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Dwelling on an Urban Future

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, June 09, 2008, at 11:57AM
the publisher Ed Fuentes

Michela O’Connor Abrams, Dwell magazine President and Publisher.

Overlooking the floor of the Los Angeles Convention center on Saturday, Dwell magazine President and Publisher Michela O’Connor Abrams, who was raised in Silver Lake, talked about it had been her dream to bring a "Dwell On Design" Expo to Los Angeles. While landscaped and furnished full-scale pre-fab structures were getting the buzz at the weekend event, it may be how L.A.’s core may become a case study for an urban future.

Dwell magazine premiered in October 2000, and that first issue included an article called “The Lofting of America.” At the same time, developer Tom Gilmore opened the San Fernando building at 4th and Main, an area of Downtown that served as the lab rat for today's urban revival.

Early on, the relative affordability of lofts made them appealing. The units' smaller size made them affordable. “Owning a home is out of the question for many in today’s market,” says O’Connor Abrams. “So it makes sense to start home ownership with a loft.”

The run-up in Downtown prices, though, means that most lofts are on par with home pricing. It's the other factors that continue to make Downtown living appealing. O'Conner Abrams notes that in the Los Angeles area, driving has increasingly become a luxury fewer people can afford, and living near work is an alternative choice. That market base, made of younger and older demographics, finds homes with small square footage feasible and sustainable.

Dwell runs a series that focuses on homes with small square footage. The series reached a benchmark with March 2008’s Homes under 1,000 square feet. “As sustainability and green factors gain importance, so does the urge for a different way of life,” she says. “Part of that is downsizing.”

The feel of the neighborhood is another important factor, says O’Connor Abrams, who holds to the idea that an urban community is an attractive option to empty nesters and even retirees. “They don’t buy into the psychology of being put out to pasture.” says Ms. O’Connor Abrams of isolated suburbs. “They’re returning downtown for the same reason young people are – they want to be active and have a unique urban living experience.”

When asked, O’Connor Abrams points out that the City of L.A. has more governing challenges than other cities, given its sheer size. L.A. City Council President, Eric Garcetti––who spoke at Saturday morning’s keynote––is given credit by O’Connor Abrams for his work on reshaping Los Angeles "and for his leadership in promoting green design."

She also observes that while the Mayor and City Council have agreed and accomplished much in terms of getting restaurants and businesses downtown, the city could do more with policy in terms of adaptive reuse credits, for example, adding "There needs to be conscious discussions on how the city can move forward in a way that’s inclusive."

“The City Council still needs to unite on the kinds of things they can do to make this happen.” says O’Connor Abrams as a matter of fact. Given thousands of new jobs expected in Downtown L. A. between now and 2009, she sees residences for people of various economic levels as what will make L.A.’s urban revival an ongoing success.

But for now, Dwell spent the weekend in Downtown showing how the urban core's revival can secure permanent residency with clean lines, lots of style and a touch of green.

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