The LOS ANGELES SCHOOL OF URBANISM is focused on changing the way we understand cities based upon the experience of Los Angeles and Southern California.
This attempt to rewrite urban theory does not as yet add up to a comprehensive codification in which each piece of the urban puzzle is clearly defined and subjected to vigorous empirical analysis. Nor do LA School participants form a tightly-knit group of scholars in close agreement. Instead, the intellectual field is open, dynamic and deeply contested which is exactly why it is so interesting!
The Chicago School of Urbanism, founded in 1920s, is the principal point of comparison for the Angelistas. This is not because nothing new has happened in urban theory since then, but because the precepts of the Chicago School represent the clearest codification of the principles of a modernist urbanism that Angelistas are striving to usurp.
In a nutshell, the difference between Chicago and LA is this: whereas traditional Chicago-based concepts of Urbanism imagine a city organized around its central core, in LA urbanism, the urban peripheries are organizing what is left of the center. For many, this difference is emblematic of a shift toward postmodern urbanism.
Altered theory inevitably implies an altered practice. And LA is teaching us to re-examine public policy in an era of sprawl, and even to question the terminology we have come to rely on. For instance, suburbanization in the sense of a center-driven logic of fringe expansion simply may not be present in LA-type urbanism; we need another term to describe accurately what is causing new growth at the edge.
Needless to say, not everyone agrees with the precepts of LA School. Competitors have put in their bids for alternative schools, for instance in New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago and Miami. A rash of critics has politely (sometimes not so politely) trashed LA and its adherents. But, most encouragingly, a growing group of urbanists have begun to take LA seriously, and thereby give birth to a penetrating new kind of comparative urbanism.