Ideas for Downtown LA: What Can Urban Los Angeles Learn from New York City?

What can urban Los Angeles learn from New York?

I just got back from a week in New York. It was my third time there this year, so I am definitely getting the hang of it. Every time I’m in Manhattan, I am inspired by the urban landscape (the walkability, the parks, the subway system, etc.) and just how well the city is interconnected, and as a result, it’s superior functionality. I also always seem to find myself falling in love again and again with the architecture of historic New York dating back to the early 1800s to the most modern skyscrapers in Midtown.

New York has been the largest city in the country for a long time now so it’s had time to grow, learn from mistakes, and develop into the mature metropolis that it is today, which inspires awe and endearment. People from across the world proudly proclaim New York as their home because it is so grand and unique.

Nevertheless, I also believe that Los Angeles is the best it’s probably ever been in a long time with urban nodes across the region like Hollywood, Pasadena, Santa Monica, once dilapidated and seedy, being continuously revitalized and becoming more mature and better connected by mass transit. Of course, Downtown LA is the largest center in the region and has the greatest potential as a result. And these pictures I took in New York are just some of the things I’d like to see happen here in urban Los Angeles.

Let the musing begin.

I thought these mini-cafes and outdoor patio dining area by the steps leading into Bryant Park could be something we could do once we completely remodel our ugly and embarrassing Pershing Square in Downtown LA

Small businesses within subway stations like this one in the Times Square 42nd Street station show that our Rush Hour Snacks at the Downtown LA 7th/Metro station is going in the right direction

If New York can take away entire lanes away from cars, then we can too

Not only can we take away a lane from cars, but we can add tables and chairs for people like we see here in Times Square

I would like to see more shopping options in our Union Station like we see here in Grand Central Terminal

When I saw this "bump out" on Broadway in SoHo, it made me think of what we could do on our Broadway in Downtown LA (in addition to other wide streets that could use some narrowing)

I thought these flag banners for businesses in SoHo were a nice touch and would like to see more in Downtown LA's burgeoning retail districts

I know we already have planters in LA but we could always use more like the ones we see here on Houston Street

I love outdoor dining patios like these and this one in Greenwich Village reminded me of our former Angelique Cafe in Downtown LA

I love how New York utilizes spaces so efficiently and creatively and Pershing Square restaurant in Midtown is something I could see happen in our Arts District underneath the many bridges we have crossing the LA River

We could always use more dog parks like this one in Madison Square Park near the Flatiron District

I love, I repeat, love townhomes like these on the East Coast (seen here near Greenwich Village) and I hope that some developer out there will build a few here in Downtown LA someday

I like how the New York City subway translates signs into multiple languages implying that "everyone" rides mass transit in New York and not just the use of Spanish here in LA that implies that no one else rides PT here except for Spanish speakers

Countdown timers should be used here in LA making it easier for transit riders to know when the next train arrives

I would love to see grand department stores come back to Downtown LA making "shopping in the city" available again to LA residents

Again, if New York can take away entire lanes and give them back to people as public spaces as seen here in Herald Square, why can't LA?

I would love to see an urban Best Buy in Downtown LA someday like the one here in Midtown on 5th Avenue

I love how interconnected New York is for pedestrians as we see here with the famous Met Life (former Pan Am) building being directly connected to Grand Central Terminal making it easy for pedestrians to get anywhere in the city

Two bus lanes in Midtown and we can't even get one through Brentwood or the "Wilshire Condo Canyon" for our 720 Rapid Line? Shameful

I noticed that there were a lot of pedicabs throughout Manhattan and something I would like to see in the near future for Downtown LA and environs

I love how many stores have direct access to subway stations in New York and I have told the management at 505 Flower (the underground mall) in Downtown LA that they should connect directly into the future Downtown Connector station but apparently Jim Thomas (the owner of the mall) isn't keen on that idea...Guess our urban maturity level isn't quite there yet

There is a Duane Reade convenience store on almost every block in New York (seen here in Herald Square) and that means Downtown LA is on the right path with the multiple Walgreens, Rite Aids, Famimas, and 7-Elevens opening up throughout Downtown LA to service a densely populated and pedestrian-oriented community

This is one of the oldest sections of New York in Downtown near the WTC and I thought Stone Street and its bars and restaurants with outdoor benches could easily be "replicated" in our many underutilized alleyways in Downtown LA

16 responses to “Ideas for Downtown LA: What Can Urban Los Angeles Learn from New York City?

