Finding “Los Angeles” amid the aura of “LA”

Downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background – Source:

Every city is unique unto itself. Just like human beings, cities have their own character, appearance, identity, flaws, attributes, and aesthetics. As a result, no single individual book is likely to encapsulate the essence of an entire city…especially an enormous one like Los Angeles, California. Heck, Los Angeles has so many nicknames, it would probably take a full book just to summarize them – LA, Hollywood, Tinseltown, City of Angels, Shaky Town, and La La Land are but a few.

This is why I have been so pleased to find three (3) recently published books on Los Angeles that go a long way towards explaining our fascination (or in some cases our disdain) with this vast Southern California megacity. These books are The Mirage Factory (2019), Everything Now (2021), and Freewaytopia (2021).*


Link – The Mirage Factory………..Link – Everything Now………..Link – Freewaytopia

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Unless you live in Southern California, the nickname LA likely conjures up certain perceptions that we have developed over time through the media. For, no matter how much an outsider may want to block LA from their mind, it will inevitably finds its way back into their thoughts – via the news, film, television shows, writing, art, conversation, music, sports, you name it. Most megacities probably have this same effect on people, but LA is truly different. It’s different because it is literally and figuratively the epicenter of the entertainment world…no matter how much New York City, London, or Tokyo may wish to claim otherwise. As a result, whether you care about LA or not, multitudes of shows, books, songs, art, and movies are going to incorporate some aspect of its psyche and physicality within them. It may be in terminology or a writing style. It may be a geographic feature or place. Or, it may be a name, a cultural phenomenon, or a fashion statement.

The question ultimately becomes, does the aura of “LA” that we develop from these sources accurately represent the true essence of “Los Angeles” as a city, as a community, or even as its abbreviated megacity moniker, of LA? Multiple visits to Los Angeles by this retired urban planner that go beyond the traditional tourist sites and these three (3) remarkable books respond with a resounding no. There is so much more to “Los Angeles”…the entity… than is (or can be) portrayed by “LA” …the image… we are presented through media resources.

A view looking down Hollywood Boulevard

All three books will enlighten anyone wishing to learn more about Los Angeles as they attempt to explain the city in uniquely different ways. One (The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles) sets about describing three larger-than-life personalities who helped lay the building blocks that turned sleepy Los Angeles into today’s modern megacity.

Another (Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles) explorers the city and its environs on an interpersonal street level from the wealthy elites residing in Malibu to the destitute seeking out a meager living on Skid Row. The book also addresses the distinction made by some Southern Californians of being a resident of “LA” as ascribed to as a universe of many individual communities versus of being a resident of “Los Angeles” as a shared and common entity.

Lastly (Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles) describes how the city’s quintessential freeway network helped shape Los Angeles into the perception of endless concrete ribbons we often associate with it, despite the fact that both the city and mega-region have developed an impressive network of commuter railways, subways, and bike trails.

Downtown LA as seen from Hollywood Heights

Through the power of the media’s framework, many of us feel that we know Los Angeles personally from sources like the television series and films…or from songs like Randy Newman’s celebratory anthem, “I Love LA.” We feel we know Los Angeles from the likes of Dragnet, Adam-12, The Brady Bunch, Earthquake, Chinatown, LA Law, CHiPS, Valley Girl, Baywatch, LA Confidential, Independence Day, Hail Caesar, Straight Outta Compton, La La Land, La Brea, and so-so many other television shows and movies beyond the ones listed here.


Or, perhaps our views on Los Angeles are based stories in the news media. Topics like housing prices, homelessness, gangs, pollution, race, or congestion likely shape opinions of the city whether we realize it or not. Is Los Angeles perfect? Of course not, but show me any city that is without problems to solve.

Sources:,, and

Los Angeles is no longer “a great big freeway” as was ruefully sung by Dionne Warwick in 1968. In fact, it’s not even one of the five most congested cities in the United States (it’s #6). Los Angeles is a vibrant city with many charming residential neighborhoods, bustling commercial districts, active transportation systems, scenic vistas, hiking trails, museums, performance venues, beaches, mountains, and a wonderful diversity of people from across the country and around the globe.

Just like Randy Newman, I love Los Angeles, LA, or whatever name you wish to apply to this mighty megacity. Despite all of its foibles, the City of Los Angeles, radiates energy, excitement, and charisma. I find myself drawn to there over and over and over again. The fact that “Los Angeles” is the very heart and soul of a larger dynamic region nicknamed “LA,” only sweetens this love affair.

I hope you enjoy reading these three (3) books as much as I did.


This entry was posted in Active transportation, Alternative transportation, architecture, art, bicycling, Biking, books, branding, business, Cars, cities, civics, commerce, culture, diversity, downtown, economic development, engineering, entertainment, entrepreneurship, environment, film, fun, geography, highways, hiking, historic preservation, history, homelessness, Housing, humanity, inclusiveness, land use, literature, Love, mountains, movies, Music, nature, new urbanism, Passenger rail, pictures, place names, placemaking, planning, politics, rail, Railroads, recreation, skylines, skyscrapers, songs, spatial design, sprawl, technology, Television, theaters, third places, topography, toponymy, tourism, Trade, traffic, trails, transit, transportation, Travel, urban design, urban planning, walking, writing, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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