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Downtown LA Becomes A Popular Place To Buy A Condo


You know, for decades, many Americans went downtown to work and then commuted out to the suburbs to live. But all over this country, downtowns are becoming very popular places to lay down roots. In Los Angeles, residents are trading yards and swimming pools for New York-style apartments. From member station KPCC, Ben Bergman takes us to a downtown in transition.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: Jose Gonzalez loves living downtown because on the weekend he can do something that was once unthinkable in LA.

JOSE GONZALEZ: When I park my car on Fridays, I don't move Monday. You know, I walk to all the grocery stores, restaurants.

BERGMAN: During the week, he isn't so lucky. Like many people in the area, he commutes to the coast for his tech job. So in the morning, everyone is crowded onto the freeway, leaving downtown and the city's east side.

GONZALEZ: And it takes me an hour to drive nine miles.

BERGMAN: When Gonzalez first told his parents he was renting a loft downtown, he says they nearly had a heart attack. They knew the area only by its previous reputation as a ghost town after all the office workers went home.

GONZALEZ: Now it's just - it's a complete 180. So when I brought them over, they were just fascinated at all the changes. Before it was just very dark and a lot of crime.

BERGMAN: At the turn of the century, just 27,000 people lived in downtown LA. Soon, the population will be about three times that after a wave of new condos are built, like a luxury complex called Circa that recently broke ground.

SCOTT DOBBINS: Three, two, one.

BERGMAN: The penthouse suite will go for $20,000 a month. The developer leading the project, Scott Dobbins, could have built offices here, but why would he?

DOBBINS: What needs to hit right now is housing units. There's actually been virtually zero commercial built here since the early '90s.

BERGMAN: Because almost a fifth of downtown office space sits empty - one of the highest vacancy rates in the country. Just 2.5 percent of the area's workforce is there. Joel Kotkin teaches urban studies at Chapman University.

JOEL KOTKIN: We have less people working downtown than Seattle, which is barely one-sixth the size of LA.

BERGMAN: Kotkin says downtown LA has never been a particularly appealing place to work, and its transition away from offices foreshadowed a nationwide trend.

KOTKIN: Most downtowns in America - the vast majority of their growth is taking place in terms of residential, hotel, entertainment.

BERGMAN: Part of the reason why fewer people want to work downtown is the way we work has changed. There's lots of "Mad Men"-style buildings downtown - very tall, lots of corner offices.


ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy) I have my own office with my name on the door, and I have a secretary.

BERGMAN: Those have very much gone out of style. Companies now want open floor plans and cool campuses, like the one the character Selina Meyer visited on the HBO comedy "Veep."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) This is our black sky ideas room. Google has a blue skies. But Craig doesn't stop at the atmosphere

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh.

BERGMAN: And it's not just tech companies renting creative office space, says Brad McCarthy, an executive at the real estate firm CBRE.

BRAD MCCARTHY: Even law firms and accounting firms and traditional financial services firms, a lot of them now are also going towards some version of that model.

BERGMAN: Which leaves downtown more attractive to residents than businesses. But the shift has brought problems beyond just crowded freeways. After years of decline, violent crime in the area is up 57 percent from last year. Police says a big reason why is all the new people crowding into the area. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Bergman

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