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True to Forum: Inglewood, Observed

Photo: Erin Aubry Kaplan

I took a walk around the Forum this morning. I hadn't done it in months, maybe more than a year. I used to walk there frequently, until two things happened: I moved across town to the south end of Inglewood (the Forum is north), and Toby, the oldest of my three dogs who walk with me, got older and increasingly arthritic. The Forum sits on an elongated incline and a walk around it, or even near it, is pretty uphill.

Uphill has become tough for Toby. When I started walking the Forum he was two; now he's nine. He's always game to keep up with the other dogs, but often the dysplastic elbow he was born with gives way and his gait comes apart, and pretty soon his head is bobbing like he's trying to keep it above water. Which in a way he is.

So I do a very modified Forum walk now. Walking its length with my pack more slowly than in years past, I noticed that it's officially coming apart, too -- the marquee is dark, and a few of the blue structures at its circular top are missing, like teeth. Of course, this is just temporary because the Forum is undergoing a rehab by its new owners, Madison Square Garden: This coming apart is a striking of the set, the beginning of a renewal. But I couldn't help feeling nostalgic -- maybe because longtime Lakers owner/sports impresario Jerry Buss died last week, he who justified the "Fabulous" in the Forum's original name. And I was not a little uneasy. How many promises of renewal in Inglewood have been broken, underfunded, half-filled, or deferred entirely? The evidence of such falling short is everywhere in town, in too many places to count. Not just in landscapes where things should be built, but in civic institutions like the school district, which is now being managed by the state partly due to fiscal circumstances beyond the district's control, but partly because those in charge have never had a collective vision to dramatically improve what tends to be the reason people move to a city at all. Even people without children, like me, know how crucial good schools are to a city's sense of well-being and to its self-image. Healthy schools and healthy (and dependable) economic development go hand in hand; it's hard, in the end, to build good things around schools that are considerably less than good. It's like trying to build things around a sinkhole. To paraphrase Joan Didion, if the center can't hold, neither can anything else. Of course, L.A. is full of affluent neighborhoods with underperforming schools, but L.A. is a big enough place to afford the upwardly mobile that kind of disconnect. Inglewood is a big small town whose fortunes every resident must own, whether they want to or not.

Another thing I noticed walking (which you always miss driving, no matter how often you drive past the same place) were signs on utility poles advertising Inglewood's new slogan: Gateway to Opportunity. They're bright blue and white and depict people relaxing in suburban-like settings and airplanes taking off into the sky from nearby LAX. For decades we called our town "City of Champions," and clung to it stubbornly even after Buss left with all of his sports teams. Now that Hollywood Park race track is close to shutting down, we have to let go of the name of it for good. "Gateway to Opportunity" feels much too bland and corporate to me, to say nothing of ironic. But maybe I'm wrong and the aspirations it implies will materialize into more than aspirations.

Walking back to the car (Toby was bobbing/drowning, and I had to get home) I paused to watch landscaping crews planting trees in the median along Manchester. They aren't trees but eight-foot twigs, the promised replacements for the 400 fully grown, magnificent pines and other trees that were razed in Inglewood to make way for the space shuttle parade last year. The best thing I can say is that it's a good thing the seeds are being planted, but I can tell you that this is one development that's guaranteed not to pay off for a long, long time.