September 30, 1994 - From the September, 1994 issue

Dean Blakely: A New Voice at USC Offers Both an Agenda & Wisdom

On September 20th, Dr. Edward J. Blakely will be installed as Dean and Lusk Professor of Planning and Development for the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California. A recognized expert in planning and economic development, Dean Blakely was previously Professor and Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley.

Dean Blakely, you'll be installed as the new Dean of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California on Sept. 20. Share with our readers your hopes and expectations for the school and for its place in Southern California.

The most important thing is to position ourselves in Southern California. I would like the School of Urban and Regional Planning to utilize the many resources of Southern California as its main teaching template. This Los Angeles region exemplifies what America is probably going to be like in the next fifty years, with its complex metropolitan growth, changing demographics, and its window on both South America and the Pacific. It's the best teaching laboratory in the world. The combination of a research university with a planning school that is leading this Southern California institution with its unique teaching venue, is what I want to accomplish. I want the Planning Dept. to be a platform for the entire university to reach into Southern California. 

Implied in the name "School of Urban and Regional Planning", is the notion of a role for regional planning. What is the role of regional planning in the 90's?

First of all, let's take a historical look at what we have done in regional planning. What we tried to do is substitute governance for planning. In Northern California, the 2020 Plan had many planning goals, but when it came out, it was a governance document. The same thing has been true with all the regional planning efforts that Willie Brown has initiated. The recent California Planning Roundtable ended up with a set of rules and regulatory devices, but not plans. 

We have a long history of substituting regulations for planning. Part of it comes from the regulatory history of planning itself, but also the need of some people to stop things they don't want to happen in their backyard. The other reason is the environmental movement, which I think quite rightly sees governance tools as a vehicle to rationalize what is happening. 

The role of regional planning is to create plans; that is, to bring about collecting plans of action among many jurisdictions, among different public and private actors. For example, I don't think you can do a regional plan without Southern California Edison or the telephone company, you have to bring in all the real actors. The role of regional planning, in fact, has to create a vision. The thing that is really lacking here in the Los Angeles basin is vision. There is plenty going on, but everyone thinks that the thing they see is the vision. It's the old blind man and the elephant situation. The other thing is to bring about more of the Vancouver or Portland model, a template or framework within which planning is done. In the Vancouver model, it's a consensus framework with the various mayors and city councilmembers. 

In the Portland model, they have the METRO which is an elected group of officials who sit down, but don't govern. Instead, they have a framework for planning, a rational set of rules and objectives, and everyone in every jurisdiction operates within the framework. If you want to work outside it, then you have to come back and consult with the framework group. They have taken over two very important roles. One is the planning and development of major infrastructure, like their light rail system, and the other is the location of major projects, like the sports complex and the museum. 

We need to come up with a model in California, not just in Los Angeles, with planning leading the way, not government. If SCAG or another similar organization plays that role, fine, but the planning has to include a vision of what we want the place to be. 

What forces inhibit such visions from becoming "The Vision" of the region?

The biggest inhibitor to developing such a vision, at least in my background, has been the desire of publicly elected officials to impose vision, rather than allow a process of citizen vision to create it. Many publicly elected officials feel that it is their responsibility to provide a vision, but I think it is their responsibility to create the process by which vision can emerge. Vision can't hurt a publicly elected official, it's something they should embrace. My experience has been that the elected officials feel they have a responsibility to create that vision, and that has been a major stumbling block. But in places where the public officials have released that energy, as they have done recently in Oakland and other places, it's been able to catalyze the public and serve the interest of elected officials by telling them what the public's principle interests are, and what they would like to see their place become.

The other inhibitor is special interest groups. I think it's important for an environmental group or other groups to have an interest, but not for that group to assume their interest is the vision. Interest groups need to examine other people's desires in order to incorporate them into the vision process. 

In Los Angeles, there are no regularly published architectural critics and there's nothing on planning or urban design in broadcast journalism. With this type of media environment, how does one communicate and involve the public in constructing and nurturing the vision?

I think it would be very useful, particularly in this environment where the media is so critical for shaping opinion, to develop a media that really touches the public in lively discussion and debate, and that would have to be the electronic media. It would be very helpful to have as close to prime time as possible, someone who is interesting, to formulate that debate through a Larry King Show or something similar, where you are soliciting different points of view on the region and its development. I think that kind of project would be both entertaining and very useful in this marketplace. My impression is that a lot of people are hungry for someone to say, "Let's try to shape a vision for the region." 

