Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Los Angeles as the rare example of a Mayor hiring a Deputy Mayor (Rick Cole) as well qualified as the Mayor

The Planning Report, a subscription newsletter covering California land use and development issues, has a great piece ("Cole: Successful Placemaking Arises From Dynamic Pedestrian Environments, Not 'Starchitecture'") on Rick Cole, the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles.

He has a very interesting background, starting off as a City Councilmember and then becoming Deputy Mayor in Pasadena, and then moving to the executive branch, as a city manager in Azusa and later in Ventura, before taking the position in Los Angeles.  (Recently, Governing Magazine has a nice piece on his work in LA as well, "Does Eric Garcetti Have a Big Enough Vision for L.A.?.")

It takes a Mayor with a lot of confidence but also real concern about and commitment to dealing with the future of the city to hire as Deputy Mayor someone so well qualified.  I wish we could get such competent and qualified agency hires in DC.

From the article:
My classroom was my hometown of Pasadena. It was a microcosm of the same megatrends that Jane Jacobs identified and dedicated herself to battling—so-called “urban renewal” that destroyed the human-scale fabric of city life; misguided plans to build cities around cars instead of people; abandonment of inner cities for outward suburban sprawl; and top-down master plans that overrode the interests and democratic rights of city residents. 
I think Pasadena and other cities make a compelling case that enhancing community quality of life is not in opposition to economic success. Rather, it is the foundation for sustainable economic success. Growing up in Pasadena, I intuitively believed that healthy neighborhoods are the underpinning of a vibrant economy, not an obstacle to be demolished for speculative real-estate development. 
How do you outpace affluent cities like Beverly Hills, or Santa Monica as well as cities that were growing rapidly in population like Lancaster and Palmdale? We did it by pursuing community-based development—through public-private partnerships to reinvest in older neighborhoods. And because of the sensitivity of doing infill development in established communities, we sweated the details of making great places, including insisting on the highest standards of design and materials. ...

Too many cities remain mesmerized by big plans and big projects—and neglect the elements that create a vibrant pedestrian environment. Rick Caruso* has never made that mistake. Cities need to learn from what he’s done inside his wildly successful developments and apply it to the everyday public realm. I used to say to planners that I worked with in Pasadena, Azusa, and Ventura, “Our purpose isn’t to make great plans. It’s to make great places.” ...

Are there other lessons that Old Pasadena’s success foretells for Los Angeles and other cities?

It’s not so much that Pasadena did everything right as that we learned some common lessons that apply broadly to cities throughout the heart of our region. I think the most important challenge we all face is the widespread narrative that urban revitalization is the same as “gentrification.” The media promotes a stale and one-dimensional portrait of urban life that goes like this: Neglected neighborhood draws artists and hipsters. They gather in trendy coffee shops. Eventually outsiders take over the neighborhood. Sometimes this is told as a fairy tale that ends with everyone sipping $7 lattes, oblivious to displaced businesses and residents. Sometimes this is told as a gothic horror story that results in the death of local character and exile of the poor. If we are going to truly fulfill the promise of urban life in Southern California, we need to write a better story about how to create widespread great places—in ways that benefit existing businesses and residents.
Pedestrian scramble intersection, Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CaliforniaGina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times: Pedestrians cross at Colorado Boulevard and Raymond Avenue in revitalized Old Pasadena. Thirty years ago it was seedy, but today restored buildings radiate charm.

Pasadena is well respected in revitalization and transportation circles for their commercial district efforts in Old Pasadena and the implementation of pro-pedestrian infrastructure such as "Barnes Dance" crosswalks, its implementation of a wide variety of parking pricing initiatives, and directing the revenues from parking to neighborhood and business district improvement initiatives, as well as its embrace of connection to the expanding LA MTA fixed rail transit system.  See "The New Old Pasadena May Just Bowl You Over."

* Rick Caruso is the creator of The Grove and other mixed use retail and commercial projects, comparable in some respects to the projects done by the DC region's Federal Realty like Bethesda Row here or Santana Row in San Jose, California.  Although generally the developments don't have residential components, the Americana at Brand project does include residential, a first for the company.

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At 8:13 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

So, he hired of the Good Guys of the Growth Machine -- who understands that it isnt activation but "great places" that drive real estate up.

That said the focus on details is important. I need to read up on the DC 1980s streets-making plan -- what astounded me coming to DC for the first time as a high schooler were the lightposts and lack of overhead lines.

And again I argue time scales -- as a city offical you have to get the ball rolling but not rolling too quickly.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... 1880s. But yes, there were some amazing quality of life decisions made back in the 19th century concerning the L'Enfant city, the wires being one, the "park-ing" regulations about the maintenance of the "public space" between the front elevation of houses and the curb.

Starting with L'Enfant's plan of course. So the city was given a very good foundation on which to build.

2. but wrt the general point, i don't think cities should be too apologetic about having to do "Growth Machine" type stuff, it's how to be competitive.

At the same time, cities need to balance the benefits to be sure they are fairly distributed.

