Los Angeles Urban Landscape

The Los Angeles metropolitan area has been the prototype and model of the US city of the future for several years and has overtaken Chicago as the world’s most scientifically researched city. As a postmodern city, Los Angeles eludes the geometry of classic city models in its complexity and contradiction. This is where trends and development processes emerge which, in the opinion of many experts, will be exemplary for the cities of the western world of the 21st century.


The Los Angeles agglomeration is located in southern California and consists of the five counties Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura (comparable to the counties in Germany). It has an extension of almost 200 kilometers in a west-east and 100 kilometers in a north-south direction. After inconspicuous beginnings, Los Angeles has experienced very dynamic growth in population and economy. By 1870, Los Angeles, with a population of 19,000, was still far behind the Bay Area with the center of San Francisco. Between 1900 and 1930, however, Los Angeles rose in size from 36th to 5th in the United States. The causes of this development were oil discoveries, the expansion of the port and the establishment of the first film studios.

Although the population growth has been much more moderate since the middle of the 20th century, the “Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area” (CMSA) Los Angeles is currently the second largest metropolitan area in the USA (after New York) and the fourth largest in America (with 17.8 million residents) p. 321).

Even more impressive than the increase in the number of residents is the growth in the area populated. In the western, but even more so in the eastern, areas of the agglomeration, the vast majority of residential developments date from the period after 1950; only a few settlement centers in Counties Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside are older. In central Los Angeles County, too, the areas built on with apartments have expanded rapidly, in some cases they already extend beyond the map section to the north.


The polarization of urban space continues in the economic area. The fundamental upheavals in the production structure are characterized by the sub-processes of deindustrialization, reindustrialization and tertiaryization. Traditional Fordist industries such as the iron and steel industry, vehicle construction and the tire industry have almost completely disappeared. On the one hand, they have been replaced by high-tech companies, especially microelectronics and the aerospace industry, with highly qualified and well-paid workers, and on the other hand, by companies that require a low level of qualification, but also only low wages and poor security of the workplace (sweatshops). Typical sectors here are the textile and clothing industry,

This economic polarization also has a decidedly ethnic component: The population of European descent and parts of the Asians dominate the high-skilled jobs, while the Hispanics and Latinos, including many illegal immigrants, cover the low-wage sector. The situation of the Afro-American population is particularly problematic, as it has been hit hard by the decline of traditional industries.


This excessive suburbanization is often explained with the “typically American” values ​​and ideals of limitless freedom, individualism and wasteful mobility. It can hardly be overlooked, however, that this process was encouraged by government housing policies, which gave new construction priority over the maintenance of existing housing, and tax policies that made mortgage interest deductible from income tax. Other prerequisites were extensive private motorization and the willingness of taxpayers to finance the expensive motorway network in the conurbations.

For a long time, the suburban areas were characterized by low building density, dominance of residential functions and the extensive absence of industry and commerce, but this has changed fundamentally in the present. Even if downtown Los Angeles is still an important economic center, it can be stated that only less than ten percent of all jobs in the metropolitan area are to be found within a three-mile radius of downtown – the comparative values ​​are in New York at 45 percent and in Chicago at as much as 19 percent. Instead, a process has started that could be characterized as the “Urbanization of the Suburbs”. Its distinctive feature is the emergence of urban centers outside of downtown, such as Pasadena, Inglewood, Torrance, and Irvine. These so-called edge cities, Of which there are already more than 20 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, they have a wide range of workplaces, shopping opportunities and cultural facilities right through to concert halls. They are all located on the multi-lane city highways, preferably at their intersections. A considerable part of the traffic flows already today between these outer city centers.

The administrative structures and thus also the settlement patterns in the metropolitan area are highly complex. The core city of Los Angeles forms the largest administrative unit with almost 3.9 million residents (slightly more than Berlin; as of 2013), but there are also other independent large cities such as Long Beach (2013: 470,000 residents) and more than 150 smaller ” Incorporated Cities ”, independent political communities. Correspondingly, a mosaic-like fragmentation of the urban fabric into a multitude of highly contrasting cells can be observed. The individual residential quarters and neighborhoods are often very homogeneous according to demographic, socio-economic and ethnic criteria, but at the same time clearly differentiated from one another and not infrequently sealed off by walls or fences.


Los Angeles has achieved worldwide fame through Hollywood and its role as a producer of a universal culture industry connected with the film. Even if the district is now a somewhat shabby tourist meeting place, the film and media industry remains an important economic factor. In addition to Hollywood, the major theme parks of the leisure industry (such as Disneyland or Universal Studios) play an important role for the tourist perception of the region.

Los Angeles holds a high position in the hierarchy of global cities. In terms of the city’s importance as an international financial center and seat of globally operating companies, the southern California metropolis is well behind New York, Chicago and San Francisco with neighboring Silicon Valley. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is at the forefront when it comes to integration into global transport networks: after Atlanta, Beijing, London Heathrow, Tokyo-Haneda and Chicago, Los Angeles International Airport was sixth worldwide with 67 million passengers (2013). The position of the two neighboring ports of San Pedro / Los Angeles and Long Beach in container traffic is similarly important:

Overall, the Los Angeles agglomeration is a region of unlimited contrasts. It is characterized by high population and economic dynamics and, not least because of its extreme ethnic diversity, can be seen as the prototype of the US city of the 21st century. However, multicultural life is not only enriching, it also contains a considerable potential for conflict. Another problem is the wasteful use of resources such as water and land in the greater Los Angeles area, which is far removed from the model of sustainable development.

Los Angeles Urban Landscape