Chat & Selfie: An urban planner gives us the lowdown on L.A.

The California section recently grabbed breakfast with urban planning guru Dan Rosenfeld, at Kitchen Mouse restaurant in quickly changing Highland Park. Rosenfeld has been poking at the way cities work for decades, both as a private sector developer and in public-sector roles. A Stanford grad with a Harvard MBA, he serves as California Co-chair of the Trust for Public Land. He says his job is making city dwellers happier and healthier. California strolled Figueroa Street with Rosenfeld then emailed him our questions, crunching the conversation into this:

What do aromas or stench — have to do with great cities?

Successful cities must click with all our senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. LA is a kosher burrito with Sriracha sauce and peach cobbler, wafting on a sea breeze.

Do you like sidewalks?

Back to our five senses: sidewalks are the only urban surface that we touch. They need texture, pattern and color. In L.A., they also need shade. In fact, a simple barometer of urban health is the number of dining tables with umbrellas sprouting on sidewalks.


Gentrification—for or against it?

Gentrification is not the problem. Displacement is the disease we should fear. Cities are vastly diminished when they lose their variety. We need all income levels in close proximity. We need this for economic viability, for cultural quality, and for political stability.

What’s your Tweet-length take on Highland Park?

Ride that wave. As with any “start-up,” the most interesting episodes will be in the early years. See it now, and watch it thrive.

You said Kitchen Mouse reminds you of Portland?

Kids in Danners and Pendletons waiting patiently for the best caffeine. That’s the social life of a true city.

L.A.'s public transportation systems never quite make it to the destinations people want to reach. How come?

That’s plain not true anymore. Our light rail and subway system takes you to almost every place you’d want to be for a celebration, and the buses go everywhere. We have the largest public transit capital program in the nation, and it’s mostly locally financed. Every other city is jealous of Measure R.

What’s your second-best California secret?

The Los Angeles River would be first. It’s the reason we’re here, and it has the greatest potential — after a half century of sprawl — to bring us back together. Second would be Santa Cruz Island, to contemplate pure nature, and our places in it.

San Francisco or Los Angeles?

L.A. We live in the greatest concentration of human talent in the history of the world. We spawn popular culture — film, fashion, food, even finance — for the entire planet. Further, we are the urban laboratory for the future world. Solutions to megacity challenges such as water scarcity, recycling, mobility, diversity and income inequality — those solutions will be invented and tested here. L.A. can be messy, crowded and hard to manage, but it’s a good place to be relevant.