That's the crux of the issue.

The problem is that the benefits tend to accrue to "the nice" or wealthier places because for obvious reasons that's where developers want to build--the risk is lower the profits greater.

But with impact fees, community benefits agreements, etc., that means that the benefits accrue to the nicer places too, rather than being spread around.

That leads to issues like in NYC where the have nots complain about the Central Park Conservancy and equivalent groups, or in LA, the LAT editorialized about "public art" benefits (something I need to write about) and some recent (what I consider to be too narrow) interpretations about legality.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

e.g., there is this guy in Columbia Heights who hates Donatelli, writes continuously about how they screwed the city, are the source of all evil, etc.

And since Donatelli is getting benefits to build at Res. 13 -- where nothing has happened for decades -- he is worked up again.

I have never dealt with that firm personally.

HOWEVER, I have a great deal of respect for them in the way that Columbia Heights is in terms of activation, the same for U Street (especially the Ellington), the improvements that are building in Petworth -- are in large part due to Chris Donatelli's projects, their relative high quality, and his willingness to be an early mover/first entrant.

As you know, companies willing to be first mover are rare. Companies willing to be first mover AND committed to quality are that much rarer (cf. Marvin Jawer, H Street CDC, etc.)

Last weekend was the Upshur Craft Fair + Petworth Library book sale. I probably won't write about it til January, but the way that the community is coalescing and improving all grows out from Donatelli's Park Place apartment building project on top of the Metro.

I don't know what people expect, especially how all the various constraints on development make the projects less financially efficacious and risky.

As you know, it's pretty common in cities to provide inducements to promote housing development.

Getting market rate projects in these places was absolutely essential to their current improvement trajectory.

GO Donatelli! Go "reasonable members" of the Growth Machine

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In Petworth, my understanding is that the Donatelli firm invested in the Hilton Bros. "Chez Billy" restaurant in order to help "seed" the area with new businesses.

That's pretty exceptional.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

A lot to push back on.

1. In an earlier discussion on DC and being a leading edge city, I though you mentioned the 1980s streetscape work as an exampe. Perhaps I misunderstood.

2. Again, a great point that the city needs to take the concessions and invest them in places that may not have a quick pay off.

Usually ass-backwards though. Take the Reeves Center -- which needs to be torn down. The money from that can be invested elsewhere. But instead of a discussion on that we get more affordable housing.

3. And in terms of social justice, getting people out of social housing into their own (owned) property and keeping them there is helpful.

For example, banks in Germany require you to pay 1/12 more each month -- so in a year you have a month of mortage payments built up for emergencies.

DC could do the same with property tax. Remove the fees to selling to family members. Open up their own lending for owner owned afforable housing.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

the streetscape stuff you're thinking about was the late 1990s probably, under Dan T. That's what led to the projects in Georgetown (but no sidewalk widening), 8th St. SE (including angled parking to slow the traffic).

My complaint though is that for the most part these projects were state of the art (mostly) for the time, but that DDOTs toolkit didn't continue to expand as state of the art continued to advance.

But yes, a lot of the really "good" decisions, overhead wires, height, "public space" were decisions in the late 1800s during the period of federal control.

(when I first came to dc as a teenager, I was really transfixed by all the buses...)

2. I am reading Boston Irish, but I started towards the end, for the contemporary, and now have to start from the beginning. Anyway, it mentioned a bunch of initiatives under Ray Flynn that worked to "spread the benefits" in a systematic way, not unlike some of the ideas you mention.

3. It would be possible to do local financing etc. not unlike the Bank of North Dakota.

... BUT, I don't know if you've read anything about the proposal in Seattle to create a local bank modeled after NoDak.

All I could think about was in the brief period when the US Govt. controlled GM and Chrysler, and how as part of the refinancing they required a bunch of less effective and inefficient dealerships to close, and how these dealerships lobbied their local Congresspeople to intervene (some did so, successfully).

So while we need to focus on local capital formation, when we do it via the "govt." it is subject to screwing with (not unlike how well connected people got below market value renovated homes compliments of the Dev. Corporation of Columbia Heights).

Although I guess the Bank of North Dakota is run on the up and up.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I have been remiss in not writing about it, and they aren't doing the 13 payments thing, but I saw a presentation that included a top officer of the Tacoma Housing Agency and they are doing some very impressive stuff (not unlike the Advancement Project related stuff that I wrote about too--the LA "Community Safety Project" is being paid for by the housing agency), investing in a neighborhood school where there is a preponderance of public housing, and a homeless shelter. Before the new program, the school had almost 200% annual turnover. Now it is under 100% with improved outcomes.

but yes, innovative programmatic improvements, linked financing, etc., doesn't happen very much.

The thing with the complaints about the Central Park Conservancy is the idea is that the "costs foregone" by the city because of the nongovt. support are supposed to be captured and invested in those areas that have less ability to garner extranormal resources.

But instead, budgets are just cut, and the investments in other areas aren't made.


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