Today's Agenda

Southern California used to be a magnet, drawing population from other states and other nations. The region's population is still increasing, but now it's primarily a result of immigration from other countries. The net migration flow among the American-born is outward, to other states.

In 1991-92, the state Department of Finance counted 41,000 more people leaving for other states than coming to California from these states. This isn't a big numerical loss, but it's the sort of statistic that is repeated endlessly as the stay-or-go debate is played out, particularly among the middle class.

A wide range of Southern Californians tell us in a special page of Platforms what made them decide to stay or leave. Those who like it here cite the cultural treasures, fine weather, their own good jobs, the diversity of the region, their certainty that prosperity will return--they say they feel attached to Southern California. Those who are leaving (or who have already left) cite smog, crowding, crime and the recession, plus a general sense of the loss of neighborliness--ills that prey on urban areas in general. Few of the "leavers" express a desire to go to another big city.

Robert D. Herman, an urban sociologist and professor of sociology at Pomona College, compares cities to the rich tide pools described by John Steinbeck in "Cannery Row"--"fantastic with hurrying, fighting, feeding, breeding animals." That tide pool, says Herman, has diversity "not as the spice of life but as the essence of life." Wall off the species from one another and they all die. "The city needs that diversity, too, or it will be dead," says Herman.

What Herman sees instead in Southern California is increasing withdrawal from civic life, either by "moving to Utah or moving into our houses," at a time when withdrawal is the exact opposite of what the city needs. To revive city life, he suggests, downtown Los Angeles will have to be revived as a focal point for the region. "We need to rediscover the center," says Herman, citing the Park South redevelopment, mixing residential, business and retail uses, anchored by Grand Hope Park, as an ideal.

"We've cut the city into fragments," he says, and to reverse that, "we need to make the borders into seams," a goal that can be encouraged by zoning for narrower streets, wider sidewalks, mixed uses and convenient commercial centers. City planners, are you listening?

Another debate that's inescapable these days is health-care reform. And according to Dr. Linda Johnston of Los Angeles, Hillary Clinton is going about it exactly wrong, putting health care "ever more completely under the control of big medical technology, insurance companies and hospital accountants."

Johnston, a medical doctor who practices homeopathic medicine, calls for a system that encourages more patient responsibility and less reason for doctors to overprescribe. Mainly, she says, "We need to build in incentives for both the doctor and the patient to look at alternatives to drugs and surgery."

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