What to Do About Art Walk? The Answer Isn't Simply Closing Off the Streets
Attendees of the July 2011 Downtown Art Walk cross a closed-off Spring Street.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — The safety of attendees at the Downtown Art Walk became a citywide issue last week after a tragic crash left two-month-old Marcello Vasquez dead.
Quickly, some called for the streets at the heart of Art Walk to be closed off each month, transforming the event into car-free sea of people. A petition created to call for just such a move currently has 530 names on it.
While the increased attention that last week's tragedy put on pedestrian safety is great to see and Marcello's death was heartbreaking, putting an official stamp on Art Walk's transformation into a street party would be a tragedy for Downtown and the Historic Core.
I moved Downtown in May of 2004, the same month that Spring and Main between 2nd and 9th were officially dubbed Gallery Row. It would be four more months before the first Downtown Art Walk, a tiny affair that founder Bert Green estimates drew approximately 75 people between noon and 9pm.
Oh, how times have changed.
Today, Art Walk attracts 20,000 to 30,000 people to the Historic Core every second Thursday of the month, along with a small army of food trucks, vendors and performers.
Despite numerous efforts, that crowd continues to concentrate almost entirely on the few blocks around Spring and Main from 4th to 6th.
As the crowds have gotten bigger, they've also started to arrive later. Where the event once used to end before 10pm, today at that time the crowd has barely reached its peak.
The answer, though, can simply not be to turn the streets over to the party.
Open that space up and the crowds will certainly show up to fill it. No one doubts that there is an appetite for a public party in Los Angeles.
In the process, though, we will be saying that Downtown, or at least the Historic Core, is no place for families and no place for professionals who may need to work on a Friday morning. We will prioritize food trucks and street fairs over the people and businesses who are in this neighborhood seven days a week.
That would not be the Downtown that I've come to love. My Downtown is one that balances all the different demographics that you need to make a healthy community. My Downtown is one that is never afraid to shut the streets down for a great event like Red Bull's Soapbox Race or the X Games, but that also understands that residents won't stay residents if every month you tell them that they can not get to their garages or you allow too many bars and clubs to empty patrons out into the streets at 2am.
I've since moved away from the Historic Core, though certainly not far enough to prevent me from stopping into Syrup Desserts for an iced tea or to L.A. Cafe for a chipotle chicken panini. The growing noise of Spring Street nightlife was a big factor in that move.
The neighborhood is still my favorite one Downtown, though, and I trust that those with a hand on its reins will find a way to take the Art Walk's energy and spread it around, instead of simply letting it trample on a few small blocks.