The 'Strong Core' Theory of Los Angeles
Samuel Krueger grew up in Portland, where he enjoyed "how the streets are very active with people and shops in the downtown." He's lived in Los Angeles since 1998 and now works as a drafter for the city's Department of Water and Power. "In any place, people who grew up there don't really think of it from an outside perspective, so they miss some of the obvious structures," he says.
Late last month Krueger made headlines for seeing one structure that Angelinos have been missing for years: their city, contrary to popular wisdom, has a "strong core center" after all. Krueger reached this conclusion by studying clusters of amenities within the metro area: everything form trendy hangouts to high culture spots. This approach led him to a core that stretches east from Santa Monica toward downtown via Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Koreatown.
Krueger named this strip the "Wilshire-Santa Monica corridor." He feels confident in calling it the center of Los Angeles because when he used his method to study New York and Chicago, he got similar "centrality scores" for Manhattan and the Loop. His analysis formed the basis of an award-winning master's thesis [PDF] for the Geographic Information Science and Technology program at the University of Southern California.
"I knew it would be there," says Krueger of the Los Angeles core. "It's something I've noticed for a long time."
Krueger was kind enough to answer a few questions from Cities.
Why did you choose to study whether L.A. has a core center?
L.A. is one of the great cities of the world, but it's different from a lot of other cities. I've noticed that leads a lot of people to be dismissive of it. Like it's not a "real" city, because it doesn't look like New York or Chicago or Paris. Even people who live here seem to have that kind of attitude. So I wanted to basically show there is a structure here, and that there is a center. I guess to help people appreciate it for what it is, rather than wishing it was something else.
You named the center the Wilshire-Santa Monica Corridor. Do you think it thinks of itself as one cohesive unit?
Not really. That's part of why I wanted to identify it. I'd like it if people saw it that way. I think people tend to be a bit parochial about it. Beverly Hills is a world unto itself — that kind of thing. I think a lot of people in this metropolitan area don't like to see themselves as being part of a metropolitan area. They see Los Angeles as this big city, over there, that they're not really part of.
In New York, which everyone thinks of as a monocentric city, all the neighborhoods still recognize that they're different from one another.
I have noticed that too. In New York or Chicago, a lot of the tourist literature makes a big deal out of the city of neighborhoods. People kind of recognize the distinction between their neighborhood, but that they're all part of the same unit. Here in Los Angeles, you have that same structure, a bunch of neighborhoods, but what people say about it is, it's a bunch of suburbs with no center. I don't think there's really a reason to see them differently.
You calculated a "centrality score" for Chicago and New York to validate your method. What does that mean?
I chose those cites because everyone recognizes that they have a center, so they're useful for validating the methodology. The centrality score itself, to summarize, it's a measure of the number of clusters of different kinds of amenities that coincide in that one place.
Why did you choose to define a city center by urban amenities rather than, say, a traditional central business district or employment centers?
To me employment doesn't indicate centrality any more. I wanted to find a different way of measuring it. The reason I chose these types of amenities, what I had in my mind, was the parts in the city most active at the street level. The places you go to shop or to have a good time. Not necessarily a grocery store, because there's a grocery store everywhere, but if you didn't live in city center you'll still go there a few times a year for a special trip. So I wanted to identify where those places are — those places that everyone experiences no matter where they live in the metro area.
Is there a city you'd expect not to have a center using your approach?
I think a city still is, basically, a point. There's a special place at the center that everything else has grown around. I think there certainly is a lot of polycentrism, but there's still a main center everywhere. There are cities that people say don't have centers, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and I haven't analyzed those, but I think if you did you'd find a center there too.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I would hope people would recognize [L.A.'s] center as being the special core part of this particular metropolis. On a practical level, I think the infrastructure could be better focused on that corridor — especially the rail lines. On a less practical level, I would like people to celebrate it the way people celebrate Manhattan or the Loop. I think that would be healthy for us. To recognize we have a real civic center. To make use of it, and to promote it, and just to be proud of our city again.