Tag Archives: Los Angeles

California Dreamin’

Animal style. (J. Kenji López / seriouseats.com)

Over the past few posts I’ve mentioned that I’ve been searching for internship positions outside of the Cincinnati area for my five-month co-op term that will begin in late March. I applied to a few firms each in Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and one firm in London. After a couple of tense weeks of not knowing where I’ll be living next quarter, I was offered and accepted a position with a very cool firm in Santa Monica.

As far as logistics go, I’ll be moving out of my apartment on March 20th, and putting almost everything I own into storage. Either that evening or first thing the following day, I’ll hit the road for Los Angeles, and I expect that trip to take about three days. If all goes well, I’ll arrive in LA late in the evening of Friday the 23rd. I’ll have a weekend to get settled, and then I start work on Monday the 26th.

Housing is still up in the air at this point; I have an extended-stay hotel room in Woodland Hills reserved for a few days, but I’ll have to start looking for something more permanent as soon as I arrive, most likely a small studio or a roommate/share situation.

This will be the first time since 2004 that I’ve moved to a city that I’ve never lived in before. I’m seldom happier than when I’m exploring someplace new, so I have a lot to look forward to over the new few months. It helps that I already have a couple good friends out there, and the weather will certainly be a refreshing change.

Perhaps just as importantly, Los Angeles feels like a blank slate to me: I have very few personal connections and no sentimental attachments to that city, and very little in the way of preconceived notions of what life will be like out there (although I imagine it will involve a lot of sitting in traffic and dining at In-N-Out), and there’s something very liberating about that. There’s something to be said for showing up in a new place with no expectations, and the opportunity for a clean start.  If things work out well enough, Los Angeles might well become my top choice of places to head to once I’m done with grad school here in Cincinnati. But regardless of whether I ultimately love it or hate it out there, it will no doubt be interesting. Stay tuned.

The Next Horizon

Apologies for neglecting this blog lately. Being a full-time graduate architecture student at DAAP has a way of forcing one to jettison all other extracurricular activities in favor of school-related work. Now that the fall quarter is over, I finally have a chance to catch my breath and turn my attention to some of those things that have been pushed to the back burner over the past few months.

Back in July I posted The Grass is Always Greener

, which describes my dilemma as to whether or not I’ll want to remain here in the Cincinnati area after grad school. In that post I concluded with, “If I ultimately decide to leave town, possible destinations include London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, or back to the East Coast. Each locale has its own pros and cons, which will probably be the subject of a future blog post.” This is that blog post.

In addition to the long-term question of where I go after grad school, there’s also a more immediate question of where I’ll end up spending my 5-month co-op that begins in late March. I’ve already begun laying the groundwork for that decision, and where I end up going for co-op has the potential to strongly influence where I’ll end up post-graduation. And of course, the decision isn’t entirely up to me, as it will depend heavily upon where I can find a job. In this crappy economy, I may end up having to hold my nose and move someplace I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, at least until the job market improves and I get an offer someplace more desirable.

That said, there are a few locales that I return to often in my mind, where I can envision myself having a reasonably good quality of life, and will probably be the places where I concentrate my job search both for the co-op and for permanent employment. The short list changes from time to time,  and will almost certainly change many more times before a decision is made, but now consists of Cincinnati, London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Cincinnati

Home sweet home... for now.

As I mentioned before, my roots here in Cincinnati run deep, and no matter where else I end up, I’ll always be a Cincinnatian at heart. I grew up here, I have a lot of friends and family here, and I’ve made a point to get as involved as I can in local civic affairs. Cincinnati is small enough that one person can make a big splash, the cost of living is dirt-cheap, and the city has ambitious plans for remaking its urban core. I have enough professional connections that finding a job here after graduation will likely be considerably easier than in any other city.

On the downside: While I love Cincinnati dearly, I generally loathe the Midwest. No mountains, no ocean, very little international vibe, and despite some progress here in the city, the region’s political culture is loaded with right-wing ideology with strong undercurrents of racism and religious fundamentalism. In my more cynical moments, I feel like Cincinnati is where the bigotry and religious fanaticism of the Deep South meet the burned-out post-industrial landscape of the Rust Belt. The weather — featuring the most unpleasant extremes of both winter and summer — makes the mere act of going outside tortuous for entire weeks at a time. The local architectural scene, while not without its bright spots, tends to be very conservative without much in the way of new ground being broken. If I end up working here as an architect, it almost certainly won’t be in the areas of design that I’m most passionate about.

London

My life in six months?

