A remarkable transformation is taking place in the heart of Los Angeles. Over the last 10 years, Downtown L.A. became vibrant as it built ties to the south, reaching USC and Exposition Park. Now, from the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the California Science Center, a dynamic innovation corridor is just beginning to flourish, receiving a boost in May as the Los Angeles City Planning and Land Use Committee formally adopted the MyFigueroa project, allowing the area on and around that well-known street to become inclusive and more welcoming to pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists and drivers. Construction is slated to begin at the end of 2014 and finish up by end 2015. At USC Annenberg we’ve long been advocating for such a transformation, with Annenberg’s Dean Ernest J. Wilson III writing of the power of an interrelated “quad” of sectors: public, private, civil, and academic. Meanwhile, our faculty’s research demonstrates that innovation thrives on clusters: interconnected businesses, creativity across sectors and fluid jobs.
The proposed innovation corridor taps a rich ecology of experimental media, arts and technology start-ups, education and civic institutions that already surround the area, with deep ties to the diverse communities of Los Angeles. All this innovation cluster needs now are the connections that facilitate the free flow of people and ideas. There are too few congenial places along Figueroa for innovators to meet informally, run into one another and have serendipitous conversations that spark new ideas and projects. Innovation is about flow—about informal encounters rather than formal meetings, when people can connect unexpectedly. This has the potential to be deeply transformative for Los Angeles. As Figueroa begins to feel less like a freeway and more like a boulevard, it will foster a network of tightly woven institutions that welcome ideas—and export bold ideas to the world. From here on, Figueroa will serve as a vital artery along which Los Angeles’ innovative energies can flow freely.