What Makes a City Great?

Posted by in Articles, Home Affordability | 12 comments

Returning from my trip to Arizona, I began comparing my city (a suburb of Los Angeles) to the Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe area of Arizona. I observed some drastic differences that got me thinking about my quality of life here in Los Angeles.  Let me preface this by saying that I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for over 33 years and consider it my home. But, I began thinking about what makes a city run smoothly, remain clean, and how cities keep up with their population growth.

A few things that really stood out when I was visiting in Arizona, that got me comparing it with Los Angeles, are the following:

  • Roads and traffic
  • Cleanliness
  • Air quality
  • Cost of living

Los Angeles is a sprawling city of too narrow roads and freeways with endless tail lights as far as the eye can see. Our potholes are almost as famous as New York’s, they can swallow whole SUV’s in a matter of seconds. Our population is larger than the Phoenix metro, by about 5 million. But in contrast, the  roads in Arizona are 6 lanes wide and newly repaved. Their highways are smooth, wide, and the city is continually adding more connections and highways to link their also sprawling communities making traveling around the city pleasant. The difference between these two cities, at least with city planning, is that Phoenix is anticipating a larger population – they are thinking ahead. Los Angeles, being an older city, never planned on so many people inhabiting the area. By the time our population had swelled to current numbers, we were land locked and unable to expand our highways. Obviously, geography does play a part. We are slightly more mountainous than the Phoenix area. Yet, for the amount of money I pay in auto registration and insurance, I feel shortchanged in the quality of roads I travel on.

Another drastic difference I noticed while in Arizona was the clean road sides and NO graffiti. Phoenix either has a terrific road side crew of maintenance people, or their population is more conscientious of throwing trash out their car window. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is littered with garbage from one end to the other. Our road side crews can’t keep up with the amount of trash, and somehow people can’t make it into the trash cans! Graffiti is another problem in our city, everywhere you turn you can find graffiti somewhere on a wall or side of a building. Again, in Phoenix I didn’t see one dab of spray paint anywhere. Unless their roadside crews are also constantly repainting walls and buildings, their population must be less likely to “tag” their turfs. As a city with one of the highest sales tax rates (almost 10%), I think my money is getting lost in the shuffle. It surely isn’t being invested in keeping the city clean.

California was one of the first states to implement zero emissions on their vehicles. Yet, in Los Angeles, you’d never know it. Our air is frequently a warm shade of beige. The coastal fog combined with factory and auto emissions equals smog. Considering our population is very health-minded, it’s ironic that we have the worst air quality in the nation. While in Phoenix, I noticed that I couldn’t see the air. This is a good thing, because air is supposed to be clear! I know that during their sweltering summers, their air quality isn’t as good as during the winter months, but at least they have a period of clean air.

Finally, there is the cost of living comparison. I’m always flabbergasted by how inexpensive other cities are compared to Los Angeles (except New York, of course). For example, the sales tax in Phoenix is just above 6%, that’s almost 4% less than L.A. Groceries, restaurants, and gas are much less as well. And homes? Well, let me just say that because of all the new communities popping up in Phoenix, you can nab a new home for under $100,000. The home prices are posted on all of the new development signs, ranging from $99,999 to the low $200,000’s. Finding a decent home for mid- to low- $200K in Los Angeles county is a near impossible feat. (I do want to touch more upon home developments, but I’ll save this for another post).

My comparison between these two cities made me realize that my husband and I need to move out of Los Angeles county. We are currently considering Ventura county, or moving just north of Los Angeles. We still want some of the benefits of being near a large metro, like the opera, shopping, the Getty Museum, and a variety of restaurants. We also like the idea of living within an hour of the beach, even though we really aren’t beach people. So, with a county population under 1 million, traveling around town will make life much more pleasant. Bike riding will also feel safer as many of Ventura counties’ cities have marked bicycle lanes. As we begin planning our move, I’ll be keeping these items in mind when choosing our new “home” city.

What do you like about your city? What do you dislike? Have you recently moved because of similar problems? Do you see your city becoming run down? How does that effect your psyche?

12 Comments

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  1. Mr Credit Card

    Unfortunately, there is no perfect city!

    New York – great for the arts and entertainment and great if you have lots of money!

    West Coast – beaches, but earthquake!

    Florida – beaches, weather but hurricanes!

    Guess you need to figure out what is important to you.

  2. Ryan @ Planting Dollars

    I like the weather here in Honolulu and that I can bike everywhere, but I don’t like that everything is so expensive and the houses are piled on top of each other…

    However, no smog here and friendly people… not too shabby. I think the most important factor no matter where you are is the people who you’re there with (a bit cheesy, but true).
    .-= Ryan @ Planting Dollars´s last blog ..Hiking Diamond Head and Snorkeling In Waikiki =-.

  3. Planting Dollars

    I like the weather here in Honolulu and that I can bike everywhere, but I don’t like that everything is so expensive and the houses are piled on top of each other…

    However, no smog here and friendly people… not too shabby. I think the most important factor no matter where you are is the people who you’re there with (a bit cheesy, but true).
    .-= Planting Dollars´s last blog ..Hiking Diamond Head and Snorkeling In Waikiki =-.

  4. Ryan

    I like the weather here in Honolulu and that I can bike everywhere, but I don’t like that everything is so expensive and the houses are piled on top of each other…

    However, no smog here and friendly people… not too shabby. I think the most important factor no matter where you are is the people who you’re there with (a bit cheesy, but true).
    .-= Ryan´s last blog ..Hiking Diamond Head and Snorkeling In Waikiki =-.

  5. Bucksome

    Weather is a big consideration in where to live, but its only one factor.

    San Diego is often referred to as the US city with the best weather (Ryan, they must mean continental US), but we’re seriously considering living else where in retirement due to cost of living and size of the city (too large!).
    .-= Bucksome´s last blog ..Shopping on Craiglist =-.

    • Little House

      @Bucksome-Last summer, my husband and I checked out San Diego as one of our options. In the end, it didn’t feel like “home”. I also thought it was a little too hilly for biking everywhere. Yet, the weather was really nice.

  6. eemusings

    Great post!

    Dislike: the weather (too much rain, too changeable), the roads, the crappy public transport, the general COL, and the quality/pricing of rental accommodation.

    Like: proximity to water! The fact that it is a big city and offers opportunities other places don’t. And the range of cuisines that again wouldn’t be found in a small town.

  7. WellHeeledBlog

    @Bucksome

    San Diego is my dream city. I’m going to retire there. ;)

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