Saturday, August 03, 2013

Downtown LA looking better

We should all claim our bad calls as well as the good ones.  I have long been critical of efforts to revive downtowns.  These had been declining for many years, as cities decentralized. In most cases, there have been downtown renewal/revival efforts and most of these have been too costly to be justifiable.

Los Angeles' downtown had been declining since the late 1940s-early 1950s.  But things are now looking up as gentrification sets in.  Whole Foods has anounced they will open a store in downtown LA in 2015. To be sure, this has less to do with planners' efforts than it has to do with the drop in crime.

The big plan for downtown LA was that it would become the "financial capital of the Pacific Rim." This never happened. The few Fortune-500 headquarters that were here all left. But LA redevelopers and boosters had already seen to it that new class-A office high rises (the new downtown skyline of TV's LA Law) were built.  They overbuilt, office space rents fell, B-office people moved into A-spaces and the B-spaces became available for loft and condo redevelopment, just in time for the drop in crime and gentrification.

The white elephants are still around.  There is a huge and underutilized convention center, a downtown-centered subway line and other baubles that we will be paying off a long time.  Developers have caught on that anything that can be sold as transit-oriented has a better chance of being greenlighted by planners.  My colleague, Jenny Schuetz, and her co-researchers have shown that this is not yet working out in LA.

Nevertheless, many of us apply our wisdom to predictions. Its pretty clear that I should have thought more about gentrification for downtown LA.