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Los Angeles is Bad in Totally Different Ways Than This 1991 Documentary Predicted

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Early 1990s Los Angeles, captured in a BBC documentary that explores whether or not the city is a horrible postmodern dystopia, was radically different than the Los Angeles of today. For one thing, as Paleofuture's Matt Novak points out, that was just before two big events that drastically altered the city—the riots of 1992 and the Northridge earthquake of 1994. "Is Los Angeles a dreadfully sun-soaked hellscape awash in cars and dripping with cynicism? Sure. But it's a remarkably different dystopia than was predicted in 1991," Novak argues. We are inclined to agree.

One of the symbols chosen by the documentary (narrated by very knowledgeable UCLA professor who is also apparently a graduate of the John Malkovich School of Elocution) to represent the soul-crushing workings of Los Angeles is Downtown's Bonaventure Hotel, painted as both an impenetrable fortress from the outside and, for those clever enough to get in, an impossible-to-navigate maze that disorients visitors. The hotel may be all of those things—who hasn't gotten turned around trying to find and ride those futuristic external elevators?—but those things are no longer what Angelenos want, value, or tolerate. Just look at the famously foreboding Macy's Plaza, which is getting a total overhaul to become The Bloc shopping center, an open and more accessible space that will feature courtyards and its own subway access portal. It's hard to get more welcoming to passersby than that.

The BBC holds up the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza as a sign of the Big Brother, CCTV future of shopping; that space is now also poised to undergo a huge makeover that will create more of an open-air experience and be inviting beyond just the hours that department stores are open. Security presence will probably still be high, as the site will have condos, apartments, and a hotel in the mix, but it a jail-like security theater atmosphere probably won't be a point of pride. The new designs seem to strive for openness and emphasize walking, and they'll hook up to the under-construction Crenshaw Line, linking non-car-users to all this retail action and ever-so-slowly chipping away with a tiny little chisel at Los Angeles's rep as a place where you absolutely must languish in a car (a notion that pops up in the documentary in several places).

That's not to say that present-day Los Angeles is a utopia, or even that it's less of a dystopia. It's just a totally different-looking one than we thought it would be in the 1990s. Los Angeles is incredibly unequal economically, a deeply unaffordable place to live, and more hellish to drive through than ever on most days of the week—but it's not as bad as it could have been. Maybe.


· 1991 Documentary: Will LA Be a Hellish Dystopia? (Yes.) [Gizmodo]