Downtown LA – That’s Where the People Are

“Downtown has sharpened its focus as the regions’ employment, transportation, and culture arts hub,” “…its no longer a 9 to 5 area but rather a 24-hour place, setting the standard for the Los Angeles region in terms of all its growth, vibrancy and offerings.” All of this is according to a new demographic study commissioned by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.

No longer an afterthought, low rent district or drop off for unfortunate souls with no place to go, Downtown has found its voice, literally and figuratively with 40,000 permanent residents who call the city center home. Add to that 10 million annual visitors and a 500,000-weekday population and we all start to see how LA is finally embracing its core.

Contrasting demographics with a 2006 study completed after many new housing options were completed, but well before the community began to gel, the study helps to clarify who lives downtown, what they want, and how they tend to live.

What do “Downtowners” look like?

First of all they are predominately renters (60%), a trend that is likely to continue for a short while, with the collapse of the real estate lending market and many condo buildings converting back to apartments. They’re smart! 78% of the population has completed four or more years of college; and they make a lot of money with an overall median income of $96,200.

53% of the residents are male and 64.3% of them are between the ages of 23 and 44, prime earning and spending ages. Compared to 2006 fewer are college students, as 70% hold down full time jobs. The population is also becoming more diverse. Still predominately Caucasian (53.8%), more Hispanics and African Americans are discovering downtown at what seems to be the expense of the long time Asian populations found in Little Tokyo and Chinatown.

How do they get around?

Fewer by Car! Two-thirds of our city dwellers get to where they’re going by public transportation, bicycles or get this, walking… This tells me two things really. First, businesses located downtown are benefiting from the new housing options provided by the city center (63.5% in 2008 v. 55.1% in 2006 live and work downtown). Whichever the reason, young educated workers are ready willing and able to tackle the urban environment. Second, an important note for the rest of Los Angeles, young people in LA are willing to break the auto driven ideology that has become so much a part of the Southern California culture. Essentially the hub of the ever-expanding transit system, Downtown has declared loudly that they are out of their cars and ready to explore the city by foot.

What do they do?

They watch a lot of TV and do a lot of computing. However compared to the 2006 survey more downtown residents do what they do near home. Going out for a drink and dining out were reportedly done far more often at the local watering holes and restaurants.

Many also have pets. 40% of Downtowners spend time with a furry friend. Whether a cat, dog, parakeet or ferret downtown residents seem to get the benefits of sharing time with a non-human best friend.

What do they want?

They want upscale grocery choices. In particular Whole Food and Trader Joe’s if you’re listening – here’s your cue. Over 89% were hoping for the Southern California based specialty retailer, while 68% hope to wake up one day and find the natural and organic grocery hawking fruit. They like going to movies and feel in desperate need for a new cineplex to fill the need. What a terrific opportunity for the LA Conservancy and their followers to encourage bringing Broadway back.

They also want more discount department stores like Target, specialty stores like Barnes & Nobles and to accommodate all the emailing and TV watching a Best Buy wouldn’t hurt. I also note when reading the study, it seems that Downtown LA is a Mac! Sorry PC…


For a long while, LA’s elite have believed that the fate of this city was inextricably tied to the fate of its downtown. The reasons for this conclusion differed depending upon whom you asked. Politicians pointed to the importance of a thriving center as a symbol of our progress and prowess. Supporters of the arts suggested that every great city must compete culturally with the other great cities of the world. Homeless advocates and preservation pointed to downtown as the last safe haven for a forgotten few or the inextricable link to our city’s past. Finally, the developers all with different plans and target markets, pointed to a vibrant commercial core and housing market, proof that LA’s economy functions properly.

Ultimately however a city’s people determines its character and influence. Los Angeles has long been a city of eccentricities, creative minds and visionary dreams. Often locked in a cycle of constant flux and new invention LA is less about its lost past and more about its unlimited potential. This ideal has always been at the city’s core, and our core will always be Downtown LA.

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