Downtown Los Angeles, often referred to as DTLA, has been my home for over three years now. A lot has happened here over that period. As DTLA residents, my wife and I have been able to watch the growth and transformation of the area in our front row seats. Just as examples, we now have a City Target, Smart & Final, new parks, a charter school, and a bunch of new restaurants. I have previously written about DTLA’s revitalization, walkability, and parks. I think another post on downtown is due and timely given the following recent developments:
Just about everyone knows about Grand Park these days. Some even refer to it as Los Angeles’ Central Park. Having seen how large and green the original Central Park in New York City is, I dare not make such a comparison. However, I can certainly say that Grand Park has become quite an attraction and a wonderful gathering place for Angelenos. Well, apparently, the American Planning Association thinks so too because just last week, it bestowed an award upon the park as a “great public space” through its “Great Places in America” program. As stated in APA’s description of the park, Grand Park “not only is one of Los Angeles’s most popular places for daily exercises, lunch breaks, and family activities, it also is a hub for surrounding communities of historic Chinatown, Little Tokyo, El Pueblo, and the Old Bank district.” APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP, said, “Grand Park is the embodiment of the people, diversity, and culture of Los Angeles. It is a place for celebration, reflection and camaraderie.” He continued, “The first plans for a park in downtown Los Angeles go back more than 100 years when pioneering planning theorist Charles Mulford Robinson envisioned a civic and cultural center for downtown that was inspired by the late 19th Century City Beautiful movement.” As a downtown resident and park planner, I am pleased to see this special park recognized by the national planning association. My 15-month old daughter would also agree with this recognition as Grand Park is one of her favorite places to play!
Over the weekend, I visited the Central Library which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the re-opening of the library with a discussion panel in the building’s Taper Auditorium. The discussion was moderated by Kenneth Breisch of the USC School of Architecture, and featured very knowledgeable panelists, including Margaret Bach (founding member and first president of the Los Angeles Conservancy, Kenon Breazeale (Cenral Library docent), Sheila Nash (Senior Librarian – Art, Music, & Recreation), Frank Rinaldi (Division Manager, Department of Public Works) and Betty Gay Teoman (former Director of Central Library Services). The Central Library has always been one of my favorite places in DTLA. Whenever I visit, it brings back fond memories of my childhood days when I spent a lot of time in libraries. It was enlightening for me to learn more about Central Library’s history. If you have not been there, I would highly recommend a visit. After all, the library has been a L.A. icon since it was dedicated in 1926. With striking architecture and artwork both inside and out, it is a vital cultural institution with a tremendous research collection. Sadly, Central Library was threatened with demolition during downtown’s massive redevelopment in the 1960s/70s and suffered two devastating fires in 1986. A renovated and expanded Central Library was reopened to the residents of the city in October of 1993.
Also over the weekend, CicLAvia: Heart of LA was held in downtown. (A map of the route is available here.) For those unfamiliar with the event, CicLAvia basically makes the streets safe for people to walk, skate, play and ride a bike by closing them off to automobiles for a certain period of time. Shop owners and restaurants are encouraged to open their doors to people along the CicLAvia. Ciclovías started in Bogotá, Colombia, over thirty years ago as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets. Today, similar events take place throughout Latin America and the United States. The latest CicLAvia was the eighth edition of the increasingly popular event. I have personally participated in most of them as a walker, and have enjoyed seeing and experiencing the city in a different way. I support the temporary closure of streets to meet recreational and public health needs, and have previously written about this in an article and my doctoral project. Also interesting is that UCLA recently released a briefing paper which examined the economic impacts of CicLAvias and found that they boosted revenues to local businesses.
Disney Concert Hall
Designed by well-known architect Frank Gehry, Walt Disney Concert Hall is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and is recognized as one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world, providing both visual and aural intimacy for a high quality musical experience. As one of the most recognizable structures in Los Angeles today, the 3.6-acre complex has a striking exterior formed by stainless steel curves and a hardwood-paneled main auditorium offering state-of-the-art acoustics. I have only had the opportunity to attend one concert there (when my sister performed as part of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra), but I can still remember how grand and amazing it was to be inside. Well, the Concert Hall just celebrated its tenth anniversary. It is strange to think that this iconic structure has only been around for ten years, especially because I find it difficult to imagine DTLA without it. Sam Lubell with The Architect’s Newspaper recently wrote a thoughtful piece about the Concert Hall and its significance. Check it out here if you are interested.
Downtown Los Angeles has indeed become a “happening place.” And as I shared above, good things are happening here and there is much to celebrate. It is an exciting time to be a planner and downtown resident in Los Angeles. While it is not perfect (which neighborhood is?), DTLA has proven to be a good home for me and my family. I look forward to continuing being a part of its transformation to a even better community for residents, economic center for workers, and destination for visitors.
Note: All photos by author.