This past September I finally took my long-awaited return trip to London, and stayed there for almost a full two weeks. There’s something invigorating about being in a global city where you can hear a dozen languages being spoken while walking down the street, and if I want to specialize in transportation-related design, there’s plenty of such work in London. London’s mild climate would be ideal for me, and the benefits of living in a city with such a rich history go without saying. London is also an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Europe. And while no political system is without its faults, the overall political climate in the United Kingdom is much more to my taste, and working in the UK would provide job benefits that Americans can only dream about. Depending on how the currency exchange rates fluctuate, I might also be able to repay my student loans in a much shorter period of time.

The biggest catch, though, is that it’s in a different country. Finding an employer willing to sponsor me for a work visa would be a big challenge (especially when so many British and European Union architects are already out of work), and if I were to live there permanently, getting professionally registered as an architect with my American masters degree and work experience would be at least as challenging. Moving that far of a distance across an ocean would present its own logistical problems. London is a long way from home both in miles and in culture, and while I consider my Anglophile credentials to be pretty solid, nothing would change the fact that I’d always be a foreigner in a foreign land. Beyond that, living in a major global city like London, with its long commutes and extreme cost of living, would present a lot of the same frustrations I found while living in New York City. On those frequent occasions when I get tired of the rat race, it simply wouldn’t be possible to jump in my car and escape to the countryside in a few minutes like I can do here. Visits back home would involve a long trans-Atlantic flight and all the hassle that entails.

While London would be ideal for  my 5-month co-op, I don’t see it being the place where I ultimately settle down after grad school. As such, there’s the possibility that whatever networking connections I make in London on my co-op ultimately wouldn’t do me much good if I decide to stay here in the US for the long term.

Los Angeles

You are entering a world of pain.

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the first time, and to my surprise, I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. The climate can’t be beat, and the city is in the process of rapidly expanding its mass transit system. I have a couple good friends out there already, and the ocean and mountains are both nearby. The architectural scene in LA is decidedly more forward-looking than that of Cincinnati.

Of course, the idealized vision of Los Angeles giving way to its harsh realities is one of the oldest cliches in the book. The cost of living — while not nearly as high as that of New York or London — is still very high, crime and general quality of life would be big concerns, and having the ocean and mountains nearby won’t count for much if I have to sit in traffic for two hours to reach them. Visiting Cincinnati would involve a 4-hour flight. While not nearly as long as a flight from London, it’s still a major hassle.

The Pacific Northwest

All else aside, if I could pick any region of the country in which to settle down based purely on its climate and natural beauty, it would be the Pacific Northwest. I briefly lived in Eugene, Oregon from late 2004 to early 2005, and not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t wander back to the mountains, forests, and waterfalls of the Oregon Cascades. While living in Eugene I visited Portland a couple times and liked what I saw of it. Similar in size to Cincinnati, Portland seems to have made all the right decisions regarding its future as a city, while Cincinnati has made many wrong ones. Seattle is less familiar to me, except to say it’s somewhat larger than Portland and has the benefit of being on Puget Sound. Both cities offer an attractive quality of life in a mild climate, a reasonable cost of living (although Seattle is a bit more expensive than Portland), incredible natural beauty outside the city, and a more progressive architectural climate. Portland has a well-developed light rail and streetcar system, while Seattle has ambitious plans for expansion of its own light rail system. I’ve never been to Vancouver, BC to date, but I haven’t yet heard a bad thing about it.

I'd be willing to put up with a lot of bullshit Monday through Friday if it meant being able to drive to a place like this on Saturday.

It’s hard to think of many downsides to the Pacific Northwest, but there may be a few potential pitfalls. The job market in Portland is notoriously bad even in good economic times. Lots of people want to live there, but there aren’t enough jobs to go around. This puts downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on the cost of living, and I’ve heard people half-jokingly say that almost every bartender and barista in town has a masters degree. I’m not sure what the situation in Seattle or Vancouver is like, but I imagine it’s similar. While I wouldn’t move to someplace like Portland or Seattle without first having a job lined up, this could pose a big problem down the road if I got laid off or otherwise had to look for work again. As with London, moving to Vancouver would require getting a visa, but I understand it’s generally easier to get a Canadian visa than a British one. While living in Eugene I found myself bored once I had explored most of the area, although I attribute that more to being unemployed and broke in a smallish town than to any inherent flaws of the region. I also remember feeling like I was about a million miles away from my friends and family back east, and I could see that being a potential problem. But I didn’t have social media like Facebook and Twitter at my disposal in 2004, and the world feels much smaller now than it did back then.

