A   D I F F E R E N T   W A Y   T O   N A V I G A T E  

L O S   A N G E L E S

On behalf of the people whose opinions we forget to ask. 

To an outsider or passerby, Downtown Los Angeles appears to be a bold and luscious community. Vast architectural masterpieces offer cultural splendors and invaluable art. Business people march down the streets with conviction in their eyes and coffee in their hands. But in the spaces between these prominent structures and industrial hubs are forgotten gaps where development seems to have come to a complete halt. Like a sentence fragment, skeletons of potential communities have been left to rot in the shadows of one of the most famous cities in the world, and the only people who seem fully aware of the severity are the inhabitants of this urban wasteland; the roughly 34,100 homeless people.

One of the major contributing factors to this atrocity is the lack of a well-designed public transportation system in LA. According to Business Insider’s “US Cities with the Best Public Transportation” list, Los Angeles does not even make the top 12, despite it being the second largest city in the country. Media frequently acknowledge how LA’s lack of public transport results in excessive traffic, but fail to correlate it with the amount of people who are unable to escape their crumbling neighborhoods and search for rehabilitation or opportunity outside of the confines of geographical poverty. As talk of business mogul and inventor Elon Musk’s tunnel system gains enthusiasm among LA residents, the problem of poverty isolation becomes subject to worsening. Rather than pursue infrastructure that caters to vehicles, Los Angeles should invest in providing public transportation services that offer fairness, safety, and growth potential to its various communities.

In a TED interview with Chris Anderson, Musk elaborated upon his latest endeavor to alleviate the influx of traffic that will occur as autonomous cars become the norm, but proved limited in his ability to completely empathize with the needs of LA residents.

“Once you have shared autonomy where it is much cheaper to go by car and you can go point to point, the affordability of going in a car will be better than that of a bus,” said Musk. “The amount of driving that will occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and actually traffic will get far worse.”

As he is the owner of Tesla, one cannot be surprised that Musk is not jumping on an opportunity to alleviate traffic by eliminating cars. However, he seems to be ignoring one pressing issue: his model, which describes a structure of underground tunnels on which cars can travel at expedited speeds, caters to those who already have their own cars and does very little to open transportation to the sizable and important homeless population. He makes the argument that driverless cars will be available to the public, but does not acknowledge that, unless the prices of travelling by autonomous cars are publicly regulated, there is no way to guarantee that their services will be realistically accessible for homeless individuals or families.

In addition to this fairly obvious claim is the more personal aspect of the argument, which is made in an examination of the social and psychological effects of the continuous usage of cars as a primary means of transportation. One key difference between residents of Los Angeles when compared with those of other major cities is the amount of time they spend behind the wheel, and this affects how they interact and feel. Hours spent in isolated confines of personal vehicles take away from time spent doing something productive or enjoying the company of fellow community members. Maybe a reason that people are so willing to shrug off the homeless epidemic is because they are given too many opportunities to remain sequestered in their own routines.

Author Malcolm Gladwell opens his highly-regarded Outliers with a story that highlights this concept in what he refers to as “The Roseto Mystery.” Roseto, Pennsylvania, was founded by a group of immigrants from Roseto, Rome, who came to America for work in 1882. In the 1950’s, the small village attracted the interest of Stewart Wolf due to its unusually low reports of heart disease and high life expectancies. After conducting extensive research on the inhabitants diet and exercise habits, Wolf found that the most prominent aspect of Rosetan culture was its emphasis of respect and socialization. Gladwell writes in his book that “the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world,” and that this allowed them to lead longer, happier lives. Los Angeles might not be ready to cut ties with modern society just yet, but it should prepare to unify rather than further disintegrate. One of the best opportunities to bring people together without force is to give them the opportunity to do so in transit. Maybe they will even find new destinations in the process. 

As we continue to propel toward new projects, technology will tempt us with futuristic and unique ideas. However, we must view these endeavors with critical eyes and understand that an idea being the first of its kind does not necessarily mean that it is the best. Redesigning infrastructure is extremely costly and influential. Should we continue to idolize the usage of personal vehicles or self-driving cars, we will fail to offer fair representation to the homeless communities which will be forgotten and more severely cut off from the rest of the city unless public transportation is prioritized.