The San Fernando Valley: The Festive Valley


By: Luci Stephens



            The San Fernando Valley is in the midst of an identity crisis.  Joel Kotkin explained the Valley’s struggle to find its niche this way: 

As it enters the new century, the Valley has become something other than a prototypical suburb.  It is now a community caught between a quickly growing, high-tech oriented periphery and the traditional city—a kind of midopolis—that blends an increasingly urban reality with a primarily suburban infrastructure (Almanac, 8.)

This identity crisis has been exacerbated by the looming possibility of secession.  “The Valley, once the poor relation of downtown, is now big and rich enough to support itself, with plenty of shopping malls and industries to feed the tax rolls.”  Despite such successes, the Valley is still the unfortunate object of Jay Leno’s late-night antics.  He offered “Smogadena, Unknown Actorville, and Pornadelphia” as names for the prospective city (Los Angeles, 63-64.)


            Such negative connotations endanger a city’s economic development and even tourism.  Case in point: “Surveys of high-technology firms find ‘quality of life’ attractive to skilled workers far more important than any of the traditional factors such as taxes, regulation or land costs.”  Such “sophisticated consumers of place” are attracted to places that “possess a kind of fashionable appeal that the Valley, still widely perceived as a classic suburb, does not yet possess” (Almanac, 8.)  Under such circumstances, the Valley must “create conditions—and perhaps equally important, images—attractive to new industries and skilled workers” (New Geography, 181.)


            The San Fernando Valley is not alone in facing such trying image problems.  Recently, Toronto’s Department of Economic Development, Culture, and Tourism sent out bulletins to advertising agencies, PR firms, and marketing consultants asking them for proposals on how to improve the city’s image.  Similarly, in the 1970s, New York, dogged by increasing crime rates and gritty portrayals in movies such as Taxi Driver and Mean Streets, started its “I love New York” campaign, which increased tourism by 700% within three years of the promotion’s inception (Knelman, DO2.)


            Of course, the San Fernando Valley already has adopted “Valley of the Stars” as its slogan.  Such a title is appropriate as the entertainment industry is the Valley’s largest employer (RPPI, 30.)  Aims of the marketing campaign include improving the Valley’s reputation and increasing awareness among businesses of the Valley’s under-appreciated assets (Ackerman, 11/9 meeting.)


            However, such a pithy slogan is only the first step in forging a new identity for the San Fernando Valley.  Now, “the Valley must nurture a greater sense of community and common interest” (Almanac, 8.)  This is especially important due to shifts in the Valley’s population.  “During the 1990s, the Valley’s Caucasian population fell by 14 percent, while the Latino population increased 39 percent, and the Asian population increased 31 percent.  Much of this population increase was a result of international immigration” (RPPI, 31.)


            In order to tighten the bonds of union among long-time citizens and new arrivals, the Valley must foster “face-to-face intercourse” (Dewey qtd. in New Geography, 169.)  Beyond unity, “healthy twenty-first-century communities will be those that develop a sense of common purpose” (New Geography, 188.) 


            These goals of community building can be achieved through civic festivals.  Quentin Howard points out that “in the Andean festivals, [the people] try to lose their [individual] identity, and they do: they become part of the collective whole” (Maisel, 185.)  History tells us that such festivals are an ideal means not only to develop unity but are also conducive to reconciling tradition and progress—something that the Valley certainly needs to accomplish.

Festivals in Context

            Aristotle, in The Politics, said that villages come together to form the city[1].    He broadly explained the multi-faceted aspects of the city in the following manner:


The city is not a partnership in a location and for the sake of not committing injustice against each other and of transacting business.  These things must necessarily be present if there is to be a city, but not even when all of them are present is it yet a city, but [the city is] the partnership in living well both of households and families for the sake of a complete and self-sufficient life (Aristotle, 99.) 


It is not enough, then, for a city merely to provide “trash collection, street lighting, cleaning of streets;  it also requires, but much more elusively, a sense of

place. . .” (Scarlett qtd. in Rightsizing, 2-3.)  It was on this account that festivals, “the pastimes of living together,” arose.  “This sort of thing is the work of affection;  for affection is the intentional choice of living together.  Living well, then, is the end of the city, and these things are for the sake of this end” (Aristotle, 99.) 

People yearn for communal connection and desperately want to be knit together[2].  Festivals, in Aristotle’s view, not only tie communities together, but they also give citizens a larger sense of purpose, which is vital to the success of cities[3].


Machiavelli, in his much-read treatise, The Prince, also advocated holding festivals though for a much less virtuous reason.  “[A ruler] should [in order to acquire a reputation] . . . at appropriate times of the year, amuse the populace with festivals and public spectacles” (Machiavelli, 70.)  Indeed, history repeatedly shows us that such amusements do bolster the reputation of rulers.  For example, “Duke Philibert, who entered Geneva in person in 1501, introduced merriment and gaiety as well as more prosperity into the life of the city, and earned some genuine popularity” (Cranston qtd. in Rousseau, 10.)


