The voters of Los Angeles have taken a stand — and the world should pay heed.
“Measure S,” the ballot initiative defeated in Tuesday’s election, was not just a local issue. True, it would only have halted high-rise construction in one city. But like Brexit, like the election of Donald Trump, its effect would have been global.
These three campaigns, for all their differences, shared one common denominator: a fundamental fear of change.
They all had some reasonable motivations. For Brexit, it was a sluggish European Union that seemed to be holding back the British economy. For Trump, it was deindustrialization and a generation of lost jobs that aren’t coming back. For Measure S, it was an outdated planning code and conflicts of interest between developers and City Council.
But stopping progress in its tracks is not a solution for any of these problems.
In these elections, we have witnessed three desperate attempts to cling to the past. To return to simpler times. To strip the new and the different — the crowds of many colors, the downtowns of many skyscrapers, the bathrooms of many identities — from the progressive, modern tapestry of the twenty-first century.
To withdraw from the world. No more people coming in, no more money going out — from cities or countries. At least, that’s what they said would happen.
And why not pine for yesteryear? Real people have been disaffected by the relentless march of expansion. The middle-aged, middle-skilled Rust Belt worker has been abandoned by neoliberal economists who touted globalization without redistribution. The close-knit, low-income community has been abandoned by trickle-down urbanists who promoted gentrification without inclusion.
So they tried to roll back the tides with blunt opposition and blanket bans, walls but not buildings, preservation instead of improvement.
That’s what we really need, isn’t it? Improvement?
We need more consumers to buy our products, more scientists to invent life-saving technologies, more workers to pay taxes. We need more immigration, not less.
We need more apartments that people can afford, more proximity for people to commute, more residents to pay local taxes. We need more housing units, not fewer.
But crucially, we need to reach out to those whose needs have gone unmet for so long. Nearly a third of the electorate voted for Measure S. Many of them have legitimate demands: less congested streets, lower housing costs, a development process that doesn’t take place in backrooms where campaign contributions buy access.
Let LA’s decision be an opportunity to tackle these challenges, not to sweep them aside. Let it also be a beacon, a ray of hope, for all who despair from stifled progress and insular demagoguery around the world.
It would be irresponsible to equate these votes in all aspects — to say, falsely, that the misogyny or racism of one campaign applies equally to another — but we must learn from common themes; indeed, from common voices shouting to be heard. There is suffering, and it cannot be redressed by returning to the status quo. But it must be redressed.
We will build in Los Angeles. We will grow, and we will progress, and with your help, we will do it better than we did it before.