It amuses and irritates me both when TV and movie people talk about “Los Angeles” being shallow or cruel or life-changing or whatever. Los Angeles is a big American city and most people who live there are just people.They don’t go to celebrity parties, wear designer clothes, snort coke, or audition endlessly. If you are talking about the film industry, the film-making community, the celebrity culture–say so. Don’t blame Los Angeles. Grumble.
As a long-term LA resident, I think Laurie’s article really hits the nail on the head,
Except for the “without imported water LA would be a desert” thing. That’s widely believed, but untrue, Without imported water, LA would mostly turn back into the brush-covered hillsides and oak-studded grasslands that it was before Europeans arrived.
It’s a pleasant, mild mediterranean climate, not a desert.
Look at the Google Maps satellite view - to the north of LA, there’s a big brown triangle. That’s the Mohave. That’s a desert. Palmdale. Lancaster. Barstow. That big blotch in the middle is the dry lake where they first landed the Space Shuttle.
LA is on the other side of the Coast Ranges - the ocean-facing side of the mountains uplifted by the San Andreas Fault that run along the bottom edge of the brown Mohave triangle.
What LA doesn’t have is enough water for a population of multiple millions. (Or the lush gardens and lawns they like). Its namesake river’s watershed is only barely larger than the city itself.
That river could support maybe a quarter of a million people. Add in the other two somewhat larger rivers that drain the Coast Ranges and water the coastal plain, the San Gabriel and the Santa Ana, and the total carrying capacity of the area is maybe one million people, tops.
About 12 million people live on those watersheds today. That requires imported water.
Large cities in pleasant Mediterranean climates have been sustaining themselves on imported water since the Romans first built aqueducts. Los Angeles is a long, long way from unique in that regard.
But no matter how you slice it, it’s not a desert.
I disagree. It’s a desert if you slice it from the perspective of an Englishman.
Only an Englishman unfamiliar with deserts. An Englishman who’s been to Khartoum would know better.
Also, if we slice it like cake, it is definitely dessert.
City of Angel cake?
This Englishman doesn’t love LA. Spent time working in Palmdale and Victorville, wandered into the city a couple of times (Getty museum - stunning architecture, most boring art collection ever). Just a massive sprawl. I like my cities a little more contained and walkable. The area is great, I loved Death Valley and Joshua Tree but the city left me cold.
Now SF, I’d love to live in, and San Diego seemed nice. Otherwise I’ll stick to the north end of the best coast.
I think he must have seen me on my early morning walks.
I have always said, Los Angeles is a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there. It is a city that opens up over time and rewards taking a different route every day.
Every time I get home from somewhere else, though, I think it is a dusty, depressing place. I think years of being unloved has given LA an inferiority complex and this is most revealed in the architecture we present to newcomers. Awful, awful places. Airports, freeways and bus terminals are irredeemably ugly here. Hope is on the horizon with the quickly improving rail system which has brought planners from other cities with more history and experience at this kind of thing which has lead to some promising improvements.
Los Angeles is going through a big shift right now. It is pretty exciting to watch it happen after fifty years of flight from “blight” people are returning to downtown and an urban attitude has set in all over the city. What outsiders don’t see are the huge transit oriented developments along the boulevards and slowly encompassing network of light rail and subway that is snaking its way among the low rises. My younger coworkers take pride in being bus and train riders. Which is an excellent strategy to take when you are forced by circumstance and a limping economy to count the slight savings as important enough to inconvenience yourself to that extent. Another ten years and it will be a different city. Life and work will be closer together and everything you need will be within walking distance. In the meantime a construction junkie like me is saucer-eyed all the time.
I love it. As has been mentioned above, it’s not really a place to visit, but it is certainly a place to live if you have the resources to do it. It’s not just about the city, it’s the place. I’ve lived for extended periods in NYC and LA, among other large cities, and New York is unparalleled as a city, but as a place it’s just not the same. LA has LIGHT! And that light feels so good, 365 days a year. Sure, LA doesn’t measure up to New York in plenty of ways, but when I walk out of my door in LA, in February, and you can see the entire city, feel the breeze coming from the ocean, enjoy the sun’s warmth and a lunch out-doors… nothing like it.
"Oh, what a rush of ripe élan
Languor on divans
Dalliant and dainty
But, oh, the smell of burnt cocaine
The dolor and decay
It only makes me cranky…
I love it when Hugh Laurie writes something thoughtful, personal and insightful like this. It means he isn’t singing.
I actually live in San Diego but I love downtown/K-town LA and I think it’s a shame most tourists think LA is just the outermost sprawly parts. There really is a core walkable part of the city with interesting shops and restaurants and architecture – and it’s the cool part than you may recognize from 1940s film noir. Yes, from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, it tended to be a bit sketchy there, but now it’s reasonably safe.
It’s the same problem with any city associated with a “thing”. I used to live in Washington, DC. but had nothing to do with government, lobbyists or any of that stuff. It’s a city. I have friends who live in Las Vegas, but they aren’t blackjack dealers, cocktail waitresses or whatever.
I moved from Santa Barbara to Silicon Valley to DC and I’ve never been glamorous, rich, or important. My main memory of the Santa Barbara beach is the smell of rotting kelp.
Sucks to live in those communities east of it, though, where its air pollution travels and gets trapped into a choking smog by mountains.
Someone once complained to me about Los Angeles using all of Northern California’s water. I replied that we could all move up there if he thought that would improve things. Ha, pretty funny? He hasn’t spoken to me since.
I would just build a wall, make you all stay, ration your water, and force severe measures of water conservation on you and on the agricultural industry.
Hey, that’s true… just as it sucks to live in the urban wasteland of deep Queens or Brooklyn, or certain near parts of New Jersey, under gray winter skies, pollution, and long rides to get to the parts where all of the “action” is. No doubt, you have to have a certain amount of money to get the best out of these cities, which is unfortunate.
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