Today I met a woman who was picking up some furniture I sold on OfferUp. She was from San Francisco and was just furnishing her new apartment in East Hollywood. As I was helping her carry her new ottoman to her car across from the Ace Hotel, she was clearly at a loss for words trying to explain that she had no idea that LA had “a downtown”. I told her that this whole urban thing is pretty new for us LA residents. Most of us sheltered suburbanites really have no clue what urban lifestyle is or what it’s about. Her eyes darted around as we crossed the street, all while asking questions in disbelief.
It really hit me at that moment that most people have no idea that our little neighborhood even exists, let alone that it’s nothing like the “liberal slum” promoted on stations like Fox News. Even most LA residents where I work near the West Side are absolutely clueless. Aside from snippets about homeless stat’s and aged stereotypes they heard offhand about urban life in a far off land, it’s truly astonishing how isolated LA can be. I suppose that’s an idiosyncrasy we can chalk up to our famed Suburban Sprawl.
The top four responses I get when people find out I live downtown are: 1) “Oh [insert snippet about homelessness]” 2) “Oh, I heard that’s a bad area” 3) “Do you take the subway / are there subways in LA?”. Most residents here would find some of these perceptions laughably dated. We get it, for most, downtown = homelessness. But that’s not really the whole story. A big portion of the population will likely find it hard to catch news about the development boom of DTLA, ranked second or third highest in the country (depending on the source) commonly placed behind only Seattle or Jersey City. They’ll likely never hear that DTLA experienced the largest population increase of any area in LA recently, and the growth is still projected to increase exponentially. They’ll likely never hear that we’re now home to some big name companies like Korean Air, Hyperloop One, Honey, Warner Music, Spotify and several big name boutique hotels like NoMad. They’ll likely never hear that we’ve been the prime testing ground for electric charging stations, Metro Bikes and controversial e-scooters, complete with a full network of dedicated bike lanes which people use avidly during the day. You can often find groups of tourists from out of town checking out sites that LA residents on the West Side don’t even know exist.
What’s most interesting about this phenomenon is how much perception can shape someone’s world. We can write stories that cause people to constantly look down at ground or stories that get them to look up at the sky, and it really shows. Like most perceptions, they’re shaped by stigma, convoluted reputations and selective coverage in news articles that we all know too often focus on negative shock-stories. In the end, it really doesn’t matter what the reputation is or what people think. People here love this neighborhood not just because it’s a vibrant community or because it’s full of shops they like but mostly because the lifestyle means something to them. Though it’s sad to see the streets now wracked with homelessness, the community still symbolizes sustainability, community, creativity and growth. I feel like this is the LA of the future, and it’s totally fine if it’s our little secret.