    It is just such popularity that led Edmund Burke to warn against festivals, such as those that were being held in France at the time of the revolution.  “[France’s] spectacles, their civic feasts, and their enthusiasm I take no notice of;  they are nothing but mere tricks.”  Burke claimed that the king even encouraged the soldiers to “join themselves with the clubs and confederations in the several municipalities, and mix with them in feasts and civic entertainments!  This jolly discipline, it seems, is to soften the ferocity of their minds . . .”  In other words, the king encouraged festivals to keep the troops from mutinying (Burke, 167 & 188.)


    Eric Voeglin, in The New Science of Politics, claimed that ancient civilizations had far less cunning reasons for holding festivals: 


All the early empires, Near Eastern as well as Far Eastern, understood themselves as representatives of a transcendent order . . . a little world reflecting the order of the great, comprehensive world.  The great ceremonies of the empire represent the rhythm of the cosmos;  festivals . . . are a cosmic liturgy, a symbolic participation of the cosmion in the cosmos (Voeglin, 54.) 


Such societies, then, did not just hold festivals in order to unite cities, or to distract themselves from pressing problems, but they threw festivals so as to be able to better understand the world in which they lived.

Applications to the San Fernando Valley

According to Kevin Roderick, the San Fernando Valley has a history of community festivals:


Towns had colorful local parades—Northridge had the annual equestrian Stampede, San Fernando celebrated Fiesta Days.  By the end of the [60s], attitudes had changed so much that the Bethlehem Star Christmas Parade, a Van Nuys tradition for 21 years, was canceled for a lack of interest (America’s Suburb, 153.)


            Robert Putnam of Harvard University, said that this lack of social interest is due to everything from new technology to general busyness (Putnam, 667.)  Joel Kotkin claimed in his book, The New Geography:


Even self-professed liberals, such as those in the entertainment industry, can be remarkably uncommitted to their locales;  they may give to a specific cause, but they have traditionally disdained committing themselves to the communities where their businesses are based (New Geography, 176-177.)  


            Another festering problem is that people’s emotional ties to place are “far weaker and more tenuous” than they once were.  “In the old days New Yorkers were New Yorkers—that was it” (Costikyan qtd. in New Geography.)  However, the real question is whether these trends are reversible.  If you build it, will they come?


            There are some indicators that suggest that conditions are ripe for an upsurge in community involvement.  Alienation is becoming quite unbearable and nostalgia for the good ole days is increasingly tugging at the heartstrings.  Though it is too soon to comprehend the full impact of the September 11 tragedy, the trauma has only further exacerbated such conditions which lead to more “intense localism.”  (Kotkin Meeting, 11/2/01.)  For example, the attendance at the San Fernando Valley Fair, held annually in September, doubled to 24,000 this year, presumably due to the terrorist attacks and people’s desperate twin needs for distraction and connection.  (


            Ethnic and arts festivals are already playing an important role in civic renewal.  For example, Brazilian Nites Productions, based in Universal City, stages the annual Brazilian Summer Festival.  The California Traditional Music Society, a non-profit based in Tarzana, produces the annual Summer Solstice Folk and Dance Festival.  The Visual Artists Association, based in Glendale, holds festivals at its Celebrity Centre and in the community (Arts Directory, 32, 38 & 187.) 


            Philanthropic organizations, are also common backers of local festivals.  For instance, to generate funding, the American Heart Association sponsors the “Valley of the Stars” Heart Run and Walk.  Businesses also organize events to support particular health and social causes.  Harley Davidson of Glendale annually sponsors Muscular Dystrophy’s Motorcycle Love Ride involving more than 25,000 motorcyclists, (some of whom are celebrities,) and all of the proceeds go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Views, 53-55.)


            Local chambers of commerce commonly plan events to promote their respective cities.  The Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce provides the Annual NoHo Theater and Arts Festival.  In a similar vein, each year the Reseda Chamber of Commerce produces “Fun Fair.”  Also, the Encino Chamber of Commerce sponsors Taste of Encino, a three-day food festival that allows more than two-dozen area restaurants to show-off their culinary skills (Views, 53-55 & 63.)


            While the neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley have actively promoted themselves, the Valley as a whole has not been as proactive in this area.  While some events, such as the previously mentioned “Valley of the Stars” Heart Run and Walk or the “Valley of the Stars” Memorial Day Parade, use the Valley slogan, the American Heart Association and the Canoga Park Community Center sponsor them, respectively.  The aim of these events is to promote their causes rather than to promote a cohesive identity of the Valley or to unite citizens of the Valley—though both events may do so unwittingly (Views, 53-55.)


            The Valley is also disadvantaged in developing a distinct identity by its association with Los Angeles.  Though the Valley can currently tap into such resources as the Los Angeles County Arts Commission or the city’s Cultural Affairs Department[4] (which sponsors festivals), these departments have no interest (and arguably even a conflict of interest) in helping the Valley acquire any sort of brand-presence (Arts Directory, inserts.)  

