A dream and a reality, the 2028 Olympics give Los Angeles a chance to imagine its future

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When asked to explain the secret of Los Angeles on the eve of the 1984 Olympics, the late poet, novelist and fantasist Ray Bradbury broke it down, capturing the ingenuous advantage the city enjoyed as it was coming of age.

“L.A. is a conglomerate of small towns striving toward immensity and never making it, thank God,” he wrote. “We have no kings, queens, or courts, no real pecking order, no hierarchies to prevent those of us who care to lean into creativity from running loose in the big yard.”

With that creativity and freedom, he continued, “we have conquered the world and don’t have enough sense to know it. Maybe it’s just as well. With such knowledge comes arrogance. We are not arrogant yet, although I detect signs of it ….”

More than 30 years later, it is hard to imagine what Bradbury would make of last week’s announcement that Los Angeles will host the Olympics in 2028. The city today is approaching the immensity that he seemed wary of.

“You could argue in some ways that L.A. is less a successful world-class city than it was in 1984, certainly in terms of technological and economic leadership,” he said. Since then, the city has lost corporations and experienced slower job and population growth.

Kotkin is concerned that the Olympics will become the organizing principle for any decision that the city makes when other issues — poverty rate, housing, homelessness — demand attention.

“We are focused on our image and not so much on what is happening in our neighborhoods,” he says. “We think we can glitz our way to success, but it will take a lot more to do that.”

Los Angeles, he said, puts on a great show, but that is not enough.

“It seems to me this is not an ascension story as it was in 1932, or a confirmation-of-greatness story as it was in 1984,” he said, “but a way to remarket a product that has lots of brand problems.”

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In closing his essay, Bradbury imagines what might lie ahead for Los Angeles, whose “somewhat frivolous and more relaxed” attitude had “siphoned up the powers of the world” to its benefit.

His prediction wasn’t promising.

“Perhaps late in the century,” he wrote, “when the many small towns of L.A. connect up and sign peace treaties with each other, and cross-pollinate theater groups, art mobs and political malfunctions, we will have found our navel, our pecking-order hierarchy and — at last — arrogance. Which will mean the death of creativity.”

Whether the city has reached that point or not is a matter of contention for its boosters and critics.

Los Angeles is famous for its ability to court both dreamers and pragmatists. For every eccentric ambition, there is a broken sidewalk needing repair. For every point of pride, a darkened shadow.

But the city is too easily rendered in either utopian or dystopian terms, as if each is mutually exclusive. Will the 2028 Games be fiscally wise or foolish? Will they be politically popular or a political blunder?

Probably a little of each, but the answer to these questions just might be irrelevant, Waldie said. The success of the 2028 Olympics, he argues, will be the degree to which Los Angeles — the city, its neighborhoods and the venues — is able to delight and capture the world’s imagination.

“We will always have intractable problems before us, for which the Games are a distraction, but they are not a mean or empty distraction, but a joyful one,” Waldie said. “There will always be a big plate of kale sitting in front of you, but occasionally there will be a bowl of ice cream too.”

thomas.curwen@latimes.com

Twitter: @tcurwen


1 Los Angeles

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