By Tess Regan
The central area in Los Angeles known as the Arts District has undergone a regeneration process since the 1970’s which has transformed the area from a place of “no mans land”-illegally occupied by artists into a flourishing, creative and economically appealing destination. Darchen’s case study, highlights the significance of looking towards Los Angeles as “an ideal context to study the production of contemporary urbanity” due to both an adaptive re-use live/work ordinance and a growing status as a place for ‘creatives in America’. In this particular study, adaptive reuse is defined as, “a process to ameliorate the financial, environmental and social performance of buildings…that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose”. The article gathered information on the history of the Arts District via press articles and official planning documents to analyse how planning policies related to the adaptive reuse in Los Angeles. It is important to visualize and understand Los Angeles as a ‘network society’. In other words social structures are impacted by other factors. ‘Network societies’ serve as, “a new paradigm in the field of urban planning” because social, economic, and cultural structures are codependent on one another- each needing to be considered in collaboration with one another. Network societies, like Los Angeles, therefore provides opportunity for the promotion of innovation. Innovation, in this context is defined to be, “a process of translation by which an initial idea is shaped, diverted and consolidated to build up a network of allies…who test and carry forward the development of the innovation.” Therefore, it is imperative to consider how the innovation will apply across all aspects of the ‘network society’. That is why urban regeneration is an important challenge in all contemporary cities. Urban regeneration is more than just a physical change, but rather seeks to implement lasting improvement across the network: economically, socially, environmentally, etc.
Regeneration in the Arts District utilized a bottom-up and grassroots approach.This approach is a spontaneous regeneration fueled by artists and ‘cultural entrepreneurs who enable non-creative cultural consumers to enter the neighborhood’, often resisting neoliberal globalisation. The bottom-up process of regeneration has therefore brought attention to the ‘Right to the City idea’, discussed by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre. This idea raises the question of, “shifting control away from capital and the state and toward urban inhabitants.” In contrast, the Barcelona model” known in literature as a successful model or urban regeneration, “promoted social cohesion and a sense of belonging in the city.”
The Arts District is located on the Eastern side of Downtown Los Angeles, East of Little Tokyo and West of the LA River. Before artists started to transform the Arts District in the 1970’s, the area consisted of the working class and industry. It was previously labeled as an industrial district. However, after World War II, the rapid expansion of the truck industry forced the District to become obsolete as a result of its narrow roads serving inaccessible for trucks; companies needed to move away to more sensible areas. After being priced out of Venice and Hollywood’s expensive art scenes, artists began to illegally migrate toward and settle into the vacant industrial buildings left behind in the wake of the 1970’s industrial expansion. The new artist-inhabitants began opening art galleries, thus reopening the area and igniting life back into it. A massive influx of artists resulted in 1981, as the LA area became more renowned as a reinvigorated Art District. As a result, the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) programme was established. The policy allowed legal residential use of the industrial buildings- a rather strategic and stealthy development scheme by the artists to obtain occupancy within these buildings. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that the area was deemed the ‘Arts District’. By this point, live/work projects for artists was widely promoted. In 2006, Linear City Inc., a developer specializing in adaptive reuse projects, converted the Toy Factory into lofts. This was a monumental conversion which kick-started a trend in L.A. targeting wealthy buyers from the entertainment industry. The perception of the area transformed into one of economic opportunity or gentrification, even. Today, many would even argue that the Art District has been too reinvented to the point that it struggles to preserve the creative community identity which it originally re-invented to embody. One business owner commented on the future of the neighborhood: “if there were not an element of art and creativity in the neighborhood that would be terrible gentrification…[But we can] pass the history/spirit of the neighborhood…Do good work ourselves and attract new artists.” In other words, the only way gentrification could pass as accessible here is if the spirit of creativity is upheld in the process. There must be a balance between economic opportunity and artistic fervor.
The Arts District continues to thrive by attracting new residents and businesses in from creative industries. The Director of Creative Space has played a major role in establishing these connections. For instance, he put the owner of the building on Mateo Street in contact with Handsome Coffee company. Tyler, the CEO of Creative Space recognized the potential of the wasteland existing on Mateo street and appreciated the concept behind this single origin coffee company, so he connected the two owners in the spirit of regeneration. Additionally he aided ‘Retina’ a prominent street artist, to find a new studio in the area. “He defines his company as a ‘profit-earning business that considers what is best for the neighborhood’.Through his efforts, the initial artists who first brought artistic zeal to the area, and the wealthy who caught on to the aesthetic appeal and brought their money the Arts District has transformed from an failing industrial area to a desirable and creative hub.
Such artistic transformations also exist within Dublin. On a small scale, The Icon Factory, located within Temple Bar is an example of this. When the owner first bought her art studio she was shocked to witness the homeless and drug-addicts selecting that particular alleyway as a secluded place to do their drugs and openly defecate- an acceptable alternative setting in a city devoid of public restrooms they’d otherwise be. The owner was appalled as she had to clean human feces away from her store/studio front each morning. She was determined to solve this issue. As a solution she developed The Icon Factory Initiative. Now the area attracts more tourists which brings in money as well as populating the area, forcing the unwanted company to take care of their business elsewhere. The question then, like most regeneration projects which inevitably lead to gentrification, it is arguably problematic that the initiative did not solve a problem [totally], but rather relocated it out of sight-pushing the issue elsewhere.
In conclusion, cities commonly will recognize a need to reinvigorate itself, to revamp its’ economic, social, political and/or environmental realms. Transforming in a creative city is a common urban restructure and regeneration method called upon to solve these issues. However, a fine line develops between creative reinvention and capitalistic gentrification and in many cases, as in the Los Angeles Art District, this line has been starkly crossed.
Darchen, Sébastien. “Regeneration and networks in the Arts District (Los Angeles): Rethinking governance models in the production of urbanity.” Urban Studies 54, no. 15 (September 27, 2016): 3615-635. doi:10.1177/0042098016669917.
Degen, Mónica, and Marisol García. “The Transformation of the ‘Barcelona Model’: An Analysis of Culture, Urban Regeneration and Governance.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 36, no. 5, Feb. 2012, pp. 1022–1038., doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01152.x.
“Icon Factory & Dublin & Icon Walk Dublin.” Icon Factory Dublin & Icon Walk Dublin, https://iconfactorydublin.ie
Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (2016) Available at: http://ladbs.org/ docs/default-source/publications/ordinances/ boundary-of-the-adaptive-reuse-ordinance. pdf?sfvrsn=7 (accessed 9 September 2016).