Mapping L.A. Project Is Revised in Nearly 100 Ways

Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2009

There are nearly 30,000 city blocks in Los Angeles, and over the last several weeks, my colleague Maloy Moore and I have examined them all.

We’ve considered each one’s size and population density, its racial and ethnic makeup, its proximity to landmarks, its topography and history.

Then we listened to what readers told us about the deeply rooted perceptions that make them see a block as belonging in one community instead of another.

All this was in service of a project that The Times began months ago to map the city of Los Angeles and make it possible for us to give people neighborhood-by-neighborhood news and information.

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Our toughest decisions came from the powerful and often irreconcilable associations people make with names and places. Among the bitter rifts we encountered were the competing claims to the name West Adams. One of the less fraught comments on the subject went like this: “Over here by Adams and Fairfax we like to think of ourselves as West ‘West Adams.’ how about West (squared) Adams? OK then, the ‘real’ West Adams? Never mind, just trying to lighten the conversation.”

Historical purists would reserve the designation West Adams for the once-upper-crust district of Victorian mansions now falling in the shadow of USC. But residents farther west have appropriated the name for that hard-to-define area between the 10 Freeway and Baldwin Hills. To bolster their case, the area’s Neighborhood Empowerment Zone bears that name.

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The Thomas Guide puts names in the midst of communities but does not try to make clear where neighborhood boundaries are.

The city’s neighborhood councils sometimes reflect narrow political considerations and have a propensity for names such as People Involved in Community Organizing that don’t do much to define a community. Many areas of the city are left out entirely while prized turf, such as Occidental College, is occasionally claimed by more than one council. The same problems apply with even greater force to homeowner associations.

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Unlike most other attempts at Mapping L.A., this one follows a set of principles intended to make it visually and statistically coherent: It gathers every block of the city into reasonably compact areas leaving no enclaves, gaps, overlaps or ambiguities. Except when there was a compelling reason not to, we kept landmarks such as schools in the communities bearing their names.

We’ll be the first to acknowledge that our map isn’t perfect. No lines can capture the geographic diversity and demographic energy of Los Angeles.

We’re not planning to revise our map again until the 2010 census. But our comment line is still open. If you have a better idea, let us know.

[Editor’s Note: The Los Angeles Times‘s map of LA neighborhoods is available as an interactive map here.]

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