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Posts from the "Urban Design" Category

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Welcome to “The Avenue Hollywood”, Another Anti-Pedestrian Project

Mixed-use developments are rising all over Los Angeles, particularly in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Some buildings look better than others, though sadly none show the classic architectural spark that once existed in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, most new projects aim for common goals: sustainability and improved pedestrian infrastructure.

But not all mixed-use projects follow guidelines on creating pedestrian environment. Some developers continue constructing 1980’s-style automobile-oriented buildings, without adequate streetscape or aesthetics. A classical example of an anti-pedestrian development is The Avenue Hollywood, located in the heart of Hollywood, on La Brea Avenue just south of Hollywood Blvd.

From a distance, we see an attractive, modern midrise building, designed with good contemporary standards. And unlike most other low-to-midrise buildings, The Avenue Hollywood building is based on concrete and steel – not wood. Therefore the building is much more durable and offers better fireproofing and soundproofing.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

The new complex certainly enhances the appearance of otherwise dull La Brea Avenue. But then one starts to wonder, why don’t you ever see pedestrians near the new development? Likewise, why is every single ground retail space still empty, with distinct “For Lease” signs?

Let’s find out what went wrong with The Avenue Hollywood, and why hasn’t a single ground-level space been occupied by any type of vendor.

The Avenue Hollywood offers a half-dozen spaces for ground-floor retail, and 5-6 levels of apartment renting. Location is very convenient: just next to the famous Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, Hollywood & Highland shopping mega-center, and a popular Red line subway station. Thus The Avenue Hollywood sits on a perfect transit-oriented development location.

But once you approach the complex, first good impressions dissipate. A grim reality of concrete & cement starts to unveil. Lack of pedestrian activity or amenities makes you want to walk away. The building surroundings indeed are cold and unwelcoming. Read more…

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New Report Outlines How CA Can Kick Its Addiction to Oil, Foreign and Domestic

If you want to reduce oil dependency, go after the big dark green area first.

The government is encouraging you to drive a car, and if California is truly serious about reducing its oil dependency that needs to change. This is the unequivocal conclusion of Unraveling Ties to Petroleum  a new report commissioned by Next 10 California and written by UCLA researchers  Juan Matute, Director of the UCLA Local Climate Initiative, and  Stephanie Pincetl, Adjunct Professor and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

“State and local policies that promote autos over other modes make it hard to drive less, even when someone is determined to do so,” writes Matute.

In addition to compiling mountains of statistics about car use, energy use, and gasoline dependence, the authors looked at fifteen policies that change incentives for driving or land use, and evaluated their total effects on statewide petroleum use.  Most of the time, the incentives were not transparent.  Together, the policy choices made at the state and local level impact statewide petroleum use by as much as 50 percent.

It used to be that CA got almost none of its oil from other countries. That has changed.

The biggest change governments can make? Change the non-residential parking policy by changing or removing parking minimums, encouraging different land use through zoning and creating a more attractive urban form. The researchers estimate these changes could reduce gasoline demand in the transportation industry by nearly 25% under the best circumstances. Other potential areas for reform include encouraging insurance companies to offer per-mile rates (an estimated 8% drop), an affordable rideshare and taxi program (up to an 18.35% drop) and even allowing jitney and dollar van services to operate (a whopping .1% drop.)

Sadly, the buffet of options for reducing oil usage also points back to one of the reports’ other main points. The government is encouraging car usage, and has a variety of ways to soak the car-free and car-lite. These include: Read more…
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Zoning a Healthier Los Angeles?

All photographs by Iwan Baan, courtesy of No More Play / Hatje Cantz. via

(editor’s note: When I saw L.A. County was being praised for updating its zoning code to encourage wider sidewalks and bicycling facilities, I went to some zoning experts to ask them to weigh in on the county’s proposal. Occidental College Professor Mark Vallianatos answered my call. – DN)

Shock City

The Los Angeles region was intentionally planned as a horizontal city to avoid some of the perceived ills of dense European and east coast metropolises. Policy makers, planners, voters, industry and real estate interests  made choices around land use and infrastructure that enshrined the single family house, the commuter streetcar, and later, the automobile as the building blocks of L.A.   Just as London, Manchester, and New York symbolized the scale and challenges of the 19th century industrial city, Los Angeles, with its sprawl and unprecedented car culture, was the “shock city” of the 20th century, a new way of organizing urban land.

The Tangle of Health and Zoning

This simplified history of zoning is context to consider as both the County and City of Los Angeles are revising zoning laws with a goal of promoting health. We should acknowledge a central irony in this topic. Land use rules implemented in the past to protect public health have today become health hazards. As Emily Talen puts it in her book City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, “[z]oning contributed to health problems by spreading people out, increasing their reliance on automobiles and a sedentary lifestyle.” Rules that kept peoples’ homes in different districts than heavy industry were rapidly expanded to separate all commercial uses from residential zones. Starting in the 1930s, Los Angeles began required new buildings to provide on site parking for cars, subsidizing driving at the same time that separate use zoning was undercutting walking. Zoning has also long been used to segregate people by income and race. For instance, one of the first  zoning laws adopted in Los Angeles discriminated against Chinese-owned laundries and single family zones were “protected” from apartment buildings.

The exclusionary effect of some land use regulations contributed to clustering of “concentrated disadvantage:” in neighborhoods with high poverty, unemployment and crime and with few amenities.

In addressing health through land use, the County and City have a chance to undo the damage of earlier rules while also addressing new challenges and opportunities. 

Los Angeles County Healthy Design Ordinance Read more…

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LA Planners Leapfrog NYC DCP, Approve Plan With No Mandatory Parking

Angie reported this morning that Washington, DC, is moving to reduce mandatory parking requirements in much of the city, which should lower the cost of housing and curb traffic. Meanwhile, despite talk last year of wide-ranging parking reforms for New York’s “inner ring” encircling the Manhattan core, the Department of City Planning has so far only managed to put forward a reduction of parking minimums in transit-saturated Downtown Brooklyn, the most screamingly obvious location.

All the shaded blocks will have no parking requirements under the plan approved yesterday by the Los Angeles Planning Commission.

Now you can add another city to the rapidly expanding list of places leapfrogging NYC on parking reform: Los Angeles.

Yesterday the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved the Cornfield Arroyo Seco plan, which will eliminate parking minimums as part of a bid to spur mixed-use development along the Gold Line, a light-rail route that began service in 2003. (Streetsblog LA posted this summary of the plan by Joe Linton in 2009.)

Curbed LA reports:

City Planner Claire Bowin told Curbed today that the lack of parking requirements will allow developers to “minimize the amount of parking for specific projects,” given the neighborhood’s proximity to transit, the changing culture of Los Angeles, and the declining need for parking. Given that parking is usually one of the most expensive components of a development project, developers are expected to minimize the construction of parking, or build parking that they can then rent for public uses not attached to their site. The effect, says Bowin, will be to “let the market decide” how much parking is needed and where.

For everyone keeping score at home, Los Angeles has managed to do away with parking minimums along a corridor that’s served by a single light-rail line. Here in NYC, Amanda Burden’s planning department could only muster the will to halve parking requirements for Downtown Brooklyn, with its 14 subway lines.

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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…