What roles exist for cities to shape and influence their own economic destinies? 

The real problem here is the same as in many other places. A big city like Los Angeles surrounded by many smaller cities. A huge elephant and a lot of mice, and the elephant is afraid of the mice and the mice are afraid of the elephant. There is no coming together. I think this type of situation requires a different type of civic leadership, and the only type of leadership of this kind that I've seen work comes from the governor. In Oregon, the people of Portland were interested in doing something but couldn't until Goldsmith was the governor. We have had a situation in California where state government has not tried to play any role in metropolitan affairs, and I think that has been a mistake. 

You've been an advisor to the City of Oakland. Could you share what you've learned with the City of Los Angeles, especially since we have a Mayor who campaigned on a platform of economic development? 

I would advise Mayor Riordan to first bring together all the little pieces. One of Los Angeles' problems is the various fragmented components of economic development which creates enormous confusion to the outsider, and each one of them competes with each other. I think the Mayor is on the right track by pulling together the various economic development entities. 

Next, I would create a "development cabinet" bringing together Planning, public works, all the economic development entities, the Ports, Convention Center and transportation in order to map out in each of those agencies an overall plan that each agency would have responsibility for implementing. And have a head person who meets with that committee on a weekly basis to make sure that agenda is being carried out. 

This is one of the things we did in Oakland and it has taken a long time, but things are beginning to happen. I headed this effort as assistant to the Mayor and on the other side, we put together a strategic planning body of citizens that could help articulate the plan in the private sector including the neighborhood and community groups. So that is what I would advise Mayor Riordan to do. First, put a cabinet together, then put all the pieces together. There has to be an entity where the citizens can make input, so that agencies aren’t running off on their own. 

It's important to remember that local government only has three basic responsibilities. I call them roads, rates and rascals. Maintain the roads and sanitation services, collect some minor taxes and provide public safety. Most cities don't have economic development responsibilities. There isn't a city in the state of California that has been given the authority to be involved in economic development. 

The only city where economic development is really part of the charter is in New York, where it is under the Port Authority. The Port Authority is out in Harlem and other parts of the city doing economic development. We don't have any state mandate to do economic development; we have redevelopment, but that is a very weak tool. 

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I think our state legislation needs to be changed to allow regions to get involved in economic development, and I would even create regional authorities that can issue bonds and similar programs for infrastructure and economic development purposes. That would also include housing, because affordable housing is very important for economic development. 

Since we don't have that kind of framework, we have to create it. We have to use the major tools and in Los Angeles, that is the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. If the ports and the Alameda Corridor work in the right way, then this region can create more jobs than it lost in the aerospace industry. 

Given that you've written a lot about global economies, what is this region's potential in the global economy, and what priorities should we encourage to take advantage of this opportunity?

From my perspective, the most interesting thing is that while the Bay Area is focusing on its international perspective, getting its infrastructure in place to compete in the global economy, Los Angeles is the place with the largest economic development engine to work with Mexico, Canada and the rest of the Pacific, and we are kind of sitting on our assets. Los Angeles needs to consider Mexico as its number one trading partner. From a regional perspective, I would set up a regional, international trade council, and even have offices in Mexico City, Tokyo and other cities to represent the Los Angeles region. Create an economic base for public/private partnerships to basically trade in industries such as film, transportation and other emerging industries, to develop strategic alliances. That is how we are going to rekindle our industries. In this region we've had an interesting phenomena in which entrepreneurs such as Rohr grow and take off on their own. 

In the Bay Area, for various historical reasons, there has been much more of those same types of entrepreneurs, but they have been embedded in the region, many more "civic citizens" are involved in local government and similar institutions. They created civic infrastructure to assist them. Thus, you have the Silicon Valley group coming together, while there hasn't been anything like that in this region.

What induces people to create this civic infrastructure? 

Well, in part, I think it's a little bit of the history of the enterprises. In this region, most enterprises are very large, thus they feel the need for government much less, and they grew very, very fast. While in the Bay Area, some of the firms had to have government relationships. When Silicon Valley came along, many of these people were tied in with universities, so they had a civic consciousness to begin with, and thus got civic help. Whereas, the Los Angeles region didn't need it. They built their own airport if they needed it. The other interesting thing about Los Angeles is how privatized it has always been. This is the only city of its size that has such weak governing capacity. The Mayor has almost no governing capacity. There isn't even a City Manager who has the authority. 

