Tag - los angeles

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Los Angeles Seems to be Lacking Squares
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20 Little Details If You Want to Set a Story in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Seems to be Lacking Squares

Pershing Square-2

By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I realized something the other day: LA doesn’t have squares.

I could not think of a single square in LA.  In contrast, I could think of six squares in Boston off the top of my head (Kendall Square, Harvard Square, Central Square, Porter Square, Inman Square, Davis Square).  And actually, technically none of those are even in Boston proper, but are in Cambridge and Somerville areas in the very narrow environs I used to frequent.  Boston probably has even more squares.

I could also think of squares in pretty much every other American city or town I’d lived in, even the small ones.

My friend hypothesized that LA’s lack of squares might have to do with the geography here—LA roads work around hills and valleys and freeways and often lack well-laid-out right angles—and that maybe the lack of places that fit the geometry of a square resulted in us not using the word “square,” even for places which function like squares.  I wondered if it could also have something to do with the sprawl, if LA is so wide and scattered that no place seems central enough to a neighborhood to deserve to be called a square.  Or maybe LA lacks the drive for community the other cities work for, and therefore urban planning has not included as many squares.

Hmm.  It fascinates me, the way we use language.  The different names we call things.

Well, I did just do a Google search and it turns out LA does have a few squares, including Pershing Square which I knew of but had forgotten about.  Still, considering what a huge city this is, LA doesn’t seem to like squares all that much.  I’m tempted to do a square-per-square-mile or square-per-capita study just to see if I’m right about this . . .

(And now I feel this post is getting decidedly silly.  What can I say, sometimes I wonder about things!)

20 Little Details If You Want to Set a Story in Los Angeles

Los Angeles downtown sunset cityscape

By Matthew Field, http://www.photography.mattfield.com (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. In Southern California, freeways are always prefixed with a definite article.  “Take the 101 to the 405 to the 10 to the PCH . . .”
  2. Because of earthquakes and the lack of a frost line, houses with basements are rare.  I’ve only ever seen one residential place with a basement here and it was sort of a quasi-basement that was halfway a ground floor because the house was built onto the side of a hill; it wasn’t fully underground.  (Underground parking lots are frequent, though.)
  3. Speaking of earthquakes, we get ’em, but they usually aren’t a big deal, and a lot of times you won’t even feel them.  But even though they’re usually pretty eh, they’re just rare enough that when one happens everyone goes around saying, “OMG did you feel the earthquake this morning??!!” and posts it to their Facebooks, even when they’re just tremors.  I usually feel maybe 1 earthquake a year on average and am aware of 1 or 2 more I didn’t feel but other people did.
  4. That stereotype about every waiter / bartender / barista here being an out-of-work actor / dancer / screenwriter / musician?  TRUE.  At least in large part, heh.  Lots of other people live here with no desire to work in Hollywood, though.
    It’s not uncommon for [the raging traffic] to impact where people are willing to do hobbies, where they look for jobs, and even the people they’re willing to date.
  5. There’s a stereotype that everyone in LA is a transplant.  Although a lot of people are, I do know a decent number of people here who grew up here.
  6. LA is a very diverse city, to the point where any fiction that shows LA as lily white makes me skeptical on realistic grounds.  In particular, we have a lot of Hispanic people.  A lot.  In general, I can’t think of a minority demographic that isn’t solidly represented among people I know (though unlike in the Midwest or Southwest, most of the people I know with Native American blood — and I have like 6 or 7 friends who do — look white and do not feel connected to the Native culture, only have the genetic background . . . though I also know a few who are very invested in their Native heritage).
  7. Cost of living, like in most cities, is pretty high, but because of the sprawl it’s a little easier to find a part of town where a bigger apartment and/or house might be more affordable.  Other parts of town, not so much.
  8. LA is more like a bunch of little cities and regions mashed into one.  Most people here consider “LA” to mean “LA County” in the broadest sense, including places that are separate municipalities, like Santa Monica and Pasadena.  But every smaller part of LA, even the ones that aren’t their own cities, have “village” names, so if you ask someone in LA where they live, they’re likely to give you the regional name —
    Parts of LA are very citified; others [are] very residential. 
    “Van Nuys” or “Westwood” or “Downtown.”  They might also answer more broadly, like by saying “the Westside” or “the Valley,” which are regions that include a lot of different littler regions.  All the overlapping regional names, as well as which parts are separate cities (West Hollywood is, North Hollywood is not,[1] what), are very confusing to newcomers, and even sometimes to people who have lived here a while.
  9. “Hollywood” is both a geographical part of town and a name for the film industry.  So if you say you “work in Hollywood,” that could mean your job exists on a street in the geographical region of Hollywood, or that you live nowhere near Hollywood but you work in film.  It’s usually clear which is meant by the context.
  10. Mass transit here kinda sucks.  The subways don’t go all that many places, and buses cover the rest of the city, but they take forever.  Trying to get somewhere on a bus might take three hours.
  11. Because of the sprawl and the raging traffic, it also might take hours to get somewhere in a car at rush hour.  Angelenos know every trick in the book to get around traffic, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, and “an hour to go five miles” situations are not uncommon in certain parts of town at certain times of day.  Or if there’s an accident.  (It’s not uncommon for this to impact where people are willing to do hobbies, where they look for jobs, and even the people they’re willing to date.)
  12. I do know some people without cars, but it’s much, much, much rarer than in other cities — the assumption would be that a person living in Los Angeles has a car.  Even most students have cars.
  13. In some parts of town street parking is easy.  In other parts it is impossible.  Know which part of town you’re in if you want your characters to be able to park.
  14. Parking tickets are a fact of life.  I do not know a single person here who has never gotten a parking ticket.[2]  This is partly because parking regulations can be complicated and absurd and are different everywhere you go.
  15. Parts of LA are very citified; others have pockets that are very residential.  Once again, this is a product of the sprawl.
  16. It does rain here, but is only likely during part of the year (the wet season, which roughly correlates with winter).  When it does rain, it’s the “relentless downpour” type; thunderstorms are almost unheard of.  The rest of the year you can go months and months and months in a row with blue skies.
  17. Desert, woods, mountains, beaches, forests — Los Angeles is surrounded by all of them (this is part of why so many films can be set here so easily).  You may have to specify a region, however — for instance, pine forests are exceedingly unlikely unless you’re up in the mountains, in which case they’re gorgeous.
  18. Palm trees are all over the place here.
  19. Motorcycles can split lanes in California. (And helmets are required by law.)
  20. Alcohol is sold in grocery stores in California.
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. For a while I had three different library cards because I frequented two parts of town that did not consider themselves technically Los Angeles.
  2. As time in LA increases, probability of getting a parking ticket approaches 1.

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