Warning on Road to Recovery: Beware of dumbdowntown.com


Big cities will eventually get through the recession.

How much help they’ll get from the design-obsessed bloggers who are so anxious to shape urban life is open to question.

Consider the blogosphere in Los Angeles, which bubbled with reports of decapitated chickens turning up all around town earlier this year.

Some bloggers speculated that chickens were being killed in rituals of the Santeria cult, which has roots in Latin America. The speculation seemed on the way to becoming an urban legend.

The Garment & Citizen suggested that the bloggers buzzing around the story—a bunch that was mostly European/American —might be leaping to some wayward conclusions.

The blogosphere railed against the Garment & Citizen, claiming that we had played the “race card” by even suggesting that some white bloggers might be too quick to attribute exotica to folks a few shades darker.

Then the story died, an urban legend stopped cold. Whoever had been killing the chickens and leaving their headless carcasses in public places had apparently left town quite suddenly.

Or could it be that the whole matter had been made up by bloggers who figured that a bizarre and bloody tale with shadowy suspects would be just the thing to drive traffic to their echo chamber?

There’s no telling when it comes to the blogosphere.

That’s precisely our point.

We don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs, but we generally get word when one of them is railing against the sort of well-reasoned reporting and analysis that readers expect from the Garment & Citizen.

That’s what happened after we noted last year’s closure of a Rite-Aid at 7th and Los Angeles streets as a sign that the red-hot run of Downtown development had ended. It wasn’t a tough call, by the way, given economic indicators at the time.

Yet A number of those who blog Downtown twisted themselves in knots over that one, claiming a greater understanding while denying that the closure had anything to do with the souring economy—which soon crashed, by the way.

Another piece in the Garment & Citizen sometime later mentioned the deterioration of the retail landscape on Broadway.

Downtown bloggers got all bunched up over that one, too, going on about the many committee meetings held by members of the Bringing Back Broadway Initiative.

Awhile later came word that the owners of Clifton’s Cafeteria on the 600 block of Broadway plan to sell the building as they fight to keep the place in business. A key to their struggles, according to reports, is the high vacancy rate for retail along the street. Fewer stores mean fewer customers coming to Broadway—and fewer diners stopping for a bite at Clifton’s, a bellwether for the thoroughfare.

There’s no telling whether local bloggers bark so loud about any point of view that diverges from their own because they lack reporting and analytical skills. It could be that some function as boosters who see the truth as optional when it comes to promotional pitches.

Keep that in mind if the Downtown blogosphere reaches you with talk about how some art galleries in the area of 5th and Main streets are closing because their landlord is ditching them in favor of higher-paying tenants. That outlook would seem to prop up the notion of a hot market for retail, as though there’s a waiting list of businesses willing to pay a premium for ground-floor space at 5th and Main despite the recession.

That just doesn’t sound right, based on a street-level view of current conditions.

Whatever is going on, watch out for bloggers who seem bent on telling a story about Downtown and the rest of our city that doesn’t match the facts on the ground.

The truth is that the economy remains very slow, the real estate market is a long way from full recovery, and it will be more than a few months before the local job market perks up.

It’s also true that our city, state and nation will eventually recover. Times are tough, but there are plenty of folks committed to getting through this downturn (see related photo and caption, “No Quit,” and Local Hero, both home page). They’ll need the accurate information and reasoned analysis—the truth, in other words—to chart a course to better days.

So look for signs of progress and silver linings, which are the building blocks of momentum and economic recovery.

Just beware of those who would show you nothing else.

Jerry Sullivan is the Editor & Publisher of the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a weekly community newspaper that covers Downtown Los Angeles and surrounding districts (www.garmentandcitizen.com)