Los Angeles is simultaneously a city of density and sprawl. Because of its heavy reliance on car transit, LA is thought of only as an area of sprawl. However, according to the U.S. Census, the LA metropolitan area is the most densely populated area in the nation with roughly 7,000 people per square mile.
Los Angeles is unique because it has “dense sprawl.” Its urban core is comparatively less dense than the urban cores of San Francisco, New York, Chicago, etc. But its suburban cores are considerably more dense than those from these same cities. What results is an increase in average density and a relatively even distribution of density throughout the city.
The issue is that Los Angeles takes on the negative characteristics of both density and sprawl. Dense urban cores have high traffic and poor air quality, but they have efficient public transit systems and an attractive street life. Sprawl cities have inefficient transit systems and no attractive street life, but they have low traffic and good air quality. Unfortunately, Los Angeles has high traffic, poor air quality, inefficient transit systems, and an attractive but incoherent street life.
Though this may be the situation now, there might be potential for the scales to shift the other way. Would it be possible for Los Angeles, as a “dense sprawl,” to have the positive qualities of both density and sprawl? Is low traffic, good air quality, efficient transit systems, and attractive, coherent street life a realistic goal for Los Angeles?
If these goals are at all possible for Los Angeles, I believe the key is the conscious activation and deactivation of dead space. Los Angeles is spoiled with space with room to expand horizontally, which allowed for this “dense sprawl” in the first place. As a result, LA has forgotten how to be efficient with our space, leaving behind empty lots or “dead spaces” with no occupants or use.
Grassroots organizations and nearby communities have already begun creatively programming these dead spaces for interactive, communal activities such as urban farms and gardens, both in Los Angeles and in San Francisco.
The activation and deactivation of these dead spaces is already happening, such as in Lindley Alley, which becomes activated depending on the hours of operation of Blue Bottle Coffee, when dead space becomes live space.
The largest example of dead space in Los Angeles is the Great Western Forum. Once home to the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers in the 80s, the Forum is now more or less defunct since the opening of Staples Center in 1999. How would density shift if this site became activated for longer than a 3 hour basketball game? How long would this dead space have to be live for density to shift? How could we use the conscious activation and deactivation of these types of spaces to continuously modify the size, space, and location of density and sprawl to our benefit?