Move over Sunset Triangle Plaza, a pair of street reclamation projects on the Eastside are threatening to steal your thunder as the most progressive street reclamation project in Los Angeles. Living Streets L.A. and Councilman Jose Huizar unveiled new designs for a “street porch” on York Boulevard in Highland Park and a “street plaza” on Huntington Drive in El Sereno. Both designs are completely unique as they arrived as a result of an extensive community process that started with a simple question, “How would you like to improve your street?” Nearly a dozen sessions later, each community devised surprisingly similar plans. “Ryan [Living Streets’ Ryan Lehman] and I were pleasantly surprised that when given the option to choose any street improvement, the project both people chose were in one case a street porch and another case a street plaza,” explains Steve Rassmussen Cancian, the architect for the project. Rasmussen Cancian prefers to avoid the term “parklets” which confuses people by leaving the impression that the city is planning something bigger, such as a soccer field, for the middle of the street. He prefers the more descriptive “street porch” for the above pictured design for York Boulevard which is actually resembles an urban porch. For El Sereno, pictured below, he prefers the term “street plaza.”
Unlike the temporary plaza at the Sunset Triangle Plaza, the furniture for the porch and for the plaza are more permanent, 24-hour furniture. Sometimes, new mini-open space projects such as the Triangle Plaza and the new parklets in Long Beach can feel as though they are extensions of outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes. In both El Sereno and York Boulevard, the new street structures will not be built outside of a restaurant. The Office of Councilman Jose Huizar notes that these projects are part of a District-wide effort to improve the state and nature of L.A.’s streets. Spokesman Rick Coca points to the green bike lane providing alternatives for visitors to the 1st Street Arts District in Boyle Heights, the city’s first bike corral in front of Cafe de Leche, and the “Bringing Broadway Back” plans for a streetcar and new pedestrian areas as other examples of Huizar’s commitment to a new way of looking at transportation. “I am working on improving major corridors in every part of my district. A big part of those improvements is a philosophy that puts people ahead of cars – I want to see more pedestrian uses, more bicycle uses. And communities from throughout my district agree,” Huizar adds. “There is a desire for more local, public interaction, local shopping, local dining, but in a manner that allows people to leave their cars at home. That’s a major component to my Bringing Back Broadway initiative Downtown and my work to support the burgeoning Arts District on First Street in Boyle Heights. I brought in the Green L.A. Living Streets team to work with my staff and community members on improvement plans for York Boulevard in Highland Park and Huntington Drive in El Sereno.” In 2010, the Council office earned grant funds for new planning efforts on York Boulevard and El Sereno Street. Rather than engage in a typical planning process, Huizar teamed with Living Streets and Cancian Rasmussen. This led to an aggressive 22 meeting schedule which saw the community push for a small slice of open space on these underutilized boulevards. On York Boulevard, the street porch will be located on the shady side of the street on the most active block of York Boulevard. The community developed an organic design featuring inset tile mosaic and river rocks. The design alludes to the history and natural environment of Highland Park and honors and engages the area’s emerging creative community. For El Sereno Street, the community chose a spot in its downtown business district adjacent to a busy Food 4 Less store, the local hardware store and across the street from the Barrio Action Youth & Family Center. The extra wide parking area adjacent to six-lane-wide Huntington Drive creates a safety and sound buffer and the busy pedestrian activity ensure that the plaza will be used by many people. Residents also specifically decided to choose a location not adjacent to a restaurant or café to be sure the space would be seen as 100% public. With funding for construction already identified, the city is just waiting on itself before moving to construction. The biggest holdup is that the plans for these streets is so new for Los Angeles that the city isn’t sure how to permit them. “The city’s never done anything like this,” explains Lehman. “The city wants to be sure they do everything they need to do so the porch and the plaza can stay.” Unlike the Sunset Triangle Plaza, the El Sereno Street Plaza and the York Boulevard Street Porch construction will be by the community, not LADOT or consultants. Confused how to permit such a project, the Bureau of Engineering asked the City Council to pass a new motion with guidelines for plaza/porch construction. The Council directed city staff to draft such an ordinance, but at the time of publication the city hasn’t announced a hearing schedule to move the motion. But with these sketches in hand, when the city is ready to move, the community will be waiting. The Council office continues to hope that constrcution could be completed by the end of the next calendar year.