Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The PITA Factor: How much inconvenience are you willing to put up with in order to live Downtown?

My recent column on our one year anniversary Downtown and our realization that we will have to leave the neighborhood eventually for a more kid-friendly area got a big reaction. I got emails from an LAUSD rep and the publisher of Downtown News, as well as being featured in an editorial in Blogdowntown. Unfortunately, a lot of feedback seemed to be along the lines of "you must not really want to live downtown, because if you did, you'd be willing to send-your-kid-to-a-subpar-school/ship-your-kid-to-a-far-away-school/wrestle-with-the-LAUSD-to-reform-the-local-school." You get the idea.

My question for these people and really the entire Downtown community is this: how much hassle should people have to put up with in order to live down here? I know there isn't one answer to this question and that people have a range of tolerance, from the Bert Greens who moved down here when Main Street was crack alley to the people who wouldn't be caught dead even drinking at a Downtown bar, much less living down here.

But in the middle of these extremes are a lot of people like me, who enjoy being Downtown (Walkable neighborhood! Arts and culture! Getting to know your neighbors!) but find that the inconveniences eventually outweigh the advantages. Not having decent parks, not having good schools, being forced to drive outside of downtown because there aren't enough places locally to shop for basics--all of these things can start to add up.

The problem is that whenever these issues are brought up, Downtown boosters tend to kill the messenger. Living down here becomes equated to belonging to some sort of sooper-speshul and exclusive club reserved for the worthy. But the reality is that Downtown is competing with other communities for potential residents, and now that rents are dropping across the city, this competition has only gotten tougher. The average person isn't looking for a cause or crusade--they just want a place to live. And if living downtown becomes too much of a pain in the ass, they won't stay here.

This really came home for me during a discussion on Blogdowntown about whether local retail is lagging. The owner of Pussy and Pooch commented that people aren't supporting his business and instead are going to Petco. As one of those Petco shoppers, I pointed out that he doesn't carry the brand of cat food I need. His response? He lectured me on how terrible the food is and how I should be buying one of his brands instead. Which is completely missing the point. You don't carry what I want, so I'm not going to shop at your store. If you don't want to carry the brand, fine, but then don't lecture me about how I'm not supporting local businesses.

Downtown really needs to let go of the "true believer" mentality. If the neighborhood is going to continue to grow and become a stable and sustainable community, these issues need to be addressed. Rather than tossing tomatoes at people who point out these problems, start thinking about ways to solve them.


skidrowdude said...


I empathize with you totally and have followed your blog posts about looking for a good school for kido over the past year.

I am very biased- no way would I try to raise a kid downtown- BUT if you dare too and can- more power to you, and I think the child will grow up much more aware of social and economic things than they would if they were youngsters in Brentwood.

I always wznted to raise kids in a beach community- not that there are less drugs and crime, but if I could afford to have the beach as my front yard, what a perfect place! Vollyball, surfing, and rollerblading at your front doorstep would be pretty awesome.

But honestly, downtown would be a close second- as a kid I loved urban environments (hated my suburban white upbringing). I hope you can find a good school - but remember, there are bad schools all over LA- even where tax basis is high.

You seem like a great parent and I wish the best for you and your familyl

bgfa said...

I wouldn't take the blog conversation to much to heart, remember that it's a forum that lacks accountability and too often results in angry exchanges that would never happen in person.

That said, whatever decision you make regarding your child is for your own good reasons. Stand by them.

Li said...

Hi Eric! We're doing our best to balance giving Kidlo a diverse upbringing and avoiding the bland 'burbs while also making sure he gets a good education. It can be a hard balance to get right.

Bert, thanks for the kind words you're right that I shouldn't let the commenters get under my skin. It's the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory:

EL CHAVO! said...

Your blog is the only one I read that seems honest to me about life in el centro. Nothing worse than boosterism. I get people complaining about some of my posts regarding Lincoln Heights, they think I should focus on the positive. And even though we could use more positive, I prefer to present my neighborhood as I see it. I like where I live, but I don't assume I will always like it. I applaud you for the courage of breaking it down in a way that's relevant, be it Silver Lake or Downtown. Boosters be damned.

Li said...

Thanks! I know that you never blow smoke up anyone's rear end so I'm really pleased that you enjoy the blog.

Brian said...

Fantastic post Li - brilliant!

I've found myself wanting to write such a post for quite some time but truth of the matter is I could never get to a place that brought my frustration with downtown and some downtown residents together.

We are like you - we like the downtown neighborhood but there are certainly some things laking. Expressing the frustrations with living in the core always seem to stand out more than when you, me or someone else points out the great things about it here.

Back when H and I lived in Chicago we talked about whether or not we would raise kids in the city and the answer was always yes. Why? While the Chicago Public School system has gotten better it is not great, however there are numerous options for schools. This is in addition to the parks, museums, events and development of downtown.

Of course it's somewhat unfair to compare Chicago to LA because of the history of each downtown core but I don't see the leadership and desire to develop the downtown resources in a timely fashion. At the current rate I don't think the area will be full developed for another 6-8 years at which time many of the young professionals in the area will have kids and be a little older. They will want the schools and other amenities that we're currently told "will come with time".

Anyhow, great post and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

Browne said...

The people who bash you don't have kids (or they are loaded.) If people had kids their whole perspective would change. Unless you are loaded and can send your kid to a 20k private school then you really are going to have to move from downtown LA. It's obviously the people who plan downtown doesn't really care about people with kids, look at how they treat the kids that were already here. The kids in the shelters, the kids in those prison like things they call schools in the downtown area...yeah why should living be something you have to work on. You could rent an unsold condo in South Pasadena or go to Santa Monica and work on more important things than just having to register your kid for school.

Santa Monica has nice schools.

People in LA are insane. I have lots of friends who do that magnet thing it's a pain in the ass and only works if you kiss alot of ass and then realize that your aunt plays tennis with the principal.

And then what happens in junior high or god forbid, what happens if your kid is just normal. You know not amazingly smart or gifted in some artsy way or has a learning disability well then you're pretty screwed. Your kid shouldn't have to be Einstein to not have to be sent to a crappy school.

Downtown in my opinion is not four year old friendly. This is not NY there isn't anything that balances out all of the crap that a kid has to see down here to warrant putting them though the insanity of living in downtown.

I like downtown, but if I had a kid I probably would leave LA all together.

LA understands one thing, taking away the money and moving, then they'll do something. They will add some decent childcare and some decent schools after they realize that the average person (average people have kids) isn't going to drop 300k on a condo loft (which is just a very large single, how do young parents have sex in those things, I always wonder about that, the people in downtown don't seem that hippie) that you can't even send your kids to school down the street. People who buy things like housing are usually the type of people who have 401ks, weddings and babies and that person is just not going to put up with downtown. They are responsible. My mom was a total freak, but even she made sure I had access to a real park.

Pershing Square is scary and not just the design of it.

The bars are cool though...


Ginny Brideau said...

I don't know...I don't think downtown wants kids. We have been trying to find a new place, with a reasonable rent for us to live in. We need more space. The baby doesn't have a lot of toys, we don't have the whole "baby room" full of furniture...but I'm at the end of my rope. We've been in 735 square feet for 11 months. She's crawling. What I would do for 200 more square feet.

We are staying downtown, but we know there's a lot more that needs cleaning, fixing, starting, planting... But we can't do that if we are forced to move out of the neighborhood because it's the only place we can find some where to live for less than $2000 a month.