In defense of Los Angeles as a superb walking city

by on January 26, 2014 at 7:43 am in Education, Travel | Permalink

I am shocked that so many people in the comments, and on Twitter, scoffed at this notion which I put forward the other day.

First, in Los Angeles the weather is almost always very good for walking.  That is a big plus, to say the least.  It is not just that the average quality of experience is high, but you can make advance plans to be walking and arrange your life accordingly.

To be concrete, here are a few of the many splendid walks in the greater Los Angeles area: Almost anywhere in mid-Wilshire, downtown Santa Monica, Melrose, central Westwood, Beverly Hills, a blossoming Downtown (just don’t jaywalk), Pasadena and Glendale, most residential parts of Hollywood, almost any beach locale (and there are many), and even (limited) parts of Sunset.  How many cities have great walks where you can be on the beach and/or see the mountains?  Or where you can stop for first-rate ethnic food almost anywhere?

I will grant that Santa Monica Boulevard is not ideal for walking on many of its parts, nor is all of Culver City.  Is Manhattan’s Park Ave. always so fascinating?

My personal favorite walk is to start somewhere such as Olympic and walk up Vermont, exploring side streets along the way and stopping for Asian food or pupusas.  My two favorites car drives are Sunset and then Griffith Park all the way down to the bottom of Western, or vice versa, stopping for Belizean food along the way.

Here is my earlier post on which are good walking cities, London wins the overall #1.

Matt2 January 26, 2014 at 7:53 am

That’s a very different take than what most people think of when they think “walking city.” The more common interpretation is a city in which one can walk from home to work, recreation, shopping and dining or to transportation options that make it easy to get around.

For example, if you can afford to live in the North End or Seaport District in Boston you can easily walk to the financial district, theaters, the Garden, the gardens, Chinatown, etc. Except for getting out the mountains or Cape you could go weeks or months without needing a car.

Matt2 January 26, 2014 at 7:54 am

You do make LA sound like a cool place to take a walk though.

SamB January 26, 2014 at 8:05 am

Exactly. A good “walking city” is not a city in which it’s possible to go for a nice stroll, it’s whether or not a resident of the city is able to live their life without having access to an automobile. That is much easier to do in cities like Boston, NYC, London, Montreal, or San Francisco than it is in LA.

Silas Barta January 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Exactly. Source: living in San Francisco, do just fine without a car.

On a trip to LA, would not consider doing it without renting a car.

Weather is the same, about.

tedder January 27, 2014 at 6:41 pm

This is part of the “cliche LA” attitude. Quite a few Angelinos live without a car. If you are well-served by the subway and bus corridors, it can be done. Living and visiting a city have different transportation patterns.

Aaron February 1, 2014 at 6:19 am

You can live without a car in any city. What makes it a good walking city is when middle class people go without.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Try a trip to LA without a car. You won’t hit much of the west side (including the beach), but you can easily have a great 3-day trip to LA spending one day in downtown, one day at LACMA and in Hollywood, and one day hiking from Fern Dell up through Griffith Park, without any access to a car.

And having lived in both cities, I shouldn’t have to tell you that there are very few parts of San Francisco that have weather like that of Los Angeles, where you can easily go half the year without needing a jacket for when it gets dark.

Michael January 26, 2014 at 9:09 am

I lived in L.A. for years so, yeah, I have to agree with Matt2 on this one.

When I lived in L.A. I would frequently do what Tyler suggests: drive to Santa Monica, park, and walk around. Or drive to downtown, park, and walk around. But that’s not a walking city! A walking city would be the ability to live somewhere and walk to Santa Monica, then Downtown, then back home–and then walk to work the next day. That’s not possible in L.A., and until they expand their joke of a subway system, it will remain impossible.

That being said, there are many cool neighborhoods to walk around in L.A. L.A.’s Koreatown is better than NYC’s, it has much better beaches, and its downtown is much more attractive than New York’s, especially now that it’s become a ghost town.

Davis January 26, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Santa Monica is a separate city from Los Angeles, it is silly to lament that you can’t walk from one to the other.

Santa Monica is somewhat walkable, but for instance, in our neighhorhood, there is no grocery store, no library, no post office, no fire station, no nightclubs, not even a starbucks.

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:07 pm

why would you walk to a fire station?

DrewB January 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Exactly. A walking city is one where you could get by without a car. The term for the above is perhaps a Strolling City.

CBBB January 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Actually when I hear the term “walking city” I think of a city mounted on a pair of giant mechanical legs.

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

@Matt2-

Every decent city offers residential/retail/professional neighborhoods that you can live, entertain and transport from without a car (if you sacrifice $/Sq ft, noise, etc). L.A.’s superiority is that (1) you can walk year round in the same business attire and (2) you have a ton of such neighborhoods. I think Vanity Fair called Abbot Kinney the coolest neighborhood in the U.S. and I rode my bike there (with little kids) yesterday in 80 degree weather.

Culver City, for lesser example, has a light rail station, 2 live theaters, an Art District, a few architectural gems, film theaters, food (A vegan beer hall! In N Out!), bars, many large parks, kids’ athletic leagues, schools, etc. that you could walk to (though riding a bike is better). Other cities offer similar walking neighborhoods and the light rail reaches Santa Monica in a few years (you can already use a dedicated bike path to get there from various neighborhoods).

