Gertrude Stein once said of her hometown, Oakland, California, where she was raised after having been born in Pittsburgh, that “there is no there there.” This is often taken as a knock on Oakland—a city that is not really a city, that has no center, that lacks an identifiable sense of place. This is how I felt about Los Angeles when I was teenager growing up there.
Looking out into the smog from a vantage point in the Hollywood Hills, I’d ask no one in particular, “Where is the damn city?” Los Angeles, to me, was an infinite sprawl of one-story structures stretching off into the desert and the scrub brush and the impossibly dry hills.
I moved to New York City as a young man partly to find a place that had a “there.” The density of Manhattan seemed the very antithesis of Californian spatio-temporal malaise. When you walked down the streets of Manhattan, I thought, you’d know you were unmistakably somewhere. [Read more…]