you drive around l.a and you see beige strip malls and offices from 1982 and beautiful mid century houses and odd architectural detritus and autobody shops and pawn shops and check cashing places and mountains and desert and eucalyptus trees and craftsmen houses and every other disparate and baffling thing that has found it’s way to los angeles.

and then occasionally you see things that remind you that at one point l.a had the makings of a normal city.

union station is one of those things. it’s a beautiful old train station and it sits nicely in the pantheon of beautiful old train stations. because at one point l.a was destined to be a normal city, with normal and beautiful buildings and an urban core and public transportation. and then the 20th century happened and l.a exploded in every direction, literally, metaphorically, figuratively.  

little outposts of normalcy were left behind, clustered around a leaking downtown like little dioramas of conventional urbanism. you look at union station and think, “wow, this was built when people still expected l.a to behave like other cities”.

it was built when everyone assumed that the future would involve public transit and urban hubs and tall buildings. and then BOOM l.a blew up in every direction, metastasizing oddly and dysfunctionally and beautifully into a city without a center. a city where the remnants of public transit were covered over with an embarrassed cough.

now we’re rediscovering public transit and urban centers and l.a is starting to feel like a live-able city again, not just a sprawling tapestry of freeways and loneliness. but it’s the 21st century. the 20th century gave birth to l.a but also almost destroyed it. the 20th century made l.a a city of the oddball future, and now we’re slowly realizing that some simple things from the past are still worth having around. like urban hubs and public transit and walkable streets and venerable buildings.

also i just realized i’m rambling. i blame insomnia and fluoride.

here’s union station, it’s really pretty.



Is Los Angeles a city in decline?

According to a report released today by the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, our city is strangled by traffic, riddled with poverty and led by a directionless government, with grim prospects for the future.

As the report declares:

“The city where the future once came to happen has been living in the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out.”

In a strange bit of timing, GQ recently declared that downtown L.A. is “America’s next city,” so at least not everyone’s so down on our town.

What do you think the future holds for L.A.?

Photos: Al Seib, Arkasha Stevenson, Jay L. Clendenin, Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times