Los Angeles County is made up of 88 different cities and has a population of 10 million. With communities like Hollywood Hills, South LA, San Fernando Valley, and Boyle Heights, the area forms a city-state. This is how Rosecrans Baldwin describes Los Angeles. He is the author of All Now: Lessons from the City-State of Los Angeles.
Baldwin says he was shocked by how vast Los Angeles was when he moved here six years ago. He had never seen anything like Los Angeles before, and had previously lived in big cities like New York, Paris, Chicago and Cape Town.
But once in Los Angeles, he felt at home for the first time.
There is a sense of sovereignty. You have different people from different places speaking different languages. But by working and I think feeling forgiving, they find a way to live together,” he tells KCRW. “Even if… what connects them is this strange sense of them being kind of bleak to each other in the same place, which is, frankly, what you feel Los Angeles towards me sometimes.”
While writing the book, Baldwin interviewed dozens of Angelenos—both long-term residents and new residents. He says there are deep similarities in how they describe their societies.
“A semi-patriotic feeling popped up to me around greater Los Angeles while I was driving nearby. That sense of identity. Even if it’s just the shared pain of living here, the sometimes shared loneliness. But also the shared joy, the shared pleasures. Enjoying the beaches.” Or Griffith Park, explains. “Whatever it was, there was a sense of shared experience that I think begins to define the sense of a nation rather than just a vast, sprawling place.”
Baldwin spoke to city planner James Rojas, who explained that Los Angeles may lack the architectural comfort we see in San Francisco, Boston, or Manhattan, but it has embraced a street aesthetic, which is particularly found in traditional Latin neighborhoods.
“There’s this front porch hug. …there’s just the idea that people are outside, that you’re going to hear something, you’re going to see someone and you’re going to be attracted to it, or there’s just societal chatter floating around. And that’s something in common.”
The haves and those who don’t
Baldwin also describes Los Angeles as a medieval city, especially in affluent communities, as shown by the so-called fortification of walled houses.
“You look at the fort of people who want to guard their homes, you look at the people who are really struggling, and while it may not seem that way, often the work they do is to serve those people.”
He adds, “What I don’t notice is the middle class. The medieval city is the gentry in the hills, and they are people who work in the fields. Anyone who lives in Los Angeles and walks around and sees a lot of suffering on sidewalk corners and under bridges knows that our problems are on the surface of things.” We see what’s going on.”
Baldwin says Angelenos also embraces pain points like homelessness and believes you can’t fix them.
“There’s a history in Los Angeles of people who think that’s just the way it is, that this is just part of our city. And you’re going to be part of our city,” he explains. “There are a lot of people I talk to in the book… whether they are social workers, activists, or homeless people who know it can be fixed. It’s about the rest of us, frankly, each of us needing to put in the will and see people for who they are, not Just as statistics and a problem.”
Baldwin acknowledges that homelessness affects all American cities and could use federal intervention, but he sees cities taking the quickest action to address the problems.
But at the end of the day, Baldwin says he sees Los Angeles as a place full of people who care.
“I don’t think it’s just about the dodgers. I don’t think it’s just about how much we enjoy the sunshine and the weather. I think there are some common interests, if it’s just the fact that we all want to survive the earthquake or that we all want to find someone to love us. There are things that connect us. In Los Angeles, whether you’re a newcomer or born and raised here.”
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