Has L.A. changed since the 90s?
June 12, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Has the Los Angeles area changed between the 1990s and today, in terms of the culture and overall "feel" of the region? When I lived there in the 90s, I felt like L.A. had become a harder, more hostile place than I remembered from my younger years, with heightened racial tensions and a generally meaner attitude. (Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't -- this was just my perception.) I'm interested to hear from anyone who's lived there over the last 15-20 years what changes they've seen, if any, in the culture, and if my impressions from the 90s reflected the norm or were more negative than most Angelenos'.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
When I lived there in the 90’s it indeed seemed hard and hostile, more so the early 90’s. I spent a lot of time being aware of my surroundings. It doesn’t feel that way to me now even though it looks exactly the same, except older. It’s not like they fixed the place up. I’m still not crazy about it, but it doesn’t seem as scary.
posted by bongo_x at 1:14 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a native Angeleno, LA has changed a lot since the early 90s. The early 90s were Rodney King and a lot of hard times. When I was growing up in the 80s/90s, LA was really divided by every criteria you could throw at it – as if people were looking for reasons not to get along. I recall everything being very segmented.

The late 80s and 90s were tough for Los Angeles, primarily due to a lot of the white flight to Orange County, Riverside, and the Valleys. The urban core was left in shambles to some degree. I recall getting off the freeway in downtown Los Angeles at 1:00am in 1994 – wrong freeway exit. We were in an open-top Jeep. Sitting at a red light, a police officer pulled up next to us and said to keep going to the freeway entrance, about three blocks. "Don't stop at any other red lights, just keep going." There were fires burning in trash cans; it looked very post-apocolypic. That was not far from where the Staples Centre is now.

Many things have changed in the intervening period. The core has been rebuilt; Hollywood has been revitalised. The rise of hip-hop, reality TV, global pop cultural domination, and the hipster all have contributed to this I think. It is as if the entire city was living with other people's imported stereotypes and differences. That reached a fevered pitch in the 1990s with Rodney King and the second set of race riots. The city was literally consuming itself.

Then the hipster and blingy hip-hip arrives – well, white and black hipster culture. Ever since, it's as if LA massively chilled out and got on with it, finally developing a culture and an identity of it's own. The rise of the global media age and digital media certainly have helped.

Previous to 2000s, Los Angeles didn't really have a codified identity. It had a bunch of individual identities. Since it was founded and came to maturity in the 50s and 60s, most people were transplants from other places. They came alone or they came in small communities. They brought with them certain prejudices and ways of being.

My generation (from the 80s) really grew up in a heyday for LA, as the kids of the 70s/80s/90s were the first generation really born there. And when we looked around, we didn't have the same divisions as our parents – the same stereotypes. We saw seventy miles of opportunity in every direction. We were part of the giant culture mashup. Certainly the diversity in Los Angeles is that of New York, if you are in Silverlake and not Pasadena. If you are in Venice Beach and not Newport Beach.

The Los Angeles I return to now (ten years out) is a brilliant place that seems to have found it's own identity in many ways, and it seems less... impulsive and jumpy. Even watching 80s films about Los Angeles (Night of the Comet anyone) there's always this theme of the immediate moment. As a city without a history, LA has always been immediate and instantaneous. That's what people love about it – and crave about it. Yet, previous to the first generation born and rooted there, that immediacy was always a bit threatening. Nothing is ever real; nothing ever lasts. It's always the same day. It's a constant moment.

Now, the city seems at home with that – even thriving on it. When I return now, the entire place seems much more at home in itself, as the most recent generation is growing up with a strong sense of community, than the previous generations.
posted by nickrussell at 1:36 PM on June 12, 2012 [33 favorites]

I wasn't here in the 90s so I can't really say how it has changed. I will say that my perception of LA shifted quite a bit from my initial experience: westside without a car, then with a car, then moving to assorted areas northwest of downtown (Echo Park/E Hollywood) that were much more transit/pedestrian/bike friendly and ditching my car.

