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Environmental Quality / 2013

S(t)imulate LA

S(t)imulate LA

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design

If you had the keys to Los Angeles, what would it look like in 2050? Using the LA Forum’s online city generator game, S(t)imulate LA, you can make planning decisions, set zoning policy, and create regulatory incentives to set Los Angeles on a path toward fulfilling your vision in the next 37 years. What many residents of LA don’t realize is that the City’s planning policies restrict a lot of development and have at times resulted in challenging the implementation of ideas that would make LA a more sustainable, connected, innovative, and fun place to live. Planning decisions have a direct impact on our open space, air quality, and water supply and quality. By manipulating the City of LA’s current planning and building policies, we can generate an alternate city that could be healthier, happier, and wiser, all while accommodating the explosive population boom that we expect to continue in Southern California. This free website game, which we plan to jointly develop with 8-80 Cities, the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, and software developer Esri, allows players to become the master planner for LA, toggling through a series of metrics that establish a basis for how the city could potentially develop. Once the metrics are defined, players push “go” and watch as the city transforms based on project population increases and climate changes over 37 years before coming to a rest at 2050. The resulting city that emerges from each player’s choices can be saved and shared with other players to form a larger on-line conversation about how we as LA residents can improve the city. At the end of six months of play, the LA Forum will organize the best LA scenarios from the website into an interactive exhibit in our Hollywood gallery, where they will be shared with the general public, as well as reviewed by city planners, politicians, and members of LA’s urban design and architecture communities. We will host a series of discussions aimed at analyzing the game’s outcomes for potential influence on future planning in the city. The game’s outcomes are influenced by two sets of variables—baseline metrics and projections that can be dialed up or down and big ideas that have the potential to change the geography and morphology of Los Angeles. Examples of the metrics will include the following as a minimum, but we expect to create more as the game develops: (1) Access to transportation and commute length/time/type; (2) Access to green/open/recreation space; (3) Zoning districts (commercial, residential, industrial); (4) Density; (5) Environmental conditions (air quality, water quality, microclimates); (6) Demographic changes—population aging and immigration; (7) Opportunities for broadening the tax-base; Examples of big ideas could include: (1) High-speed rail; (2) Coastal redevelopment to combat global warming; (3) Habitat restoration; (4) LA River redevelopment; (5) Changing energy usage and generation; (6) Regionalizing air-travel; We hope the game will provide a platform for reconsidering the City of LA’s planning and building policies, informing a much-needed debate that will start as the City begins to internally revise its own policies throughout the coming years.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The LA Forum was founded in 1987 by a group of designers, architects, planners, and educators who wanted to provide an alternative platform for critical discussion on the built environment in Los Angeles and Southern California. The Forum has organized lectures, symposia, events, exhibitions, competitions, and publications throughout its history. We are a non-profit organization that operates outside of the realms of professional practice and architecture schools. Our members consist of architects, planners, engineers, designers, educators, students, artists, and other people interested in the built environment in Los Angeles.

Our publication history includes a significant pamphlet series between 2003 and 2010 that included Dead Malls, Out the Window (LAX), Polar Inertia, After the City, This (Is How We Live), Pendulum Plane, and Meet the Nelsons. The series explored Los Angeles urban design and architecture through creative responses, such as comic book styles and fake screenplays, as well as through speculative architectural projects as part of the Forum’s sponsorship of competitions. In addition, the Forum has published a quarterly newsletter since our founding that provides space for critical thinkers to write about Los Angeles. We have also published larger-scale books, including Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles (Rizzoli International) and Everyday Urbanism (Monacelli Press).

The Forum’s public events, including lectures and symposia, continue to play an active role in the identity of LA design. One of our most significant past events focused on the aftermath of the LA Uprisings in 1992, when we brought together our members and the National Organization of Minority Architects for the event “Alternative Disorders: On Designing Communities.” We also sponsor quarterly Pecha Kucha events for designers to share their work with the community, as well as a lecture series called “Out There Doing It” that spotlights emerging design practices and the “On the Map” series that provides architectural tours of buildings given by the architects who designed them.

In our 25-year history, we have sponsored design competitions to focus attention on opportunities for rethinking the vitality of urban LA. These have included Civic Innovations (1994), Dead Malls (2003), Liner (2008), and Dingbat 2.0 (2010). Our most recent competition on Dingbats focused on the reinvention of this classic LA housing prototype for a new generation of urban citizens, resulting in a forthcoming book and an exhibition of the competition entries. The Forum continues to actively engage all of Los Angeles and has two exhibitions planned this summer for our space in the Woodbury University Hollywood gallery. These exhibitions focus on alternative housing typologies for Los Angeles and will be open throughout the summer for free to the public.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

8-80 Cities ( is a non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada, that is dedicated to the transformation of cities into places where people can walk, bike, access public transit, and visit vibrant parks and public places.

The USC Annenberg Innovation Lab( is comprised of researchers of social media communications whose key interest is in garnering live participation from the public and enabling social action.

Esri ( is a leading developer of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and software that underpins the design and planning of cities throughout the world. Esri is committed to developing tools that professionals need for planning sustainable, connected, and healthy cities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We will measure overall success based on the number of scenarios generated through the game. The LA Forum also plans to host a series of events around the game’s use, where participants will develop their scenarios and then use them as a platform for discussing the ideas behind planning and building policies in Los Angeles. We also expect to engage staff within the City of LA on the use of the game and what lessons they might draw in terms of how it could impact the work they do in revising and updating planning and building regulations for the City.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Planning and building in Los Angeles tends to be an isolated affair, where the public is engaged only when it directly affects their neighborhood. Through a fun game, we expect to reach out to a larger audience to educate them about how planning and building policy that addresses the entire city accumulates to affect broader quality of life issues. We also think the outcomes of this game, our hosted events, and the exhibition of the best scenarios will create opportunities to engage with the City of LA’s planning and building departments on the subject of zoning and development in Los Angeles. Our hope is to identify mechanisms through policy or strategic investment by these agencies that could have the greatest impact on the development of LA through 2050.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In 2050, we would expect to have one of the most progressive zoning, planning, and building policies in the world, but it will take incremental steps to get there. The LA Forum’s game would start that process by establishing gaming as a credible—and enjoyable—way to consider difficult planning issues for LA. By 2050, we expect that gaming and simulation will replace policy documents and that every proposed design or redevelopment of LA will be simulated in real-time to understand how it will impact the greater LA Basin.