The City That Could’ve Been: Eden by Design Book Review

Purple sky overlooking DTLA

The 1920’s were a time of massive expansion for Los Angeles, with the population growing from 102,000 in 1900, to 577,000 in 1920, and over 1.2 million in 1929. This growth was incredible, but it’s difficult for a city to be able to accomodate so many new citizens in such a short amount of time. Infrastructure had to be laid down, utility lines were set in place, and airports were being created, but this construction was coming at a cost of destroying the natural beauty that California was known for. Therefore, a Citizen’s Committee was created with the sole purpose of commissioning a plan for the future of Los Angeles, and they hired Olmsted and Bartholomew to create such report. The result was Parks, Playgrounds, and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region, a 178-page comprehensive study of Los Angeles whose “immediate purpose is to show why more parks and other means of recreation are now urgently needed; to suggest the most effective ways of meeting this need; and to point out the evils that will follow further delay in adopting and executing a sound and comprehensive policy”(P.83).

Unfortunately, the plan was never set in place. Many would look at the time of publishing of this report (1927) and state that it was a victim of bad timing as the Great Depression was right around the corner, and citizens were more concerned with how they were to feed their families rather than focusing on the need for parks and beaches. The truth is it came down to a fear of losing power by the members of the Chamber of Commerce, as the report called for the creation of a “regional park district” (p.128). “The planned park board… simply scared the Chamber members, many of whom clearly feared that the new body would exert powers over and above the Chamber itself” (p.39). The lack of support by the Chamber of Commerce sealed its fate before it even had a chance to go before the citizens of Los Angeles, and along with it went the hopes of becoming “the world’s dream of the City Beautiful”(p.12).

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