A look in the rear view mirror - at what's ahead in LA in the 2020s

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The Dude abides. A still from "The Big Lebowski"

The Dude would have trouble locating the Los Angeles he loafed about in back in 1998.

With the start of a new year and a new decade, there’s been a lot of reflecting on the last 10 years and more, as well as prognosticating about what's to come. But for L.A., the 20-teens truly brought dramatic change to a region once known, beloved, and mocked for its chill, freewheeling lifestyle.

Below are a few of the major game changers -- with thoughts on what they mean for design, technology and the human condition in the Southland in the 2020s.

1) GPS mapping in smartphones

The 1999 introduction of GPS (Global Positioning System) mapping in smartphones, coupled with algorithmic routing apps like Waze, set the stage for extraordinary changes, turning once-quiet residential neighborhoods into traffic-clogged detours; rendering young people unable to read a map; killing off an old Los Angeles friend The Thomas Guide; and enabling the rise of profoundly disruptive ridesharing services like Uber (launched 2012), Lyft and e-scooters.

In the next decade, expect GPS to go cosmic. NASA plans to use a lunar version to help astronauts find their way to the moon in 2024. And watch as communities continue to try and figure out ways to geo-fence people out of their ‘hoods.

A Bird scooter at Santa Monica College's Center for Media and Design. Photo by Amy Ta.

2) Uber, Lyft, Bird

Taxi cabs for the app and gig economy age, rideshare vehicles got Angelenos -- at last -- out of their cars and into someone else's, adding to traffic on the streets while perhaps alleviating the need for parking.

Their arrival coincided with Metro's build out of mass transit, with Uber and Lyft presenting themselves as an alternative to it that could maintain LA’s dispersed land-use; or as an option for the first-mile last-mile portion of a bus or train ride.

E-scooters, first launched in Santa Monica by renegade company Bird, were the two-wheeled version of rideshare and, despite their small size and energy footprint, managed to cause outsize mayhem in cities. Unbelievably, car drivers and cyclists (see below) found common ground: shared hostility to Birds. Now the rage has calmed, expect cities to integrate e-scooters into their transit systems or reject them outright, like Beverly Hills has done. That's assuming e-scooters survive.

And expect ridesharing to go sky high with Uber Elevate or rival air taxi companies, or human driver-free, as soon as it is viable, so big tech can circumvent those pesky labor issues.

CicLAvia Los Angeles, June 11, 2017. Photo by Giovanni Solis for CicLAvia.

3) Pedal Power/People Power

In a truly remarkable shift from a decade and more ago, when this writer was routinely viewed as a weirdo for riding a bike on the streets here, Los Angeles over the last decade has made strides towards integrating bicycles into street and transit networks.

It’s not been easy -- bike paths are lightning rods for community conflict -- but props for this accomplishment goes to people power: folks at the grassroots who have fought hard at nonprofits like the culture-changing CicLAvia (launched in 2010), LA County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks, as well as city departments of transportation.

As Metro expands its network, expect lots more bicycle lanes even as pedestrian and cycling deaths remain a thorny problem on the still car-oriented streets of LA.

4) Tesla and the all-electric future

So many recent innovations in LA have been in mobility, from grassroots action around biking (above) to the brilliant reinvention of the wheel by Elon Musk at Tesla (his Model S launched in 2012) and SpaceX, signalling to a moribund Detroit that, yes, all-electric cars are the future, and that the design nexus for that future is Los Angeles.

But Teslas and other electric cars only realise their potential if the electricity itself comes from clean sources. Musk, Porsche and other e-car companies are trying to own the solar energy generating infrastructure. Meanwhile 2020 is the year that new residential construction in California is supposed to go net zero, meaning photovoltaic panels on every house. It’s part of a package of measures aimed at combating the big kahuna of problems: climate change.

The Prince of Venice pasta food truck (photo by Frances Anderton).

5) Food trucks and street culture

Taco trucks were long part of life in LA but in the late 1990s the arrival of Kogi and other high-end food trucks brought LA’s eclectic food culture to the streets in vividly designed vehicles. They, along with farmers markets and sidewalk vendors, helped create street life around food and enrich LA’s visual culture. They also put strains on rent-paying brick-and-mortar restaurants -- and they pollute the air with toxic diesel fumes. Will e-food-trucks be in our near future?

Visitors gather on the shared rooftop of Treehouse coliving building at the October 2019 opening (photo by Frances Anderton)

6) Coliving and Coworking

Coliving -- subdivided houses or multifamily buildings in which renters pay for a bunk or a bedroom along with shared kitchen/dining and other communal amenities -- burst on the scene in the 20-teens as an answer to two unrelated needs: affordable rent and human companionship.

Coliving (as opposed to cohousing wherein residents co-own a property) emerged in a decade defined by rising home prices and rising time spent online. At best, they create a genuine sense of community in an atomized age. At worst, they are little more than youth hostels for adults, at ripoff prices per square foot.

Coliving grew out of a related trend, coworking, which has spawned spaces to suit every tribe and, again, can be social nests (sometimes very stylish like Second Home Hollywood or very pink, like The Wing) or mere real estate arbitrage wrapped up in a woo-woo story (see, WeWork). Expect to see coliving evolve and expand, for seniors as well as Gen Z.

Artistic murals in LA's fashion district. Photo by Amy Ta.

7) Big Art

If anyone had said ten years ago that art would become an urban disrupter, they’d have been looked at with astonishment. But that’s what has happened. Art, once the preserve of a small but passionate group, has become big business and big culture here, as global galleries, art fairs and buyers have descended on Los Angeles.

