Wednesday, April 06, 2005

downtown: think small

joel kotkin, long a champion of the suburbs, argues in the LA business journal this week that downtown's plans for revitalization are misguided. skip the grandiose, focus on the grassroots artists district, the ethnic communities, the specialized industry neighborhoods like the jewelry district and garment center. its a compelling argument, but there are a few points that seem misguided to me.

one of his major arguments is that past investment in downtown hasn't worked. he uses the convention center as his example - meanwhile ignoring walt disney hall, caltrans, moneo's cathedral, moca, and myriad other developments, both large and small, that make downtown feel like its on the cusp of a truly exciting era.

second, he argues that because corporate headquarters have moved out of downtown, downtown is further destabilized. this seems like a fundamentally flawed argument, one ignoring the theories of saskia sassen, alejandro portes and other academics who propose that while corporate HQs might leave downtown centers (and not just in LA, but throughout america and in europe as well), cities still remain vital because of growth in financial and specialized services such as advertising, law and accounting. kotkin ignores the benefits of agglomeration economies.

third, it seems that the elements that define a great downtown are changing. retail and corporate HQs leave, downtown doesn't play a central role in the every lives of most people, but what is left is theaters, museums, cultural centers and government offices. new restaurants, bars, hotels, and entertainment pop up to support these structures. new building investment not only serves the business community but, as sigurd grava argues, also serve as a source of civic pride (albeit he seems to mourn the loss of the old downtowns).

yet despite these points, its hard to argue with the wisdom of his basic argument - focusing on the small - keeping downtown safe and clean, the re-use of older buildings and lofts, supporting the growth of ethnic and artistic communities.


Post a Comment

<< Home