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Joel Kotkin Says Urban Living is a Fad

By Eric Richardson
Published: Sunday, August 14, 2005, at 01:09AM

Joel Kotkin writes often about Downtown, and rarely does it seem positive. In today's LA Times is a commentary piece of his entitled 'Hip loftsters will stay lonely, for suburbs still seduce.' Those I doubt he wrote that title, it makes about as little sense as some of the assertions he seems to be making.

His basic point seems to be that though urban living seems trendy right now, more people will keep living in the suburbs. Ok. I can accept that. I don't really understand how it could be any other way, given the ratio of urban land space vs. suburbs, but whatever.

Consider, though, a statement like this one:

To fill reconverted offices as well as new towers, developers and urban planners increasingly look beyond natural urban emigres -- gays, singles, artists, young couples -- to aging baby boomers with suburban bankrolls. There is not much evidence to suggest that these people want to become pioneers.

I've heard no one say the boomers are going to lead an urban movement. The thing, though, is that I don't doubt that a percentage of them will find Downtown life appealing. And by the time they come they certainly won't be pioneers. I would say that Downtown's pioneering days passed a while ago.

In Los Angeles, according to DataQuick Information Systems' most recent numbers, values in some areas have risen steeply, but those in many others have either dropped over the last year or climbed only modestly. Downtown L.A., for the most part, is not performing better than other areas of the Southland.

How can you throw a quote like that out there and not support it? How does this reconsile with the stories that quote Dataquick in saying that Downtown valuations are higher than those in Beverly Hills? If he's looking as performance in terms of valuation increase -- where all of Socal has skyrocketed of late -- I don't see how that's important. I'm sure the people owning units care about that sort of thing but it has very little to do with neighborhood vitality.

The bottom line is that people are moving into every unit that comes on the market Downtown. I'm sure they would other places as well, but most parts of Socal aren't going to be able to support an increase in population the way Downtown is. Joel cites growth in Riverside/San Bernadino, but that growth has largely occured in formerly open space. Not many parts of the region have that in abundance. After it's gone, it'll be only urban areas like Downtown capable of shouldering increased population.

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