Jeff Holmes January 26, 2014 at 8:36 am

Nope, you’re all wrong. Via Wikipedia: “The Walking City was an idea proposed by British architect Ron Herron in 1964. In an article in avant-garde architecture journal Archigram, Ron Herron proposed building massive mobile robotic structures, with their own intelligence, that could freely roam the world, moving to wherever their resources or manufacturing abilities were needed. Various walking cities could interconnect with each other to form larger ‘walking metropolises’ when needed, and then disperse when their concentrated power was no longer necessary. “

William Woody January 26, 2014 at 8:38 am

Having lived in Glendale for 20+ years, and in the Los Angeles area for 30+ years, I know for a fact that Los Angeles (and the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, which you seem to be alluding to when talking about separate towns such as Santa Monica) is a *terrible* walking city.

However, it has some *excellent* walking neighborhoods.

For a time I worked in Glendale while I lived in Glendale–and if you can get that arrangement, Glendale is generally a good walking city. (It was also one of the reasons why I tried to get telecommute jobs when possible.) The same thing can be said of Santa Monica: if you have a job in Santa Monica and are willing to pay the absurdly high rates for buying a home or renting in that area, it is a great walking area.

The problem with LA is that it doesn’t have the same mass transit infrastructure as London, where there is a subway stop approximately ever half-mile or so. The mass transit in LA is mediocre at best, with a subway system that makes little sense and a bus transit system that doesn’t seem to interconnect well between neighboring cities. (The LA area is actually a dozen or so smaller towns surrounding a gerrymandered inkblot that is the LA city boundary.) And LA doesn’t even really have a decent set of biking lanes that you can use: painting ‘bike’ symbols on a busy city street doesn’t make that street a safe bike lane.

You *really* need a car in Los Angeles. On the other hand, one of the things that made some of the communities (such as Pasadena) famous in the 40′s was its excellent hiking and excellent day walks.

William Woody January 26, 2014 at 8:43 am

(Ideally, in Los Angeles you really need a drop-top convertible car.)

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Motorcycle. Last state in the union that permits lane-splitting. That reason alone is probably why I think L.A. is a great town.

rluser January 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Even so, Los Angeles (and most of the metro area) is a pretty good city/region for cycling. Mostly what it lacks is bicycle parking. For recreational and sport cycling it is excellent.

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Except for the occasional collision with a BMW.

Steve Sailer January 27, 2014 at 6:20 am

Seriously, L.A. is mostly a scary place to ride bicycles, except for the Venice beach path and San Vicente in northern Santa Monica.

David January 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Probably not even the 10,000th stupid thing that Sever Sailer has said in an blog comment thread, but stupid nonetheless. LA has mostly wide, straight streets with excellent sight-lines and, as noted, near perfect weather. It’s a great city to bike in, based on 5+ years of carless living in central LA. However, one does often encounter black/brown people, thus qualifying it as ‘scary to Steve Sailer’.

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The NY/Boston/DC corridor is a terrible walking megacity too, but why not assess “the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area” in terms of the discrete neighborhoods not transporting between them.

And the light rail I’ve used is uncrowded (bring a bike), stations in the fresh air above ground, filled with polite Angelenos, and plenty fast– nothing like NYC’s sardine factory.

Brian January 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

For the skeptics, here’s a photo-walking tour of some pretty amazing L.A. architecture. http://everywhereonce.com/2013/03/29/l-a-on-foot/

Hunter Pritchett January 26, 2014 at 9:41 am

Makes sense to me, as LA is the most densely populated metro area in the US.

Nylund January 26, 2014 at 10:18 am

Is it really? I can’t find lists by MSA (only by cities). I think you have to be careful though. “Metro Areas” tend to be pretty sprawling definitions. You’re going to be mixing in cities of NJ with places like NYC (which, even within NYC there’s a lot of density variation between places like Manhattan and Staten Island). Obviously, the same is true of LA.

I tend to prefer the "metro area" as a measure for this January 26, 2014 at 8:52 pm

The idea being that sure, downtown San Francisco or Boston or DC may be great places to walk, but each of them house less than 1 million of in areas where several million live, so it’s misleading to claim that when the only difference between them and larger, “less walkable) cities (like Philly or San Diego) is whether the city happens to expand beyond the small downtown area.

rpmcsweeney January 26, 2014 at 10:53 am

Agree with Nylund. Perhaps it depends on what you mean by metro area, but 9 of the top 10 cities on wikis list by population density are in the NT metro area, including NY, NY itself.

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population_density

Of course, that just tells us that the densely populated parts of NY are super sense. Maybe the sparsely populated areas bring down the density for the metro area as a whole. Though that isn’t my impression, and that link lists NY metro area as having 55 incorporated places with 10k+ population density to LA’s 26. Again, we’re missing the other side of the distribution, so it’s possible that overall LA metro area is denser. But I’d be surprised if that’s true, and if it were true it’d seem like a quirk: NY core (which is vast) is hyperdense, so even if the overall average is brought down by, like, Freshkills and the Meadowlands, I still would consider NY denser in that the places where humans actually go is far denser than LA’s core. If that makes sense.

rpmcsweeney January 26, 2014 at 10:55 am

Friggin’ typos.

rpmcsweeney January 26, 2014 at 11:50 am
Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Parts of Los Angeles have extreme density per room. You’ll see neighborhoods in, say, east Hollywood that are only 2 story apartment buildings, yet there will be peddlers selling oranges on the corners of side streets, because there are several people living in each room on average, and many garages are de facto dormitories with bunk beds.

