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These Beautiful Aerial Photos Of L.A. Show What Income Inequality Looks Like From Above

Richer neighborhoods are beautiful, curvy swaths of green and blue. Poverty means you live in a straight brown line.

California has more billionaires than any other state (and most countries). And there’s a giant and growing gap between the ultra-rich and most Californians; the state also has the highest poverty rate and a third of the welfare recipients in the whole country.

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In Los Angeles, the richest 5% earn 12.5 times more than everyone else. A new photo series gives a glimpse of the differences in how Angelenos live from an unusual perspective, with aerial shots that show neighborhood patterns from above.

“There are sort of two extremes in how we end up living based on our affluence,” says Jeffrey Milstein, who shot the photos as part of a larger aerial series on both Los Angeles and New York City. “It’s very readily apparent from the air, because you suddenly are seeing the differences in the patterns.”

The richer the neighborhoods get, the bigger the houses and swimming pools. Even from 2,000 feet in the air, some streets look nicer. While some are stuck living in a sea of concrete under massive freeway interchanges or in trailer parks, others live on winding roads in the hills.

“If you’re in a more working-class neighborhood, it’s more brown because there’s less trees,” Milstein says. “The houses are more tightly packed, and the streets are on a straight grid. As you get into the more affluent areas the streets go off the grid and they start having curves. The whole neighborhood becomes more green, even blue as they start all having swimming pools. Suddenly you’re in an area where every house has a pool and probably a tennis court.”

Milstein, age 71, took the photos while dangling from a helicopter. The project is a return to his lifelong love of flying. “When I was a kid I learned to fly a small airplane at the Santa Monica airport, and then I used to fly around LA taking pictures–I was always fascinated by how things looked from the air,” he says. When he started to fly again recently, he was struck by the differences in housing. “I got interested in the different economic effects of neighborhoods,” he says.

He plans to continue photographing other cities. It would be interesting to see rural areas, too: There’s an even greater gap between life in cities like L.A. or San Francisco and places like California’s Central Valley, home to some of the poorest cities in the U.S.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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