Shown as part of CityLAb times 10 at the A+D Museum in Los Angeles.
It’s the year 2026 and Greater Los Angeles is now a public theme park. Having voted for and passed (almost unanimously) in the general election of 2018 Proposition FFF, or what is known today as The Fantasy Compact, Los Angeles County took fantasy back from private interests and made the practice of sympathetic magic a public good.
Conversion is taking place in stages. In 2019, Mascots and Wonder Stations are distributed throughout the county. The most impactful Fantasy Compact transition is implemented in 2020. All citizens are now cast members and characters who contribute to the ongoing narrative of place. This promotes awareness that narrative is work. Since instituted in 2022, all citizens/cast benefit from opportunities under 1.72.05 for Cast Visitation, a program that allows 5% of the population at any given time to experience Los Angeles as a different member of the cast. Uniforms are provided.
(By 2040, paid for by bond, there will be designated lands and rides.)
Fantasy is the oft-overlooked and under-discussed driver of the form and urban experience of the built environment of Los Angeles. In its development over the last 150 years, Los Angeles has been given shape by many hands (citizens, developers, filmmakers, engineers, and architects) through narrative storytelling that has proliferated a kind of fantasy urbanism. To spend a day in the life of Los Angeles is to slip between the real and fictional, banal and fantastic, moment to moment. These juxtapositions occur through a mixture of real design intervention—the streets of Hollywood glittering before your headlights, hyperfictional historic spaces like Olvera Street in downtown, and the banality of eating a slice of pizza on the ground floor of strip mall that is wearing a giant derby hat.
Profitable industries of twentieth-century Los Angeles—tourism, real estate and development, and entertainment—mastered a narrative flair for marketing and inspired on the part of the public an insatiable thirst for actualized fantasy living. This thirst was so great that fantasy environments were deployed in almost all arenas of Los Angeles commerce from shaped mom and pop restaurants to thematized neighborhoods. Today privately-funded developments have continued to make use of this desire for fantasy and its continued existence in the urban fabric of Los Angeles by employing narratives in order to package sellable experiences that can take place within the confines of their properties. The Grove and The Americana shopping centers are often-maligned but very popular contemporary examples. Yet even buildings we might overlook participate in the fantasy; the dingbat apartment building creates its own dreams with its name—Casa Bella or Tahiti Heights.
As it turns out, fantasy pervades normal life in Los Angeles so thoroughly that we hardly notice it. But whose narratives are these? Originally, the fantasy narratives of Los Angeles were written by powerful industries. As Norman Klein writes, “By 1900, boosterism in Los Angeles had developed virtually into a public-service corporation, centered around three industries: tourism, real estate and transportation.” But gradually the narratives have been absorbed into the place and into the people. Fantasy in Los Angeles reaches from the built form of the giant Tamale in Montebello, to the Rose Parade-vision of Los Angeles broadcast every January 1, to the thousands of Angelenos today posting #palmtrees on Instagram daily to remind themselves of the “paradise” they reside in. While accessible, fantasy has historically been controlled privately and produced for profit either big or small. If understood as a primary aspect of Los Angeles’ DNA, however, there is no way to imagine a future for Los Angeles without acknowledging its power. Fantasy is the way forward precisely because of its public legibility. The fantastic is not simply a style of architecture or a fiction but a substrate layer—The Fantasy Substrate—out of which the whole of the built environment and a cultural relationship to it arose. As such, The Fantasy Substrate belongs to all citizens of Los Angeles and its benefits should be understood as a public good rather than a public exploitation.
As a speculation for the future of Los Angeles, The Fantasy Compact suggests an urban planning that is not rational. The Fantasy Compact is an agreement publicized through government but undertaken between citizens to believe and participate in sympathetic magic. The compact is voted into effect by the citizens of Los Angeles County, thus making the entire county a public theme park. The actual making of the theme park is as much about collective belief and participation as it is about law or physical changes to the environment. The citizenry undertake to believe in their own implication in and labor in the making and preserving of the fantasy environment of Los Angeles.