Rahul January 27, 2014 at 12:29 am

Is that an observation or a complaint?

Steve Sailer January 27, 2014 at 2:47 am

It’s a fact, and an explanation of the paradox of how there exists high-rise levels of density per square mile in a low-rise urban area: adults sleeping in bunk beds.

Rahul January 27, 2014 at 6:08 am

Ah! I see. Well, you don’t seem to mind it at all, so it’s an interesting observation. Gay males must love sleeping four to a bed. De gustibus….

Nylund January 26, 2014 at 10:11 am

I’ve lived in SF, LA, Toronto, London, NYC, Dallas, and Montreal. Out of those, LA is the second worse (Dallas being the clear loser). London probably wins overall. Toronto and Montreal are both really quite great. Granted, they lose some points in the winter, but the underground tunnels (especially in Montreal) help make it ok.

You’re right that LA has some decent parts, but in most cases, you have to drive to these “walkable” areas. For NYC, Toronto, London, Montreal, etc., it’s walkable the second you step out of your front door.

To me, the big question one must ask when thinking about how walkable a city is, is to think, “How badly do you need / want a car?” For NYC, London, Toronto, etc. my answer would be, “I prefer not having a car.” Life without a car in LA isn’t the most pleasant thing.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:18 pm

When you say that NYC, Toronto, London, Montreal are walkable the second you step out of your front door, are you assuming that the person lives in the very center of the city? Parts of the outer boroughs are just as unwalkable as anything within LA city limits (except maybe the hillside neighborhoods), and lots of NJ Transit and LIRR towns are much less walkable than anything that exists in the LA metro area.

prior_approval January 26, 2014 at 10:12 am

Some of the confusion might be related to this tiny snipped from LA’s climate wikipedia entry –

‘The Los Angeles area is also subject to the phenomena typical of a microclimate. As such, the daytime temperatures can vary as much as 36 °F (20 °C) between inland areas such as the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley versus the coast in the Los Angeles Basin.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_the_Los_Angeles_Basin

Brett Champion January 26, 2014 at 10:15 am

I think you have to distinguish between being a “walking” city and being a “walking around” city. A great walking city is one where you can walk between places that are important locations in the city (with one location usually being a train or bus station). A great walking around city, on the other hand, is one that is just nice to go for a stroll in. LA seems to be the latter rather than the former.

Also, there is no way to judge weather for ideal suitability for walking, so you might as well not mention it. Most of the year LA is far too warm for me when it comes to walking anything except short distances. My preferred weather for walking is an overcast mid-60s or a sunny upper-50s, which you probably don’t get more than three months a year in LA. Any temperature over 75 is simply out for anything more than a four-block walk at most.

Nylund January 26, 2014 at 10:24 am

I agree. In some ways cool is better than warm for walking. I’d rather walk around Montreal in the middle of winter when it’s -20 than I would to walk around Dallas in August when it’s 105. It’s easier to stay warm than it is to stay cool.

ac January 26, 2014 at 10:22 am

It’s not a great walking city, but I’d agree that it is a city with some places that are great to walk around. That’s not the same thing, no matter how you try to redefine it…

Paul January 26, 2014 at 10:26 am

As other commenters have already noted, it doesn’t count as a walkable city if you have to drive around and park somewhere to be able to walk around in the first place. It’s a suburb at that point, not a walkable city.

Hoosier January 26, 2014 at 11:01 am

But if you have to take the subway, its fine? You can’t very well walk all the way around NYC, Montreal, or London either.

Paul January 26, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Yes, you can pretty much walk all over NYC. People do it all the time.

dead serious January 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

People not only walk all over Manhattan, but walking over to Brooklyn via the bridge ain’t no thang as well.

Hoosier January 26, 2014 at 5:15 pm

You’d walk from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn? From the battery to central park? No, you’d take a cab or a subway. People walk in LA too. I walked from Hermosa to Manhattan beach a few times myself. The principle is the same.

Noel Maurer January 29, 2014 at 12:29 am

I can’t reply to Hoosier, so I’m replying to Dead Serious.

Hoosier, you’re wrong. (Dead Serious, your grammar kind of lost me.)

Think of it this way. Every possible short walking segment from Coney Island to Riverdale is pleasant, even if you wouldn’t want to walk the entire distance. Yes, that does include walking across any of the three bridges to Manhattan: they are all pleasant walks. No, it does not include walking along every possible route: you’d be a masochist to walk along Coney Island Avenue or, to be honest, anywhere west of Fourth. (Although that would be one hell of a detour from Coney Island.) That isn’t because those areas are dangerous: it’s because they’re too wide and full of auto body shops.

New York is a great walking city. Los Angeles is not.

Rob January 26, 2014 at 10:56 am

Tyler is right that LA contains many great “walks,” I live here and take many of those, to say nothing of all the great hiking in the hills. But the fact is, I walk less here than I do in New York or San Francisco for all the reasons enumerated in the comments. There are some great walking neighborhoods but I don’t live in one of those. If I did live in Koreatown or one of the beach cities or downtown, I’m sure I’d walk a lot more. Where I live (Mt. Washington) it’s totally impractical to walk to a grocery store, restaurant or coffee shop. There is a great trail hike through the hills that we do all the time from home, but that’s about it.