Hostile is definitely not a word I'd use to describe my experience of living here. Once I ditched the car I felt a lot less detached from the city. Riding a bike especially has changed my experience. The lower on the SES scale the neighborhood is, the more likely people are going to yell something along lines of "woohoo bikes!" instead of the usual "get off the road!" I get in fancier places.

I wouldn't call it hostile, but there are still plenty of korean establishments that won't let you in unless you appear korean. But then there's also places like california market where they stock both korean and central american groceries.

On a separate note, there is a hell of a lot less gun violence now compared to the 90s.

Also areas like ktown, echo park, highland park, hollywood and boyle heights are going through varying degrees of gentrification. Homes sell for over a million in echo park these days.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in LA from the mid-80's through the late 90's. Definitely agree with voices here.

It's important to remember that there was a recession in the early 90's. There were a lot of empty strip malls and long-stable industries like defense got hammered, affecting white-collar and blue-collar workers both. It always felt like Los Angeles took a while to recover, especially because those well-paying jobs were never really replaced. Things did get a lot better in the late 90's and early 00's.

The gentrification of downtown, reversing some of the white-flight, has had a major impact on softening the city core, though there are still plenty of sketchy neighborhoods. Even areas like South Central have undergone a demographic shift towards Hispanic and Southeast Asian immigrants. And for various reasons, the massive gang violence of the 80's slowly dropped off throughout the 90's.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:52 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My teen years were in LA; I left in 1994 for the Coast Guard. I came back in 1998 for college, living first in OC for a couple years and then splitting myself between Long Beach and Torrance until I left for Seattle in 2004. I remember Rodney King and the riots very well, and found them and LA/OC history in general to be a major focus for me as a history major. I get to go back once in awhile.

I have to agree that the city seems to have mellowed over the years. When I taught there, I found students to be more accepting of one another across ethnic lines. I saw MANY interracial friendships and couples in the high schools. There was, as has been mentioned, a general reduction in violence.

I still love it and I still miss it; I just love Seattle more. I have lots of metaphors and analogies for those feelings, but... meh. I don't really worry about my hometown anymore except in terms of CA's state budget. I could not accept the living conditions of a single teacher in LA, so I don't regret leaving. It's a gorgeous place, and whenever I imagine characters in a story driving off to their happy ending and their place in the sun, they're headed for LA.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:57 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've lived in L.A. and L.A. county most of my life. My perception is that it's the least hostile now than it's ever been in my lifetime. I wouldn't exactly call it a friendly place. I've always found attitudes more... indifferent... in a good way.

I know folks from elsewhere who feel L.A. is hostile, in that nobody seems to care about anyone else. I think part of that perception is that indifference, and part is that these are people who are loathe to venture much without the automobile and remain in a kind of self isolation when visiting.

FWIW, crime rates have fallen over the last twenty years notably. Violent crime rates are lower now than they were when I was born in 1967.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:01 PM on June 12, 2012

I didn't move here til the late '90s, but things have definitely gotten better in several ways.

One notable thing is the relationship of the LAPD and the community, which has done an amazing 180 to the point where the LAPD is now widely approved-of across all demographics, and help up as a model for other police departments(!!)

The thing about "racial problems" in L.A. is they always had so so much to do with the police. Despite what you see in massively stupid works of fiction like "Crash," 95% of the time the most striking thing about race relations in L.A. is how well everyone gets along, and how people barely give race a second thought.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:02 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

And as far as overall feel, the thing that has always struck me about L.A. is how absurdly friendly* everyone is for a big city. I smile at strangers now, I never would have thought of doing that before moving here.

Of course, this is coming from a large-ish East Coast city. Your experience may vary if you're coming from, say, a Dakota.

*And not because they're "phony," as the cliche would have it. Some people are phony here, but then some people are phony wherever humans live.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:07 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I moved to Southern California (Pasadena, now Long Beach) from rural Northern California (Redding area) in the late 1980s and have been here ever since. It didn't seem hostile then, just frickin' HUGE and overwhelming.

And it doesn't seem hostile now.

