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Hollywood Sells; We Should All Move There

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 05, 2005, at 11:29AM

There's an interesting opinion piece in today's Daily News about city planning and the relative appeals of Hollywood and Downtown. Hollywood is portrayed as the heart of the city, while Downtown takes the role of money-sink.

Bureaucratic blindness seems to be endemic in the city. Instead of capitalizing on its very own gold mine and building up what is the figurative center of Los Angeles, the fathers and mothers of Los Angeles listened to the billionaires and developers and bet on downtown.

They drained the city's coffers and starved the neighborhoods to sink money into a place that never embodied the soul of the city and hadn't been a destination since the day of the trolley cars.

The conclusion of the piece is that the city needs a planner who understands how to sell Hollywood. I don't disagree with the importance of tinseltown, but on other counts I can't help but differ.

The marketing mavens at WrestleMania know how to sell. That's why they smartly associated their Los Angeles leg of the tour with the city's best-known brand: Hollywood.

No matter that the event took place at Staples Center downtown, far from L.A.'s storied Tinseltown neighborhood. They know that the rest of the world knows "Hollywood." The didn't try to sell WrestleMania 21 Downtown L.A.

There's no question that the notion of Hollywood is engrained into the world mindset. But you know what else is? The image of Downtown Los Angeles. I didn't watch Wrestemania 21, but I guarantee you that their coverage featured shots of the Downtown skyline. The image of Downtown is just as associated with this city as the sexiness of Hollywood.

In this author's mind, money wasted on Downtown is the cause of all Los Angeles' problems.

True, downtown Los Angeles is more vital now than it has been during the lifetimes of most Angelenos, but the cost has been tremendous -- city streets elsewhere crumbling into potholes, neighborhoods spreading haphazardly without any plan to guide growth.

To credit Downtown with the city's potholes is absurd. Clearly there is a problem with our streets. I mentioned just the other day that the city considers about 1000 of Los Angeles' 6500 miles of streets to be failed. But this problem is not rooted in current spending policies. Los Angeles' streets began to deteriorate soon after World War II, when the mileage count ballooned from around 2500 to the current number. Despite this increase the city continued until the 1980's to budget only enough funds to rehabilitate fifty miles of roadway each year. That number was upped dramatically at that point, but the damage was already done. The bulk of the deterioration happened in decades that saw Downtown in the height of its decline.

There has been no more of a plan guiding decades of failed revitalization in Downtown than there has been in any other part of the city. Sure, plan after plan has been drafted, but none has been adhered to for any length of time. In Downtown or in any other area, the only successful revitalization is that which can be driven by the market. That's what I see today as I walk the streets around me. And that too is what I see as I walk Hollywood. Adaptive Reuse is today's buzzword, and it applies there just as much as it does here.

There is no point in revisiting the bad planning decisions of decades gone by. Today both Downtown and Hollywood are on the rise, and this time the rebirth is driven by developers instead of the city. Hollywood will always conjure up a magical image, but the fact of the matter is that Downtown offers opportunities for urban living that Hollywood simply cannot compete with. Downtown is the transit hub; Downtown is where there's existing building stock; Downtown is where density can happen. The city's new planner should work to "revive neighborhoods all across the city," but Downtown's importance cannot be dismissed just by saying its not the city's best-known brand.


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