Posts tagged urban renewal

Last month I promised to give an update about my foray into Downtown Los Angeles living. This is my first report.

One of the great benefits to living Downtown is that I also work here.  Even though my former neighborhood of Silver Lake is only about 5 miles away, LA traffic sometimes stretches the distance into an hour long commute.  Now I can just walk up to the Red/Purple Line Civic Center Station, or I can walk the mile and a half to work.  Either way, it takes about 20 minutes from door-to-desk.

Downtown Los Angeles is what we urban design types like to call a “neighborhood in transition” – meaning, development is happening at a breakneck pace, but much of the existing stuff, good and bad, is still very much evident. I snapped the following photos on my morning walk to work, documenting this neighborhood – my neighborhood – in transition.

All photos by Gary Lai

From my new apartment, I walk up a couple of blocks to 2nd and Main.  Our wonderfully funky historic City Hall is framed by the LAPD Headquarters to the left and Caltrans to the right. In many ways, this is the ideal of what new urbanists may view as a modern city: a mixture of new and old, clean streets with bike lanes, residents living in high-density housing.


LA County’s streets are home to 58,000 people homeless. I now live two blocks from the border of Skid Row where the highest concentration of homeless live.  Reminders of this tragedy is everywhere across Downtown.


I’ve never actually seen the Paraiso Restaurant at 3rd and Main open, but I hope at one time it was a happening place. Older, discount-type businesses and restaurants are still the predominant retail-type in DTLA, but it’s changing fast due to skyrocketing rents and development.


On my walking commute I like to cut through the historic Grand Center Market at Broadway and through to Hill street, passing the ridiculous line at the Eggslut booth.


The historical funicular train, Angel’s Flight, is being worked on again. I hope it opens some time before the California High Speed Rail in 2035.


My walk takes me along a diagonal shortcut through Pershing Square Park. The main water feature is now dry – victim of our historic drought and a post-modernism backlash.


One of the major issues afflicting pedestrians in DTLA is the poor conditions of our sidewalks. Cracked, dirty and falling apart, business owners have taken to washing their own sidewalk frontage.  The smell of bleach is common and pervasive as I walk down 6th toward Grand.


Just a half block away from work at 7th and Grand is the new Whole Foods, below the 8th and Grand luxury apartment complex.  I don’t think much needs to be said about DTLA after that sentence.

One thing I find ironic about moving to DTLA is that people originally moved away from Downtown because they thought the suburbs would be a healthier environment. After a month living in Downtown, I agree the downtown environment is not necessarily healthy, but my lifestyle is healthier. Instead of sitting in a car or bus for hours commuting, I now have time to walk and go to the gym despite a heavy workload – this resident as much in transition as the city surrounding him.

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April is World Landscape Architecture Month, an international celebration of landscape architecture. WLAM introduces the profession to the public by highlighting landscape architect-designed spaces around the world. Today we visit Seoul, Korea to highlight the transformation of Cheonggyecheon River from concrete waterway to a revitalized urban park.

Photos by Wendy Chan

I like to visit urban parks while on vacation. Visiting parks allow me the opportunities to people watch and observe how different cultures use and interact within public open spaces, especially in dense cities where open space is often rare, but easily accessible by public transit.

I recently visited Cheonggyecheon, a 3.6-mile-long stream corridor located in downtown Seoul, South Korea that attracts over 60,000 visitors daily. For years, the Cheonggyecheon stream was paved over with concrete with an elevated highway built above it. But recently, the government removed the roadway and transformed the once concrete channel into a public open space. The stream was restored with vegetation, walkways, stages, crossings, water play, and seating areas, creating a multifunctional and sustainable public space for the citizens of Seoul.

Conceptual site plan presented in 2002 by the Research Center Director of the Seoul Development Institute, Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The Cheonggyecheon River is supplemented by potable water pumped from the Han River, but the benefits to the surrounding community, biodiversity, and quality of life is still apparent. Depending upon the access point, visitors can experience a slowly changing landscape – from an urban experience with concrete walls and edges to a more natural stream experience. The redesign kept remnants of the highway that once covered the stream. Art, historical photos, and monuments of cultural significance related to the stream were integrated in the design.

The park never closes. I’ve visited the park during the day, but also during the late evening and early morning. No matter the hour, I’ve always felt safe walking through Cheonggyecheon. The urban park is heavily populated at all hours with people leisurely walking, exercising, and commuting to their destination without having to worry about cars. While walking the Cheonggyecheon’s length I thought of our own Los Angeles River, an urban waterway slowly undergoing a similar transformation from an inaccessible concrete channel to a thriving open space. My only interaction growing up with the Los Angeles River was through the backseat car window driving across the Broadway Street Bridge in Lincoln Heights. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be if Angelenos one day are able to access the entire river from start to end at the ocean, our very own version of Cheonggyecheon River linear park.