Dear New Yorkers: Stop Shitting on Los Angeles
Manhattan can still be great, even if you end up letting yourself love Los Angeles
People have unrealistic expectations of Los Angeles. This is okay. The first time I visited — Fourth of July weekend in, like, the year 2000 or something — Los Angeles let me down. Traveling the coast from San Francisco, I instantly swore off Southern California as an inferior mess to the Northern portion of the state.
Like others who came to the same or similar conclusion, I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I started living in Los Angeles that I developed a better understanding of the city and came to love it. This happens to most people who move here, particularly from other large cities. They go as far as loving Los Angeles or, somewhere between love and happy toleration.
In this article, I briefly chronicle this shift in mindset and discuss the one group of Los Angeles transplants who can’t seem to stop shitting on this fine and refreshingly odd city.
I lived in San Francisco for seven years. I have a degree in urban studies. I spent two years in an urban planning PhD program. I’m obsessed with cities and their built environments. I love traditional cities like San Francisco and New York.
Most city lovers hate Los Angeles before they ever set foot in the place. It’s tough to love — or even like — Los Angeles at first glance, based largely on that blind first impression and your preconceived notion of what a city should be.
To a hardcore urbanist, Los Angeles is the antithesis of everything you think you (apparently) know and (should) love about cities. It’s not San Francisco. It’s not New York. It’s not even Toronto or Portland. Chicago even feels more urban when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Instead of backing away from the false comparisons, we double down and say stupid stuff like, “LA sucks.”
But it’s only a matter of time. Los Angeles sucks until it doesn’t.
You must experience Los Angeles to fully appreciate it. It’s the one place we let people form opinions of even if they’ve never been here or taken the time to experience it. We think we know Los Angeles, even if we’ve never met and become intimate with it.
You come around to Los Angeles and fall in love with it once you understand the historical and practical reasons why it’s physically different than traditional cities. At this juncture, you discover that, like San Francisco and New York, Los Angeles really is a city of neighborhoods. You’ll never learn this by watching television, reading on the internet, or even talking to people who live here, but refuse to explore.
Yes, you can pleasantly walk what ends up a quintessentially urban Los Angeles if you sample it in bite size chunks rather than attempt to swallow it as one massive metropolis. This makes sense.
Who starts in Silicon Valley, walks north along the 101, and concludes San Francisco sucks? Who visits Queens and writes off Manhattan? Nobody. But hundreds of people do the equivalent with Los Angeles. They don’t know Los Angeles proper. They have no on-the-ground conception — formed over time and direct experience — of what they might define as Los Angeles proper.
They refuse to view Southern California as a region. Los Angeles as one city in that region. And Los Angeles proper as a series of cores — some more traditionally urban than others.
My classification of Los Angeles proper is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the 101 to the north, somewhere between the 10 and 105 to the south, and somewhere around the 5 to the east. This is my Los Angeles. (Some people will take rightful exception to my borders. I’ll explain how/why I set them in a future article. It’s an innocent sketch, based on time, experience, and, admittedly and undoubtedly, privilege).
Love it or happily tolerate it, most people come to grips with Los Angeles. A sizable chunk of “most people” never leave. And, to the delight of those of us who love Los Angeles, they stop complaining about it. Then there are those who never stop complaining.
My unscientific longitudinal study tells me that a majority of the people who never stop complaining about Los Angeles are transplanted New Yorkers. An extra annoying subset of transplanted New Yorkers do more than just complain; they routinely shit on Los Angeles.
They don’t expect too much. They just expect something Los Angeles isn’t and can never be. They tend to most often miss the most critical reality — Los Angeles has absolutely zero interest in being what a native New Yorker wants and expects.
It’s our human tendency to want to grow, evolve, and experience all of the good things at the same time as undoing the “bad.” This is not realistic. And the “bad” isn’t necessarily “bad,” particularly if it basically had to happen to lead to the good.
When I write about money (like above), I talk a lot about how we do life — practically and psychologically. Inextricable links exist between all of the above — money and life, the practical and psychological. The same goes for how we view cities, particularly conundrums such as Los Angeles.
