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Related Companies Ran Over Greg Goldin's Puppy

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, June 17, 2005, at 10:36AM

Today on the way into work I listened to Tuesday's Design & Architecture. The first ten minutes were devoted to Grand Avenue, and in them Greg Goldin, architecture critic for Los Angeles Magazine, offered the most worthless critique of the project I've heard. I think Related may have killed his pet, or perhaps threatened his family. Or maybe he's just cranky; I don't know the guy. In any case, though, he's not fond of the Grand Ave. plans. Basically I think his criticisms can be summed up in one quote.

Why do I want to come Downtown? What distinguishes this project from [the Grove, 3rd Street Promenade, etc]? Near as I can see, nothing.

Oh boy; I don't even know where to begin.

Bunker Hill is physically cut off from the real action Downtown, which is down on Broadway, and spreading to the east, not moving to the west. So they want to build housing in this completely isolated area.

Goldin has a fixation on Broadway. He returns to it numerous times in the interview. I love Broadway, and I look down at it from my apartment window, but I can't help but think that his characterization of Broadway as the "real action Downtown" is thoroughly off-base.

I think all you have to do is walk Downtown to see how Downtown Los Angeles works. If you arrive at the corner of 6th and Broadway on any weekday, say at around the lunch hour, you'll feel like you're in Manhattan. ... The reason that street works so wonderfully is that nobody came along to plan it that way. It's because it has all those little shops, each with its unique character. None of them is a chain; I don't think you'll find a single chain on Broadway. And that attracts people; people like that sort of thing.

Oddly, I happened to be standing at the corner of 6th and Broadway while listening to this very comment. It was about 8am, and though there were people walking around the storefronts were entirely made up of metal security doors. Broadway exists in the hours from 10am to 6pm. Outside of that space it is one of the most dead zones in Downtown. Certain small pockets, such as the space around the Orpheum, are starting to get life but on the whole the street is abandoned sixteen hours a day.

And this idealized vision of Broadway as a collection of unique shops is bizarre. From that same corner I could also look down the street and see a Foot Locker. The corner of the Jewelry Center found a big blade sign for the Big Lots! in the basement. Across the street is a Payless Shoes. Further up the street there's a Rite-Aid, a Ritmo Latino, a Subway, and a Sprint (I think? some phone company) store. These sure fit the chain definition in my book.

Putting those chain stores aside, though, where is the "unique character" in one after another shop selling cheap clothes, cheap packs of a dozen pairs of socks, cheap electronics, etc? I think Broadway is great, and I think that the street as a whole has a character to its experience, but I just don't see the uniqueness in any of the individual shops that line it.

They seem to be repeating all the problems that we know have exhibited themselves in the past.

... Essentially that part of Downtown consists of government office buildings and ... cultural buildings and large, large office buildings. And the only reason you would go to Disney Hall or to the Dorthy Chandler Pavilion is because you have a specific date to be there. So you come, and you battle the traffic on the freeway, and then when the show is over you get back in your car and traffic's a lot lighter and you speed your way home.

Apparently Goldin is not aware of the numerous residential buildings already on top of Bunker Hill. He also discounts the sizable population that will be brought in by the new housing to be created. And then he throws out the tourist population that already treks up the hill to see Disney Hall. All of those people create pedestrian traffic, and would even more so given the appropriate environment.

Why do I want to come Downtown? What distinguishes this project from [the Grove, 3rd Street Promenade, etc]? Near as I can see, nothing.

What distinguishes this project is that Downtown has a density none of these other areas have. There are going to be a lot of people living Downtown in the next few years. There are already a heck of a lot of people that work Downtown. Why would these people not want a mixed-use blend of retail, restaurant, and entertainment right within walking distance of where they spend their time. Sure, the hill's a pain to walk up, but given the need I'm confident we can put together an effective circulator, be it nighttime DASH, a trolley, Angel's Flight, or a Downtown rail connector.

The troubling thing about Grand Avenue is that we really don't have control as the public over decisions that will be made about the architecture nor about the character of the park that's going to go in to that mall. All of these things should be public decisions and yet they are being done by private enterprise. And that is why we will see in the end architecture that we don't like, and public parks that we can not use.

On the contrary, I think the formulation of the Grand Ave. plans has been done very clearly out in the open. Related hosted numerous public discussions, and it seems that public concerns have been partially addressed in the current (and very rough) plans.

I as a Downtown stakeholder don't expect Related to come to me and say, "Hey, what do you want the buildings to look like? What architect shold we hire?" The city doesn't do that. The county doesn't do that. The state doesn't do that. Why should we expect a private developer to do that?

I should become a critic. Their gig is way too easy when they get to just spout this stuff off without having to give any sort of a rational defense of their positions.


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