My earliest memory of Downtown Los Angeles was on a field trip to the Natural History Museum with my summer camp when I was eight. I was with a group of 30 elementary school kids who headed to an area that we rarely visited because of its high crime. At the end of a long day spent learning about dinosaurs, we boarded a bus to head back to the Westside of town. On the way back our bus driver missed the freeway entrance and we ended up driving deeper into Downtown and through Skid Row. Our paranoid camp director instructed everyone to keep quiet and bend down in the seats while the bus made the journey through a street notorious for drugs, crime and prostitution. From the terrified look on his face, I think he was afraid that one of the homeless people would hurl a glass bottle at the bus and the YMCA would get sued for child endangerment.
So you can imagine my surprise when I recently went home for the holidays and visited a friend at his apartment in Downtown L.A. The streets were incredibly clean — there were no syringes, drug paraphernalia or empty bottles in sight. The tent villages set up in local parks by transients were gone and replaced with children’s swings. In the Downtown L.A. of 2014 you could bar hop to several places that were actually cool without being followed by strange men offering you drugs.
The Standard Hotel Downtown has been a hot spot for people since I was in college but for a long time it was one of only a handful of hip places to grab a drink. But now it has plenty of competition from bars like The Crocker and Perch. My friend loves the area so much that he said that he rarely leaves and prefers it to other parts of the city. He enjoys the convenience of having the metro only a block from his apartment and his grocery store, gym, and favorite restaurants all within walking distance.
Downtown L.A. has gone through a cultural rebirth and Los Angeles is replicating an urban model that has worked well for cities like New York, Washington D.C. or Philadelphia. Savvy developers have realized that young people don’t want to have to drive all over the city for services and are building housing that caters to their needs. I’m glad that the new Downtown Los Angeles is finally reflecting the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city but I hope it isn’t at the expense of the less fortunate.