Friday, October 21, 2005

The problem with downtown

If you haven't been reading Steve Lopez's columns on Skid Row this week, you should, if only as a reminder that downtown Los Angeles is the shameful dumping ground of the biggest homeless population in America. Every day Skid Row is like a full-time Katrina New Orleans, with the weak and desperate hanging on by their fingernails.
I live downtown. In fact, you could see my block on the map of Skid Row that ran with the piece. Yeah, downtown is changing, but not fast enough. The problems of downtown are going to require a concentrated fix, and real commitment. It's embarrassing to me that I don't have that commitment. I'm moving.
The problem isn't that I have that suburbanite tight-stomach fear of the dirty, crazy, and, well, black people who live on the city's streets. I mean, I once lived in a shitty government housing project on a third-world Caribbean island. I can live anywhere. Luke, however, cannot.
Luke is my Basset Hound. He's 1 and 1/2, and he loves going for walks. Like all hounds, he keeps his nose down, looking for good things to sniff and taste. Unfortunately, those good things include such items as used rubbers, abandoned colostomy bags, and human waste.
Downtown is filthy, like no American city is filthy. Concentrated piles of filth. New Yorkers talk about how filthy their city is, but I know New York, and it doesn't hold a candle to the sheer ugly contamination that builds up Inferno-like around the impromptu homeless camps of my city. I walk my dog, and I am constantly choking him back from one disgusting find after another. I'm just waiting for the day when Luke's fine nose actually sniffs out a dead body.
But I'm not going to wait. I love my view. I love my building, and my room, and the amazing architecture that surrounds me. My neighborhood East of Alameda has some of the last true overlooked gems left on the West Coast, old brick buildings with great light and views of Los Angeles's landmark bridges. If they would actually follow through on plans to unbury the Los Angeles river, it could be one of the most amazing urban neighborhoods in the country.
But it's not. And I worry about my dog. I'll put up with the noise from the pallet company next door, the traffic on Alameda, the general lack of services after 6p.m., and the constant hustle and menace of getting spare-changed twenty times a day. But I won't put up with my dog getting sick, or picking up something that makes me sick as well. The fact that the city does so little to even do this most basic of civic functions, keeping the streets clean, is too depressing. Tomorrow I'm looking at a place up in the arroyo, right along the Gold Line, and within walking distance of a grocery store and a coffee shop. It's an old historic neighborhood. It was L.A.'s first suburb.


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