Maybe the OP can unpack what's meant by "hostile" in a little more detail?
posted by notyou at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2012

I moved from K-town in the mid-aughts to WeHo. There was a drive-by on my street in k-town just before I moved, but there have been at least 3 significant murders I can think of in the past 5 years within walking distance to my home in weho, which have had connections to myself or friends - 2 were gun murders, one was a fatal stabbing.

When I moved to LA in the early aughts, there was a highway sniper thing going on.

Oddly, I don't have similar stories or many close calls with danger from the over 20+ years I spent in NYC, mostly lower Manhattan. And I was a club promoter way back when. (Oops. There was someone I worked with that famously went to jail for murdering someone. But, that was over drugs and drama, not at all like the one-on-one random acts of violence I reported above.)

I was out in LA in the mid-90's. It was tension. I remember feeling very shocked at the hard and divisive vibe, since it sorta didn't go with the "sunny beach and happy times" feeling I was expecting.

NYC has always felt safer to me, even in really really bad neighborhoods, so that's my ultimate comparison. Now that you bring it up, though, I'm wondering why I have carried a better impression of WeHo all this time, when really, it's just as dodgy as any other 'hood in LA, violence-wise.
posted by jbenben at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2012

Best answer: *And not because they're "phony," as the cliche would have it. Some people are phony here, but then some people are phony wherever humans live.

I tried not to double up on this one; I really did. Even going as far as to make a loaf of bread. Yet there is so much unsaid. Perhaps beginning with 'cray cray' will provide the moderators with plausible deniability for a deletion.

In order to understand Los Angeles, one first must understand San Francisco.

San Francisco came of age in the late 1800s, partially in response to the gold rush. The Sierras were so rich in metals and minerals, the rise of a Western capital of the United States was inevitable. And it wasn't only San Francisco, the boom extended as far East as Carson City (and later Reno) in Nevada. As the West was the frontier at the time, the typical laws and traditions did not apply to the nascent communities in San Francisco. What today is the liberal bastion of the United States began life as a town of resource money and new power. The liberal nature of San Francisco came, in part, because "the law" was a continent away. The robber-barrons that founded San Francisco essentially founded the type of city one would found if they were 1) frontiersmen, wary of social law and desirous of opportunity, and 2) that type of character modified with an extreme amount of wealth.

Once the railroad was completed (with that famous golden spike in Ogden, Utah, the lore of grammar school history classes), San Francisco began importing 'immigrants' from the East Coast. A gold rush isn't restricted geographically, and thus simultaneously there was also a growing population of Chinese and Mexican immigrants as well.

The East Coast of the United States had readily imported the class systems from Europe, modifying some aspects whilst maintaining others. It's quite an interesting pattern when you think about it. The Europeans that came to the New World were the most opportunistic of that society. Upon arriving here, they kept the parts of European class society which favoured them and discarded those that did not. As the East Coast of the United States took root, the most opportunistic people in that new society then headed West. In both of these migrations, the opportunistic factions are often the middle classes – those with enough resources to make an attempt at finding something better, yet not enough resources to be settled for life.

Previous to the railroad, San Francisco was a military outpost on a map. The gold rush brought the railroad and the railroad brought legitimacy.

A quick point of historical reference is that Los Angeles was the original capital of Mexican California. There's a California rumour that it was then moved to San Francisco, with Sacramento as a final compromise. Apparently it's quite common for non-European countries to separate political and financial power centres. Given the current glory of the European economic situation, it's hard to imagine why.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s came the first generation of American Californians in San Francisco. They were a diverse group – the most opportunistic of East Coast Americans (which were the most opportunistic of Europeans) blended with opportunistic Mexicans and Chinese. San Francisco quickly became a power centre of the United States, primarily because of it's access to natural resources on the coasts and in the Sierras, and access to Pacific trade routes.

Los Angeles started growing as well, although it's claim to fame was not resources or trade at first, but land and weather. The movie studios based themselves in Los Angeles for two reasons, the first was the weather that allowed shooting throughout the year, and the second is that they were quite far from their creditors and investors. The latter is key if you are building a capital intensive industry with an output dependent upon consumer taste.

