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Posts from the "Urban Design" Category

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Villaraigosa to Department Heads: It’s Time to Work Together on T.O.D. Planning

Mayor Villaraigosa Executive Order on Transit Oriented Development Cabinet

Too to many people, urban planning in Los Angeles is a joke. Even Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will play up Los Angeles’ uneven history with planning in private interviews or public speeches when he knows he’s addressing an audience that gets it. But the Mayor always claimed that the city was getting better, that he and his department heads “get it” when it comes to the need for urban density, urban design and transit oriented development. And apparently there is no time like the present to get serious.

In early 2012, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tasked city department heads with developing and implementing a strategy for transit oriented development. As the year went on, he half-joked to Streetsblog and at RailVolution that the city was finally starting to plan for development around rail and bus hubs before the they were built instead of afterwards. Even the crown jewel of Metro’s T.O.D. program, the W Hotel and Development in Hollywood appears more Transit Adjacent than Transit Oriented.

But while Villaraigosa laughed, his ad-hoc committee produced a serious report outlining the steps the city needs to take to create a unified T.O.D. Plan and implement it. The plan looked at L.A. as a series of major transit corridors and concluded something obvious: that the city needs to coordinate its department heads and visionaries to create an implement plans for these areas before any true urban planning can happen. Last week, Villaraigosa took the long-awaited first step to make that happen.

In an Executive Directive last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the City’s General Managers to create the Los Angeles Transit Corridors Cabinet (TCC), a central entity to ensure all City departments and agencies coordinate, collaborate, and communicate their efforts to bring about a more transit-oriented Los Angeles.

“By coordinating the City’s efforts through the new Transit Corridors Cabinet, we can better focus our resources toward investments and policies that encourage and support transit use,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “This strategy will provide Angelenos of all income levels access to quality transportation, housing, and job opportunities while encouraging participation in the community development process. Together we can ensure that all stakeholders share in the benefits of growth and revitalization created by transit investment.”

Gloria Ohland, a staff member at Move L.A. and long-time supporter of Transit Oriented Development, explains some of the ways the TOD Corridors Cabinet can make a difference.

“The TOD Corridors Cabinet is a very sophisticated 21st century approach, a new work paradigm that’s all about cooperation and coordination whereas the 20th century was about working in silos, often at cross purposes. For example, LA DOT will widen streets around stations to mitigate projected traffic increases, while Metro spends money trying to make station areas more walkable. Hopefully the Cabinet will help everyone get on the same page about TOD, which offers L.A. County real potential for building affordable, walkable, bikeable, healthy, groovy green neighborhoods.”

Noting that there is a coming boom in transit oriented development as new transit projects come online in the coming years, Move L.A. applauded the Mayor’s statement. ”Thanks to voter approval of Measure R in 2008, Los Angeles, both city and county, are on the verge of a transit transformation,” writes Denny Zane, the Executive Director of Move L.A. Read more…

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NRDC/Move L.A. Push Governor on Smart Growth Bill, Praise Regional Plans

Over the last year, three large regional transportation authorities have passed regional transportation plans that tie together transportation, land use, greenhouse gas emissions and public health mandated by S.B. 375 in 2008. Today, a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Move L.A. praises the Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego regional planning areas for passing these plans and promotes legislation that could make future plans even better.

Click on the image to see the full report.

Despite the passage of the first regional plans and the continued enthusiasm of S.B. 375, NRDC isn’t happy with the current state of plan. “…a plan is not enough,” writes Amanda Eaken at the NRDC Switchboard. “From the very beginning, we knew that we needed to bring new resources to these communities if we wanted to see the real change SB 375 envisions.”

As Streetsblog has discussed in the past, the new regional plans in San Diego and Los Angeles have significant drawbacks. In San Diego, local advocates filed suit against the plan arguing that transit, walkability and bicycling projects are pushed to the end of the thirty year plan so that highway projects can be funded earlier. They were joined in their lawsuit by State Attorney General Kamala Harris. In the Greater Los Angeles region, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health estimates a $40 billion need for bicycles and pedestrian projects. The plan allocates less than 3% of that need.

