We spent the day in Downtown LA today. LA, as those of you who have been reading this account for the past week will be aware, is a multi-nodal city: it has lots of centres, lots of downtowns and itself consists of lots of cities. For a number of years, downtown LA, which is located on the site of the original pueblo, after a brief period of dominance in the late 19th early 20th century, took its place alongside all of the other centres in LA. But more recently the Downtown area has reasserted itself.
There are numerous new skyscrapers under construction, new concert halls, a new cathedral and so on. As we learnt on the East LA and South Central day, is undergoing significant gentrification – it is certainly true that over the past ten years it has become much more heavily populated, and much wealthier. There is a great deal of housing construction and conversion happening too, much of which is new higher density apartment blocks. As a city LA has not really ever seen this kind of dense housing developments. So these significant recent changes are some of the things that the students will hopefully have noticed on their tour.
The other reason that we come to Downtown is that it offers a very useful summary of what we have learned so far: the Downtown district is like the whole city in microcosm. For this reason, it is often the day that LA finally makes sense to them. The students were set a walking route that took them through several different worlds. They began at the relatively new California Plaza, one of several spaces created between the new skyscrapers that cater to the office workers by day and concert and corporate conference goers by night. Then they descend into the very different world of Broadway, which serves as a main shopping street for the city’s Latino community. On from Broadway they explore Pershing Square, various industrial and warehouse districts, Little Tokyo, the Pueblo and the area from which the city has historically been managed including City Hall the LA Times and the various court buildings.
All of these different functions sit cheek-by-jowl with skid row, one of the largest homeless areas of any US city. Within a few short hours of (light) walking then, the students have experienced all of these worlds making it a really useful fieldwork exercise.
We ended our day in the Bonaventure Hotel where the students read an account of the architecture of the hotel by a famous postmodern theorist who once got lost in there at a conference (it might even have been a geographers’ conference). They then tested this account against their own experience of the space – mostly by using the glass lifts it seems.
Navigators today – Maddie, Matt J, Dan V, Olivia, Adelaide and Georgia were all top notch. All knew where they were and how we got there.