This was the basis of California's rise as the intellectual property capital of the world. Today, Northern California generates intellectual property in the form of software; Southern California generates intellectual property in the form of media and entertainment. It's a simple equation really. Make something once, and charge for each additional copy, which has little marginal cost.

Hence one of the reasons that the Los Angeles economy has thrived in the digital age. Movies and music have always been profitable, however there used to be more hard costs – film strips, records, CDs, media. With the advent of digital distribution, a significant cost has been removed from the value chain. Thanks to Los Angeles' monarchy over the music and film industries for almost a century, there is a lot of momentum built up in terms of the networks, talent, and knowledge. Whilst that is slowly eroding, the intellectual capital represented in Los Angeles has never been doing as well as it is at the present moment (regardless of what the RIAA and MPAA would say).

Along comes Hollywood to early 1900s Los Angeles and the entertainment capital of the world is born. As film is the newest and most powerful for of intellectual property present after religion and books, the area quickly becomes quite wealthy. That spawns supporting communities catering to the 'new' gold rush – that of entertainment. Los Angeles actually turns out to be a wonderful place for a lot of things. Agriculture, military activity, and tourism.

And there is a unique feature of Los Angeles compared to other economically-power US cities. It is a coastal city without significant geographic or climatic inhibitions. The similar states in this respect are Texas and Florida. New York and San Francisco are wonderful cities, however they share geographic challenges in common. One has to get around – or over – bodies of water, and there are essentially lots of natural boundaries for growing communities. Great for segmentation and differentiation; not so great for populism and accessibility.

With a railroad link that eventually runs through Utah to Chicago, Los Angeles comes into it's own. With San Francisco, there's a lot of Bay to navigate and a 'new' old guard to contend with. Los Angeles is the next frontier. The final frontier of the continental United States in many ways.

The city booms in the 30s and 40s. Water is a problem (go watch Chinatown). Yet Southern California has weather and land – and both in ample quantities. The aforementioned industries, entertainment, agriculture, military, and tourism, create a boom economy effect. Film noir is born in a metropolis that is Gotham without the darkness. Los Angeles is an odd blend of luminaries, opportunists, predators, and misfits. And then there are two key developments that cement Los Angeles as a new economic capital on par with her older sisters of San Francisco and Chicago.

The first was World War II, when the West Coast of the United States becomes the Western frontier. The coasts are fortified with military money and minds. New weapon system development occurs in the deserts. Until this point, the East Coast had always been the heart of the United States. It was closer to homelands in Europe and had a richer tradition, and therefore was the seat of the vision of the United States. With the advent of the war, suddenly California was not only economically relevant but also strategically important. Manifest destiny was complete.

The freewheeling spirit of Northern California had attracted the eccentric geniuses that populated Stanford and Berkeley. Thus, Los Angeles became the factory that built the weapons created in their labs.

The war wrapped up. The previous industrial nations in Europe and Asia were decimated. The United States and Russia remained as the world economic powers. To the victor go the spoils. One result of military technology in World War II was the development of reliable automotive transportation systems. Whilst Los Angles had previously existed in the boundaries from Pasadena to Santa Monica to San Pedro, that was a fraction of the available land. With the advent of the middle-class automobile, Los Angeles came into it's own.

Immigration flowed into California in the 50s and 60s. The builders could not build fast enough for the new families of the baby boomers, many deployed serviceman who had remained after their service. San Francisco retained a heritage within the 7x7 miles of the peninsula and expanded around the bay (there's a reason Silicon Valley is in San Jose and not The City). There was a vision of San Francisco dictated by the traditions that had been established there and that traditions – like those of Manhattan – were reinforced by geographical boundaries.

