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The impossibility of existing as a writer in Los Angeles


The just-released February issue of the Brooklyn Rail includes a symposium on art writing in Los Angeles, with contributions from Bruce Hainley, A. L. Steiner, Roberto Tejada, and others. The short contribution from Steiner focuses on the rising rents and low pay that make writing in Los Angeles—and in any major metropolitan city—an increasingly difficult endeavor. An excerpt:

How do we remain a city of writers, of artists, in these places? The same New York Times found that in Los Angeles, median rent is 47% of median income. The median rent in Los Angeles is $2,460 (New York is $2,331). According to UCLA’s Ziman Center for Real Estate and LA Curbed, Los Angeles has “the most unaffordable rental market in the U.S. [. . .] due to the fact that 52% of its inhabitants are renters” (the national rental rate is about 35%) and “since 1970, median rent has risen 175% in Los Angeles while median income has stayed just about flat.” Or, in other words, “one needs to earn at least $33 an hour—$68,640 a year—to be able to afford the average apartment in Los Angeles County.” This is unmanageable and ridickulous. Enhancing this dystopic landscape is a city with no water for its population of inhabitants, not enough anymore for wildlife, flora and fauna, and dying oceans. Sunny SoCal is now home to the country’s first desalination plant, in the resort town of Carlsbad, California it’s pumping fifty million gallons per day, enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every eighteen minutes. And for what? To perpetuate crapitalist production and reproduction, growth and relaxed lifestyles.

We’re a city of hapless hopefuls at the site of a hopeless millennium. Subjects of a white supremacist murderous patriarchy that will extract everything until the end. Until it’s all over and we have filed enough content to fill every hole. We must stop the clocks, we must stop producing for production’s sake. We must start thinking together. As indigenous activist and academic Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stated,

Our elders have been warning us about this for generations now—they saw the unsustainability of settler society immediately. Societies based on conquest cannot be sustained[…]We’re running out of time. We’re losing the opportunity to turn this thing around. We don’t have time for this massive slow transformation into something that’s sustainable and alternative. I do feel like I’m getting pushed up against the wall. Maybe my ancestors felt that 200 years ago or 400 years ago. But I don’t think it matters. I think that the impetus to act and to change and to transform, for me, exists whether or not this is the end of the world. If a river is threatened, it’s the end of the world for those fish. It’s been the end of the world for somebody all along. And I think the sadness and the trauma of that is reason enough for me to act.

Image courtesy Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.)


I appreciate this text, but is LA rent really more expensive than NY? I think if you break it down per square foot NY is far more expensive. Here’s LA Curbed on the matter (which Steiner uses as a source), though they say here that you get more for what you pay in LA.