It’s difficult for people, particularly urbanists, to reconcile their beliefs about cities and what Los Angeles actually is. They want to eliminate what they think is bad about Los Angeles while keeping what they deem good. This contingent of New Yorkers do this more than any of the settlers we welcome into our city with open arms.
It starts small. They say the pizza sucks. (It doesn’t). They claim you can’t get a good bagel. (Also, not true). These false claims become legend. Legions of New Yorkers bond hard over this shit. The way the densest Trump supporters rally around absurd notions of election fraud.
The fable keeps getting bigger. They claim you can’t walk in Los Angeles. (False). They say you have to drive everywhere. (Also a lie). They say the traffic sucks. (It does. But it’s not as bad as New York, and at least not by much when it is). They say the architecture sucks. (Couldn’t be more untrue). They hate the strip malls. (You get used to them and they’re going away!).
I’m not denying that shitty parts of Los Angeles exist. They certainly do. However, if you know and love cities you know this isn’t exclusive to Los Angeles. Just as Manhattan and Brooklyn require the less urban and sometimes suburban places that surround them, Los Angeles proper needs the sprawling San Fernando Valley and endless car-dependent boulevards to the south and east to help define and make sense of its core.
I wish this segment of New Yorkers would drop the insecurities they have and let themselves experience Los Angeles. They might like it. And we wouldn’t say, “New York sucks because you like Los Angeles.” We will always love New York, because it’s New York. It stands on its own. It doesn’t have to be better or worse than any other place to be independently great.
You get to loving Los Angeles — as a lover of more traditional cities — when you block out what doesn’t fit your definition of what a city should be.
Initially, you blow off the Valley or the Northeast neighborhoods or South LA without giving these places a chance. You do to Los Angeles proper’s fringe what you did to Los Angeles proper before you actually commenced a lived experience there. You stop shitting on Los Angeles only to shit on these places that surround the core you have come to terms with or, in my case, come to love.
Then, slowly but surely, you end up having to visit places like Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Pasadena, Eagle Rock, USC, deep South LA. Life — maybe a girlfriend, work, or a show — begrudgingly takes you to these places. Once you actually set foot in these cities and districts, you eventually stop hating them. You go through the same process you did with your mental map of Los Angeles proper.
You see how Los Angeles proper connects to the Valley via interesting in-between neighborhoods and beautiful, winding roads such as Coldwater and Laurel Canyons or Mullholland Drive. You appreciate how the 2 extends from Echo Park and bisects Atwater Village and Glassell Park, Glendale and Eagle Rock/Highland Park, and Burbank and Pasadena on the way to the mountains, surrounded by hills and more interesting stuff than you’ll ever be able to see, no matter how long you live here.
You get to truly know Los Angeles — proper and its bigger, surprisingly interconnected picture. To get to know Los Angeles is to eventually love it. Unconditionally. Blemishes, birthmarks, nostalgic New Yorkers, and all.
It’s even more of a rush when you see Los Angles undoing so much of what makes urbanists hate it in the first place. We’re constructing smart, well-appointed, and, dare I say, nice-looking, mixed-use developments across Los Angeles — proper and environs. This development replaces poorly and under-utilized land such as parking lots, the aforementioned strip malls, and low-rise single-family homes and apartment complexes.
I have talked to Los Angeles natives and transplants from all over the world (including New York) who have gone through or are more than willing to go through this or a similar process of acclimation to Los Angeles. They want to form their own conception of Los Angeles proper, then organically have it sync with the experiences they end up having in the places that surround it.
Why bother shitting on everything but the weather if you’re going to live here and benefit from the endless opportunities — professional and personal — Southern California has to offer? Why bother, unless of course, you’re part of this contingent of New Yorkers who refuse to actively seek good pizza and bagels. Because if they somehow discovered that you can get good pizza and bagels in almost (though not) every Los Angeles neighborhood, their perverse New York dream of superiority would die.