The lack of benefits of large projects

Cities spend millions of dollars on sports arenas and cultural institutions in part because they are thought to help spur development around them. Well, not always.

The Staples Center and the next door convention center (and the Nokia Theater – rumored to be the next home of the Oscar presentations), despite being the home of two basketball teams and a hockey team, sits in a wasteland. The gruesome LA Live is next door – a mediocre attempt at a walkable area that is second rate compared to the Grove over on the Westside. It has an ESPNzone and a Flemings Steakhouse among other chain restaurants. And the Grammys Museum. Yet collectively these institutions have one nothing for the surrounding area. The largest adjacent business is a freestanding Hooters. There are many vacant lots used for parking.

There is a similar problem on the other side if downtown with the Disney Concert Hall. It’s a great building. ¬†But you can’t eat nearby because there are no restaurants. And not much of anything else except some fortress like office buildings and apartments. It doesn’t look like Broad’s Museum of Contemporary Art is going to add to the area either. ¬†Sorry LA.

My guess is that the lack if spinoff effects stems from LA’s automobile problem. First, since downtown is so remote from the rest of the city, no one can arrive early for an event in time to eat. Second, because LA refuses to slow down traffic on downtown streets (memo to the City of LA – ever heard of traffic calming or complete streets?). The area is scary for pedestrians.

The lesson is that building big ticket items is not enough. You need to pay attention to context.

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