LA – the city and the soul of the 21st century

Building on the experience of hosting two iconic Olympic Games, Los Angeles is ready to illustrate the power of togetherness in 2028 – capitalising on the diversity of its citizens and their ability to host world class sports events.

8 min read|
LA – the city and the soul of the 21st century
© Bauer-Griffin

In a series of articles that first appeared in Olympic Review edition 117, we asked journalists in the upcoming host countries of the Olympic Games to describe what the Games will mean for their communities. Writers from Paris, Milano and Los Angeles described their very personal visions with passion and enthusiasm.

Alan Abrahamson, an award-winning sportswriter who was previously a columnist for NBC and staff writer for The Los Angeles Times, looks ahead to the Olympic Games 2028, the third to be hosted in LA

Every kid who grows up in California has to take California history in fourth grade. A whole year’s worth.

The nine- and 10-year-olds learn how the state is dotted with 21 missions that are all located near what is now called Highway 101.

It roughly traces what is still called El Camino Real, or The Royal Road, named in honour of the Spanish monarchy, which financed the expeditions into California in search of empire.

The kids learn about the “Gold Rush”. How they found gold in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 and gosh darn near everyone, or so it seemed, wanted to get to San Francisco to get in on the deal. The population of the California territory in 1848 was fewer than 1,000; by the end of 1849 it was about 100,000. The Gold Rush made California a state, in 1850.

The youngsters learn that Sacramento is the state capital. That San Francisco is roughly a square seven miles by seven miles, and that the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and is a funky orange.

Los Angeles? What?

What’s there to learn about Los Angeles?

Well, OK, here’s not just a thing but the thing.

LA is the city of the 21st century.

Los Angeles
© LA-based muralist Kristy Sandoval is inspiring local communities with her artwork.

And as the Olympic Games prepare to come back to LA for the third time – 1932, 1984, 2028 – LA will not just transform the Games, as it always has, but assuredly, just as they certainly have as well, the Games will transform LA and, beyond, all of Southern California, too.

Perhaps unlike anywhere else in the world, the Games and the Olympics are part of the fabric of civic life in Los Angeles.

A standing committee exists to bid, always, for the Games. People like the lawyer and civic booster Barry Sanders have for many years kept the Olympic dream alive.

The 1932 Games? Those were the Xth Olympics. 10th Street in Los Angeles? Since 1932 it has been Olympic Boulevard.

Everything exists – already – to hold an edition of the Games. This, alone, sets Los Angeles apart, and it is the key factor in the preparation for and, ultimately, the staging of the 2028 Games.

But let’s back up for just a moment.

Los Angeles
© David Madison

If you ask anyone who was here in 1984, they have a story about how glorious those Games were, and about how amazing the following years – until the early 1990s in particular – were in and around LA and SoCal [Southern California]. The story inevitably is about traffic, about how the freeways were, for once, free and easy. Who wouldn’t want that again?! The other key: taxpayers in California mandate – they did in 1984 and are doing so now – that the Games pay for themselves.

On this point, zero problem. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who along with LA 2028 boss Casey Wasserman was instrumental in sealing the historic deal that saw Paris get 2024 and LA 2028, is on record as saying that the Organising Committee expects “to net north of a billion dollars”.

As part of that deal, the IOC agreed to advance USD 160 million for youth sports.

That money is already at work. Investing – real money – in kids is walking the walk. Money, you know, talks, and the way it talks is exceedingly likely to show up over the next six-plus years. Who grew up playing tennis in Compton? Serena and Venus Williams.

That USD 160 million figure to build on the work being done by what is now called the LA84 Foundation, headed for years by two-time IOC Vice-President Anita DeFrantz, now by Renata Simril. Funded originally by a 40 per cent share of the USD 232.5 million surplus recorded by the LA84 Organising Committee, the foundation has since 1985 invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars into Southern California youth sports; served millions of kids and teens; awarded grants to more than a thousand organisations; trained in the neighbourhood of 100,000 youth sports coaches; developed a major sports library and digital collection; published reports on, among other topics, the prevention of knee injuries; and, always, been a strong advocate for equity for girls and for young athletes of colour.

