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'Saving' Los Angeles: Is Chicago Our Kind of Town?

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Today in his LA Times column, Steve Lopez takes a look at Chicago--who beat us out for the 2016 Olympics, no less--and wonders if Los Angeles can use the "Windy City" as a "role model" for a better way of living and running a metropolis. He asks three pointed questions of direct comparison:

But why does a city that's under ice half the year have a better system of bike lanes, not to mention a bike-riding mayor, while Villaraigosa has a deputy mayor for transportation who dopes around L.A. in his Hummer? Why has Chicago more aggressively improved full public access to lake and river, two of its greatest natural assets, while L.A. never gets anywhere with river development and didn't have the sense or leadership to build a western rail line all the way to the airport, let alone the beach, despite crippling traffic?

Why was Daley able to take over all of his city's ailing schools while a beaten-back Villaraigosa, after promising something grand, had to settle for a measly few campuses?

Ultimately, Lopez sees the core issue as being how the mayor of each city uses its resources and works to better the lives of their constituents, and introduces a wish to implement "an exchange program in which we trade Villaraigosa for Daley and see what happens." He says we need a leader who can better inspire and muscle Angelenos. But Lopez's questions seem to lead only to more questions, and not real solutions.Are we right to point to Villaraigosa for the multiple failings of the behemoth LAUSD, the decades of counterproductive inaction and underdevelopment of our transit system and the LA River, and for his staff member who has the poor sense to drive a vehicle wholly representative of conspicuous consumption? WouldChicago's Mayor Daley, inheritor to a political bloodline and of
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his father's legacy as the "boss"-style mayor who ran the city under the auspices of corruption, be any more effectual than Villaraigosa? What keeps Los Angeles and its "systems" from serving the people well?

Our city has its own legacy of progressive politics, big-business mindset and domination, sprawling de-centered development, corruption, and community action, along with our reputation as a laid-back mecca of celebrity and bounty. It seems we're rather far-gone in the consequences of our own history--too far-gone to point at one fairly powerless person in our present as the source of our failure.

We don't need to fantasize about what Chicago's Mayor Daley could do for LA, but rather we should all look at ourselves and our city and figure out what we all can do to make life here better. Just before reverting back to his Daley-for-Villaraigosa trade idea, Lopez mentions Ron Kaye, who is working on "a July 14 rally at City Hall for something that's being called the Saving L.A. Project" (yes, S.L.A.P.). Kaye is quoted as explaining the event and group as follows: "The slogan is to take back Los Angeles, to demand a great city [...] There's a group of community activists who want great bike paths and great schools and want to live in a great city that's the equal of our climate."

The Saving L.A. Project seems to directly answer everyone's questions when it comes down to what's wrong and how to fix it: While we need great leaders, we need each other more.

Photo by kla4067 via Flickr