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Downtown Los Angeles tries to lure more families with new elementary school, parks and entertainment

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, August 01, 2013, at 07:44AM
Hayley Fox/blogdowntown

USC Assistant Professor Jenny Schuetz said parks, schools and safety are the three keys to creating a family-friendly community.

Although Downtown Los Angeles is known for its adult nightlife, growing restaurant scene and loft-living, there's an even younger demographic that neighborhood leaders want to attract: kids.

While single people and young professionals continue to be the mainstay of the area, there is a growing push to transform DTLA into a more family-friendly neighborhood.

Area councilman José Huizar said that bringing families to the area would cut down on residential turnover, and help establish a solid community that's invested in where they live. He said this is crucial in continuing the revitalization.

"What’s good for Downtown is good for the entire City of Los Angeles," said Huizar in an email to KPCC. "With about a half a million people coming to work here everyday from all over the City and region and millions visiting each year, Downtown Los Angeles is a vital economic engine and tourism destination."

And Huizar, along with other area stakeholders, are hoping DTLA will become a destination for families as well. The changes are noticeable: The recently opened Spring Street Park (which includes a playground), and new programming at Grand Park, including "Splash and Surprises" that encourages frolicking in the fountain.

The councilman said that he is also encouraging the construction of more family-friendly housing.

"As we continue to create more living options we are asking the developers to create two, three bedroom apartments or condos, so when families start growing, the families are able to stay here in downtown L.A."

Come this September, a new elementary school will also be opening in Downtown. Metro Charter was created in part by a group of DTLA parents looking for a new option on where to send their kids.

"There will be a time – if there was no school let's say – that people would sort of up and leave because it just isn't working out for them because it isn't working out for their children," said Chinmaya Misra, one of the parents who pushed for the school.

Misra moved to the area in 2006, leaving her Culver City home to experience living Downtown during its "renaissance" period. This was before she had her baby Anvaya, who is now five years old and will attend the new school in September.

"Frankly back then, this was seven years back, if you asked me if we would have a family and plan to stay on and make friends and really form alliances with the community I would have said, no," said Misra.

Many parents said that without Metro, they would have to send their kids to school in surrounding communities such as Chinatown and Silver Lake, or move out of Downtown completely.

Jenny Schuetz, an assistant professor of real estate and public policy at USC, said family-friendly communities require a few basics.

"The three big things are quality of the public schools, safety – lack of crime – and then open space; parks, recreation facilities that are geared toward kids,” said Schuetz. “And schools are by far the most important of those.”

But, Schuetz added, Downtown's homeless population may continue to be a deterrent for some families. The professor said that while a young single person may be okay with walking past a transients on the street, it's a different story for toddlers.

This, coupled with commuter traffic, street noise and loud weekend revelers, may not seem like the typical setting for a family.

And data seems to back this up. In an email, Schuetz said that about 15 percent of Downtown’s population has at least one kid under the age of 18, according to recent census data. This is a sharp decline from the nearly 30 percent of L.A.'s population as a whole who has kids.

But some people say Downtown is already a great place to raise kids. Anthony Bejarano lives with his girlfriend and their two kids in an apartment off of Figueroa. He said the area may not be "kid-centric" but it is "kid-friendly."

"I think when you are single and you don't have kids around, you have blinders on to the stuff that is kid friendly,” said Bejarano. “And as soon as the kids were in the picture…I just started to realize there was so much available to them.”

So maybe it's more of the L.A. state-of-mind that's deterring families from moving Downtown. Dave Chun is chairman of the board of Metro school. He says because Los Angeles is so sprawling, people are used to having space – and aren’t used to the tight quarters of city living.

“Culturally, its just not something people are used to here in L.A.,“ he said.

Metro Charter is currently enrolling students in Kindergarten through second grade. School starts on September 3.

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