LA’s art profile has gone up, but its accessibility for young artists has gone down (with rising rents) and gallerists, looking for bargain spaces in cheap, mostly minority, neighborhoods, have found themselves becoming pariahs, perceived as forces of gentrification. Meanwhile, art museums have gone on an expansion spree, burnishing the region’s cultural reputation while stoking simmering resentment among art world workers at the inequities of a market that is less regulated than guns and drugs.

Not sure how this shakes out in 2020 but the decade starts without the Marciano Art Foundation and with the imminent construction of the Peter Zumthor-design LACMA expansion, assuming funds are raised.

The Linden, a mixed-use apartment complex in Long Beach, designed by Studio One Eleven. Image courtesy of studio-111.com.

8) Renters

LA has always had apartment dwellers but for most of its short life, it has been a mecca for home ownership, with half of its developable land given over to single family houses.

In the last decade, an age of infill, most new residential development has taken the form of apartments and condos in downtown (part of the amazing DTLA boom triggered by the 1999 Adaptive Reuse Ordinance); and in midsize blocks on arterial routes. Many of these came with seductive shared amenities -- rooftop pools and dog runs, exercise rooms and dining terraces -- and represent a new form of the LA residential dream.

Moving forward they will also take the form of backyard houses, or ADUs, which are exploding following new state laws that make them legal in many neighborhoods.

But what most of these dwellings have in common -- except the condos -- is they are for rent only, begging the question: who is Los Angeles being built for? Is it time for renters to accrue more power, stability and privileges associated with home ownership (including rent control, the right to pets, access to personal open space, opportunities for wealth-building)? And can LA remain a place for middle-income families who still dream of owning a house?

A homeless person sleeping outside LA City Hall. Photo by Amy Ta.

9) Homelessness

The causes are many -- stagnant wages, closure of the Community Redevelopment Agencies, opening of AirBnBs, rising cost of housing and insufficient levels of new construction, mental illness, incarceration and the crack and opioid epidemics, the redevelopment of downtown, global capital investment, the 08 recession... the list goes on. But almost 50,000 people are living in a city within a city called the streets. Figuring out a solution is the challenge for the 2020s and if it’s not solved by the 2028 Olympics, shame will be upon us. 

Poignantly, it's in design of supportive housing that you have seen some of the most interesting residential design by Los Angeles architects. However, it has been a struggle to keep such housing "affordable" not to mention welcomed by communities, who have spent recent years hotly split over growth, prompting the emergence of YIMBYs in reaction to NIMBYs. Expect that struggle to continue, especially now State Senator Scott Weiner's SB50 has been presented yet again

10) Loneliness and wellbeing

Loneliness is not specific to Angelenos but it is certainly part of life in a region planned around solo driving and, often, solo living. This condition is heightened by Amazon delivery of everything to one's door (which, incidentally, has undermined another L.A. staple, the shopping mall). Residing, and feeling, alone has been on the incline in the last fifty years. But concerns about it heightened in the last decade, as suicide rates in the US climbed along with growing reports of teenage anxieties intensified by social media.

Science and technology will continue to play a part in trying to alleviate the loneliness blues, with pharmaceutical and digital drugs and robotic companions.

But watch for architecture to play its part, applying communitarian design and planning to housing and cityscapes (see coliving, above). And see some cities, like Santa Monica, try and cultivate “wellbeing” over mere economic health in the hearts and souls of their citizens.

11) 2028 and the arrival of LA infrastructure

Who knew that “infrastructure” would become an exciting talking point? It certainly did in Los Angeles in recent years as its vast pieces of 20th century, single-purpose, fixed infrastructure (freeways and the flood control channel) yielded to a new, more holistic approach.

Now the LA River is being turned into more than simply a concrete channel flushing rainwater into the sea and freeways are starting to interconnect with other forms of mobility, even a huge bridge… for wildlife.

Meanwhile, Metro’s massive mass transit system is under construction, with new lines set to open soon.

And sports stadia are being built apace, from the splendid 2018 Banc of California Stadium for LAFC (designed by Gensler with help from the fans, and proving once and for all that soccer matters to Angelenos) to the forthcoming behemoths for the Rams and Clippers in Inglewood; plus more upgrades to Dodger Stadium that may include a gondola connecting it to Union Station.

All of this is supposed to culminate in a glorious new mixed-mobility Los Angeles in 2028, when the Olympics comes to town.

Tom Wiscombe's Sunset Spectacular mixes art and digital advertizing for the City of West Hollywood

12) Architecture

To understand what has happened to LA architecture in the last decade, watch Parasite. California modernism became the luxe house style of the region and the well-heeled world. Gone went the early modesty of scale; gone too -- with rising costs of land, tighter codes and more community scrutiny -- the freedom to simply try stuff, as Lautner, Schindler and Gehry were able to do when the region was still seen as a cultural backwater. But when designers do get to play, some are reviving postmodernism; others are playing with the decorative, sculptural tools of the digital age.

The last decade has also seen the arrival of the big guns from overseas: Bjarke Ingels and Rem Koolhaas and Peter Zumthor and Ma Yansong have scooped up cultural and religious buildings, while in DTLA conglomerates build glassy, indistinct towers; begging the question: does LA have a regional style anymore? And where can Angelenos flex their creative muscle?

In smart lighting apparently. Numerous LA architects are competing in the Mayor’s office’s streetlamp competition. Others have offered up concepts for digital billboards in West Hollywood. These are both exciting. Most importantly, let’s hope this Angeleno creativity finds voice in an Olympics with visual pizzazz to match the last one.