However, the authors have a solution: Governor Brown needs to sign Senate Bill 1156. Read more…

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Developers and Proponents of New Wyvernwood Face Off at Special Forum Held by Council Member Huizar

Yellow in favor of the new development, white opposed. Photo: Erick Huerta

City Council Member Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, East L.A. and parts of the Downtown, held a community meeting with the current residents of Wyvernwood Apartments to hear their concerns regarding the proposed redevelopment project to replace the current apartment with a higher-cost mixed-use housing development. In 2011, Huizar expressed concern with the project, but last night seemed more neutral while listening to the 200 residents in attendance.

The new Wyvernwood Apartments proposal is a $2 billion dollar project submitted by the real estate company Fifteen Group, to remodel the entire Boyle Heights apartment complex to mixed used housing development. The new plan offers opportunities for businesses to open up on bottom floors, with housing on higher up. The proposal includes plans to widen sidewalks and to make pedestrian access to and around the development easier. A final environmental report on the project is expected next month.

A different angle shows a lot more yellow.

Representatives from City Planning and the Public Housing Department spoke to residents about some of the processes involved with the proposed plan and urged them to continue to stay involved in future meetings to voice their concerns or support. The next community meeting will be held in October after the FEIR is released and city planners present their recommendations.

Passions flared before and during the meeting as each side was given 30 minutes to voice their reasons for supporting or being against the renovation. Supporters included resident Guzman Guerra, who testified that many are tired of living with an infestation of bed bugs, rats and cockroaches in their apartments. Others added that with the changes in the complex, crime, drugs and gang activity would be reduced while living conditions improve. The currently-standing 80-year-old apartment complex suffers from outdated plumbing, electrical wiring and structure damage. Just last month, a sewer pipe broke, leaving a stench throughout the development.

But not everyone supports the project. Maria Hunter challenged supporters, saying that if residents were sanitary and hygienic, they wouldn’t have insect or rodent infestations. If Wyvernwood residents became more active in reporting drug and gang activity, holding the owners responsible for their apartments, renovation wouldn’t be needed.  Read more…

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Metro Unveils Station Design for Regional Connector

What entrances to the Regional Connector could look like. Lots more images after the jump...

(Public meetings for the connector continue today at the Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St.; 1 to 3 p.m., Aug. 28, at the Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave.; and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Aug. 29, at the Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. First St. Project information is at metro.net/projects/connector.)

At last night’s outreach meeting for the Regional Connector, Metro finally released its station drawings for the four new train stations that will be built as part of the Connector project. Looking at the renderings, it’s hard to see what exactly about these drawings required such secrecy that Metro refused to show them to press even after a briefing for Metro Board Members.

Before analyzing the station design, we should note that this is not the final design, but just the most recent thoughts on how the stations could and should look. Opportunities exist for artists to personalize the stations somewhat, as we’ve seen with both the Expo Line Stations and the Orange Line Extension Stations are also forthcoming.

After the jump, we’ll look at each station, starting with the Little Tokyo Station and provide some basic thoughts. Read more…

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For Universal City, It’s a Bridge Not Far Enough

The proposed bridge design serves all three corners of the intersection of Lankershim Boulevard and Campo de Cahuenga. Of course, the intersection has four corners.

As the local media focuses on this morning’s hearing on the NBC Universal Evolution project, there’s another project that impacts the area. The proposed pedestrian bridge crossing Lankershim Boulevard and Campo de Cahuenga as part of an eighteen year old Memorandum of Understanding will cost $19 million, but questions remain on whether the bridge is even a good idea.

Because of the proximity of both a Red Line rail station and a major bus terminal across the street from Universal’s City Walk and Universal Studios, this intersection would be a natural one to create a world-class intersection, with safe crossings and street-level food and retail options. Instead, NBC Universal is forcing Metro to build a costly pedestrian bridge to, in the words of the agency, “prevent pedestrian crossing Lankershim.”