  1. Great ideas! :)

  2. Wow, amazing photos Brigham! NYC has come a long, long, way in terms of pedestrian friendliness ever since the last time I visited a couple years ago. I agree that LA could learn a lot from NYC. Our destiny is density, and therefore we have a lot to learn from our older, denser sister city to the East.

  3. NYC has done great things in recent years that L.A could and should implement as well. Planters, protected bike lanes etc. are all fairly recent additions to the NYC streetscape and contribute so much the convenience and accessibility of the city. As Chris noted, density is the future of L.A and we need to accommodate it in a way that is both functional and pleasant. NYC has achieved this and so can we, especially if we invest in the areas that are already well equipped to capitalize on these type of improvements like downtown L.A.

  4. Beautiful photographs of my favorite city in the world! And wonderful ideas for Downtown LA. I vote for Brigham Yen for mayor of Los Angeles!

  5. New York actually implemented the Times Square “plazas” a few years ago. It was a response to huge increases in pedestrian traffic in Times Square post 9/11. As Times Square gentrified the pedestrian traffic overflowed into the street creating a potential hazard between cars and people (sound familiar?).

    Everyone was all up in arms about the plazas thinking it would create huge problems for getting traffic in and out of Midtown during rush hour (sound familiar?). What actually ended up happening is that it CALMED traffic in Midtown and helped relieve pedestrian congestian along Broadway. The people that complained about it most, now love it. I know this first hand because I’m opening an office in New York and I’ve been talking with the Times Square Alliance for nearly two years now. The Times Square Alliance is the B.I.D. for the Times Square area and has control over the Times Square “plazas” you see in these pictures from 34th street all the way up to 54th street.

    The plaza idea only works in purely commercial zones. For example, New York would never do this on 8th Avenue because too many residential buildings need automobile access to the street. With that said (contrary to popular belief) there are a HUGE number of cars that commute into and out of Midtown Manhattan (far more than Downtown Los Angeles) so the argument that LA can’t do this because it’s a “car city” doesn’t hold water. The biggest obsticle that Downtown LA has in “advancing” is its politics. The only way to overcome political obsticles is for the public to get behind an effort. If the public wants something and are willing to push for it, it WILL happen. That’s the way our system works. So the trick is how many people really want these things to happen and are willing to get behind them?!

    Central Park, Bryant Park and the “High Line” are all overseen by conservancies which are non-profit ventures that were set up to manage the parks in an agreement with the City of New York. This takes a burden off the City and puts revitalization and care for the parks in the hands of the people (the city still controls the parks). Innovations like this in New York come from the people because they demanded it, NOT from government. Innovations like this happen because the people got fed up and used the democratic process to make their communities better. Downtown could have a better Pershing Square but not enough people have gotten behind the effort to fix it and those that have have not persisted, and simply complaining about it doesn’t equate to “getting behind the effort”.

    People in New York are more proactive. They foresee problems and take action before it actually becomes a problem, but key is that they demand to be involved in the process to fix it. People in Los Angeles tend to be more reactive. Angelenos tend to wait until something is a problem then complain about it and want their local politicians to fix it for them rather than get involved in the process themselves. Before you jump and down about the last statement, there are plenty of persons in LA who are definately proactive – just not enough. The people who are need to take leadership and motivate their more reactive neighbors and get them to invest in their neighborhoods. Then, and only then, will some amazing things begin to happen.

  6. ps – Newport Beach is getting rid of their historic carousel. They’re looking for a buyer. Wouldn’t it be great if LA would buy it and put it in Pershing Square?

  7. mini cafes are such a cool idea for DTLA- along with the seating on the streets- would love to see more of that here. the blue colored streets also have a nice, calming effect.

  8. Good post. I think a lot of the flexibility in NYC is due to the political structure of the city. They have a lot of power to make these changes.

