Today there is no way around the problem. The contemporary city simulates or hallucinates itself in at least two decisive senses. First, in the age of electronic culture and economy, the city redoubles itself through the complex architecture of its information and media networks. Perhaps, as William Gibson suggests, 3-dimensional computer interfaces will soon allow post-modern flaneurs (or "console cowboys") to stroll through the luminous geometry of this mnemonic city where data-bases have become "blue pyramids" and "cold spiral arms."
If so, urban cyberspace -- as the simulation of the city's information order -- will be experienced as even more segregated, and devoid of true public space, than the traditional built city. Southcentral L.A., for instance, is a data and media black hole, without local cable programming or links to major data systems. Just as it became a housing/jobs ghetto in the early twentieth century industrial city, it is now evolving into an electronic ghetto within the emerging information city.
Secondly, social fantasy is increasingly embodied in simulacral landscapes -- theme parks, "historic" districts and malls -- that are partitioned off from the rest of the metropolis. All the post-modern philosopher kings (Baudrillard, Eco, etc), of course, agree that Los Angeles is the world capital of "hyper-reality." Traditionally its major theme parks have been primarily architectural simulations of the movies or television. At the old Selig Zoo, for instance, you could enter the jungle set for Tarzan, while at Knotts Berry Farm or its Calico ghost town you could participate in a typical Western. Disneyland, of course, opened the gates to the "Magic Kingdom" of cartoon creatures and caricatured historical biographies.
Today, however, the city itself -- or rather its idealization -- has become the subject of simulation. With the recent decline of the military aerospace industry in Southern California, the tourism/hotel/entertainment sector has become the single largest regional employer. But tourists are increasingly reluctant to venture into the perceived dangers of Los Angeles' "urban jungle." As one MCA official recently complained: "There's somebody on every street corner with a 'Work for Food' sign [and the city] is not fun anymore."
MCA and Disney believe the solution is to recreate vital bits of the city within the secure confines of fortress hotels and walled theme parks. As a result, artificial Los Angeles is gradually coming into being. In essence, it is an archipelago of well-guarded corporate cashpoints where affluent tourists can relax, spend lots of money, and have "fun" again. A largely invisible army of low-wage service workers, who themselves live in virtual bantustans like the Santa Ana barrio (Disneyland) or Lennox (LAX) barrios, keep the machinery of simulation running smoothly.
Because these simulated landscapes compete with one another over "authenticity," some strange dialectics ensue. Simulations tend to copy not their "original" (where that even exists), but one another. Consider, for example, the multiple or exponentialized hyper-realities involved in the corporate battles to monopolize "Hollywood ."