With the spotlight on NBC Universal, advocates are stepping up calls to scrap the pedestrian bridge in favor of something that could reduce congestion and create a better environment for pedestrians.

“With NBC Universal asking Los Angeles city and county elected officials to approve its huge project, our elected officials should require as a condition of approval that NBC Universal drop its demand to force Metro to spend $19 million on a bridge that no one else wants,” said Faramarz Nabavi, a San Fernando Valley pedestrian and transit advocate.  Read more…

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Trader Joes at Third and Fairfax

The grand opening of the new Trader Joe’s near the famous Grove and Third Street Farmers Market took place in mid-May.  The intersection is now a welcoming site! The grocery market certainly pleases the eye more than what stood on the site previously: a vacant lot, and occasionally Christmas tree field.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

Los Angeles is flourishing with new developments, transforming the once-blighted spots into upscale, walkable, family-oriented communities, and promoting pedestrian and transit usage, ultimately leading to healthier lifestyle. This pattern is often referred to as “Smart Growth” or “Sustainable Developments.” However, did the new Trader Joe’s truly follow the guidelines of “Smart Growth?” If not, what did the developers and city neglect?

Last week, I photographed the site, now also including a restaurant.  Here is my “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of the new Trader Joe’s development.

The Good

Read more…

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Separate but Eco: Livable Communities for Whom?

New plans and developments, such as the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Plan pictured above, are great for the environment, but what impact does it have on the community it's placed in? Image via City Planning

Note: The authors are active advocates in the urban sustainability movement, focusing on non-motorized transportation in low-income urban areas. As mixed race women of color, we believe that we are in a unique position to bridge the advocacy communities trying to better conditions for the urban poor and for the environment. In this series, we draw on our experiences in the bicycle and environmental movements to shed light on the unfortunate divides we have noticed between urban sustainability communities and low-income communities of color.

When environmental advocates talk about urban sustainability, we often focus on how people use space and how we can encourage design that has a lesser impact on the environment.  How do people get around, are there single or mixed use developments, how can we minimize commutes between work, the grocery store, and home? Rarely do we mention class differences in who lives in the same neighborhoods or, crucially, the issue of segregation and how discrimination has shaped where Americans live and with whom they associate.

Surely we’re aware of the legacies of 1950’s white flight and urban redevelopment, where cars enabled Americans to flee the supposed contamination of newly integrating city centers. We know about the subsequent trend where city agencies labeled those neighborhoods left behind as “blighted slums” ripe for redevelopment. And yet we remain silent about the parallel between these twentieth century traumas and our current interest in promoting urban sustainability in these same areas through large scale economic redevelopment. Because race and class inequalities have been left out of the conversation, eco-friendly developments that aim to increase property values and, consequently, reduce affordable housing stock, get promoted as the key to urban sustainability.

Sustaining the ethnic and cultural diversity of our shared spaces should be an explicit priority of the environmental movement, and this means confronting the trend toward making “eco-friendly” neighborhoods primarily exclusive enclaves of wealth. We have seen this in countless neighborhoods in Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, where bike lanes often get striped in “up and coming” neighborhoods only after more affluent residents move in.

Read more…

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Times’ Surprise: New Interactive Series on L.A.’s Boulevards

There’s a change happening on Los Angeles’ streets.

Hawthorne quizes Jan Perry at the American Institute of Architects' mayoral forum earlier this year.

It’s hardly news to Streetsbloggers that Los Angeles’ transportation and development patterns have changed a lot in the past decades, or even just the past couple of years.  But when I looked down at the newspaper stand in a North Hollywood coffee shop yesterday, the Los Angeles Times top story caught me by surprise.  Written by Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, “Atlantic on the Move” launched a new series examining Los Angeles’ Boulevards and how they’ve changed and are changing.

Hawthorne writes:

The boulevard, in fact, is where the Los Angeles of the immediate future is taking shape. No longer a mere corridor to move cars, it is where L.A. is trying on a fully post-suburban identity for the first time, building denser residential neighborhoods and adding new amenities for cyclists and pedestrians.

