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23. Boom and bust and boom again and . . .

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No surprise here. Only that the boom-to-bust cycle seems to have taken a little more than half a year. Back in the day (mid-2007), downtown Los Angeles was urbanism's golden child "? building up and moving out and hip down to the retro sneakers on its fast moving feet. Although everyone "? everyone "? knew this was prolongation of the glorious fakery that is at the heart of Los Angeles. The city that cynically manufactures snake oil and deliriously buys it, almost in the same wonderful moment. Cunning and optimistic, we Angeleños are. Last year, Los Angeles Magazine embraced the happy myth that downtown was the city's center again (although the last time that was true was at the turn of the 20th century). A booming center again, the magazine actually said. Boom is not exclusively an L.A. word, but we long ago out-Barnumed P. T. Barnum in the business of booming the intangible. Of selling desire. And, besides, the square miles of empty upper floors in 1920s office buildings were wasted anyway. And now, the magazine finds that the boom in condo-ing the sky has gone bust. "Development has hit a wall," Mark Lacter worries. The calliope-like L.A. Live will be finished; some more luxury apartments may be built, but over the next several years . . . maybe five years . . . the placelessness of downtown may creep back around semi-islands of refurbished towers. "I can't help stating the obvious," Lacter says, "Lower those expectations."

This is the city of heightened expectations, of expectations rising eternally young and beautiful from the terribly blue water of a Brentwood swimming pool. Not lowered expectations. Still the average price of a unit has fallen from almost $800,000 to $502,000.

Still, the cool bars are brightly lighted and more of them have opened recently. The pleasantly ephemeral comes in goes in the form of art galleries and clothing stores that apparently have no customers. The population downtown has reached an estimated 38,000 (depending how you define downtown). There are about 25,200 "dwelling units" (city planner language) downtown, up from a little more than 11,600 in 1999. But too many of them have gone from sale to rental, even in the most upscale of developments.

And those may be the last for a while, as a globalized and outsourced bust overwhelms the little boom that presented the city a with a "noir adjacent" downtown. The really scary rescripted and domesticated. The word used to be "edgy." Like a man standing on the ledge of building overlooking Spring Street. But this is a city edges. We're edgy everywhere here.

Belief motivates a good fraction of those who have come to live downtown. But it's the ugly fiscal calculus of development from which the immediate future of downtown will be derived. Which projects financed on the basis of $800,000-per-unit will foreclose lower and lower until equity in the property reaches the bottom of the market? Which luxury condos turned rentals will be marketable in five or ten years and how much will it cost per unit to make them salable then?

This city doesn't like waiting. Distrusts the loss of momentum. We're so much in a hurry to be on our way to the next paradise of the ordinary, always marketed with spectacle. Downtown's builders and believers repeat "just wait; just wait." We'll see.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user mattlogelin. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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