Downtown's Space for Makers

The 3,000-square-foot Octavia Lab opened last summer, with the idea of bringing high-tech creative tools to the public for free. 

Time and time again, the Central Library, the Los Angeles Public Library system’s flagship location, has proven that it is more than a place to just borrow a book or movie, although if that was it, it would still be a remarkable institution.

The 94-year-old library has been a place for people to dive into and navigate the ins and out of the Internet, learn a thing or two about your rights as an American citizen, as well as just a quiet place to sit down and think for a few minutes in between tasks. In a time when several pricey private clubs or co-working spaces have arrived in Downtown (think WeWork), it’s worth appreciating what the free, public space has to offer. Which is more than you might think.

Earlier this month Los Angeles Downtown News wrote about the Central Library’s ambitious Octavia Lab, a 3,000-square-foot maker space named after the ground-breaking science-fiction author Octavia Butler, who would often frequent the library. Located on the second floor of the library, the lab offers specialized tools, like 3-D printers, a laser cutter, and equipment to digitize analog images. Almost everything is free to use, and the lab is open to all. The facility opened in the summer, and after seven months of operations, library staff at the lab says that a steady group of regular people is using the space, and that many people are stumbling upon it.

It’s an applaudable addition to a library already bursting at the seams with great events and services, but with so much available at Downtown’s Art Deco marvel, it remains a sticking point for this page that so many people continue to undercut just how important and equitable the library system can be. The Octavia Lab, despite staff noting that more and more people are using its services, has unfortunately largely flown under the radar since opening in June.

That is a shame. Along with the Central Library, the Los Angeles Public Library operates branches in Chinatown and Little Tokyo, which each location offering its own unique services to the particular neighborhood that they represent.

These kinds of public good-focused spaces exist across Downtown Los Angeles, if lower tech. Los Angeles State Historic Park regularly hosts a variety of classes, from martial arts to gardening, for instance. Other parks, such as Grand Park, host yoga lessons and art seminars. These are valuable and useful services open to people from all backgrounds, and do as much to help make Downtown livable as any fancy commercial arrival.

Accessible commons, from parks to libraries, are essential but often undervalued in cities, particularly areas feeling a boom of glitzy high rises and high-end stores.

In a time when increasingly expensive options arrive in Downtown, it’s important to take a step back, and applaud the work coming out of these locations, which provide an egalitarian, community space that not only binds together the disparate ends of the neighborhood, but allow people of all walks of life to use some modern tools.