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For Better, Then Worse: LA Legalized Sprawl in 1908

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Have you ever sat next to a first time visitor to LA on an airplane approaching LAX and been subjected to their bewildered search for a skyline comparable to NYC or Chicago? The next time you are dealing with high-altitude knee-jerk reactions about the inadequacies of LA, you can reply that the second largest city in the United States got this way because of very progressive land use regulations at the turn of the twentieth century. The latest entry from KCET's Laws That Shaped LA series explores the Residence District Ordinance--the 1908 law occasionally cited as the country's first to broadly separate industrial uses from residential uses. See how quickly things that were once fancy and trendy become dated and stultifying (notable exceptions: ice cream, rock 'n roll)?

According to Occidental Professor Mark Vallianatos, the 1908 RDO was paired with the Industrial District Ordinance, which constrained industrial uses to "seven non-residential zones across the city," as a reaction to the dark, polluted urban dystopias of Charles Dickens and Upton Sinclair. If the laws had never been passed, surmises Vallianatos, "Los Angeles would feel like another city, with less of its land area dedicated to low density, single family residential neighborhoods, and more streets with shops and businesses on the ground floor and homes above." Also, planners and politicians probably wouldn't be so quick to name drop "mixed-use" because it wouldn't be such a big deal.

As KCET mentions, "Everyone from Reyner Banham to Roger Rabbit has a take on the causes and the effects of L.A.'s car culture," so we thought we'd list out a few of the more commonly mentioned scapegoats for LA's century-long marriage to the single-occupant automobile (many of which certainly played a part):

-- Oil companies
-- Car companies
-- Methane deposits
-- Greedy real estate developers
-- Taxi and shuttle companies
-- The silver-lined pockets of generations of LA politicos
-- The Great 1906 San Francisco earthquake
-- Post-Modernism
-- "Forget it Jake; it's Chinatown"
-- The drive-through is faster than the counter at In-N-Out
-- Racism
-- The weather
-- Pope Sixtus V's Rome
-- Haussmann's Paris
-- The bloated sense of entitlement and deep-seated complacency that has plagued the United States since World War II
-- The sweet old ladies in the picture above

That list crosses the spectrum of sanity and politics, but for a city the size of Los Angeles, with four million or so current occupants, there must be more blame to go around, right?
· The Roots of Sprawl: Why We Don't Live Where We Work [KCET]