In Los Angeles, there were no geographic boundaries, thus there was no protection for a singular vision. Expansion occurred everywhere, starting with the sand dunes along the beaches and continuing South, through the Orange groves. Without a codified centre for a vision of the area, the place became immediate, shaped writ large by the present population. On the East Coast, communities developed along ethnic or heritage lines, in part because of native languages. A generation or two later, the dominant language was English. Thus, by the time everyone reached Los Angeles, English was the common language and the enclaves were much less present than previous.

There still were/are enclaves. Armenians live in Glendale, Pico-Robertson as a Jewish corridor, a strong contingent of Persian ancestry in Beverly Hills, however these grouping were not as much geographic as conceptual. Yet, for the first and second generations, they felt very real and people tended to cluster.

The automobile enabled movement around the entire area relatively easily and quickly. Wilshire Boulevard was envisioned as a horizontal downtown that catered to the automobile. The entire city catered to the automobile. So successful was the development of the car and the city that it required freeways to be built in the 60s...

And the freeways were a source of the Los Angeles of the 80s and 90s. The freeways enabled tremendous white flight from the core of the city into the bedroom communities being built in every direction. That destroyed the core of the city and any common identity it had. Going back to the ethnic groups present, whilst there were not geographic barriers presented in Los Angeles, neither were there geographic protections from those barriers. Everything may have been a bit too comfortable and accessible for people with strong attachments to their 'us' and 'them' mentalities. White flight moved populations – and more importantly tax spending – away from the old urban centre.

In the 70s and 80s, central Los Angeles fell into extreme disrepair. Many people that worked in the city simply got on the freeway in Malibu and off in downtown, bypassing the wreckage that was developing in between. The poor parts of the city became very poor, as bedroom communities segmented and incorporated. There was a very strong sense of 'out of sight, out of mind' and whilst the wealth of the region continued to grow, those at its core did not participate. Fortunately, they had cars, so they could share their displeasure with the economic imbalances with those in the surrounding communities, thus leading to the rise of gated communities.

As there were not natural barriers, artificial barriers were erected. And barriers had a lot to do with the roots of the problem. In most places people came from, their were either natural barriers or entrenched cultural/societal barriers. In Los Angeles, there simply were not any barriers beyond the ones that were created or constructed. Distance had been a barrier, but with the car, no longer.

Thus in the 70s and 80s, things got very bad. Wealth inequity grew, and the solution was never to solve the inequity, but rather move further away. Or put up another gate outside the suburb. Gangster rap is a perfect example of that phenomenon. Everything peaked with Rodney King, as mentioned.

Since then, everything's been getting better. Thus we can ask why?

Whilst Rodney King was decisive for the city, it was more decisive for the adults than the children. The children were the next generation of opportunists, after the opportunists that came during the war, after the opportunists that came from San Francisco, after the opportunists that went West, after the opportunists that came from Europe.

Rodney King was an explosion of latent anger – and in that latency, many people's children had formed friendships across races and classes. Television also helped, as television was the ultimate democratic medium in terms of economics – it doesn't matter where you're from as long as you are good looking. So if we are to sketch it out:

1) Post WWII: Influx of population
2) Advent of automobile: Development of suburbs
3) Advent of freeways: white flight to suburbs
4) Destruction of urban core: Watts Riots
5) Period of latent hostility: Cold War
6) Breaking point: Rodney King

The younger generation who were children during Rodney King already had implicit identities as being natives from Los Angeles. The majority of their parents were from somewhere else, either local or distant. They made statements like "I live in Los Angeles, but I'm from xxx." In my generation, we weren't "from" anywhere. We were from Los Angeles.

With Rodney King, we saw our community destroying itself. I watched the Rodney King riots with an African American friend, a couple Mexican friends, a few white friends, and a few Asian kids. We were all from Los Angeles. Our parents were from different places both in the United States and out, but we were all from Los Angeles and we saw our city being destroyed. We saw poor white people attacking poor black people, and we watched this surrounded by the other race.

That period was a wake up call for Los Angeles, when it finally stopped being a mix of people from other places and finally the first generation that had really grown up there with a concrete Los Angeles identity formed. There were people there before, but there was such a constant influx of immigration, that the signal was often lost in the noise, so to speak.

