‘This is definitely a moment’: Olympics crown LA’s remarkable renaissance

Securing the 2028 Olympics is just the latest success for Los Angeles, a city thats witnessing a turnaround. But can it keep up the momentum?

Outsiders have long enjoyed mocking the City of Angels its sprawl, its vapidity, its kookiness.

Los Angeles has been called New York lying down (Quentin Crisp), paradise with a lobotomy (Neil Simon), and 72 suburbs in search of a city (Dorothy Parker). Tip the world over on its side, said Frank Lloyd Wright, and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.

The putdowns are still mean, still funny and still contain kernels of truth.

But from the roof-deck of the 73-storey Wilshire Grand Center, a newly completed skyscraper offering stunning panoramas, the quips feel dusty, even quaint.

From this 1,100ft eyrie, the highest in the western United States, you can observe the glint of other towers rising up over downtown, transforming the skyline. You can see the web of railways criss-crossing the east side, and construction work on the expanding subway system. You can see the Hollywood sign to the north and the Pacific ocean to the west. You can see Dodger Stadium, the Coliseum, the Staples Center and other sporting arenas.

You can see, in other words, why LA this week clinched the right to host the 2028 Olympic Games. And why mayor Eric Garcetti is exuberant.

This shows that LA is still a can-do city. We didnt make a bid that said, if the Olympics comes, well do all these things. We said, were doing all these things, the Olympics should come, he told the Guardian. This is definitely a moment. People want to be here.

The International Olympic Committees decision to bring the Games to LA after Tokyo and Paris host the next two caps a remarkable turnaround.

Mayor
Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti says winning the Olympic bid shows LA is still a can-do city. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Back in the 1990s, LA was the butt not only of jokes but laments: this was the city of gang warfare, police brutality, racial strife, traffic gridlock and air pollution, a dysfunctional megalopolis echoed in the dystopian vision of Blade Runner. An influential 1991 book by David Rieff was titled Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World.

These days it feels closer to La La Land, a city where policymakers almost break into song about developments in infrastructure, transport, art and architecture.

Were a place that reimagines tomorrow and reinvents today, Garcetti said in an interview, citing, among other things, new transit lines, the Hyperloop, Elon Musk, and new museums. LA is a city that continues to attract the greatest innovation in the world.

Voters in LA County have approved $120bn for investments in transport over the next four decades, one of the most ambitious public works in US history. Voters also approved $3.5bn to tackle homelessness. This will help address poverty and inequality, said Garcetti. I dont know of another place in the country that has those resources.

The economy is humming at near full employment. The port is unloading cargo at breakneck rates. LAX is renovating terminals amid record passenger numbers. Tech companies are spreading across Silicon Beach, LAs insurgent rival to San Franciscos Silicon Valley. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are reshaping the entertainment industry. The sad trickle that is the LA river is due to become a vibrant waterway.

After two decades without an NFL team, LA has lured the Rams from St Louis and the Chargers from San Diego. They will share a new stadium in Inglewood. The giddiness seems contagious: the Dodgers are enjoying an enchanted season which could end a 28-year World Series drought.

The most dramatic transformation is downtown, a once-derelict shell now thrumming with condos, bars, cafes and galleries.

The
The Wilshire Grand Center, LAs newest, tallest skyscraper, under construction in 2014. Photograph: Mark J. Terrill/AP

I think its a new age, said Chris Martin, an architect of the Wilshire Grand Center, now the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The tower, part of a wave of Asian investment, symbolises the areas revitalisation, he said. Seventh Street is virtually a restaurant row now. To see women and men pushing children and walking dogs, I find it really wonderful. I love it.

So too did Max Almerto, 32, a kitchen worker. The city is definitely getting better. Downtown used to be abandoned, now its full of people. He spoke while commuting to work with his bicycle on the new Expo line, which connects the ocean to downtown. I used to have cars not any more. This is better than sitting in traffic being pissed off with the world.

Seated on the same carriage, Kevin McCall, 58, who works in graphics and marketing, agreed. My car was failing and costing a lot, so I decided to experiment and try the train. Between Uber-ing and public transport its doable.

Trains, subways and light rails will eventually connect LAX, downtown, the coast, Disneyland and elsewhere, said Keith Millhouse, a former board member of Metrolink, southern Californias commuter rail system. I think this is unparalleled. Youre really seeing a huge push towards a non-car centric culture.

The renaissance comes amid a challenging time for New York, which has long scorned LA as a rival for Americas greatest city. Having lost a bid to host the 2012 Olympics to London, New York is now enduring a summer of hell on its crumbling subway, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency.

This did not stop the New York Times poking fun at LA nabbing the 2028 Games, asking if this would herald new Olympic events such as longest juice cleanse or least original movie idea.

Garcetti said his home town had no inferiority complex despite a century of wisecracks. Written by east coasters, he smiled. Those of us who secretly decided to stay and live here always had a good time. I think LA has never cared what other people think. Weve been comfortable in our own skin.

The mayor, a rising Democratic star (there is chatter of a White House run), said LA had permanent funding for infrastructure, unlike certain other cities. People like to build things, they dont like to maintain them you have to think of the life of the projects.

He acknowledged that by some measures LA is the USs most unequal and unaffordable city. Were an imperfect paradise. We still have homelessness and poverty and traffic to address. I never get too rosy-eyed.

Some critics say the mayor and other civic boosters are exactly that, and predict that the vaunted splurge on shelters and housing, for instance, will not stem the evictions and displacement, which are driving the poor and communities of colour from south and east LA. Skid Rows desperation and squalor endure in the shadow of downtowns new towers.

Rising
Rising homelessness remains a major issue for Los Angeles to tackle. Photograph: Alamy

Hosting the Games will aggravate such inequality, said Jonny Coleman, an organiser with the advocacy group NOlympics LA. Every Olympic city has spurred displacement and police overreach. It accelerates gentrification. (Landlords) will do Airbnb and kick people out.

LA hosted the Games in 1932 and 1984. Using existing infrastructure and corporate sponsorship helped make the 1984 Games the first to ever make a profit $225m a feat unmatched by subsequents hosts who ended up with huge bills.

LA hopes to repeat that fiscal magic in 2028 with an operating surplus of $500m. Andrew Zimbalist, an economist who has studied and often criticised the Olympics as bad value for hosts, said that projection was reasonable. They have all the venues and infrastructure that they need. Athletes, for instance, will stay in UCLA dorms. Theres just no other city like that. I think theyll be able to do quite well with sponsorship and ticket sales.

Chris Thornberg, an analyst with the research firm Beacon Economics, threw cold water on some of the boosterism. LA was still dysfunctional, he said, and spending fortunes on trains was questionable given the looming era of self-driving cars.

But compared to the 1990s, when fires, floods, riots and earthquakes compounded economic malaise, the city was enjoying a renaissance, he said. Its absolutely real. Weve hit our stride in a way Ive not experienced before. People want to live here. The place is booming. He credited urbanisation trends more than civic leadership.

LAs newfound swagger is unlikely to curb the jokes. It is after all an irresistible target even for those who mint livelihoods here. I mean, who would want to live in a place where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light? said Woody Allen.

There is dispute whether Dorothy Parker or someone else made the crack about 72 suburbs in search of a city. Parker did, however, lob a particularly wounding insult about palm trees. The ugliest vegetable God created.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/03/this-is-definitely-a-moment-olympics-crown-las-remarkable-renaissance