"The San Fernando Valley. It's a suburb in the northern part of L.A."
And then, the unexpected silence. You need to follow that up with something. After all, you are where you come from, right?
There isn't anything spectacular about the San Fernando Valley. There also isn't anything wrong. All roads are two-way and at 90-degree angles. Shops are evenly spaced. Schools are above-average. There is dining for all ethnicities and all income levels. Even Snoop Dogg went to school in the Valley. This author could imagine settling down and starting a family here.
So can a lot of other people. There are 1.6 million residents in the San Fernando Valley. Standing alone, it ranks as the sixth-biggest city in the nation.
Tell this fact to anyone, and their jaw always drops. This unpretentious, middle-class town has that many people?
That in itself is the answer. It's a diverse suburban sprawl that doesn't try too hard. Whether you're a lowly real estate agent or a Hollywood executive, there's a place you can call home. Although home prices have gone up, the SFV is still affordable compared to the entirety of Southern California.
Angelenos All Say the Same Thing
When downtown Angelenos talk about the Valley, they're usually bored about it. Aside from Paul Thomas Anderson shooting a few movies here, there's nothing to do. Here are a few normal complaints:
Ventura Boulevard is the best upscale entertainment we have.
Too many chain restaurants, not enough real restaurants.
Nightlife means sleep.
Not enough tourist attractions.
It's always 10 degree hotter than the other side of the hill.
It's also likely that Angelenos think they're better than us too, based solely on their place of residence. Los Angeles is often portrayed as glitz, glamor, and the Griffith Observatory.
But what are we looking for in a city?
You Have the Definition of a City Wrong
The great cities in the world are known for their romance (Paris), dynamism (Tokyo), tradition (Rome), and money (New York). Those are all fun if you're in your 20's and have a Kerouac book in your thrift store backpack.
A realistic city is somewhere you can viably live. It's a collection of affordable houses, comprehensive schools, shopping, and jobs - all cris-crossed by streets that are preferably traffic-free. It's where your children can develop healthily and your parents retire comfortably. If you love your family, then you love the San Fernando Valley.
Tell me about how great Dodgers Stadium is, and I'll remind you about the Battle of Chavez Ravine. Bring up the glory of Koreatown, and while I'll agree, I'll be peeved about the 1992 riots. Talk about the nightlife, and I'll just ask who cares? Who needs all this when you can afford a house, you have front lawn, and everything is convenient?
Malibu is 45 minutes a way, but a condo doesn't cost a million dollars. We have poor neighborhoods, but gentrified pockets don't cost a million dollars (looking at you, Silver Lake). We have fantastic schools, but no spoiled celebrity children to distract.
Most importantly, we have normal, middle-class families from all walks of life. They're mostly humbled and are the American dream. 1.6 million of us. What is a city good for?
The San Fernando Valley is practical Southern California living. When people ask why you live here, you don't need to say much at all. It's home.