In the process, the city is beginning to shed its reputation as a place where the automobile is king — or at least where its reign goes unchallenged. Cities across the U.S. followed L.A.’s car-crazy lead in the postwar era. This time around we might provide a more enlightened example: how to retrofit a massive region for a future that is less auto-centric.

In addition to the written articles, available on both the website and print editions; the online edition features an interactive map of Atlantic Avenue with video features on Atlantic Avenue and several of the top attractions of the twenty five miles of Boulevard that connect Alhambra to Long Beach.  The map and videos are exclusive to the Times’ website.  This is the first time since the hey-day of the Bottleneck Blog in 2008 that the Times is embracing the Internet medium as a place to do something different than publish articles for the print edition and news that isn’t important enough for the print edition. Read more…

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New Urbanists Are Open People and Other Lessons from the Congress for the New Urbanism

This week, I’m attending the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), now in it’s 20th year and currently in West Palm Beach Florida from May 9th to 12th. This is my first time attending but CNU has long been influential to my thinking. Many of my books devoted to urban topics are written by prominent leaders of CNU, and many of these authors are speaking or contributing to the conference.  These writers attempt to distill and articulate what really makes cities thrive, and how we went wrong in so much of America.

But CNU is also a movement and an organization that is embracing the need for fresh ideas. A sort of mini conference within the conference on Wednesday known as NextGen, has become an incubating dialogue for younger attendees to foster new ideas or approaches.

A packed house at the CNU Conference. Photo:Gary Kavanagh

It’s difficult to summarize exactly what CNU is and all it encompasses.  CNU is a gathering of very bright minds who give a damn about making our cities and towns more livable. Equally important is creating models to develop urban environments that are sustaining and viable, not just ecologically, but economically. Throwing in the most environmentally benign forms of transportation infrastructure itself isn’t good enough alone. The land use and return on investment served by that infrastructure must be in balance, not just in the short term, but over the long life of repair and eventual replacement of that infrastructure.

As of this writing I’ve been here for two days of CNU20, but I’ve consumed so many new things to think about it cannot adequately be reflected in today’s story.  Here are some things that stand out so far.

Pretty much everyone at CNU is approachable and not only willing but eager to chat, from that person who happens to be sitting next to you at a session, up to the renowned prolific authors or city builders. Whenever I made an effort, I could hop into a dialogue in the halls.  Jumping into any conversation you find interesting is actively encouraged. During “open source sessions,” with small break out groups, one of the few rules is to vote with your feet. If you aren’t either learning or contributing where you are at, walk somewhere else. Read more…

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Thumbs Up from America’s Planners: “Everything Is Happening in L.A. Right Now”

Los Angeles, 1987. Photo:Scribas.com

Planners who traveled to Los Angeles over the past four days to attend the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference were greeted by a very different L.A. than the one they visited at the last APA conference in L.A. over 25 years ago.

Walking up to the Convention Center from the east, attendees crossed the Metro Blue Line tracks and saw the Pico Station that will very soon carry Expo Line passengers to Culver City. Walking up from the north, attendees passed through L.A. Live, this weekend bustling with Kings, Lakers, and even some Dodgers fans. The Downtown L.A. they saw had buses, green bike lanes, and miles of street closed to cars on Sunday for Ciclavia.

One presenter said it best: “Everything is happening in L.A. right now—it’s an exciting time to be here.” Indeed, the name of the conference was “Reimagine L.A.”

The opening keynote was given by climate change scientist Andrew Weaver, who went over the scientific proof for global warming and framed the issue as one of “intergenerational equity.” “Do we owe anything to future generations?” he asked. As an answer, he charged the conference’s 5,000 attendees with thinking about and preparing for the future in their plans.

The conference featured sessions about all aspects of planning. One about the “Health Impacts of Transportation” brought the issue of global warming and pollution home to L.A. “The air quality in L.A. is still horrendous,” says Anne Russett, planner for the Los Angeles County Dept. of Regional Planning. Read more…