From the mid 90s onward, I have seen a Los Angeles rise out of the ruins of those riots in 1992 I am proud of. A city of art, culture, intelligent thought, racial integration, and opportunity. It's got it's fair share of problems, I'm not saying it's Valhalla, but the 1990s and 2000s have been kind to Los Angeles, for it's finally over it's teens and into it's twenties, so to speak, in it's city maturation process.

It's very easy to forget that London has had 1,000 years to develop. New York has had 300. San Francisco has had 175 or so. Yet Los Angeles is barely even 100 years in. And it grew so quickly, like a metropolitan puppy with big paws. It stumbled and fell all over them, before finally finding it's stride and grade.

And whilst this is by no means an official or even reasonably cogent history of Los Angeles, California or anything else, hopefully it will connect how the speed of the city's growth and lack of natural geographic boundaries prevented it from naturally developing a cohesive identity. It wasn't until the boundaries finally settled into semi-permanance and the growth levelled off that it could content – it was forced to content – with creating an identity for itself.

And the identity it is creating for itself is simply wonderful. As an Angeleno, I couldn't be prouder. And I still introduce myself as being from Los Angeles, ten years later on and living in Europe. Not America, not California, but Los Angeles. A generation ago, nobody really knew what that meant. They said, "I live in Los Angeles... but I'm from..."

Naw, dog, I'm from LA.

And there's heaps of reasons it got better. Economic changes, macroeconomic changes, removing a lot of corruption from the LAPD and LAUSD, a Black mayor, a Latino mayor, the rise of Asia, and everything else. But fundamentally underlying all of those developments and changes is that it finally became "a place" rather than "a place to be"; a home instead of a house.

Damn, I'm proud of my city.
posted by nickrussell at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2012 [129 favorites]

Is "nickrussell" a pseudonym for Mike Davis or something?
Wow, that was an awesome post.
I doff my cap to ya, sir.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:13 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mmm, well, L.A. is still "a place to be" to a very large extent. Maybe even moreso than ever. For me and almost everyone I knew growing up, it was just "a place". Back in the 70s. But me and everyone I knew was just a tiny representation of the city. And still is.

Things did reach a nadir around the time of Rodney King and the riots. But they did in large cities around the country, too. Los Angeles, like much of the rest of the country, has seen hostility fall in the time since then. As a breaking point, the Rodney King events are coincidental.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:16 PM on June 12, 2012

@2N2222: Back in the 70s. But me and everyone I knew was just a tiny representation of the city. And still is.

I did think about that after posting. There have been generations of people in Los Angeles before, obviously. I think the extension of my point is that until the 90s/00s, the identity of the city was very fluid and not concrete. There was no singular vision for Los Angeles beyond the freeway system. There were lots of little areas and pockets; little kingdoms and communities...

Things did reach a nadir around the time of Rodney King and the riots. But they did in large cities around the country, too. Los Angeles, like much of the rest of the country, has seen hostility fall in the time since then. As a breaking point, the Rodney King events are coincidental.

I completely disagree. Rodney King woke the city up to the fact that it was not a loose confederation of independent jurisdictions, but in fact a large city with substantial systemic problems. That is the identity I speak of, a cohesive vision for Los Angeles. Much like New York has a vision of itself that encapsulates the five boroughs, it's not simply five boroughs. It's a great identity. Similar to how Greater London has an endless number of local councils, yet a vision of what London is. Los Angeles never really had that until recently, and in my mind, that was the major change. And part of the reason it occurred was that it spread as far as it possibly could spread. People were commuting two hours in each direction; their lives literally divorced from the city itself.

As the backlash of the exburbs came and people started moving back into the core and rehabilitating it, they also began developing a singular vision of Los Angeles as a proper city, rather than a bunch of loosely-affiliated satellite communities.
posted by nickrussell at 2:34 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Again, the Rodney King era is a local milestone, but entirely coincidental. Places like NYC simultaneously turned around at the same time seemingly due to a confluence of factors that are debated to this day, but don't credit the Rodney King strife much, if at all.

