On final approach to Los Angeles airport, otherwise known as LAX, I gazed out of my window at the vast swathe of urban sprawl beneath the clear blue Californian sky. This vista always intrigues me despite the fact that I have pondered on it during numerous prior visits. This trip was going to be different however as I was staying in downtown LA. In the past, the central part of LA, dominated by anonymous Skyscrapers and the lacklustre Staples Centre held little appeal for me. But time changes one’s perspective and now I would be able to have a proper look around and to explore the heart of the second largest city in the USA. It is a truly interesting place.
My first port of call was the massive LA Convention centre which now forms part of a rejuvenated South Park neighbourhood. Situated alongside the Staples Centre sporting complex, the centre piece of this place making project is LA live. Over a few days I had the opportunity to sample part of this new look downtown area which opened in 2007/8. Overall it gave me the impression of a vibrant, safe and engaging place – if one is happy with endless neon and flashing lights that is.
Further uptown, the Frank Gehry designed, Walt Disney Concert Hall with its shimmering stainless steel elevations has settled in nicely with its surrounding environment. Sitting in Hope Street, I wondered if the opening of this cultural centre in 2003 marked the start of L.A.’s effort to redefine itself as something other than urban sprawl.
By coincidence, the U.K.’s Building magazine ran an article about L.A.’s regeneration during the week of my visit. Entitled ‘That’s Sprawl Folks’ the writer Ike Ijeh concluded that the city is at a crossroads. Whilst parts of the city are booming, the vast majority of the sprawling metropolis will have to fight hard to turn back the clock on 20 years of uncontrolled growth. I tend to agree with his views.
During my visit I participated in the annual jamboree of the world of CRE – the CoreNet Global North American summit. For a European, having 2,800 people all in the same place talking about real estate is a sight to behold. The CoreNet conference theme was – disruptive innovation. It got off to a great start made possible by the inspiring and insightful comments of an astronaut – Garrett Reisman, his remarks and recounting of his trips in space really engaged the large audience, leading to a standing ovation. The disruptive theme was maintained by the second keynote speaker; Vinh Giang who tried to open the minds of the audience to new possibilities using magic tricks! The combination of these two outstanding speakers made this a truly disruptive affair. I remain curious, however, as to how much of their combined messages actually sunk in?
To round off my trip I drove up Interstate 101 over the Hollywood Hills to visit Burbank, my old stomping ground. There was a lot of nostalgia in the air as I strolled around the Walt Disney Studio lot to retrace my multiple visits when I was part of the magic. Despite this passage of time, I could still sense the creativity buzzing in the air as my former colleagues went about the business of surpassing global box office revenues for a third consecutive year.
Driving back to LAX in bumper to bumper traffic hell, I pondered on why this place appeals to so many people. It has a deep bond with the automobile and whilst most LA taxis are now hybrids the car is still king. Whilst the number of Maseratis and Porsche abound, the racial and social deprivation marks LA out as one of the most segregated cities in the US. The leaders of the City may well need to call in some divine inspiration to address these challenges.