special events downtown: the good & the bad

one big thought n feeling

This past weekend offered a tale of two Downtown LAs: both proving LA's thriving urban center a sought-after place to be and both prompting completely different outcomes.

On Saturday, Downtown LA was home to two major cultural events. Up on Bunker Hill, museums and venues along Grand Ave came together in celebration of their cultural offerings. Grand Avenue Arts: All Access was an open house for institutions like The Broad, MOCA, Disney Concert Hall, and the Music Center. With several big-reach establishments using a unified message to get the word out, the event brought thousands of people up to Grand Ave. We were particularly excited to see tons of people walking around with Get Down Town magazines in hand. On the other side of Downtown, Councilmember Huizar's office celebrated the final days of the current 6th Street Bridge with a farewell festival. Tying in tons of Arts District arts organizers like our friends at Art Share LA, the community event became a huge point of Angeleno pride. Hundreds were there to hear War rock out, watch fireworks, and commemorate a historic landmark. Thanks to these two locally-driven events, along with many other happenings, Downtown LA was packed with people across all its neighborhoods. We were in the Fashion District in the morning, Grand Ave in the afternoon, the Historic Core in the evening, and the Arts District/The Flats at night. And everywhere we went, it was much more bustling than an average day. The spillover effect from these two events was evident.

Then came Sunday. Another event, the Rock n Roll Half Marathon took place on many of Downtown's streets. Produced by a national marathon race company based in San Diego, the event did little local outreach - a problematic suggestion that Downtown is an uninhabited free-for-all. When the City tried to stop the event from closing so many streets after hearing a lot of local concern, the marathon responded by threatening lawsuits and appeals. Taking an adversarial tone with Downtown, the event created little to no local engagement opportunities and snarled foot, car, and bus traffic all around the area. It made for a noticeably quiet Sunday in Downtown, particularly in comparison to the day before, as most avoided the area. While we appreciate an occasional quiet day Downtown, this hurts small businesses who rely on weekend foot traffic for their sales.

Perhaps we can't chalk this all up to the marathon - Sundays are generally a little quieter than Saturdays. But it highlights a critical curatorial need our city needs to take. Events, even street-closing ones, can be great for Downtown, assuming they actually have a beneficial impact to the community. Take Turkey Trot, a 5k/10k Thanksgiving Day run from the Historic Core to Civic Center. They choose one of Downtown's least busy days, bring thousands of people to the area, and actively support local businesses and nonprofits in their outreach and fundraising. They come and ask permission from the community months in advance and work with Downtowners to make it a great day. Special events are increasingly inevitable here - but that means Downtown's city leaders and stakeholders have more of an impactful say when it comes to what gets approved and what does not.     •