plan doesn't come without obstacles: among other things, it will require rezoning certain areas, dealing with legal challenges and red tape, and dropping the requirement to build parking, in addition to political and industry buy-in. But the initiative has momentum. It's now officially part of L.A.’s housing element in the new general plan, which is updated every eight years.

Culver City is on its way to implementing many of the ideas and possibly also working it into their general plan. And a state bill that would eliminate the parking spot requirement for smaller developments is currently being considered.

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