Monday, May 21, 2012

A Tale of Two (or More) Downtowns

Downtown Los Angeles

(Flickr pic by Channone Arif.)

The L.A. Times weighed in Sunday with another story about the Downtown Los Angeles renaissance, but the angle was at least fresh: A look at how the Staples Center and L.A. Live have indeed brought life to downtown, yet the halo effect doesn't reach more than a block or two beyond the venues.

But that's OK, the story notes: The growing population downtown has injected its own life into the Historic Core and surrounding areas, triggering the new slew of restaurants and bars in the area. There's just not much cross-pollination, and for the downtown residents who don't want their favorite haunts turned into mini L.A. Live offshoots, that suits them just fine:

In that sense, this is the kind of weekend that boosters have dreamed about: A rare triple playoff at Staples, with the Dodgers playing just to the north in Chavez Ravine, the Amgen Tour of California cycle race rolling through the streets of downtown and "Don Giovanni" being presented at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

But these big-ticket events tell only part of the story. Urban planners and others say that smaller, organic neighborhood forces, the inventive mix of retail shops, restaurants, bars and galleries, have also been an important draw.

"Downtown has some great neighborhoods that have their own specific functions — Little Tokyo, the Arts District, the garment district," said Joel Kotkin, an urban studies fellow at Chapman University. "It happens best when it happens organically. The beauty of the Arts District is that it grew over years. And there's a niche, art types, who like that. There's been a market for that."

Kotkin and others said downtown is really a collection of neighborhoods — not a monolithic whole — each with its own vibe. And they are much less interconnected than many might think.

"Downtown L.A. is like the rest of the city," said Steven Erie, a political science professor at UC San Diego who has written about Los Angeles. "Just like you have a spread-out city, you have nodes in downtown. They're very weakly connected, and that's the way L.A. grew, and that's the way downtown was developed. There's multiple downtown experiences."

The differences are about location but also about culture. Amid the lofts, dive bars and art galleries along Spring and Main streets, some residents said they have little interest in the chain restaurants and mainstream entertainment offered at Staples and L.A. Live.

Read more here.

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