Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

LOS ANGELES

BELL VIEW-It’s a strange day in Los Angeles. The slow drip of slime that has been falling on the head of the only independent candidate for City Council – a guy I once described as a "ray of hope" – has started to leave a real stain.  My friend, Don, who’s been pounding the pavement for change since his training wheel days, appealed to everyone for empathy. But I can feel his heart breaking. “Why can’t we have nice things?” another friend asked in response to the breaking story.

I don’t know all the facts, but the ones I know don’t look good for the candidate. Somewhere, a former campaign staffer with an iPhone full of now ironic uplifting moments from this Cinderella story is dusting off her elevator pitch in anticipation of next year’s Sundance Film Festival. 

Empathy. It’s hard to find in an era of racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, rape-explaining, and pussy-grabbing. Everything today quickly divides into two camps. And, although I believe in objective truth, and that some things are either right or wrong, I also believe that most of the answers we seek fall somewhere between the two camps. Not some squishy middle where nothing means anything, not the phony objectivity conjured by the “both sides do it” media, but true communities built among diverse people. For that kind of community to exist, we need empathy and we need optimism.

Joe Bray-Ali is done. He only ever had a snowball’s chance, and Gil Cedillo just turned up the heat. That Bray-Ali lit the match himself only adds to the sense of constant defeat that hangs in the air like smog. 

Why can’t we have nice things? 

Well … we can. Exhibit A: The Silver Lake Reservoir. Like everything, the discussion around the future of the “lake” has broken down into competing ideologies.  As usual, no discussion can take place without name calling and unfounded comparisons. Home ownership is likened to Trumpism; urban planning to ethnic cleansing; development to gentrification. I tend to divide the world up between the rich and the rest of us. 

But a park is something we should all be able to agree on. Parks are what cities do best. And LA needs more parks. 

I have a calculation I do whenever a politician in LA suggests turning some space into a park. I analyze the increased traffic flow, the impact on scarce parking resources, the potential influx of homeless people, the expense of building and maintaining the park…. 

And then I say yes.

I never met a park I didn’t like. A real park. People point to the disaster that is the “Triangle Park” in Los Feliz – but that was never anything but a glorified traffic median. Open the Silver Lake Reservoir up to people, wildlife, trees, benches, and – yeah – bathrooms and watch it blossom. I empathize with the fears of long-term residents who worry that their neighborhood will be turned into the Santa Monica Pier. I don’t see racism behind the desire to protect the single greatest investment of your life. But real progress almost always involves a leap of faith. And I have faith in the people of Los Angeles. 

Let’s make Silver Lake Reservoir a park. And let’s not stop there.  

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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