Horizontal City. Horizontal Thinking.

Going up or spreading out?

I’ve never specifically considered that the physical geography of a city would correlate or have an affect on an industry until I interviewed Rob Schwartz, the Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day for IHAVEANIDEA. It was during my conversation with Rob, as we discussed the state of advertising in Los Angeles and what makes the market unique, that he said,

“New York is a very vertical city. When I lived in New York, it always felt like there was always someone above me, and I could not see the horizon. This sounds very physical and naïve in a way, but when I came out to L.A., it was all horizontal, and it gets you to think more optimistically. I call it “horizontal thinking”—you start seeing things more broadly, your vision is better, and your ability to make “it” happen improves through this optimism. I think that just the physical nature of being in a horizontal city versus a vertical city is a big deal. The more people who understand and realize that when they come out to L.A. and start making things happen, the more and more L.A. is going to be kind of like Minneapolis was back in the day, or the way London was in the ‘80s. This was a moment for these geographies.”

Is this “a moment” for Los Angeles?

Having lived in New York and spent a considerable amount of time in Los Angeles, this actually makes quite a bit of sense.

From a purely physical point of view, unless you are looking straight vertically up, you usually cannot see the sky in New York. Unless you stand along the riverbank, you cannot see a horizon. So your ability to look out and forward is physically limited, and your horizon consists of a sea of skyscrapers that confines your vision and leads it upwards. The viewpoint is limited by the sheer volume of the structure that humans have put in place in order to inhabit the city. It’s necessary to build up, because building out is not possible on an island.

That translates to a corporate or professional setting and the mentality therein. Not only are you working in a physical environment that values building up, the professional mindset in New York often matches this physical state. Everyone works to climb up that ladder and “make it in New York,” and as Rob said, “there was always someone above me.” That would be the case for much of one’s (if not the absolutely entirety of one’s) career. That is not to say that professionals in Los Angeles are not climbing a corporate ladder, but the landscape in New York does lend itself to the equivalent of placing oneself in a mental box, where the expansion possibility is only up.

It is interesting to reflect on Los Angeles as the reverse. The city truly is horizontal and spread out. From Hollywood, to downtown Los Angeles, to Santa Monica to El Segundo, there are different and very physically separate pockets of commerce and professional activity. Interspersed in between (rather than on top of or below) are residential areas and recreational areas, but with plenty of space in between. The sea is also present within ten miles of the city, giving an inspiring and seemingly infinite horizon for its professionals to reflect upon.

And if the ability to look not only up, but also forward and out results in greater optimism toward realm of possibility, and a general belief that “we can do this” no matter the circumstances, then indeed Los Angeles would be on the brink of a moment. A Minneapolis or ‘80s London-esque moment, as Rob said.

Perhaps the stars are aligning for the Los Angeles advertising industry in just a certain way. With a combination of content production at the ready, pools of creative talent and inspiration to source, and a sense of optimism in horizontal thinking, the possibility is present.

Have you ever reflected on vertical versus horizontal cities and the effect it would have on psyche and thus commerce? Do you think there is such an effect or any effect at all? What’s your take? Please weigh in to the comments below, via Facebook or Twitter, or post a response on your blog and send the link to brianna@thesaturnreturnproject.com.

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