Steve Sailer January 27, 2014 at 2:52 am

In Los Angeles, the better-educated people tend to live in the hillier areas, which are good for hiking but bad for walking to and from the grocery store. If you live at Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon above Beverly Hills, for example, you have fine hiking at your doorstep, but you’d take your life in your hands trying to walk down 2-lane, winding, Porsche-infested Coldwater Canyon to the supermarket on Ventura. You’d be safer hiking all the way to Laurel Canyon on the Tree People’s trails.

Routine walking is best accomplished on flat land, but affluent white people in L.A. have always clung to the hills as their refuge when the Day of the Locust / Zombie Apocalypse finally happens.

Al January 26, 2014 at 10:59 am

I don’t agree with “you can stop for first-rate ethnic food almost anywhere.” How about this instead: “you can stop for second-rate ethnic food almost anywhere. But you have to search out the first-rate stuff.”

Al January 26, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Cowen probably meant that almost every neighborhood offers really good ethnic food, and usually at very reasonable prices. You are also correct that you have to do a some searching.

gabriel January 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

For years I walked in L.A. when, seemingly, no one else did. A beautiful, colorful place, with peaceful, spacious, empty sidewalks and a variety of flora that inspire meditative introspection, unlike the bustling foot traffic of NYC which inspires socialization.

I find the stretch of Sunset Blvd. between Gower or Vine and Fairfax to be a fascinating walk, a real L.A. cultural immersion. Walking wrong downtown too and even the surrounding industrial areas is fascinating. But at the beaches I found when in Santa Monica I could barely find the motivation to walk south to Venice much if the time. Something about that area didn’t inspire walking at all, even though I often cover 8 miles in a day and enjoy it.

gabriel January 26, 2014 at 11:25 am

Regarding the authors earlier post ion good walking cities…I am surprised no mention of S.F., Vancouver, and Thing Kong. My number one criteria for a good walking city is varied topography (I.E. hills) and interspersed bodies of water such as lakes or a bay (rivers have less oif an effect in this regard). Criteria such as chocolate, bookstores, and historic plaques seem so arbitrary.

Vistas of natural beauty such as nearby mountains trumps architecture for me, case in point: Hong Kong.

By these criteria I suspect Rio will rank high on my list, perhaps Honolulu. But my top three walking cities that I have visited so far are certainly HK, SF, and Van. I admit most on the list I have not visited. I have also visited and walked extensively in NYC, Shanghai, Guangzhou, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, L.A., Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and many smaller cities and college towns, covering often up to ten miles in a day, often without shoes.

gabriel January 26, 2014 at 11:26 am

Excuse the typos, touch screen with auto correct.

Expat January 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hong Kong is way too polluted to be a good walking city. It’s disgusting.

gabriel January 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

There are good days and bad.

john personna January 26, 2014 at 11:37 am

I went to pick up some kids at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica last night … traffic was terrible .. everybody wanted to walk there.

Still, I get what Tyler is saying. You can have a good walk, wander, in the neighborhoods he lists, especially on off days and off hours.

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:16 pm

That’s a funny comment. Traffic is so bad there because they’re building the Blue Line terminus between 4th & 5th and closed off the 5th st exit and Broadway. By 2017 you’ll pick those kids up at the train station closest to your house.

Lisa Schweitzer January 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

Urban planning proffie here, one who lives in Los Angeles and *does not know how to drive a car* and has lived in Los Angeles for 14 years.

I love how walking just for fun doesn’t count in this discussion, btw. Are you all economists? Is this what they mean by “dismal”? (I am joking, but walking for fun does count, at least in my book).

This discussion is going to be circular and people are going to cherrypick whatever examples they want to make whatever point they want because people are shifting from local measures to regional measures and comparing them. Not every part of every metro region is walkable– there is on HELL of a lot more to New York than Manhattan, and there is a lot to the Bay Area that isn’t Berkeley or the Castro. Using Glendale to represent LA is like using Fremont to represent San Francisco. Or San Mateo. Mill Valley. So which local part of the region are you going to cherrypick to make your point–EITHER point–about whether LA is walkable or whether it’s a dystopian unworkable hellhole? Koreatown? Or Santa Ana? Santa Monica or Venice (very, very walkable) or Yorba Linda? Then compared to what? Downtown SF or Redwood Shores? Suffolk County suburbs or Manhattan? Downtown DC or Arlington, VA?

Compare regions to regions, neighborhoods to neighborhoods, please.

Paul January 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm

There is a lot more to New York than Manhattan. Brooklyn for example. And you can easily walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from right in the middle of downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights.

rpmcsweeney January 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm

As Paul says, there *is* a lot more to New York than Manhattan, and much of it *is* walkable. You might not want to walk from the Cloisters to Coney Island because it’s really far; but you could, and if you did you’d cross through a largely unbroken chain of varied, vibrant, and dense neighborhoods. Sure, if you extend this to the extremes of the NY metro area, you’d find some trips were unwalkable either because of physical breaks in the chain or because of the lack of interesting things to see on the journey. But the NY metro area is huge (even bigger than LA, which is stereotypically thought to be the quintessential example of urban sprawl, at least according to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_areas). But it seems a bit strange to say that NY isn’t walkable because you can’t get from the Bowery to Hartford on foot.

Govco January 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm

But you have winter.

Brenton January 27, 2014 at 6:19 pm

NYC winters are pretty comfortable to walk in. Just dress warm.

Noel Maurer January 29, 2014 at 12:30 am

If I’d seen this, I wouldn’t have posted my early comment! Complete agreement.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm

“the NY metro area is huge (even bigger than LA, which is stereotypically thought to be the quintessential example of urban sprawl, at least according to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_areas).”

Right – this was the point someone else made above. Los Angeles is actually a more compact urbanized area than New York in many ways. I believe New York has recently passed Los Angeles as the highest density urbanized area in the US, but large fractions of the New York urban area are much less walkable than 95% of the Los Angeles urbanized area.

Silas Barta January 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I love how walking just for fun doesn’t count in this discussion, btw.

Because it’s a useless definition, and not how people use the term “walkable city”. If you’re going to count “walking for fun” *without* regard for the the endpoints being a) different and b) desirable targets, then anything can count as a walkable city. Heck, the suburbs of a zero-public-transit city would count as “walkable cities” because of the great sidewalk infrastructure!

Not. What. We. Mean.

Lisa Schweitzer January 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm

And no, I don’t have people drive me everywhere. My husband does drive since we do animal rescue work and our nonprofit serves Ventura to Mexico geographically, but I walk to work and the store (I live in West Adams; we have a train; and I subscribe to Steven Wright’s point that “anywhere is walkable if you have the time.”

Doug January 26, 2014 at 12:24 pm

“How many cities have great walks where you can be on the beach”

Chicago has a fantastic beach right in the middle of the Gold Coast.

bon_supp January 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm

According to Tyler’s own criteria in the linked post on walkable cities. Here is a comparison of LA, NY and Chicago

1. Chance of seeing a striking yet non-famous piece of architecture: All three cities are strong here.

2. The right mix of broad boulevards and narrower streets: NY wins, Chicago falls into second and LA is last and the most car-scale

3. The chance of spontaneously encountering good bookstores or excellent dark chocolate: NY wins – Chicago and LA can’t touch it for chocolate or bookstores (or pastry)

4. Cheap, convenient cabs, and places to sit and drink sparkling water: NY > Chicago > LA for cabs. In LA cabs are a joke – too much territory to cover and illegal cabs with hacked meters. All three have places to sit and drink sparkling water, but LA has the best weather to do this outside. NY has the best things to look at while sitting outside. In Chicago they might not even have sparkling water depending on where you go.

5. Strangers are willing to talk to you: Chicago is by far the most hospitable of the three, but I find people generally nice in all three cities.

6. Strategic and frequent use of historic plaques: Don’t know that any of the three succeed on this count, especially compared to European cities with 3-10x the history.

Other non-itemized factors in the post:
Safety: all three cities are extremely safe in the large developed areas
Capital confiscation: also pretty equal in all three
Offering surprises: I think NY offers the most, but I often find wonderful surprises in all three.
Spontaneous cheap dining: I think Chicago edges out LA on this count, but there are arguments to be made on either side. NY has a surprising number of opportunities – more than any one person could visit in a year – but things are just more expensive on the whole.
Food stores for urban picnics: NY and Chicago have Eataly and a number of other European-style food stores. The product at LA farmers markets is unquestionably the best of the three. Picnics are more frequent in LA due to the weather.

Berlin is ruled out for being too spread out and having too wide of streets. LA is far, far more spread out than Berlin and has multiple freeways and car thoroughfares cutting it up. Chicago does too, for that matter.

So, LA is great if you value warm weather, cheap ethnic street food, and natural amenities such the ocean and mountains. I also think it has some of the best street art in the country if you know where to look.

Bert Green January 26, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I lived in Los Angeles for 15 years until recently, and the last 8 were in downtown, with no car. Anyone who says Los Angeles is not walkable simply does not know the city, and likely lives in a single family house and/or in a suburban neighborhood (and there are many suburban areas in the city as well). It is perfectly easy to live there and walk everywhere, but it is important to stress that you must be located in a central, urban neighborhood. It can be argued that Los Angeles has fewer of those than many of the other cities it is usually compared to, but its sheer size makes those areas pretty dense and complete as places to live and work. I’ve also libved in NYC and San Francisco, and now am located in Chicago. In each of those cities I lived downtown. Central Los Angeles is really not that much different, except for the virulent, brain-dead attitudes about car culture that seem to be mostly imposed by outsiders and suburbanites.

Al January 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Sure, it’s “outsiders” who complain about L.A.’s car culture. Do you really live in L.A., or have you ever stepped out of downtown? It sounds like you have a provincial notion of the city. Los Angeles’ downtown is “not that much different” from those of Chicago, San Francisco, and NYC? Your comments are the most absurd in this comment thread.

Bert Green January 26, 2014 at 10:34 pm

AI has just demonstrated the perfect expression of the virulent, brain-dead attitude that I described above. In all the years I lived in LA, as well as the 8 years prior in Northern CA, I heard this kind of unthinking attack all the time. It could not possibly be true that I lived there, oh the horror, you must have never left downtown. Well maybe it is not your personal experience, and you might not be able to imagine it, but it’s true, and I knew hundreds of people who shared my experience. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is an extensive bus and rail system that uses downtown Los Angeles as its nexus, with which it is possible to get anywhere in the city and much of the county.

tedder January 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm

indeed- I’m stunned when locals aren’t aware of the subway. I’m not surprised when people like Al sound ignorant, but some people choose to live in areas with higher walkability, rather than live in Orange County and complain about how terrible LA is.

Nate January 26, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I’m in the camp that says “walking city” and “good city to go for a walk” are different. Yosemite is great for walking (pack a lunch, SOL on the bookstores). SF and NY are superior walking cities.

Tyler’s feigned “shock” caps a pretty good Slate pitch.

Morris January 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Regarding LA’s beaches, it’s too cold to swim in for most of the year, right? East coast beaches are only good for the summer, but the water tends to be warm and nice.

jacoby January 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm

So how do people go out and drinking at night in LA? Unless you’re wealthy and have a chauffeur or always have a designated driver, how do people go out and drink? Even most wealthy celebs seem to drive themselves in LA. So does everyone just drink and drive or what?

Chris L January 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I’m always amazed at the ignorance of non-Angelenos on the walkability of Los Angeles. Sure, if you live on the suburban westside outside of areas like Santa Monica or Venice, you’re going to need a car and you’ll find yourself driving a lot. But these days all the action is in Downtown LA and LA’s eastside neighborhoods which are as walkable as any city I’ve lived in. Downtown LA increasingly feels like a mini Manhattan in its walkability and crackling energy. The difference being you don’t have to be a hedge fund manager to afford a loft here :)

jacoby January 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Compared to Manhattan, there’s more riff-raff and crime in LA though, no? Especially downtown and on the eastside?

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:29 pm

That is a major problem. Lots of people here do seem to assume that drinking and driving is just the thing to do. Fortunately, I’ve got about a dozen bars and good drinking restaurants in less than a mile walk of my house (though only two of them are gay bars). I don’t count all the bars that are easy to get to by subway, since the subway is a 15 minute walk from my house.

Expat January 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Uber, baby!!

jacoby January 26, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Uber is just an expensive cab, and cabs tend to be expensive already. It’s not really affordable to most people to take cabs around everywhere everyday. It’s not comparable to the walking and subway riding you find in walkable cities.

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 4:33 pm

TC: “My personal favorite walk is to start somewhere such as Olympic and walk up Vermont”

Just don’t walk _down_ Vermont. From the LA Times:

“South Vermont Avenue:
“L.A. County’s ‘death alley’
“Tiny Westmont has highest homicide rate in the county.”

http://homicide.latimes.com/post/westmont-homicides/

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Anyway, these comments always miss the biggest single advantage of walking in the richer parts of Los Angeles, which is the attractiveness of the women walking past you. In the 1980s, when I was a close student of such matters, Los Angeles was exceeded only, in my experience and judgment, by Milan.

Today, I’d say that New York, with Wall Street’s giant money vacuum luring in so many beautiful women, has overtaken LA, but LA is still up there.

Al January 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I lived in Beverly Hills, San Marino/Pasadena, and Santa Monica, and only Santa Monica matches your claim. San Marino/Pasadena was a lovely place to check out well preserved middle aged Chinese expatriates. Beverly Hills offered a variety of middle aged film producers and Persian luxury auto retailers. I worked in the Century City area, where one may see a variety of pigeon shaped suited professionals swarm the food court for gluten free salads with 4000 calorie sauces.

Los Angeles’ exceptional density of attractive women has less to do with gold-digging opportunities, and more to do with the entertainment industry. Better examples of money-attactiveness matching would be Palo Alto and Walnut Creek.

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 8:13 pm

“Los Angeles’ exceptional density of attractive women has less to do with gold-digging opportunities, and more to do with the entertainment industry.”

Right. As Hugh Hefner has pointed out, it’s a multigenerational breeding process now entering its second century. Beauty contest winners have been flocking to Hollywood since 1914. Their great-granddaughters are selling real estate in Thousand Oaks.

Mark Thorson January 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm

MRU should hire you to give their anthropology course.

jacoby January 26, 2014 at 6:05 pm

New York has the highest ratio of single women to single men. The east coast cities in general have the highest single women to single men ratios. By contrast the west coast cities have the highest ratio of single men to single women. LA apparently has the highest ratio of single men to single women.

This has probably always been the case though since the original push westward. It was mainly single men who went west since the beginning. And the east coast had more wealth.

http://observer.com/2008/04/in-new-york-its-raining-single-women/

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 8:06 pm

“LA apparently has the highest ratio of single men to single women.”

Dr. Richard Florida was pushing that meme, but he’s not too bright. LA’s surplus of men are largely illegal immigrants and gays.

Ladies, if you can’t quite land a husband in Akron or Omaha, do _not_ follow Dr. Florida’s advice and move to LA because you think there will be less competition.

jacoby January 26, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I agree Richard Florida is full of it, but there are lots of immigrants and gays in New York too.

Rahul January 27, 2014 at 12:32 am

Illegal immigrants don’t count as “men”?

Steve Sailer January 27, 2014 at 2:55 am

They are invisible to the kind of single women who read Professor Florida’s books.

Rahul January 27, 2014 at 6:45 am

@Sailer:

Alternatively, for “that kind of single women” any nuance after “phenotypically male” is probably lost as cognitive overload.

Willitts January 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Good point Rahul. I have known single women who prefer Latin American men, for example.

But it is also a good criticism of these statistics to recognize that what they are trying to measure is biases by socioeconomic factors. Florida evokes a Sex in the City atmosphere while presenting stats that scarcely resemble it.

Steve Sailer January 27, 2014 at 3:06 pm

“I have known single women who prefer Latin American men, for example.”

Javier Bardem, sure, but not 5’3″ day laborers hanging around the Home Depot.