There aren't the instruments to lead which is different than saying you have the instruments to administer. There are no instruments in the City of Los Angeles to lead other than personality. 

Is professional public administration suffering in this environment of term limits and of a hostile media, restricting public administrators' ability to lead, and also forcing political candidates to replace management decisions with political directives? 

I hope this isn't the case. We need to take this challenge on. Why not get involved in the media? Why not tell our story? Lawyers said their profession would die if they advertised; but it hasn't. There have probably been some things that you or I don't like, but it hasn't killed the profession. 

First, we need to raise the level of professionalism. Having skilled, able, knowledgeable professionals is very helpful. Secondly, we need to be much more aggressive with the public. Once a student of mine said to me, "When I came into planning, I liked people, but now I sure don't like the public." We have to teach people in planning programs how to be effective with the public. That goes beyond nice one-on-one relationships, you've got to know bow to work in the media. In the old days, if there was going to be a public hearing, you sent out a mailer. Hey, who goes to public hearings anymore? Pretty soon, public hearing are going to be on interactive T.V. We have got to get with it. Rather than bemoaning what we don't have, we'll have a much more exciting profession. Similarly, for politicians to be involved with the public today, it requires more than just glad-handing,  you have got to have some substance. 

I don't think we are going to see the death of the profession. We are going to see two kinds of people doing well in the profession. One is people with MBA training, because of the whole orientation of management. And the other type of person is someone trained in communications, and I hope to bring both components here to the school. We are going to have a slightly different kind of professional, but the profession will go on. 

Similarly, what is the future for the role of planning departments in our cities? The City of Los Angeles is going through a General Plan Framework Process, but the interest level of the public and their participation is very difficult to achieve. What does this portend for the future? 

I think it relates to what I said earlier, and that is, people are not working towards a common vision. The General Plan is probably just a restatement of a general set of rules and regulations. For a General Plan to be really useful today, it has to be an exciting document that tells a story of what a place is going to be like and how it is going to get there. My impression is that the Los Angeles General Plan is a matter of just trying to make sure that the land-use applications are consistent, but I have no sense that this General Plan is going to reposition Los Angeles in the next century.

In Oakland, the General Plan is being paid for by the citizens because they see it as part of the city's vision and future, and the General Plan will have some land-use pieces, but the major thing about the General Plan is that Oakland is going to be the administrative center for the East Bay. That Oakland's major activity is going to be trade and transportation, and that Oakland will become an entertainment center for cultural entertainment. 

The General Plan needs to very specifically say, for example, "Blues on Seventh Street" or make reference to a specific cultural celebration. That is what people get excited about. They don't get excited about R1 or R2 zoning designations. The General Plan should be the "Call to Arms" and also a Constitution. If you can imagine a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution side-by­side, that is what a General Plan has got to be in order to excite the public. 

Unfortunately, there isn't the nerve center in Los Angeles to facilitate this happening. For instance, many people in the San Fernando Valley have seldom traveled to downtown Los Angeles. There are plenty of people who don’t identify with the city, but with the area they live in. In fact, most Los Angeles citizens call home their neighborhood or district (e.g. Van Nuys, Hollywood, etc.) rather than the city name. 

What was the challenge that brought you to USC? 

The challenge was being in the biggest metroplex in the country, with the most complex and rewarding urban planning opportunity in the world. This will be the only research university in the country dedicated to urban problems. There are many research universities located in urban areas like Chicago, Columbia, Berkeley, but there isn't a single research university in this country that says it wants to be the best "urban" research university in the world. I think USC intends to be the world's best urban university. 

No city in the not-too-distance­future is going to get anywhere without the help of a major research university. One of the driving engines for economic renewal that we did at UC Berkeley was bring in major industry around the university, that affected the urban environment, and the industrialists became very involved in the revitalization of the surrounding communities such as Emeryville, Oakland and other areas; because we helped them position their operations within the city. I think a university like USC, with its schools of engineering, medicine and others, can be a catalyst force for helping reshape the economic destiny of the entire region.

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