Turkey Trot LA highlights downtown's homey evolution

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The latest milestone in Los Angeles' evolution from gritty workplace to homey urban neighborhood could be seen in Thursday's Thanksgiving-themed Turkey Trot L.A. as about 3,500 people jammed the streets for a pre-feast footrace.

It was one of about 20 Turkey Trots dotting the L.A. metro area in which  participants dress as turkeys, pilgrims and Native Americans. This one started on Spring Street between City Hall and the new Grand Park.

It may have been the first Turkey Trot in downtown, but to nearby resident Jennifer Westhoff, it's a sign she lives in a happening place, with more restaurants, places to buy groceries and places to hang out.

"Everything's kind of growing. And so it's just one more thing that proves downtown Los Angeles is a legitimate place to live and make a life," she said.

Downtown's population doubled between 2000 and 2010. About 52,000 people now call it home. Incomes have risen along with a number of new homes, restaurants and stores -- all classic indications of gentrification, says Jenny Schuetz, a public policy professor at USC who has been studying the area's evolution from business center to neighborhood.

"You've got enough of a population in downtown LA who are around, who live here, who are engaged and want to do things in their neighborhood on a holiday," Schuetz said.

Downtown resident Katie Seymour had had a Thanksgiving tradition of getting up super-early and driving all the way to Dana Point to run its turkey trot. But this year, she was grateful to be able to run local.

"When I found out I could go downstairs and take the train two stops to this race, I was very excited about that, so it's much better than waking up at 4 a.m.," Seymour said.

Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Pinon has lived his whole life just a few blocks away and has witnessed the makeover of his neighborhood.

"A lot of construction kind of gets in the way of my running routine, but the upside is that it looks a lot better than it did before, just getting a lot more crowded." Pinon said.

The newcomers bring an added advantage, he said. "Since I go to an all-boys school, more people move in, more girls, that's kind of an upside."

Schuetz said the new holiday race puts downtown on positive public display for visitors who come in from surrounding areas.

One of those was Kitty Lim, who ran both the 5K and 10K races -- a total of more than 9 miles. She could have run a turkey trot closer to her Glendale home but chose to do her long run in the big city.

"It's prettier -- it's downtown, and usually downtown is all crowded, this is a time that you can all run around the street," Lim said.

Thursday's event is the latest happening drawing visitors to downtown. It joins the Ciclavia car free days and the Downtown Art Walk.

This year's event could be the start of a new tradition in downtown. But it's got a long way to go to catch up with the state's oldest Turkey Trot -- Dana Point just ran its 36th.


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