As a transplant I see it as my mission to understand my adopted country. A year ago I upped sticks and moved to LA with a dream of becoming a freelance writer. Other than hearing stories about how LA is having a moment I didn’t really know what to expect; it was more of a hunch, an innate calling to explore the sprawling, schizophrenic city that has served as a backdrop to countless movies and tv shows.
Turns out that I chose exactly the right spot to road test a new way of living and working while I straddle the poverty line because most folks I know there are cash poor time rich, a budding something or other. It’s an expansive place of possibilities, the seat of all myth-making in the West, a destination for dreamers where 'portfolio careers' are de rigueur.
In New York (and London) every inch of space is prime real estate; in LA there is room to breath. Consequently it’s relatively affordable to live there. A friend has recently moved from London to New York. She and her husband have settled on a snazzy one-bed apartment just across the Brooklyn Bridge. She is paying, wait for it, $4,500/month, and even though she has a well-paid job at a reputable ad agency she has to stump up 4 month’s rent in advance plus a deposit given she doesn’t have the required credit rating in the US yet. With the broker's fee on top she's looking at paying $30,000 before she’s even been to Ikea, which is a chunk of change. Not everyone will go the broker route of course.
That New York is hemorrhaging creative types to other cities is not news but now I understand why. Much like London, NYC is fast becoming a resort for the jetset (it was un-affectionately called "Dubai with blizzards" recently). That’s not to say all the rough edges have been smoothed away. The Lower East Side has mercifully held onto its grittiness but a one-bed in a Delancey St tenement will cost you $2100/month. There are dishevelled fixer-uppers in Harlem and parts of Brooklyn are still pretty ghetto but it’s hard to start from scratch in New York anymore, you have to come from money, be married to it, or earn a hefty pay package in a corporate job. That thrilling, dangerous pre-AIDS era of crumbling ruins, black outs and abandoned piers in 70s New York is long gone, but so is the 90s fallacy of living in a Friends-style apartment in Greenwich Village. If your job’s a joke, you’re broke, and your love life’s DOA, better move to LA.
That's not to say Los Angeles isn't also becoming a playland for the global money set. With a GDP of $825 billion and 330,000 high net worthers worth a total of $1.2 trillion residing there, Los Angeles is a growing force in its own right. “Los Angeles in an incredible city and is the center of a creative explosion right now” said Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer. “There is an amazing and inspiring mix of people from the worlds of film, technology, music, architecture, food and culture and now fashion, all doing interesting things there”.
New York's supremacy is untouchable. Like London it is a global center of power and wealth, a world city. And I suppose that's the point, it feels like a more extreme version of London. The cultural distance I feel as a Brit in a foreign country is amplified by being in sun-baked southern California. Moby, a native New Yorker who moved to LA, puts it beautifully: "In New York, you can be easily overwhelmed by how much success everyone else seems to be having, whereas experimentation and a grudging familiarity with occasional failure are part of LA's ethos". He continues: "If you're in New York or London, you're surrounded by a world that has been subdued and overseen by humans for centuries". It's precisely because of its pre-apocalyptic strangeness, its simultaneous ugliness and beauty, that I'm so smitten by LA, always seemingly an inch away from oblivion (be it quake, fire, drought, coyote or rattlesnake attack).