Downtown L.A.: Living in reality [Blowback]
Courtney Chavez, a downtown resident, responds to The Times' July 17 Op-Ed article, "Downtown L.A.: A nightmare on Every Street.” If you would like to write a Blowback, which is full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed article, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
I smiled as I read "The upside of living downtown," the July 17 Op-Ed article by Joan Springhetti that discussed her joy of watching downtown Los Angeles grow. That's because I've had those same thoughts, although my 2 1/2 years living downtown pales in comparison with her eight years in residence. But I had the opposite reaction to Mike Armstrong's July 17 article, "Downtown L.A.: A nightmare on Every Street," at least at first.
Angry and a bit defensive, I asked myself, "Who does this guy think he is telling me that I live in a nightmare?" I had an angry tirade for a moment. Then I stopped to think. Was he really wrong in his assessment?
Well, yes and no.
To start, I have a fair notion of where he was living when these atrocities happened. And I agree; I wouldn't live on that block either. In fact, I avoid those blocks like the plague once dusk hits downtown. And although "Taking Back Broadway" is a movement we all know about, Broadway can still be a dangerous place at night. Even when walking in a group, I may go out of my way to take other streets home. It's just common sense and self-preservation.
Know your surroundings, understand your neighborhood. We can't expect every area of downtown, or any neighborhood for that matter, to be perfectly manicured at all times. It is what I've come to learn about Los Angeles living. On one block there are mansions, and the next houses in disrepair. Why do you expect more from downtown? Why do you denigrate it more than other areas?
Again, I would also agree with Armstrong that a large number of our homeless in downtown have some form of mental illness. A New Yorker friend once said to me, "We have homeless in New York, but none are nearly as crazy as the homeless in Los Angeles." Yes, but for a long time before downtown became this mecca, it was a "dumping ground" for local hospitals to drop off mentally ill patients without health insurance. What do you expect? Where should they go? What are their options?
I approach living in downtown as I do any relationship. We have had some amazing moments together, and so I'm willing to weather the rough patches along the way. It's not always easy living here. At times I get tired of the smells and sounds, I have seen my fair share of men using trees and buildings as bathrooms, and I have dealt with my own forms of harassment.
But, in the end, downtown has given back to me tenfold.
I found my home. There is a sense of community and belonging that I have never felt in any other part of Los Angeles. Having had many visitors from New York revolving through my home over the last few months, I was repeatedly reminded about the beauty of living in a pedestrian-friendly city. We are faced with people from all walks of life at each turn. And I love every second of it. I have friends down the street or, at most, a 15-minute walk away, which allows us to have impromptu gatherings whenever we choose. I know several of the guys along my route to and from work who live on the streets. We talk nearly every day about random things or trade jokes. They are my DTLA family.
Even today, as I'm well into my third year battling the grit and dirt of the city, I meet new friends at every stop. We have a bond: "Oh, you live in X building? I'm your neighbor across the way," and the connection is formed. It's as simple as that. We share information; we look out for each other. This is a pedestrian-friendly society that is different from the rest of Los Angeles, a place where we are forced to interact and learn how to coexist. It is something I've come to relish.
Downtown is not perfect, by any means, but it is perfect for me.
-- Courtney Chavez
Photo: Gary Brown shares his music with the crowds during the Los Angeles Art Walk on Jan. 13. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times