Tag Archives: Urban Planning

Falling Back to Blog

I have been beset by crises.

Personal, political and moral.

Six months of quarantine have amplified my sense of loss, from relationships severed by sickness, distance or lack of attention

The mismanagement of the pandemic has hit a nerve.

The racism, authoritarianism and incompetence of our government over the last nine months (at all levels)… And the loss of life and property they’ve exacted on this country have pushed my pressure cooker past the highest setting

Add in Americans’ continued ignorance of East Asian COVID policies that could get us out of this mess (or of best practices from non-white countries in any policy area), and I am on the brink

Righteous anger can motivate creative outpouring, but it can also degenerate into a bottomless pit of contempt and misery

I’ve been wallowing in the latter state for several months now. My energy has plummeted, causing creative paralysis. I indulge in social media or sweets or substances, mistaking the instant high for productive energy. It creates an illusion for one minute, until I get distracted.

The only solution is to write as often I can. It doesn’t have to sound pretty. But it does have to speak for my heart and the principles I value.

At this juncture in history, silence is complicity. Therefore, I am obligated to dust off my pen.


I started this blog with the lofty goal of creating an interdisciplinary intellectual space, where people could engage with “great questions” in multiple social, political and personal spheres on their own terms. For the sake of efficiency, I feel compelled to narrow my scope for the short-term to the following areas:

  1. Comparative analysis of transportation and housing issues (with a focus on LA vs. foreign countries)
  2. Random urban planning, history and food trivia
  3. Causes of American political decline (entre-pocalypse series will come out of the woodwork!)
  4. Political ideology vis a vis the election

For the same reason, expect my writing to be less formal and more blunt. As always, comments are welcome. No snark without provocation.

How can LA urbanize like East Asia? Regional Growth Axes!

Last week, I wrote about how Seoul, and similarly-formed East Asian cities, provide a model for LA developing into a transit-friendly metropolis without densifying around a core. This model would prove more compatible with LA’s existing urban form and produce more equitable outcomes.

This second article in a series of responses to my piece examines how LA can densify following regional growth corridors, rather than concentrating in a single, high-rise downtown.

Like Los Angeles, Seoul is not only sprawling but “poly-centric”. A study from the early 1990s found that the city of Seoul alone had between three and twelve activity centers. A 2011 text on urban planning practices across the Korean Peninsula found that the Seoul Metropolitan area had three major centers: around the traditional Seoul CBD (around Seoul Station, north of the Han River), Gangnam (in the city of Seoul, south of the Han River) and in Incheon.

More than twenty locations met the authors’ qualifying criteria (20,000 jobs per square kilometer with total employment exceeding 50,000) for “jobs centers,” despite not sufficiently explaining employment distribution in the study’s model (examining the effects of the national government’s “Greenbelt” policy on Seoul’s growth).

Seoul’s polycentrism comes across more clearly when one examines a to-scale subway map of the region. A number of lines converge around the Central Business District. But the dominant pattern is of a tighter grid in and around Seoul city (with multiple employment districts rivaling Downtown LA) giving way to a more loosely-spaced grid around Incheon (the largest employment center outside Seoul City). As one travels to the south and north, urban development clusters along subway and commuter rail lines. Suwon, the largest city in Gyeonggi Province, lies at the junction of a subway and rail line.

Seoul Subway and Rail Map, to-scale. Source: Open Street Map.

Los Angeles, likewise, is a very polycentric city, with “employment centers” in locations ranging from Thousand Oaks down to the Irvine Spectrum. A UC Irvine study found that, from 1997 to 2014, employment “center” locations shifted 20 kilometers closer to downtown on average, and towards areas with passenger rail or freeway access.

Los Angeles Employment Centers in 1997 and 2014. Source: London School of Economics US Centre Blog.

Although job concentrations in Greater Los Angeles, are somewhat dispersed, they coalesce around a few distinct freeway and commuter rail corridors. The I-5/Ventura County Line corridor from Irvine to Simi Valley via Burbank; the I-405 corridor from Beverly Hills south to Long Beach; the San Bernardino and Riverside Line corridors from Downtown east to San Bernardino and Riverside; the 91 corridor from Riverside to Corona and the 15 corridor from Riverside to Temecula.

Employment Center Corridors in Grey, Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor (rough line) in Brown/Red.
Metrolink Map for Comparison. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Urban cultural attractions and activity centers cluster more tightly around the “Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor’, stretching from Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean (along Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards). This corridor also connects two of Los Angeles’ main job clusters and contains the region’s highest density neighborhoods.

Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor. Source: USC Dornsife School.

Rather than simply bolstering Downtown-or even the City of Los Angeles as a whole-, regional governing entities like SCAG should direct job and housing density towards defined regional growth corridors, in tandem with developing frequent, heavy-rail transit links along and between these corridors.

The development could follow a hierarchy similar to Seoul’s. The highest density of housing and jobs would cluster along the Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor, served by a tight grid of rail and Bus Rapid Transit (which the street network is well-adapted to). This could feed into another high-density axis, paralleling the 405 from Beverly Hills down to Long Beach. Less intense (but still mid-to-high density) residential and job development would abut the outlying corridors (which have less development to begin with).

Success demands that Los Angeles integrate its subway/light rail and commuter rail networks, making the latter a more reliable transit alternative.

State intervention may prove necessary.

And neighborhoods like Hancock Park, that occupy an excessive quantity of high-value of land, in the heart of the metropolis, must finally accept change.