A unique “atlas” from USC’s Southern California Studies Center presents a striking picture ofwhat is now the nation’s most international and diverse region as it pulls itself up out of recession and faces the complex problems of a new century.
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that you have the responsibility of tackling the problems facing the children of Los Angeles County.
You begin by attempting to assess the magnitude of the problems you have to solve – and you immediately get lost in a Babel of statistics, because the county’s 88 cities, 81 school districts and 200 other public and private agencies all track different problems and even carve up the county differently.
Multiply those same logistical difficulties over every major facet of life – economic, social, cultural and environmental – and look at not just Los Angeles but the entire five-county region that makes up Southern California, and you begin to appreciate the gridlock sometimes faced by public and private agencies.
In an effort to break up the gridlock, a group of scholars from USC’s new Southern California Studies Center – SC2 for short – have developed a project called “Metrotrends,” through which they hope to improve our understanding of this complicated region. This fall, they released the Atlas of Southern California, a state-of-the-region report that distills new research by 16 professors in eight disciplines and provides a detailed, up-to-the-minute portrait of Los Angeles and surrounding Orange, Ventura, San Ber-nardino and Riverside counties.
Along with the Atlas, SC2 issued the “1996 Scorecard for Southern California,” which assesses 13 aspects of life, culture, the economy and the environment, determining whether conditions warrant a green light for “favorable,” yellow light for
“neutral” or red light for “unfavorable.” Each topic received an additional grade of plus, minus or zero to indicate whether the trend was progressing, reversing or holding constant.
“What we’re saying is, ‘Based upon our expert knowledge and based upon our comparisons, this is the best of our understanding of what’s going on in the region,’ ” says Michael Dear, a geography professor who founded the
center in October 1995 and is editor of the Atlas.
“Given the region’s diversity, complexity and fragmented nature, its resilience and progress are remarkable. The story of Southern California is still the struggle of the American Dream – on a bigger scale.”

tables and analyses, the 75-page atlas presents a striking picture of what is now the nation’s most international and diverse region climbing out of recession and facing complex problems.
Key findings include:
Southern California is now the nation’s premier center of international trade, surpassing New York in imports and exports flowing through its ports, and now handling one-eighth of all U.S. foreign trade.
Southern California’s foreign-born population is America’s largest – almost one-quarter of the national total. This group is fast becoming more mature, acculturated and economically better off.
Record high levels of migration from the area appear to be waning, while the stream of immigrants into the region is slowing.
The region contains the nation’s second-largest concentration of cultural assets, but lags behind less populous cities in access to these facilities on a per capita basis.
The region’s children are born healthier than those in other regions, but are more prone to early pregnancy, to drop out of high school and to experience violent crime.
Juvenile crime rates are declining dramatically, but still far exceed the state and national average.
Poverty and public assistance are slightly declining, although use of public assistance remains at record-high levels.
In the scorecard, the team issued five red lights (for children, crime and violence, education, immigration and poverty and welfare); five yellow lights (for economy, environment, governance, mental health and population); and three green lights (for international links, migration and culture).

HAVING ESTABLISHED THIS ambitious array of benchmarks, Metrotrends fellows will track key indicators at regular intervals, illuminating major trends as they develop.
“What we’re trying to do is to develop the most comprehensive set of indicators that are feasible for understanding the region,” Dear says. “We hope this will inspire decision makers and citizens to take the
appropriate action. There has to be a communitywide, a regionwide decision-making process.
“When future historians look back at the current chapter in Southern California’s story, they are likely to conclude that we faced a challenge equivalent to the unification of the two Germanys. The similarities are everywhere – in our struggles with growth and change, economic in-equality, immigration and politics.
“And just like Berlin when the wall crumbled, Los Angeles can no longer afford to regard itself as a collection of separate, mutually antagonistic places.”
The biggest lesson from the Atlas, Dear believes, is that Southern California needs a new social contract, one that takes into account the region’s interdependencies, its diversity and growing international presence.
“Southern California already has congealed into a single, integrated, regionwide megacity, incorporating Santa Barbara, the Inland Empire and even spilling over the Mexican border into Baja California,” he says.
“Yet by focusing on the separate pieces of this huge interlocking puzzle, Southern Californians have made – and will continue to make – decisions that are harmful to the whole.”
With this framework in mind, Dear and his team will look at a wide range of questions affecting the region. Do cities’ expenditures for police and capital improvements drop, reflecting financial strain? Do pollution levels rise or fall? Is government administration absorbing more or fewer tax dollars? Are more or fewer people on public assistance or marginally housed? Is education improving? Is foreign investment waxing or waning?
Metrotrends fellows hope the answers to these and dozens of other questions will help public and private agencies capitalize on the region’s strengths while solving its most vexing problems.

BUT THE RESEARCH is also expected to have implications well beyond the region, owing to the precedent-setting way that Southern California has grown and evolved.
“Los Angeles is increasingly being seen as a prototype for American metropolitan development,” Dear says. “Every city in America that is growing is growing in the same way as Los Angeles.”
Both SC2 and its Metrotrends project reflect the growing scholarly interest in Los Angeles as an urban laboratory, Dear says. “[This city is] increasingly perceived as symptomatic of a broader transformation taking place in urban America. The region is being compared with Chicago, which was home in the first part of the century to an influential group of social scientists who mined the metropolis.”
It was this recognition that led to the creation of SC2 last year. Billed as “an interdisciplinary organization poised to become a world-class think tank and information resource for the region,” SC2 is funded by the university in conjunction with the Southern California initiative of its Strategic Plan. “Most research centers on campus are supported by outside funding sources or specific endowments,” Dear says. “SC2 is a reflection of the university’s commitment to Los Angeles.”
Dear believes that USC stands poised to gain the same prominence in the “Los Angeles School” of urban studies once enjoyed by the University of Chicago, which nurtured the so-called “Chicago School” of urbanists.
“Just as the Chicago School emerged in the 1930s when that city was reaching new national prominence as the prototypical industrial metropolis,” he says, “Los Angeles is already imprinted on the minds of a new generation of international urban scholars.”

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The Dream Team

Metrotrends fellows – who SC2 director Michael Dear calls a “dream team of urbanists” – include:
Jeffrey Chapman, professor, School of Public Administration;
• Stuart Gabriel, professor of finance and business economics;
Margaret Gatz, professor of psychology;
Peter Gordon, professor of urban and regional planning;
Randolph Hall, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering;
Julian Haywood, professor of medicine;
Sheldon Kamieniecki, chairman, Political Science Department and director, Environmental Studies Program;
Abraham Lowenthal, director of USC’s Center for International Studies and professor of international relations;
Cheryl Maxson, director, USC’s Center on Crime and Social Control;
Jacqueline McCroskey, associate professor, Social Work;
Juliet Ann Musso, associate professor of public administration; • Dowell Myers, associate professor of urban and regional planning and director, Southern California Immigration Project;
Lawrence Picus, associate professor of education and director, Center for Research in Education Finance;
Harry Richardson, professor of urban and regional planning;
Curt Roseman, professor of geography;
Jennifer Wolch, professor of geography.
Photographs by Karen Halverson

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