Los Angeles has a rather checkered history with the term “civic engagement.” Its disconnectedness seems to translate into low voter turnout for citywide elections or participation in cultural institutions. Hollywood, the industry, seems more apt to portray the city’s apocalypse than its moves toward livability.
Earlier this week, a group of civic leaders gathered at the Beverly Hills home of Tony and Jeanne Pritzker to try to mobilize an effort to strengthen the civic fabric. The initiative is called Future of Cities: Leading in L.A., led by political consultant Donna Bojarsky, with the first major public event planned for Oct. 19.
“People are not better in other cities,” Bojarsky told the gathering. “They just have more social obligation to do things. So we need a little more push, a little more clash of civic elite, a little more civic competition, in order to make L.A. to really be the world class city we want it to be. Because I hate to tell you right now. We’d like to believe it is a world class city, but we are not quite there.”
Among those at the event were Michael Govan, CEO and director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Bob Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment; Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group; Zocalo Public Square founder Gregory Rodriguez; attorney Bob Johnson, who is co-founder and general counsel; and William Deverell, USC professor and adviser. Community Partners is the project sponsor.
The entertainment industry hasn’t had the connection to L.A. that other industries have had.
Sherwood said that the sense of “civic responsibility” has existed in L.A. at other times in its history, like 50 to 60 years ago, when many of the major institutions like the music center and county museum of art were built.
“As it relates to Hollywood, I have one simple thesis, which is the reason that Hollywood has not participated necessarily in the city building of this community, is that the people who come to Hollywood aren’t from Los Angeles,” he said. “They are from every place else in the world, and they come here, a beacon of creativity, a beacon of imagination…Eventually they identify as Angelenos, but they do not have that feeling that this is the place that they are from and they have a responsibility to build it.”
Also at the event were former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles councilman-elect David Ryu and Ambassador Michael Lawson, U.S. Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization.