Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Zeitgeist Check

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

The Center of it All

Of course the word came at both LA Voice and LA Curbed - "In matters of technology, entertainment, fashion and 'overall groove,' Los Angeles is - at this second - the center of the known universe."

But you knew that. Eat your heart out Pittsburgh!

No, everyone left Pittsburgh - Gertrude Stein, Gene Kelley and Oscar Levant, Andy Warhol and all the others.  The first ended up in Paris, the second pair ended up living down the way in Beverly Hills and, down the hill in Culver City, making that movie about Paris - and the third ended up some blocks south of the center of Manhattan.  We won't mention Perry Como - he was really from nearby Canonsburg, not Pittsburgh - nor Henry Mancini, from Aliquippa, a bit further down the river. It doesn't matter. These days, this is the place to be.

Who says so? Stan Stalnaker does, in Hub Culture's 2007 Zeitgeist Ranking

You didn't know there was such a thing?  Stan's your man for such things. "Hub Culture" is his cultural think-tank, if you will.

Stan Stalnaker is the global marketing expert and author of Hub Culture: The Next Wave of Urban Consumers, a branding and marketing book published worldwide in late 2002.  In it he describes who matters - the new century's young urban professionals, today's globetrotting post-yuppies. We're not talking David Brooks' Bobo people or the French BCBG (bon chic, bon genre). We're talking hip to the core. Much has been written about attracting such folks to your city.  The book is about "the fast multiplying networks between urban consumers" - with special attention paid to the particular traits and buying habits of the truly hip.  And it contains strategies to reach "this elusive, valuable consumer target."  It's hard, but some think it's necessary. Who wants to live in some provincial backwater with a moribund local economy, just watching the rest of the world elsewhere? (Some do of course - and they're probably quite happy with the arrangement.)

Stalnaker is, by the way, the Marketing Director for the Fortune Group - for Europe, Middle East and Africa - and writes for Fortune and Business 2.0 magazines.  So Stalnaker works for a division of Time Warner, and the Fortune Group is responsible for joint client development projects, strategic branding and "multimedia exposure platforms" (whatever that may be) for a various global blue-chip clients - BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Giorgio Armani, HP, HSBC, Lexus, Remy Martin, Taschen, Tiffany, SonyEricsson, Siemens, Shell, UBS, and Wally Yachts. In his spare time Stalnaker writes the monthly trend columns for Internationalist Magazine in New York, Enigma in the Middle East, and GQ Australia - and Hubculture is his web log. He's busy man - also on the fundraising boards for Make a Wish Foundation International, the Antarctican Environmental Initiative and London's Serpentine Gallery.  He might know something.  He might not.

Is Los Angeles right now the Center of the Universe? His fairly mysterious community of global trend-watchers says so - and the hapless runners-up are, in order, Berlin, Mumbai (Bombay), Istanbul, London, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Dubai, New York, Geneva and then ten meaningless other places.  Paris isn't even on the list (nor is Pittsburgh, of course).


Make of that what you will.

But it comes down to this -

    It's 2007, and the look and feel of the decade is in full swing. The idea behind the hub zeitgeist ranking is that at certain times in certain places, there is a veritable "center of the universe" a place where innovation, change and vibe combine to create the place of the moment. Earlier we looked at this from a historical perspective as we prepared our first ranking of hubs and their impact on hub culture. Yes, it's arbitrary, and no it's not scientific, but it does reflect a combination of influences on a global basis. It does not reflect ultimate power or coolness, but some combination that reflects "right now" better than anywhere.

So Los Angeles is number one, as it's so "right now" -

    A controversial choice? Sure it's big, but LA is finally hitting on all cylinders: fashion, tech, entertainment, and overall groove. American Apparel is changing fashion with vertically integrated manufacturing. LA's skull and bones indie rock fashion dominates globally. Myspace culture is taken for granted, everywhere. New walking areas and urban regeneration projects, from downtown to Malibu to Hollywood, make the city much more palatable than before, despite the endless crush of traffic. Entourage and other shows, from the OC to Laguna Beach, have moved the collective consciousness west. All in this and more help make LA the city of the moment: the energy is positive, its power is on the rise, and people everywhere have LA on their mind.

They do? That's somehow sad.

But it's not as sad as the places, once way cool, centers that have faded -

    1978-1983 - New York City

    The age of Andy Warhol's Factory and the heydey of New York's cultural influence on America. This time before the Disneyfication of the City, where grit and creativity, along with Wall Street's three martini lunch, laid the foundations for the predominant identity of the 80s.

    1983-1988 - Tokyo

    Capped by the bursting of Japan's economic bubble, this period of western geishas, SONY and the Rising Sun, a city of soaring rent prices and the emergence of Harajuku and other areas of Tokyo has global style centers. As the financial capital of Asia, it is the most international of cities and a new global capital.

    1989-1993 - London

    Benefiting from the end of the Cold War, Cool Brittania takes shape in London and the City begins to bloom as a global financial center. Fashion comes to London, with London Fashion Week taking off and the emergence of Brit bad boys, from Damian Hirst to Julian McDonald, place the moment here.

    1994-1997 - Hong Kong

    As Hong Kong gears up for the handover in 1997, the economic clout of Asia moves here following the bursting of Japan's bubble. An emergent China fuels growth and optimism, and everything China still flows through Hong Kong, making it the center of operations for a fascinated world. It is the global group of young people that fill the city who create its energy, opportunity is everywhere and so is the cash... even into the Asian Financial Crisis.

    1997-2000 - San Francisco

    As the tech boom and the internet hit full-speed, San Francisco is the place to be. From outrageous rents to the dot-com of the moment, San Francisco, the sock puppet and nearby Silicon Valley own the moment.

    2000-2001 - Sydney

    A brief moment in the sun is bookended by the Olympics and Sydney's booming real estate markets. A growing sense that the world is small pervades, and Sydney's distance personifies this ideal. Cut short by the events of Sept. 11, when global travel shriveled. Good times and clean living extravagance dominate, and no place personified that better than down under.

    2002-2005 - Las Vegas/Miami

    A joint mantle? The operative word here is bling, and no place captured the rise of Britney and the shimmer of J. Lo like Vegas and Miami. World poker tours, pop trash, Hummers and gold hoops were made for South Beach and the Strip, and both locations helped make the moment.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi and all that. Of course this means Los Angeles has peaked. It's all downhill from here.  Reread Ozymandias

As for places not quite as cool as Los Angeles, but still on the list of pretty-cool-right-now, a selection -

    2. Berlin  

    As contemporary art begins to dominate the mainstream, Berlin has emerged as the identity for a fun young Europe.  With Merkel putting Germany on the mend and the World Cup of 2006 having shone the spotlight on the city, Berlin has spiffed up - a lot.  Real estate is booming, but there is still an undercurrent of gritty, rough urban experimentalism that resembles London during its moment.  It's rough, but richer. So hot it's nearly establishment, but not quite yet, which makes it a serious contender for the top spot.

    4. Istanbul  

    Somehow Istanbul has managed to balance its location with style and grace. Those in the know swear by the city, with its speedy speed boats on the Bosphorous, continually improving scene tempered by an ingrained respect for Islamic tradition. Istanbul is about the only place where Christian and Muslim seem to blend to create a sum greater than their parts - it is evocative of the world we want, and a symbol of where a truly global world can co-exist.

    5. London  

    London is about to overtake New York in some areas of the financial world. On constant alert, it remains confident and open, unlike the American attitude. One of the most expensive cities in the world, it has come to dominate the international cultural life, and remains a center of the world in wide areas of business.  London can feel a bit stale at times but its power is omnipresent, like New York before 911.

    6. Buenos Aires  

    So hot! The Argentinean financial crisis has faded, but the incredible value of Argentina as a destination remains.  This is fueling a buying boom in urban real estate as Europeans and North Americans establish summer homes and secondary residences here.  Business remains slow, but BA is the hot spot of Latin America.  Panama and Sao Paolo have heat, but BA sizzles.  It's the hottest "second city" in the world.

    9. New York  

    The big apple has its stride back, but it has been so sanitized that the cultural revival of the city feels as if it has been outsourced to Brooklyn.  But Brooklyn is still part of New York, and New York still dominates in advertising, finance and international business.  This hub of hubs seems to be following the leader - in architecture, in culture, and in innovation, but it is still completely critical for processing other advances into the mainstream, and as the city moves farther from its 911 nightmare, sprouts of change are seen... from the revival of the speakeasy to a sudden interest in poetry and drama to the new dominance of the Lower East Side over Meatpacking. One hopes that NYC can survive its own mallification.

So that's the word - from here at the center of the universe.

Of course there are other assessments, like Stephane Fitch in Forbes on how this place is for singles -

    If you're dying to toss a surfboard on the top of your car and head west, Los Angeles looks even better now than it did a year ago, moving up a notch to sixth on our list. Credit a slightly more reasonable cost of living and a slightly juicier job market. Yes, buying a house is more outrageously expensive than ever, but renting is relatively cheap: a bungalow in, say, Venice that would sell for $700,000 to own can be rented instead for just $1,400 a month. That should leave you with enough dough to lose yourself in the Sunset Strip's welcoming (and smoke-free) bar scene. "Aspiring actor" may be code language for "waiter" but it also frequently translates as "young, beautiful Angelino who goes out a lot." And there's a massive infrastructure to support them: Only New York has more bars, nightclubs and restaurants. If you want to escape the overly hip and huddled masses, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the L.A. Philharmonic Association, opened its doors last year. Tickets are hard to get, but fortunately, the Hollywood Bowl is still doing its classical and jazz concert series each summer. Gas here is expensive and traffic delays plentiful, but you needn't be a slave to your car if you're jockeying a desk downtown. Find an apartment in gentrifying neighborhoods near downtown, like Silver Lake and Koreatown. Or discover the city's light rail service to Manhattan Beach. Beginner surfers are welcome there.

For lots of photos of most of those places, see the photo archives - but know the Forbes "6" ranking has its subsets. Culture gets a "7" even if Nightlife gets a "2" - and Job Growth ranks a "25" while the Cost of Living Single nets a "36" spot. The single Forbes readers give Los Angeles an overall composite ranking of "13" - no matter what Hub Culture says.

Elsewhere in Forbes there's the list of the Most Overpriced Places.  Los Angeles is in the top ten, at "10" on the list.

  • Cost of Living Rank: 98
  • Job Growth Rank: 84
  • Housing Affordability Rank: 112
  • Salary Rank: 5
  • Median Home Price: $563,900

In short -

    Glitz and glam doesn't come cheap. To the contrary, Los Angeles is the one of the most expensive cities in the country, according to ACCRA's "2006 Cost of Living Index." Tinseltown really feels the burn when it comes to housing - it is last in housing affordability, according to our rankings. The median home price is at $563,900 - about $35,000 more expensive than New York's - according to the National Association of Realtors.

Ah well, there is a price to pay for living at what is, at this moment only, the center of the universe.

And being smug has its own costs.

This item posted January 14, 2007

[Zeitgeist Check]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik