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A Different Take on Los Angeles and "That" Industry

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Like other Angelenos, LAist.com tries hard to separate the myth of "Hollywood" from the reality of Los Angeles and avoids the temptation to constantly reference the entertainment business. Yet, the "Industry" is one of Southern California's major economies and impacts our lives in myriad ways. For example, a conference on Saturday at the Huntington Library in San Marino focused on how the entertainment industry shaped (and continues to shape) our region's urban design. Planners, historians, and architects gathered at the Huntington to discuss how and why the Los Angeles and the entertainment business is one of the most compelling urban economic development and geographic expansion stories in history.

The over-exaggeration of the industry in Los Angeles is often lamentable, and we're hopeful that by now most people understand entertainment isn't LA's sole economic and culture engine. But the "smokeless factory" is an undeniably central element of our shared history. It's also part and parcel of the image of our city that's projected to the world, and continues to be a factor to be reckoned with, reviled, and/or celebrated.

As is often the case with conferences, the disconnect between the subject matter and the featured participants was somewhat pronounced. Saturday’s event wasn’t an academic conference per se, given the participation of planning and architecture practitioners. Nor was it exactly what one would label an "industry crowd."

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Historians Marc Wanamaker and Julie Lugo Cerra briefed the audience about the origins of Hollywood and Culver City, respectively, vis-à-vis the studios and film business. Architect and urban designer William Fain of Johnson Fain recounted intriguing stories of working with the legendary Lew Wasserman while shaping the masterplan for Universal City. Fain also presented fascinating case studies based on his work at the Paramount lot and creating the unbuilt DreamWorks studios. He reminded the crowd that the power of imagery is not to be underestimated. Both tangible and illusory optimism, promise and fantasy shaped Los Angeles, and these factors are exported globally.

Planning guru William Fulton mused on the many refracted complexities of living in the place called Hollywood, a city where any "place" can be fabricated. Moreover, some argue that "Hollywood" is actually a conceptual space that exists wherever the entertainment business happens to be. Fulton explored the public policy implications related to the importance or irrelevance of location shooting, and other matters related to this mature industry that's located in what's transformed into a high-cost, landlocked city. USC historian Greg Hise spoke to the multi-generative nature of the entertainment industry and our region.

Some might cheer the conspicuous absence of network and studio execs, but it was actually a shame considering that the day's thought-provoking discussions proved the entertainment industry cannot function as an island unto itself. Impacts stemming from corporate decisions with regards to land use, stewardship of historic resources, transportation, parking, and other pressing issues affect all area residents, not just those who work in the industry and ancillary fields.

Urban planning isn't exclusively the purview of the bureaucrats who run this city. Creators of industry content should assume responsibility in helping redirect the image and future of Los Angeles. As Mark Pisano of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) pointedly said, it's time that movies stop depicting riding the bus as a form of second class citizenship.

So as emotionally moving as LAist found the portrayal of the city to be in Collateral (or city as a character, really), we were disappointed with filmmaker Michael Mann for showcasing public transit in an unfortunate role. (That's all we're gonna say; we don't want to ruin any plot twists for those who haven't seen the film.)