Asheville, North Carolina

Oregon Lite

I almost hesitate to include this on the list, but I lived there for a couple years as a kid and I was back there for a couple days last spring break, so I may as well mention it. Asheville is similar in size to Eugene, and offers many of the same advantages: a mild climate, a beautiful setting in the mountains, and a relatively progressive college-town atmosphere with a strong emphasis on the arts and brewing. Asheville also has the advantage of being only a 6-hour drive from Cincinnati, making weekend visits back home relatively easy.

Unfortunately, Asheville is the largest city for many miles in any direction. Whenever I got bored in Eugene I could always drive a couple hours up the road to Portland. Driving a couple hours in any direction from Asheville only puts you smack in the middle of Deliverance country. Driving back home to Cincinnati from Asheville takes about the same amount of time as flying to Cincinnati from Portland or Seattle. And there’s even less of an architectural scene in Asheville than in Cincinnati. If I end up working as an architect in Asheville, I certainly won’t be designing transit systems or other major infrastructure projects. But maybe that’s okay, and I would certainly consider Asheville if the right opportunity came along.

So, that’s the list as of today. I reserve the right to revise it, refine it, or scrap it altogether in the future. All in all, I’d say the Pacific Northwest has the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages, and I’ll admit that area of the country has been on my mind a lot lately. But it’s too early to say for sure where I’ll end up, and like I said before, it’s not entirely within my control anyway. If nothing else, though, it will be interesting to see where the road leads.

IMG_2483

City of Angels

Los Angeles has always occupied a weird place in my consciousness. Having spent the bulk of my adult life in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City, my mental image of LA consisted primarily of east coast stereotypes and whatever I had seen on movies and television. That said, the city certainly has a mystique to it. Given that many of my favorite movies (Pulp Fiction, Blade Runner, Mulholland Drive, The Big Lebowski, and L.A. Confidential, among others) are set in LA and prominently feature the city itself as a major character, I figured there was something out there worth checking out.

That opportunity came this past week when my employer sent me and some others out to LA to take field measurements at a Macy’s store in Orange County. Most of the week was spent counting light fixtures and floor tiles inside the store, but at the end of the week I finally had a free evening before flying back to Cincinnati.

The skyline of downtown Los Angeles is somewhere off in the distance. Throughout the week I kept seeing this bright thing in the sky that Californians apparently call the "sun".

I met up with an old high school friend who has a small post-production company in Hollywood (www.5thwall.tv), and he gave me a quick driving tour of Los Angeles. Two of my favorite activities in the world are catching up with old friends and exploring new cities, and this evening offered the opportunity for both. Unfortunately we ran out of daylight before I could take many photos, but here are a few of them anyway.

My first impressions of Los Angeles: Dorothy Parker supposedly described LA as “72 suburbs in search of a city”, and the description seems apt. But among that vast patchwork of sprawl are some surprisingly fascinating urban places. And of course, the weather didn’t suck at all. It was nice to be in a place where I didn’t find myself living in fear of the outdoors. A few days after returning home to Cincinnati, I think I finally realized what I liked so much about Southern California: It had most of the things I miss about living in Florida (palm trees and the casual semi-tropical beach culture), minus most of the things I don’t miss about living in Florida (stifling humidity, boring topography, the post-Confederate collective chip on the shoulder, and the right-wing political/religious culture).

Large swaths of Los Angeles apparently look like this. (In fairness, so do large parts of New York and Chicago, minus the palm trees.) But the nice weather makes up for a lot of the LA cityscape's shortcomings. And like New York and Chicago, the scenery improves drastically once you get off the commercial avenues and start exploring the side streets.

I was barely able to scratch the surface on this trip, but I was there long enough to see the appeal LA holds in the popular imagination, and I’m sure I’ll find a reason to make a return trip out there at some point. Would I actually consider moving out there? Maybe. In a couple years I’ll finish up my M.Arch. degree in Cincinnati, and where I end up after that will largely depend on where I can find a job. My primary passion is transportation and infrastructure design, and there simply isn’t much of that type of work here in Cincinnati. But despite being the poster child for automobile-oriented sprawl, Los Angeles has actually been taking some aggressive steps to expand its public transit system. Before this trip I probably would have ruled out applying for positions in Los Angeles, but now I’d be willing to consider LA is a possible destination if the right opportunity came along.

The fact that you can buy liquor at your local CVS or Walgreen's is almost reason alone to move out there.

The full photo gallery from my Los Angeles trip can be found here.