Ask some long-time residents of Los Angeles, and they’ll respond that not having a car is not an option for living in the most populated metropolis in the United States. But for visitors to downtown L.A. — the site of the 84th Annual Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Technical Exhibition and Conference, WEFTEC® 2011 — immense changes have made this once desolate neighborhood one of the most walkable areas in the country.
“The downtown has really improved tremendously,” said Jim Clark, senior vice president and managing director of Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.) and local resident of more than 35 years. Clark is on the WEFTEC Advisory Committee and serves as the California WEF member of the planning committee. Fifteen years ago, “nobody even wanted to walk in that part of town,” but locals are now referring to it as a “mini Times Square,” Clark said.
“Los Angeles has more walkable neighborhoods than people think,” said Matt Lerner, chief technical officer of Seattle-based Walk Score, an online search tool used for analyzing the pedestrian-friendly attributes of any physical address. Three million scores are generated daily, and more than 6000 Web sites use Walk Score, which ranks downtown Los Angeles the most walkable of all neighborhoods in the metropolis — despite preconceived notions about the city as a whole.
When Walk Score launched in 2007, “Los Angeles was one of the most commented on and discussed cities,” Lerner said. “Myth is stronger than reality.”
“You don’t have to have a car to move around Los Angeles now,” said Gary Lee Moore, city engineer with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering.
According to Moore, “any type of food is within a mile” of downtown Los Angeles, and it’s “the infusion of restaurants” that has made the neighborhood vibrant. “The diversity of Los Angeles is reflected in the one-of-a-kind unique restaurants,” he said.
All that Jazz
For those attending WEFTEC 2011, Walk Score’s ratings and testimonials are sure to hold water. Landmarks populate the Convention Center and financial district area, where most of the city’s hotels are situated.
Clark noted that the Grammy Museum and the Walt Disney Concert Hall are a short walk from downtown. There also is the Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, which has numerous “well-knowns” interred in the basement, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion — the former site of the Academy Awards.
The new concert hall is actually part of the Music Center, a pivotal feature of the new L.A. LIVE campus and what inspires thoughts and sentiments of Times Square. A mecca of dining, nightlife, and entertainment, L.A. LIVE features clubs, theaters, concert venues, and the Staples Center, home of the L.A. Lakers basketball games.
Buzzing With Amenities
The whole downtown area “is a beehive,” according to Carol Martinez, vice president of communications for LA INC., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. There are numerous one-of-a-kind coffee shops, Starbucks, ATMs, and great opportunities for fueling up. Conveniences of note include The Colburn School Café on South Grand Avenue, Ralph’s Grocery Store on Flower Street, and The Original Pantry restaurant, open 24 hours, on Figueroa Street. This “coffee shop of yesterday” boasts a line on weekend mornings, Martinez said.
There’s also great shopping — the 100 block Fashion District is nearby — and for aesthetic enthusiasts, access the Downtown Art Walk, a free, self-guided public art tour. Those who arrive in town before the conference begins, take note: The Art Walk Lounge offers complimentary refreshments, giveaways, and a special art exhibit on Thursdays.
Visitors who are craving outdoors-time on a break or in between tours of the Orange County Water District’s Groundwater Replenishment System (former Water Factory 21), Hyperion Treatment Plant, the West Basin’s Water Recycling Facility, and the City of Los Angeles’ Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant, can find diversions on South Olive Street. A short walk from hotels on South Olive Street or a $0.35 DASH bus from the Convention Center, is Angel’s Knoll, a manicured park featured in the film “500 Days of Summer.” The funicular railway Angel’s Flight, for a $0.25 fare, will take passengers to the Grand Central Market, where there are meals, fruit, and more for putting together a picnic in this scenic pocket park overlooking the city’s majestic buildings, Martinez said.
Have an interest in the downtown’s municipal features? Next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. LIVE is a large fountain that actually is part of the Department of Water and Power’s air-conditioning system.
But if it’s urban exploration and other neighborhoods visitors want to see, and they would rather a have quick lift, a short ride on a Downtown DASH to Olvera Street will bring conference-goers to L.A. City Hall, which is featured in countless films and widely used in television production. There also are bazaarlike market stalls in this area, which is the oldest part of town. Buses also go to Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and other famous neighborhoods.
Moore credits the Business Improvement District, as well as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, for all of the pedestrian-friendly improvements. “It’s all about a great visitor experience … we continue to evolve and want to do more,” he said, noting that the future of L.A. includes greater ”bikeability” and redevelopment of public access and recreation along the Los Angeles River, where the City of Angels was originally founded.