However, the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department funds, in part, two regional arts councils to serve the Valley.  One of their aims is to “develop activities that celebrate the city’s cultural diversity and promote community building” (Arts Directory, 190.)  Their most notable event is “Concerts in the Park,” a fourteen-week concert series that annually serves 75,000-100,000 people in the western end of the valley.  

Policy Recommendation


            Goals of the San Fernando Valley Economic Alliance include marketing the region to increase awareness of the Valley as an ideal place to live, work, and play.  Another goal is to improve the quality of life in all of the communities (Economic Alliance, Organization Background.)  A Valley-wide festival would help to achieve both of these worthy goals.


            Though the San Fernando Valley currently has smaller civic gatherings, these are usually held to promote social/cultural causes or certain neighborhoods.  The Valley needs to hold a large festival with the specific goals of promoting the “Valley of the Stars” image and of building unity and a sense of purpose among the multi-faceted citizens. 


            With a schism between the old-timers and new immigrants as to what direction the Valley should go, one of the challenges in producing a Valley festival will be in deciding what tone to take.  Should the event cater to the hip, younger, artsy crowd, or should it have more of a hometown feeling?  Joel Kotkin uses the watchwords “diverse,” “family-oriented,” and “dynamic” to describe his vision for the Valley community (Almanac, 8.)  Such watchwords also suggest an appropriate tone for the Valley to take in producing civic events.


               One way to achieve such lofty goals is to look at other successful models.  For instance, each July 24th, Salt Lake City celebrates Pioneer Day by throwing the “Days of ‘47” festival that includes a parade that rivals the size of the Rose Bowl Parade.  A newcomer to the area was astounded by the celebration describing it as “bigger than the Fourth of July!” (Personal interview, 10/7/01.)  This extravaganza is funded by a non-profit that sponsors the “Days of ’47 Rodeo,” the proceeds of which go to pay for all of the other free events, including the parade ( 


            Some other funding options include grants from such organizations as the California Community Foundation (  Local private businesses, such as Disney or Warner Brothers, should be convinced that a Valley festival will be beneficial to their respective enterprises, and they may be willing to help sponsor such an exciting event.  In addition to the smaller festivals held by the different chambers of commerce, the United Chamber of Commerce, comprised of 22 Valley chambers, may be willing to help coordinate a Valley festival if they are persuaded that it will be a boon to local businesses.


            Two local companies even specialize in festivals.  Community Arts Resources, Inc.(CARS) “produces festivals and consults in Southern California and across the country.”  The International Federation of Festival Organizations, located in Sherman Oaks, has contacts with 1,600 festivals organized in 102 countries.  They are a valuable resource in gathering ideas about what works in the festival business (Arts Directory, 206 & 211.)


            Another idea is to build on the San Fernando Valley Fair, established in 1946, and held at Hansen Dam.  One problem with this idea is that, though funded in part by private sponsors, the event is produced under the auspices of the State of California’s fairs department.  Such a bureaucracy might not be willing to give the Valley as much freedom as it would like in sprucing-up its image[5].   Besides which, the current location is not very centralized (Views 53-55 &


                Another existing event that might successfully be used as a springboard to launch a Valley festival is the annual Fernando Award Dinner.  Each year an individual is honored at the dinner for his or her “lifetime of community service in all areas of the San Fernando Valley . . .” Such an event is clearly too small to involve very many Valley citizens, but it might be an appropriate prelude or postlude to a civic festival (Views, 53-55.)


            In conclusion, the time has come for the San Fernando Valley to improve its image and to unite its citizens with a non-negligible common purpose.  Such an aim can be achieved by producing a Valley-wide festival.  Such civic fairs have historical precedent, and people are hungry for the benefits that such affairs provide.  The Valley has many options, including grants and private sponsors,  for funding such an extravaganza.  Many private businesses are already well positioned to produce the “Valley of the Stars” Festival. 


            Bob Scott, who sits on the Economic Alliance’s Board of Directors, said that one of the difficulties in planning is figuring out for whom you are responsible.  Should one plan for the people who are currently residents of the Valley, or should one plan for its future inhabitants?  (Lecture, 9/7/01.)  The creation of a Valley-wide festival is an opportunity to unite current citizens as well as to create a loved tradition for many generations to come.



[1] This is particularly comparable to the San Fernando Valley, as the Valley’s 1.4 million inhabitants live in about two-dozen unofficial villages, such as Granada Hills or Studio City (Los Angeles,62.)

[2] Ortega Y Gassett expressed similar sentiments.  “People do not live together simply to be together.  They live together to do something” (Gassett qtd. in Kotkin, 9.)

[3] Interestingly, St. Augustine took quite an opposite view.  “For him, the very life of the ancient city-state, punctuated by its festivals and local gods, was repugnant, as was the fierce civic pride that underlay its citizens” (New Geography, 173-174.)  Of course, this view punctuates the idea that festivals lead to civic pride, which Augustine aside, is the purpose of this paper.

[4] In fact, LA’s Cultural Affairs Department does not even list one event being sponsored in the Valley for the current month ( At least the County Arts Commission’s website provides links to the different Valley neighborhoods (