Rich people living in subway-close high-rises? Poor people flooding the suburbs? Man, it's not the ‘90s anymore, is it?
It's been 15 years since the Rodney King riots kicked off a dismal period in L.A. – an era of recession, declining real estate prices, natural disasters, and assorted other maladies. It's also been 10 years since the publication of my book The Reluctant Metropolis, which quickly appeared (to my astonishment) on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list – perhaps because, like so many other L.A. books during the '90s, my book kind of celebrated the depressive zeitgeist of the era.
Things are different in L.A. now. Mini-malls are no longer burned down – they're razed for high-rises. There aren't very many aerospace factories or, for that matter, any kind of factories. (L.A. has been losing 50,000 manufacturing jobs a year on average.) People are bemoaning the fact that the value of their $600,000 house is flat.
Here's maybe the most peculiar turnabout – and the one that has the most important implications for planning in the years ahead: The L.A. market today is driven by affluent people who want to live an urban lifestyle and poor people who want to live a suburban lifestyle.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an event at "The Mercury," a condominium high-rise in a converted '60s office building at Wilshire and Western, across the street from the Wiltern Theater and catty-corner from the Red Line station. A decade ago you couldn't give this building away. Today, the condos are going for almost $700 a square foot – meaning a two-bedroom apartment will sell for almost a million bucks. Another condo tower is being built from scratch on top of the Red Line station. Believe it or not, it has become hip to have a lot of money and live without a car in L.A. A planner's dream, right?
But that's only half the story. The other half is being played out in more suburban areas, where families of modest means are doubling and tripling up in houses, not as renters but as owners. They are quite literally overcrowding their way into the American dream. And when it comes to transportation, they're moving in the opposite direction: They've got more cars than ever. Throughout Southern California nowadays, the typical suburban neighborhood is jammed with cars and trucks – and with neighborhood disputes over where to park them.
The bottom line is that rich people ride the Red Line now, while many Southern California residents don't want poor people in their neighborhood because of the traffic. Even Mike Davis couldn't have predicted this turnabout back in the '90s.
- Bill Fulton