    The problem in LA is that it’s obviously a bit more fragmented so a lot of these ideas never go anywhere (thinking 720 bus lanes).

  9. You make a great documentary case here for ditching LA, the #shittycity, and relocating to NYC where Bloomberg has brought imagination back to urban mobility. This album is reason enough to lament the sorry state of affairs here in the Southland, where diligent work by bike advocates results in a few paltry, hard-won gains. Meanwhile, as my trip though Mar Vista reminded me, much of it is an unsightly landscape of unrealized potential:
    http://betterbike.org/?p=1455

  10. Great post. The one thing I do need to say is that the MTA actually has added a system so you know when the next train is coming in L.A. It’s not a countdown, but there’s a digital display on each platform with the current time and what time the next 2 or 3 trains are coming. A couple of years ago, they didn’t have those. I really wish they’d allow cellphone service down there too, or at least Wifi, so you could surf the web or get work done while waiting in a station or taking a long train ride.

  11. Chicago also does an excellent job of softening their downtown concrete/stone streetscape with lovely planters and medians. Los Angeles’ great advantage over New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, and almost every other major city int he US has always been its mild climate and indoor/outdoor livability, but oddly we’ve vastly underutilized this advantage. Instead of building a garden city, Los Angeles developed as a concrete city, commuting and living in climate-controlled autos and air-conditioned homes. We’ve got to change that, get people out walking and biking along streets lined with trees and neatly-landscaped plantings, dining in more open-aired cafes, relaxing on rooftop decks, and commuting on above-ground elevated rail.

  12. If NYC is so great, move there. Or to Santa Monica. Same thing. NYC isn’t the only city that has done these things. I could have taken those pictures in Portland, Oregon. You can see many similar examples throught Southern California as well. We are constellation of smaller cities and villages. Not an island mettropolis. Apples and Oranges.

  13. I love it when people repurpose that tired Dorothy Parker quote (“72 suburbs in search of a city”) as if it was something she said yesterday. She said that 70 years ago – and NOT as a complement. Los Angeles is no more a constellation of villages than New York – who, by the way, refer to themselves as a city of villages. And Brigham’s photos look nothing like Portland, unless it began sprouting skyscrapers since I was there last.

    Every city looks to other cities for examples and inspiration. Chicago was modeled on Paris, and Venice, well, it was modeled on Venice. Should someone have told Abbott Kinney to move to Venice it he liked it so much?!

    I always think its funny that the people who are always in a tirade on these blogs are the ones who never sign their real names!

  14. NYC is OKAY, but it’s got a whole bunch of problems that I don’t want to see in LA. All that nice, fun, pedestrian-friendly landscape in the bottom half of Manhattan is just a very small part of the city. Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs don’t have such luxuries, and 1 in 5 people in the whole city live in poverty. NYC’s cost of living is also ridiculous with the highest state and local income taxes, but minimum wage is still the same. I make over 80K a year and still can’t afford to live around those areas where you took those pictures. Most of the people in your pictures are tourists or short-term out-of-state transplants.

    I like New York. Its famous touristy and college-student neighbourhoods are very nice, but it’s not a great place for the middle class to live for the long-term. That’s why I like LA so much better. It’s a much more reasonable place to actually live.

    That said, I think there is a lot we in LA can push for in developing an urban center for business, tourism, commerce, and residence. I just don’t want it to become another sad and extremely unbalanced and socioeconomically polarized NYC.

  15. RE: planters. Out of all the ideas you provide to DTLA, I would probably not recommend those sort of planters in LA. Those are huge and take up so much pedestrian space! If that was in LA, people would be saying how it limits sidewalk space. We need flowers hanging off of light posts, but a huge planter like that, let NYC keep. I could see it being a strong negativity of urbanity than positive.

  16. Joshua Villanueva

    i live in LA, have my whole life. currently living DT and it sux (city to) and development comes slowly, in most cases projects are SHUT DOWN before citizens can even get a pass at looking at the concepts for good ideas for revitalizing DT LA. NY is 100% better then LA in almost every way… and then some. etc etc etc.

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