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Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Sterling Davis

Downtown is L.A.’s coolest neighborhood—but that means something different this year

The results of the Time Out Index are in.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

Back in February (a time we can barely remember before the fog of stay-at-home orders), we asked our readers to let us know what they thought about life in Los Angeles. It was part of our annual Time Out Index, a survey of 38,000-plus people around the world who shared what they love the most about their cities. 

It also included nominations for each city’s coolest neighborhood, and today we can announce that Downtown L.A. came out on top of the local tally (and pretty high up in the global ranking, second only to Esquerra de l’Eixample in Barcelona).

There’s a version of this story where now we’d only talk about how MOCA dropped admission fees and the Hoxton stacked hazelnut pancakes. How coveted coworking space NeueHouse moved into the mezzanine of the beautiful Bradbury Building while the Donut Man readied its legendary strawberry-filled doughnuts across the street at Grand Central Market.

But, you know, 2020. It would be impossible to ignore—gestures vaguely—everything that’s gone on this year, so we (the local editors who weigh in on L.A.’s final Time Out Index vote) chose to reframe what we think of as “cool”: compassion, community, civic engagement. Downtown was also impossible to ignore this year, in entirely different ways, and its “coolest neighborhood” distinction means something different now than when the votes were initially cast. Dubbing it “coolest” also doesn’t mean it’s perfect: This is still an area grappling with gentrification, pedestrian and cyclist safety, an unhoused resident emergency and an uncertain economic future. However, in the most painful year in L.A.’s recent history, and in a city with no single, central gathering place, Downtown became its shared soul.

Kobe Bryant memorial date Staples Center Los Angeles LA
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Following the shocking death of Kobe Bryant in January, the entire city seemed to light up purple and gold. But it was Downtown, specifically near the Lakers’ home at the Staples Center, where crowds gathered to share in the sadness. Wreaths, candles and quiet swallowed L.A. Live, where fans flocked for a solemn sense of togetherness. 

Only a few weeks later, that sort of scene became an impossibility. As was the case in the rest of L.A., stay-at-home orders brought a sudden lull to Downtown’s streetscape. But when the pandemic kept us doomscrolling at home, the Broad brought us a bit of virtual Infinity Room calm and the now-shuttered Broken Spanish vacuum sealed tamales and fed undocumented restaurant workers.

Black Lives Matter
Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Omar Prestwich

When we finally did come together again, it was because the killing of George Floyd made injustice too loud to ignore, and, locally, Downtown became the place to speak up. Pershing Square and City Hall have always been rallying points, but near-daily direct actions used Downtown’s streets as a platform to make it clear that Black Lives Matter. The summer wasn’t without strife—for the demonstrators tear gassed, for the bystanders bruised by rubber bullets and for the few mom-and-pop businesses vandalized—but we can point to a palpable pivot toward unity the day in early June that thousands streamed through Downtown’s streets.

Outside of maybe our love of the Dodgers and hatred of the 405, there’s sometimes little that seems to unify Angelenos. But particularly in this year of isolation, DTLA has consistently brought us closer to our community like no other neighborhood.

Share your favorite Los Angeles neighborhoods and local spots with us via the #LoveLocal hashtag—and follow Time Out’s Love Local campaign as we celebrate and support the independent food, drink and culture venues that make our cities great.

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