Actually, he’s from Spain. Weirdly, it’s harder today to come up with Latin American leading men than in the past when Hollywood always had a Mexicans around as Latin Lover types, and Anthony Quinn was a major, well-rounded star.

Rahul January 28, 2014 at 7:53 am

“It’s harder today to come up with Latin American leading men” also because the overall image of Latin America portrayed in the media seems to have taken a beating between say 1960 & now?

Steve Sailer January 26, 2014 at 8:10 pm

“And the east coast had more wealth.”

According to Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart,” in 1960 Beverly Hills had by far the highest median income of any sizable neighborhood in the country, about 25% higher than the Upper East Side of Manhattan back then.

The Upper East Side is now back in the national lead, largely due to the Wall Street boom that began in 1982.

Owen January 26, 2014 at 10:28 pm

“New York has the highest ratio of single women to single men. The east coast cities in general have the highest single women to single men ratios. By contrast the west coast cities have the highest ratio of single men to single women”

That’s a statistical artifact. LA has a high level of immigration from China and Central America that is made up overwhelmingly of men. New York has a large population of black men who are in jail for long terms and therefore a disproportionate population of single black women in the demographics that cops target.

But gp was about pretty single women walking down the street in nice walkable neighborhoods. The demographics that spend a lot of time in prison and immigrate in mass numbers don’t contribute much or subtract much from that phenomenon.

ryan January 27, 2014 at 2:15 am

yes, of course LA has many walkable neighborhoods. anyone who doesn’t see that is not even looking. the problem is that our walkable neighborhoods are like little islands separated by a vast sea fabric of what banham called “the plains of id” – blah unremarkable unwalkable (albeit relatively dense) sprawl, without any meaningful connections besides car traffic and the occasional bus. let’s connect these walkable nodes into a meaningful network through rail transit.

Al January 27, 2014 at 10:50 am

“little islands separated” — well said

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Depending on where you’re talking about, it’s not “the occasional bus”. The bus down Wilshire (which connects every single neighborhood on Wilshire) comes every 3 minutes at times. The buses on Vermont, Sunset, and Santa Monica are also more than once every 10 minutes for much of the day. Those four buses will get you between a large number of walkable neighborhoods. And rail transit in Los Angeles never gets faster than once every 5 minutes in any case, and that’s only in the segments where two lines share track – the rest is generally once every 10 or 12 minutes.

We definitely do need more rail for the heaviest-travelled routes, but we really need bus-only lanes for every single major bus line, and that could be done really cheaply, if they wanted.

Resident January 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

Most detractor’s here seem to completely ignoring the Metro & Metrolink. One can now go from Culver City to Downtown in less than 30 minutes by train. In just a year this will extend to Santa Monica. From Downtown you can take a train to Hollywood, Echo Park, Pasadena, or even venture south to downtown Fullerton in OC via Amtrak/Metrolink. Most of these walkable neighborhoods are or soon will be connected by train.

Willitts January 27, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I think you’re being too defensive about your preference for walking in LA. Although I have little experience walking there, I will take your rating as given.

It seems, though, that the high marks you give are at least partially explained by the favorable climate and augmented by the cultural and social amenities of most great cities.

In just about every ranking of walkable cities I’ve seen, the ability to convey oneself about town is what makes cities walkable. Put another way, wherever you happen to be staying, there are fine things to enjoy within walking distance.

So the appeal of LA isn’t so much the sprawling urban landscape but specific neighborhoods. I hardly consider a city to be “walkable” if you have to drive to get to a walkable place.

When we talk about the walkability of New York, are we talking Manhattan, Brookly, or Staten Island?

You can walk the breadth or length of San Francisco in about two hours without stopping. In eight hours, you can visit several neighborhoods. In a weekend, you can walk the entire city. That is walkable. Prague is walkable.

So before you defend LA, you might want to give your definition of walkable because that seems to be the only point of contention worth defending.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:40 pm

You again seem to be falling into the trap of identifying a walkable city with a single municipality. Sure, you can walk the length of San Francisco in a few hours and see some nice neighborhoods, while there’s no way you could walk Los Angeles from San Pedro to Chatsworth. But there’s a central region of Los Angeles as big as San Francisco (West Hollywood to Silver Lake to Downtown to USC to Culver City) where you could certainly do nearly as good at walking with only a few more unpleasant areas for pedestrianism. If you’re going to include regions of Los Angeles outside those areas (which you definitely should), then you should also be including Daly City, Millbrae, and Marin County, as well as Oakland and Berkeley. Similarly, although Los Angeles would add the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley (which probably aren’t as bad as Marin), you’d also get Santa Monica and Glendale and eventually Long Beach. Each urban area has multiple good walkable areas and multiple bad ones, but people seem to forget about the bad walking areas when talking about SF and Northeastern cities.

Niko January 27, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I lived in LA for 3 years, two without a car, and it stunk. It was often too hot to walk, and it rained for a month every winter. I very often wanted to be somewhere outside of walking distance, and it’s difficult (though not impossible) to get there buy public T). The streets are too wide, fast and busy, the sidewalks are dirty and patchy, and there are limited areas where the window shopping is enjoyable. The few places which are fun to walk around are mostly outrageously priced. Venice may be the only real exception.

Niko January 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Add: I left three years ago (just as the Expo line was opening) to move back to Boston where I need not own a car.

