- The Next Los Angeles: Struggle for a Livable City
The authors of The Next Los Angeles present the book as "a history, a policy analysis, and an evaluation of the opportunities for change, both in Los Angeles and in other regions of the country." For those who are intrigued or inspired by the political insurgency of labor and community organizations in this enigmatic city, whether or not they believe that L.A. is the future of urban North America, The Next Los Angeles is a worthwhile resource. The book reclaims L.A.'s progressive roots, arguing that diverse social movements over the course of the city's development have provided an alternative vision about Los Angeles, its urban landscape, and its social relations.
Much of the book is devoted to L.A.'s evolution over the twentieth century, framed by an asymmetrical struggle between business interests and activists. The first section explores the interwoven legacies of socialists and radical trade unionists, the civil rights movement, community activists in Latino and African American neighborhoods, and other "radicals and reformers" that constituted "Progressive L.A." The second section focuses on key economic, demographic, environmental, and political changes through the 1992 civil unrest to the present that have led to growing inequality, political and social balkanization, and deteriorating quality of life.
Critically, these developments have also energized an array of labor, community, environmental, and immigrant groups that, acting individually and collectively, constitute a new Progressive L.A. The last section of the book highlights the political vacuum created by the failure of civic elites to reckon with the region's ongoing urban crisis, and the emerging electoral coalition anchored by labor and Latino immigrants. It puts forward the key possibility that the new Progressive L.A. network and its platform for a socially equitable, livable region might prevail over further balkanization and dissolution.
As a student of labor and urban studies, I deeply appreciate the book's illustration of how working people, when faced with multiple injustices that detract from their day-to-day well-being, will mobilize at different times as union members, as neighborhood residents, or as members of a particular race or ethnicity. The challenge of labor and community activists is to link causes and constituencies together into a coherent vision and broader progressive movement. In that same vein, though, I found that the book's final section gave short shrift to the actual processes by which activists make connections and forge a common agenda, which might have offered more concrete lessons to labor and community activists in other regions. [End Page 112]
Overall, The Next Los Angeles is highly readable; the language is energetic, direct, and free of excessive jargon. The authors deftly weave discussions of economic growth and change, demographics, politics and policy with their discussion of social movements. Some of the historical material may feel familiar to those who have read Mike Davis, minus the polemical and hyperbolic tone—in my view a good thing. And because the chapters are thematic rather than chronologically divided, most of them do well as stand-alone readings. For these reasons I think this book would be appropriate for undergraduate as well as graduate courses.