In Los Angeles, it’s not just that everything is already built – it’s that a big chunk of the stuff that’s built is world-class and beyond what was here for 1984. Staples Center downtown, where the NBA Lakers play; SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, where the NFL Rams and Chargers play; the new basketball arena that will be going up near SoFi, for the NBA Clippers; and so on. And, of course, the Coliseum – site of the 1932 and 1984 ceremonies, but now having undergone a USD 315 million renovation, paid for by the University of Southern California (USC), completed in 2019.

Los Angeles
© Getty Images

All this, and of course there’s the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, site of the iconic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final.

The USC journalism school, more or less across the street from the Coliseum, is due to be the Main Press Centre in 2028. UCLA, a few miles west down the 10 freeway, will be the Olympic Village.

When you don’t have to build stuff, you can concentrate full-time on what the Games mean. On the higher purpose of the Olympic Games as a community, state and national unifier.

On legacy.

This is where things get very, very interesting.

The 1932 Olympic Games all but introduced Los Angeles, a sleepy city on the west coast of the United States of America, as an idea. California dreaming! It was but four years after Walt Disney had introduced to the world an animated talking picture, Steamboat Willie, starring some mouse named… Mickey.

The 1984 Olympic Games, after the boycotts of 1976 and 1980, not only all but saved the IOC and the Olympic Movement – another story, cue Peter Ueberroth, and his financial insight – but electrified the United States and catapulted LA to international renown. The nation and world watched on television, and the Olympics “announced that Los Angeles had arrived as a great international city”, historian Kevin Starr, the former state librarian, has said in a famous quote.

The 1984 Games also ushered in a SoCal confidence boom, and thereupon a building boom, especially in downtown LA. The circular 73-storey US Bank Tower opened in 1990. For nearly three decades, it would be the tallest building on the West Coast.

In 2017, a few blocks away, the Wilshire Grand Center opened, topping out at 1,100 feet, the tallest building west of Chicago. The key driver of the project? Cho Yang-ho of Hanjin Group and Korean Air. Cho was, as well, the leader of the winning Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 bid and a trustee at USC, just a few blocks from the Wilshire Grand project.

The 2028 Olympic Games will similarly benefit from a building boom that is already underway – one that simultaneously has nothing to do with the Olympics and, timing-wise, everything. In 2008, LA County voters approved tax increases to fund USD 40 billion worth of transit projects, in particular, the construction or expansion of a dozen light-rail lines; in 2016, another voter approval, this time USD 120 billion worth, more projects.

Understand that the IOC did not award 2028 to LA until 2017.

Construction is seemingly everywhere. LAX is a mess, with a rail line going in (first time ever) that will connect the airport to a vastly expanded subway and light-rail system. If you want to go to Beverly Hills: Wilshire Boulevard, one of the city’s main east-west thoroughfares – similarly, a mess. Key pieces: expected to be done by 2028.

From the top of the Wilshire Grand, meanwhile, you can look out and appreciate what the locals know – that LA is a city of neighbourhoods, one that demands you get out of your car. You can see, too, the sparkling Pacific Ocean and know that across the sea lies Asia – and in particular Korea, Japan and China – where literally millions of people in SoCal have come from and have ties, and where the Games are moving these first years of this century: PyeongChang, Tokyo, Beijing.

Especially… China.

This is why the fourth-graders will learn all about LA in the future, and why the 2028 Games will be the catalyst. Only here does the world, naturally, organically, come together. It is, as Mayor Garcetti has said, no hyperbole, already the most diverse city in human history, arguably the northern capital of Latin America, the western capital of the United States, the eastern capital of the Pacific Rim.

We are already 20-plus years into the Pacific Century. As the current President of the United States has observed, our world is tilting toward China. The city where that tilt finds its axis is here, in LA.

Where – in 1984, the People’s Republic found its way back to the Olympic Movement.

Where in 2028 – in tribute to one of the greatest of all Angelenos, one of the greatest Olympians of all time, Kobe Bryant, gone too soon, No. 8 and No. 24, the one and only, on murals everywhere around town, a legend who not only appreciated but understood, and deeply, that we are all better when we come together – LA will stage the Olympic Games. Los Angeles? That’s the story for the fourth graders of 2028, of 2048 – and beyond.

The city, the soul, of the 21st century.