Blog Post

Movies in Downtown LA

I missed this story in Variety this weekend. It's about movie theaters in downtown Los Angeles as the latest strategy to "revitalize" the neighborhood where my fellow blogger Chris and I used to drive late, late at night when we were kids, to view the postapocalyptic emptiness of it all.

A salient bit:

Almost a century has passed since Hollywood staged its biggest premieres in the urban heart of Los Angeles. But tonight's preem of DreamWorks and Paramount's "Collateral" at the 2,000-seat Orpheum Theater could be a turning point for the opulent movie palaces along South Broadway.

But the approach to redevelopment in downtown has always struck me as a little weird. As the article points out, the idea has essentially two fundamentals: entertainment (like movies, or the Disney Concert Hall) and residential buildings to give the area a permanent (non-poor, non-homeless, mostly white, income-disposing) community. Says Variety:

The neighborhood also is being transformed by the ongoing conversion of older office and industrial buildings into fashionable loft apartments. There are 6,900 market-rate units and an additional 8,300 under construction or development. And the newcomers want more to do on weekends and at night.

"The neighborhood is really demanding entertainment amenities," said Sandy Bleifer, a real estate broker and consultant for Downtown Enterprises. "Otherwise, if you're not going to see anybody at night, you might as well live in the suburbs."

So that's familiar: build attractions and build housing and you've revitalized a neighborhood. That idea is what's known as "reified" -- so widely believed that it's taken as gospel truth.

Los Angeles has always struck me as not quite fitting into that Jane Jacobsian multi-use pattern...because people drive to attractions there. It's a kind of dopey observation, I know, but Los Angeles has entertainment districts like Tokyo, not like New York. You don't party in your neighborhood in LA; you go to South Pasadena, or Westwood, or Santa Monica, or Universal CityWalk. Wouldn't it make just as much sense in downtown to forget about the residential stuff (which, as far as I know, still doesn't come with, like, anyplace to buy food)? Just build or restore movie theaters, give the restaurants and bars some kind of tax incentive to stay open late, and then build parking.

Just talking out loud, as an old boss of mine used to say....


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