The city core didn't revive because of some sense of renewed civic duty. It revived because it was ripe for revival: long neglected and undervalued, demand for redevelopment made it look attractive again. The same reason people migrated back in. The interesting thing here is that it didn't come at the expense of the exurbs. The exurbs still experienced growth that didn't slow down until the economic slowdown that affected everything.

A part of Los Angeles that really does seem to fit your description better is the northern exurb of L.A. county. A geographically isolated area in the high desert that experienced unbelievable amounts of growth during the Cold War due to defense spending. For a few decades, the areas of Palmdale and Lancaster were inhabited by a largely transient population, there to take advantage of well paid short term contractual work, was a stepping stone for the upwardly mobile, the thrifty. It's only been in the last ten or fifteen years or so, with the influx of large amounts of middle class immigrants from the San Fernando Valley looking to settle, that the region has had a more cohesive identity emerge, along with a local economy that might be more self sustaining and permanent, rather than the company town mentality it used to have.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:31 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A quick point of historical reference is that Los Angeles was the original capital of Mexican California.

Well, there were several Californias.

Las Californias, an original province of New Spain, had its territorial capital at Loreto.

When the province of Alta California was split off from Baja and Baja Sur in 1769, its capital was Monterey.

Later, in 1835, Mexico declared LA a city and made it the capital of Alta California.

Once the US took California over after the Mexican-American War, it went through a series of capitals (San Jose, Vallejo, and Benecia), before finally settling on Sacramento.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

@nickrussell - very interesting post. i grew up in LA in the 70s and 80s (by '87 i was gone) and... i hate LA for all of the stuff leading up to the rodney king riots. in my mind it's still that city and it's good to hear that it's improved and changed into something better.
posted by joeblough at 9:58 AM on June 13, 2012

The L.A. sprawl and the sense of disconnectedness between the various named cities is in part due to the former popularity of the "Lakewood Plan" model, in which exurbs and edge cities seceded or separately incorporated and then contracted with the County (or each other) for services. Since the housing bubble collapsed, and current paradigms regarding urban development have shifted, the tide has turned.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2012

Also, the orange groves and agriculture, water wars, etc. predated Hollywood and the like. An interesting early chapter of CA legal history involves how the Spanish land grants held by the Californios were formalized and divvied up. Most of LA sits on various former Ranchos, as become clear pretty quickly looking at assessors maps.

Also interesting is LA's former electric railcar system, the palimpsest of which is evident in the alignment of LA's major boulevards and avenues, and whose right-of-ways are being reclaimed to return light rail to the city.

From WWII and onwards, Southern California had a huge tech and manufacturing presence as the home of the aerospace industry. It has not always been so purely IP-centric.

There is no freeway from Malibu, at least not until you get the 10 from PCH, and not many people live there and commute all the way downtown.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2012

Apropos to the 1990's to today, there's a few big reasons - crime is down, and crack cocaine is no longer a major issue. The number of drive-by shootings and murders in general - four in the City of Los Angeles alone every day, and another four to five on average in the rest of the County - were huge in the 90's. In addition, smog is essentially gone, and there are no longer air pollution warnings most summer days. Just clearing up the air, or not gasping for breath during a run, has a lot to do with people's psyche and how they feel about the town.

Also, as nickrussell has noted, younger people have grown with other races and cultures, and have reclaimed the central city. Our downtown may soon be close to Philadelphia in terms of the number of people that reside in the central city. The LA riots did help sound the death knell to a downtown-based, largely white power structure, exemplified by Chief Daryl Gates and the three Republicans on the LA County Board of Supervisors.

While there is no freeway from Malibu, nickrussell's point on suburban sprawl is well taken. Many cities are now starting to ban gated communities precisely because it walls them off from what's going on outside. Pomona's city council, for example, has rejected new gated communities, despite some people on the planning commission who want them.
posted by calwatch at 1:05 AM on June 17, 2012

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone who offered their insights on this question. This turned out to be much more informative and insightful than I was even hoping!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2012

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