From top: Tents used by the homeless in downtown Los Angles; Dan Boyle
Last week I found myself in Los Angeles. It was a nice break, although I was more there as support for a friend who was engaged in a ‘project’.
It was those circumstances that brought me there. That and an ongoing curiosity on whether my prejudices of LA held any water.
Disappointingly they did. LA is every bit of every cliché of the worst of urban planning. A sprawl utterly in thrall to the motor car. There are few buildings of any architectural interest or of great antiquity.
Looping and overlapping roads that once were looked upon with wonder, now look pretty silly. Infrastructure constructed over fifty years ago, shows little sign of being replaced.
The public transport system seems to also reflect this. It is relatively inexpensive but has poor connectivity. We took a 45 minute bus ride from our hotel, straight into Compton, to connect with the Metro.
This had one advantage of getting a better feel for the city. It is hugely segregated with economic disadvantage merging with ethnic status.
There is an army of homeless there. At many street corners individuals can be seen perched on park benches next to purloined shopping trolleys filled with plastic bags containing the worth of their lives.
In the older part of the once industrial part of the city centre, there exists a fairly large tent city. This same area is experiencing some gentrification and an influx of new technology businesses, for whom I suspect, the inhabitants of tent city are something of an inconvenience.
You also become struck by how disproportionate homelessness is among minority groups. A vivid image, that will remain with me, is that of an enormous black man at a Metro station, who along with carrying his life belongings, was also carrying what seemed to be his body weight in plastic bottles. Trying to monetise what he could how he could.
Internally I thought not only ‘there for the grace’ but on how this man seemed to have a better work ethic than I ever could have.
I’m not trying to portray the place as being more dystopian than utopian, nor am suggesting its social problems are unique to it. What I am challenging is the idea of a place that styles itself as a ‘City of Angels’ is anything but.
Its acknowledged tourist meccas also seem to give a hollow glow these days. The golden age being celebrated, is recent in its existence, but now seems to lack depth.
The relationship with food is especially horrible. Practically every street junction has a fast food restaurant, invariably drive in. I constantly struggle with my own weight. In the US I dread to think what I size I would become.
Would I go back there? Possibly. A second visit would be informed by doing things differently. I didn’t grace many pleasure spots and would engage in more guilty pleasures.
I would still want to come home. To Cork, of course.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Top pic: Associated Press