In praise of Los Angeles


A couple of weeks ago I had a holiday in Los Angeles. I'd been there before in 2004, but it was only on this second visit that I realized what a fantastic city it is. To some that might seem a controversial statement: a lot of people are quite negative about LA, its sprawl, its smog, and its supposed superficiality. But I loved it.

The reason is that LA strikes me as one of the world's only truly modern cities, designed around the kind of lives we have today, and not the ones we led hundreds of years ago. Ayn Rand once wrote that, "civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy", and that's how Los Angeles feels: private. You can drive everywhere. You're not forced to live on top of one another. You have all the benefits of suburbia, combined with all the amenities and attractions of a major urban area.

That's a product of the way LA sprawls, of course, but why shouldn't a city expand? It's not like there isn't room for it to do so. Besides, whatever the government planners try to tell us, people don't want to live in the sort of high-density developments they're so fond of – people want detached houses and space to themselves.

Another thing that struck me was how much better at suburbia the Americans are than us. Whereas British suburbs too often contain an endless monotony of virtually identical houses (another product of our wonderful planning system), in LA it looked like everyone has designed their own houses. Some, naturally, were testaments to bad taste. But the overall effect was to create a much more attractive environment.

One last point: anyone who thinks that the state needs to subsidize and support 'culture' should visit LA's Getty Center (pictured). It's free to enter and contains a magnificent art collection, housed in a series of buildings that showcase modern architecture at its best. And the whole thing is privately financed.