Looking forward to a different Los Angeles

By 2030, the legendary rush-hour traffic that turns the Harbor Freeway into a giant parking lot no longer will be a reality of life in Los Angeles.

Satellite technology will give school-aged children the opportunity to take a virtual field trip from their downtown classrooms to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch a rocket launch. Meanwhile, their parents will be home, hard at work at the kitchen table, using the same technology to communicate with clients in Beijing, London and Geneva.

And home will more likely mean a chic Silver Lake loft than the far-flung suburban McMansion of yesteryear.

This is the Los Angeles that transportation, city planning and education experts predict we’ll be living in just two decades from now.

But what do all these changes mean to residents of America’s second-largest metropolis, to our well-being, and to how we relate to each other? What potential challenges might they create?

Construction on a high rise on Los Angeles

Cal State Los Angeles sociologist Wai Kit Choi said he thinks we’ll become more connected as people flock to live a more centralized existence downtown and become increasingly dependent upon public transportation.

And that could be a very good thing.

“More interaction will hopefully create a situation where we’ll have to care more about other people. You can’t just ignore them,” Choi said. “You don’t see suffering, you don’t see poverty” from your car.

Unmanageable traffic, a population expected to increase by an estimated 2.1 million countywide, and a weak economy will force Los Angeles to reassess its decades-long love affair with cars.

Transportation expert Jim Moore of the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development said he expects Angelenos to overhaul their driving habits or ditch their wheels altogether with a toll system he predicts city officials will adopt. Under that system, commuters would pay a fee to drive on freeways and other major thoroughfares during peak hours.

“There is political will out there to do it where they wasn’t before,” Moore said of imposing rush-hour fees. “We’re going to need an additional funding resource to build and maintain roads in addition to the gas tax.”

Los Angeles transit authorities, with pressure from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have made major strides in improving public transportation. In November, officials approved an 8.6-mile extension of the Purple Line subway that will run through Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood.

Los Angeles recently also received $546 million in federal funds to build an 8.5-mile light-rail line from the Crenshaw District to Los Angeles International Airport. That project will come to fruition in 2021.

In June, ground broke on an 11-mile extension of the Metro Gold Line that runs from East Los Angeles and eventually will go to Montclair in San Bernardino County, and construction has begun to extend the Exposition Light Rail Line from Culver City to Santa Monica.

Other projects a also re in the works as Villaraigosa pushes his much-ballyhooed 30/10 Plan that would fund a dozen transit projects throughout the county with billions of dollars in low-interest federal loans.

But despite all the talk of rail, Moore says he believes buses will remain the city’s primary mode of public transportation in 2030.

“Buses can be separated by seconds and trains have to be separated by minutes,” Moore said of the advantage of buses over rail. “I think we should see more road space dedicated to bus lines.”

But many people will want to move downtown to avoid a commute altogether, and the city has several plans in the works to transform the area.

The downtown Los Angeles of 2030 will boast world-class parks, cultural centers, urban lakes and live theaters. Hotels and entertainment complexes, such as the recently completed L.A. Live, will lend downtown a vibrant nightlife that pulsates with the energy of Times Square.

“There’s a huge recognition that public spaces bring a huge amount of value to downtown,” Davies said. “To have a great address over a beautiful park, that’s the new reality in downtown.”

A proposed football stadium could bring the NFL back to Los Angeles by 2015.

Job loss and an ailing economy forced many people to go into business for themselves as contract employees. Consequently, home has become America’s fastest growing office space.

Architects have seized upon this new reality and designed homes to fit it. The buildings of 2030 will multi-task as places to live, work and even play, Davies said. They’ll be built over parks and ponds, making it so you can conduct a virtual meeting with a client before slipping on your running shoes to go for a jog.

Jogging not your cup of tea? Go to the recreation room and shoot some pool on your lunch break.

“You have to think in terms of layers,” Davies said.

While working remotely can have its advantages, sociologist Choi says Angelenos will have to make it a point to set boundaries between their jobs and home in order to maintain a balanced life.

Without balance, people can feel isolated and stressed.

Living in a vibrant downtown should give overtaxed Angelenos plenty of opportunities to put work aside for a while.

But attracting families to the city’s center will take more than vast recreational opportunities and convenient public transportation,

The quality of schools will determine whether families put down roots in Los Angeles’ center; officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District declined an interview request. But realizing the power that technology has to create change, some suburban districts are adopting technology that will open their students’ world.

Tim Stowe, Torrance Unified School District’s director of secondary education, said fifth-graders in Hawthorne recently got a virtual tour of NASA’s Glen Research Center in Cleveland with a real-life astronaut.

However all the public agencies work together, one thing is certain, experts said. Los Angeles will look, feel and function much differently 20 years from now.

“We’re going to have a Manhattan on the West Coast,” said architect and urban designer Vaughan Davies of AECOM Designs. Vaughan and his team have worked on a number of major downtown development projects, including a 10-year plan to revitalize the Broadway Corridor. “There’s a huge opportunity to change and make change here.”

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