I grew up surrounded by the quotidian environment of Los Angeles’s working-class San Fernando Valley. The endless tract homes, parking lots, and freeways felt incongruous with the diversity of cultures and people otherwise present. When I became inspired to study architecture, it was mostly so I could travel, see the rest of the world, and live as others do. I moved back to Los Angeles last year to find my hometown completely in the grips of massive change. As I settle into my new position as the west editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, I finally have occasion to stop and consider the nature of that change in the context of the West, overall.
In my time away, I realized that L.A. and the West have never really revolved around architecture. We have immersive landscapes, massive skies, idyllic weather, and lower economic barriers to cross than some of our East Coast counterparts, but lifestyles guide what and how people do things here, not necessarily buildings.
Partially as a result of this prevailing mindset, serious issues like prolonged drought, economic disparity, and access to housing plague the West’s urban regions. You could say these are problems in every major American city—and you would be right—but in the West, sprawl and natural resources collide in particular, peculiar ways, of which, Los Angeles is emblematic. However, a growing sense of urban, civic, and personal awareness is beginning to lead toward collective action aimed at solving some these issues.
For example, in November 2008, nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County residents voted in favor of Measure R, which increased the county sales tax to fund new transit projects region wide. Two light rail lines have been added to the existing system since then and two more are on the way. In May, the second and final phase of the Metro’s Expo Line will be complete, finally connecting Downtown to the beach at Santa Monica. Along with the physical transit increase, Measure R has also ushered in a new mindset for Angelenos, causing our expectations of this place and ourselves to shift. People are now willing to pay for a more geographically inclusive and connected region. As a result, transit-oriented development has become de rigueur and the city is quickly hybridizing its outdated suburban sprawl with high-density, urban-oriented infrastructure.
A reinvigorated youth-fueled art culture takes advantage of these new transportation options: Weekends in the city are becoming endurance events where traveling via multimodal transit is the new norm. Established art repositories like LACMA and MOCA have expanded. The Broad and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel have finally opened. And the burgeoning design scenes in Downtown’s Arts District, Hollywood, and Culver City have merged with an array of DIY art spaces to create a true creative network.
A flourishing urban ecosystem is collaborative. Ridesharing is making living here without a car possible while putting more people in the unusual position of having to share a car with strangers—perhaps decreasing the amount of personal space we all feel we need. Commuters on the metro might not know which side of the escalator to stand on yet, but it is undeniable that what is happening in the popular Los Angeles imaginary is a transition from that of me and you to a nascent form of us.
Whether you consider the skyline, the metro, or so many of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, much in L.A. is a work in progress. It is incredibly
educational and exciting to have the opportunity to cover this transformation via The Architect’s Newspaper and to do so also with an eye toward how that transformation plays out across the West overall. In taking up this new endeavor, I hope to track how the changing nature of West Coast urbanism impacts design and vice versa. It might be too early to celebrate the new West, but it is always a good time to feel hopeful. It’s good to be home!