Digest some of this wisdom, then we’ll talk about it (it’s a longish quote, but worth every word):
…I first fell in love with Los Angeles when I was 10 years old (Brit, over here). I’ve been a total of 4 times in the past 12 years, and our relationship has been a roller-coaster…
Needless to say, I fell in love all over again, and harder than ever before. It felt like a real love, a grittier love, one that had experienced hardship, that had been through the “will-they-won’t-they make it?” moment and emerged with a renewed commitment.
Reading this story felt, to me at least, like a beautiful ode to commitment. It’s easy to give up on things — places, people, dreams — based on first impressions (or even second or third ones), the chides of irrelevant others or, quite frankly, lack of effort.
And I must say, I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s nobility in suffering. If you know that shit’s not for you, get the hell out of there.
But when there’s that little part of you that thinks “if only I could make this work”, well I’ll be damned if you don’t give it your best shot.
9 times out of 10, giving it your best shot means you’ve gotta quit hanging your head, and instead be willing to pay attention and to hunt for the little nooks and cranny’s that can open you up to a whole new dimension of that person/place/thing that you weren’t previously privy to.
If this doesn’t sum up the relationship a lot of people have with Los Angeles, I’m not sure what does. Even long-time Angelenos struggle along these psycho-emotional lines.
So we get it.
We can love San Francisco and feel conflicted about Los Angeles (before we fall in love with it) at the same time.
I never understood this. I, too, was taken under by the odd Northern versus Southern California phenomenon. You somehow could never be a true San Franciscan if you openly tolerate, let alone like or love Los Angeles. There’s this prevailing idea that people from The City can’t get along with both places.
I think it’s, in part, because when people hear Los Angeles they classify it as Southern California, not LA proper. And it’s difficult to argue, massive swaths of Southern California — including considerable chunks of Los Angeles — really do suck. It’s almost objective fact, particularly if you have an affinity for cities and any type of familiarity with urban planning.
However, when you take on the LA proper mindset, you can drill down within this condensed space and pull neighborhoods — Echo Park, Silverlake, West Hollywood, Larchmont, Fairfax, Westwood, Santa Monica — and see the traditional city in them. (Weirdly maybe, I view Santa Monica as a super distinct neighborhood, rather than a city).
That’s my Los Angeles. And, while it’s not, nor should we try to make it be, San Francisco, it’s a heck of a lot closer to it — in function, form, and feel — than I thought it was when I initially hated it for no legitimate reason.
I moved to California in 1999. I landed in San Francisco. I immediately fell in love with The City. Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco is a city you instantly fall for.
Love at first sight.
With memories of time spent in Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston, San Francisco increased my interest in cities. So I enrolled in the urban studies program at San Francisco State University. I could not get enough.
Midway through my undergraduate education, I was taking masters-level classes, doing independent research, and publishing peer-reviewed academic articles.
So it made sense to pursue a PhD. I applied to three schools on the basis of their research focuses — The Ohio State University, Portland State, and University of California at Irvine. I got into all three, however Irvine was the only school to offer a free ride plus a graduate assistant stipend. Easy choice, except for —
This meant moving to Southern California. If you studied cities and city planning in the 2002–2008 time period (and, likely, before and after), you learned that Los Angeles and its surroundings illustrate everything that could be wrong with the built environment. At the time, the models for sound urban development were Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Prior to making this decision, I had one experience with Los Angeles. Over a Fourth of July weekend, my ex-wife and I drove down from San Francisco.
Horrible decision, even worse timing.
The traffic sucked and everything I saw (or thought I saw) reinforced what my education taught me — Southern California is a wasteland of sprawl and seemingly irreversible bad planning-related decisions, rooted in the car-dependent development of the early- and mid-20th Century.
Needless to say, I cried when we left San Francisco. I was prepared to hate Los Angeles, even though we initially settled in Orange County. Outside of being surrounded by a diverse and incredible group of fellow graduate students, Orange County did suck. (Sidenote: I actually lived car-free in Irvine, riding my fixed gear bike and walking everywhere, so it wasn’t that bad!)
Early in my short PhD career, I conducted ethnographic research in Downtown LA’s Skid Row. So I spent a lot of time not only there, but throughout the Los Angeles region from Downtown, through Hollywood, to Santa Monica.
Long story, short, I was indifferent for a long time.
We ended up moving to Los Feliz, a neighborhood just east of Hollywood that people say is a lot like San Francisco (it isn’t, but Silverlake — further east — is). We then settled in Santa Monica, where I lived for about eight years. I have spent the last three closer to Los Feliz, in East Hollywood.
I have come to absolutely love Los Angeles. Alice nailed it.
All I can thoughtfully add from here is that Los Angeles isn’t the type of place that hits you in the face with how incredible it is. The way you feel about this city depends almost solely on your location and how much time and effort you put into crafting your experience of this city. If you stop at what others tell you and what you think you know, you’ll wind up a blend of disappointed, ignorant, and flat wrong.
If you don’t go looking for the best neighborhoods. If you don’t seek out the potentially meaningful street corners. If you don’t engage with people and create your own story, you’re destined to shortchange yourself. Using Alice’s relationship analogy, you gotta do the work.
In Manhattan, New York’s worth hits you in the face the second you step above ground from the subway. In San Francisco, it’s impossible to not be in awe of a vast majority of its 49 square miles.
But these are traditional cities, built in different ways due to straightforward factors such as space and more complex historical ingredients. Just as we should exit the misguided business of comparing Los Angeles to New York and San Francisco (especially, San Francisco), we should stop hating on it.
Or at least turn the passionate hate down a notch.
I might start a business. You pay me to spend 48 hours in Los Angeles with you. If you still hate it when we’re through, you not only get a refund, but I’ll give you your money back times two. If you like my Los Angeles — and I’m confident you will — the next 48 hours you spend in this city is on me.