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Downtowns and Urban Change

July 19, 1998

Re "A Tale of Two Downtowns," by Eric H. Monkkonen, Opinion, July 12: Los Angeles is not a "doughnut city" empty at the center, but rather a "Swiss cheese city" pocked with dead suburban retail districts that 50 years ago were a symbol of downtown exodus, that were themselves killed by malls that, in turn, today are languishing and desperately trying to reinvent themselves in the face of the new "big boxes." The irony is that today's downtown has a much healthier pulse than many of these abandoned suburban centers.

I have spent a lot of time taking nervous Valleyites, Westsiders and other nomads of our autopian blandscape on downtown tours. The usual reaction is, "I had no idea how many wonderful things are here." I really don't think most people dislike downtown, they are just blissfully unaware of it.


Sherman Oaks


Monkkonen asks if city center admirers really want to go back to the skid rows or Dickens-esque downtowns of the last century. To be sure, the downtown nostalgia in Los Angeles and across the nation tends to gloss over such problems, which helped spark mass migration to the suburbs.

But perhaps the author is better off asking what downtown enthusiasts don't want. At the top of that list would be urban sprawl, two-hour commutes and suburban tedium. Are we doomed to a fate of minivans, cookie-cutter houses and sterile, manufactured communities? In many respects, I am not sure the pesky urban ills of downtowns are so bad.



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