Tom January 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Aren’t you automatically tagged as a giant loser in LA if you live there and don’t own a car? Isn’t social life automatically diminished and potential social circles greatly reduced?

mkt January 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm

WalkScore.com give overall ratings for cities, and pretty decent ratings for specific addresses. They’ve added a bunch of real estate ads but the site still has good functionality and info, and IMO pretty decent scoring.

Wanderer January 27, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Let’s put some numbers to this. Walkscore is a measure of how easy it is to walk from any given point to everday stores and services–grocery stores, restaurants, schools etc. There are certainly dimensions of walkability it doesn’t capture, but it does give a good 0-100 index of whether you can walk to places in normal life. They calculate citywide and neighborhood averages.

Los Angeles has the 9th highest walkscore of the 33 U.S. cities with populations over 500,000. Los Angeles’ overall walkscore is 63.9, compared to 83.9 for San Francisco and 48.5 for San Diego. Not surprisingly, New York ranks first (87.5), and Charlotte ranks last (24.4). The message is that LA is pretty good, not the best, but far from the worst.

The 5 best walkscore neighborhoods in LA (out of 94) are Downtown, Chinatown, Koreatown, Pico-Union, and Mid City West (aka Beverly Grove). The 5 worst are Porter Ranch, Terminal Island (only 827 people there), Beverly Glen, Bel Air, and Shadow Hills. As separate cities Santa Monica, West Hollywood and, notably, Beverly Hills all score well.

ohwilleke January 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

One way to measure walkability is revealed preferences. How many people don’t drive to work? How many people don’t have driver’s licenses? What are the average vehicle miles traveled per person per year? How many minutes does the average person spend in a car commuting?

Sam January 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

There are many wonderful walks in LA, but I dispute the notion that the weather in general is very good for daytime walks of any distance. Temperature alone is not a good measure of the climatic conditions. Long unshaded streets, sun beating down, metal and concrete absorbing and reflecting the heat, warm wind, particulates in the air, noise: all these conditions are common and make for unpleasant walks, especially without good sun protection. A layer of sweat and grit soon coat your skin. For opposite reasons, I feel San Francisco is a better city for long walks: though the temperature and winds can appear less than ideal on paper, in fact after an afternoon of scaling hills they refresh and cool you.

miranda do douro January 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Whats up are using Wordpress for your blog platform?
I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started
and set up my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Noel Maurer January 29, 2014 at 12:32 am

Y’know, this all does depend on your starting point. For example, does anywhere in Houston feature a pleasant place to walk? So far, I haven’t found it, not even downtown.

By that standard, L.A. is great.

Aaron W. January 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Relative to many other cities mentioned in this discussion, “Los Angeles” means different things to different people. The city and metro region cover not only such a wide area but so many different development patterns that almost any sort of lifestyle is possible within the boundaries of “L.A.”.

Los Angeles is also in the midst of an active development cycle with regards to transit options. People who have lived in or visited L.A. even a few years ago, let alone a decade or more, would have experienced a very different city with regards to transit options. Many of the cities that L.A. has been compared to in this discussion were settled long before L.A., and long ago went through the densification phase that many core communities of L.A. are now experiencing.

This post is technically about walking but many of the commenters have defined a “walking city” as a city with pedestrian-oriented transit options that link them between locations. Fair enough.

You are now standing in Culver City, a highly walkable village in and of itself. (Yes, technically a separate municipality from the city of L.A., but clearly a “part” of L.A.) You walk around Culver City and take in the downtown, do some shopping, and then go to the Expo Light Rail station. You take the light rail 20 minutes to the Staples Center. Maybe you’re catching a Kings or Lakers game. Maybe you stay on until 7th & Metro. Either way, you’re now in downtown LA. You walk up to Bunker Hill and past museum row. You walk through Grand Park to City Hall. You walk to Little Tokyo for ramen and maybe even to the Arts District for bohemian trendiness. Or you walk to Chinatown a few blocks north. At Union Station, you get on the Gold Line and take it 20 minutes to Old Town Pasadena — a dense walkable city unto itself. With two light rail rides and your own two feet, you’ve easily spent a whole day in three very different communities of L.A. And this is just one possible combination — you haven’t even stepped on the red line through Hollywood yet or the blue line to Long Beach. In less than 2 years you can even extend this journey all the way west to Santa Monica, and spend hours walking around that beautiful beach city, too.

Does this itinerary represent the totality of Los Angeles? Of course not. But you’ll still have played the role of pedestrian in as much urban territory as many whole cities.

What I like about the present-day (and near-future) Los Angeles is that it is truly a multi-modal city. You aren’t locked into any single form of transportation. Not everyone wants to be carless, but many of us like being car-less. I walk, I bike, I take the train, and occasionally the bus, and I also drive. Every modality has its benefits and drawbacks. Take the train to avoid traffic and relax. Take the car to pick up that 40lb bucket of cat litter or take in the dramatic scenery of the mountains. Take the bike to feel the ocean breeze. Take your feet to enjoy the greenery and flowers on a 75 degree day in January.

Most people who dismiss the multi-modality of Los Angeles have simply not spent any time actually learning the city. This applies equally to weekend visitors and 30-year residents.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:43 pm

This is one of the best descriptions of Los Angeles that I’ve seen.

Kenny January 30, 2014 at 10:45 pm

But we don’t have bike share yet, and Uber and Lyft are still not adequate to replacing the ability to hail a taxi on the street yet, so it’s still a bit awkward to use bike or car for part of a multi-modal trip.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: