Forbes: Downtown Los Angeles Is America's Most Colorful Neighborhood
From Forbes - In some ways, DTLA's evolution into this rarefied air has been circular. During the city's initial pre-WWII growth era, downtown was the business and transit epicenter. It hollowed out substantially in following decades thanks to suburbanization, but since 1999, residential population has tripled to 60,000. DTLA has regained its cultural moxie amid this growth, with GQ calling the neighborhood, unto itself, "America's Next Great City."
The story behind this revival is, first and foremost, one of deregulation. According to Brady Westwater, a renowned local flaneur, the biggest measure was the city-approved adaptive reuse ordinance passed in that crucial year 1999. This enabled many of DTLA's decrepit historic buildings—such as its impressive stock of Beaux Arts towers--to be restored and converted by developers into residential lofts. This accompanied other measures to allow new towers, too, turning parts of DTLA into the condo canyons that are illegal elsewhere in the city. Together, this has accomplished the same thing that deregulation has in other major downtown areas, improving Walk Scores, filling sidewalks with people, and bolstering amenities.
But there is another quality to DTLA that transcends all this; the neighborhood has a quintessentially "Los Angeles" feel that is too ambiguous to describe for readers, but that suggests how more of the city might function if it were ever allowed to urbanize.
One driver of this quirky exceptionalism, said Westwater, is the number of major institutions--formal and de facto--that are clustered within DTLA so closely, yet are so radically different from each other.
“We have more things that are important in an urban sense within walking distance than any city in the world,” he said.
And then, while sitting with me in The Last Bookstore, a world-famous DTLA cultural emporium, he began listing them. Meander through the 8.6-square-mile neighborhood, and one will encounter, in no particular order, the following: a high-rise Financial District; an Arts District loaded with galleries; a Fashion District; a Chinatown; a Little Tokyo; a Korean area; a Mexican Town; a Union Station; a major covered street food collective called Grand Central Market; a Civic Center that has the highest concentration of government employees outside of Washington, DC; an additional arts district along Bunker Hill featuring venues of a more institutional nature, like the Broad Museum; an entertainment district that includes a stadium and convention center; Grand Park LA; and the list goes on.
“I could count 40 different major government, civic and business functions that are all within walking distance here,” said Westwater. In other major cities, meanwhile, it would take days to access a similar number of comparable institutions; just consider that in New York City, Chinatown, Wall Street, Madison Square Garden, the Lincoln Center, and the central bohemian hub (Williamsburg) are all in completely different neighborhoods.
Perhaps more notable, though, are the endless tactical urban features at street level--alt retail stores, coffee shops, old-school diners and taverns, parks and parklets, and the endless unique murals which extend LA's postmodern noir artistic tradition. Beyond even the major institutions, these zillion minor details have a place-making quality that surpasses anything I've found in America. Take, for example, Bottega Louie, an expansive, glamorous, open-view Italian restaurant that blares white light onto the sidewalks from the corner of 7th and Grand.