Los Angeles: From The Past To The Future, Through Collaboration An Address To The ‘La N Sync’ Launch Event, “Working Together To Improve Community Life”

 Ernest J. Wilson III, Dean, And Walter H. Annenberg Chair, Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism, University Of Southern California; February 29, 2013


Well, a talking frying fish is a tough act to follow! I want to thank Leonard Aube for pairing me with a talking frying fish! But seriously, I want to congratulate Leonard and his ‘A’ team, and of course Wallis Annenberg, for their commitment to bring all of us together today to launch an important new initiative.

But the video does nicely capture something important about the spirit of today’s event. L.A. really is the creative capital of the world. It’s the leader in new digital industries – such as the one that produced this video. And it’s one of the most diverse cities anywhere.

Los Angeles is definitely America in fast-forward, a glimpse of the future happening now. Only, that future is not evenly distributed. Research shows pretty clearly that the cities and regions around the world that are best able to harness the creativity and the hard work of their multiple professional and ethnic communities are winning the global competition for investment and high quality growth. The urban collaborators are the winners. Think of Silicon Valley, Route 128 around Boston, or Washington D.C.’s Dulles Corridor. Or, for that matter, think of Bangalore or Beijing.

Research also shows that the secret sauce for the success of these areas is the mindful, strategic expansion of communication – and collaboration – across four key communities. These communities are the government sector, the private sector, the education sector and the non-profit sector. Collaboration across these four sectors – call it a kind of “quad” – is a major determinant of success.

This should be L.A.’s secret sauce, too. Look around the room. All the potential for world-class communication and collaboration is right here today. The leaders are here, the ideas are here and we hope the commitments are here. And we’ve just started. We can become even more of a political and economic laboratory, an incubator, an accelerator for progressive policies and ideas to advance this city. We can show the rest of the world what a successful future can look like in the 21st century.

Of course, Los Angeles is a totally unique, wonderful, eccentric city. Yet too often we fail to match our ambitions with our true advantages and our resources. Too often we fail to work that quad. This is the great challenge and the great opportunity that brings us together today. A sage observer once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” That’s what LA n Sync is all about – collaborating to invent our own common future, making it happen here and now.

This is not just some nice thing to do, not some storybook tale. This is an economic and political imperative. Arguably, Los Angeles is at the threshold of a critical choice about its future. We’ve seen too many corporate headquarters in aerospace and other industries leave the region. And yet at the same time we have let too many new funding and investment opportunities slip thru our fingers – sometimes wasting our energy and reducing our chances for success by failing to collaborate.

We end up working against one another competing for federal scraps. Yet at the end of the day, we are all connected. We succeed together, we fail together. We have got to find ways to invent and build a new future for Los Angeles, expanding the pie for everybody instead of fighting over crumbs.

Let’s face it, and as you will hear shortly, there’s a lot of money at stake. Hundreds of millions of dollars – money we can use to build the L.A. we all want. In many ways, as others will describe shortly, we are already heading toward that future as more venture capital firms and start-ups move here.

But if there is a utopian vision we want to pursue, there is also a dystopian vision we need to avoid. Our good future is not guaranteed. I lived for many years just outside of Detroit, in Ann Arbor. I saw up close and personal what happens when civic leadership fails to innovate, when they allow the past to devour the future. In Detroit today, they are considering whether to remove stoplights in order to encourage people to abandon blighted areas and therefore shrink the size of the center city.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but all of us today – and our children and grandchildren – have a lot to lose if we don’t act. Acting is always risky, but in this era of disruptive, turbulent and constant technological change and globalization, not acting is even riskier. We can’t let that dystopian future happen here.

So, LA n Sync is a unique effort to work differently, to come together as one civic community, to invent and create a new bright future. LA n Sync provides a vehicle through which we can create a paradigm shift to go more aggressively after every dollar – whether that money flows from Washington, Wall Street, Sand Hill Road, or anywhere.

But futures don’t get invented unless the leadership steps forward to craft them. We need leaders willing to empower their organizations and their colleagues to act on this collaborative vision. Today we will hear from perhaps just such leaders. These leaders hale from multiple communities and they will share ideas for charting the way forward by describing the positive achievements of the present. We’ll hear a range of perspectives – public, private and non-profit – communicated across our usual silos of sector and urban spaces, hopefully getting us all, yes, in sync.

LA n Sync will be a grand experiment and those of you here today will determine if the old divisions can be put behind us in order to create a bright and better future. So let the experiment begin.

Thank you very much. Now let us hear from our mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Let’s roll the tape!