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krazeeboi

LA's three megaprojects

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Two massive projects - the L.A. Live entertainment complex next to Staples Center and the Grand Avenue development on Bunker Hill - are underway (I have read elsewhere that Grand Avenue actually is not underway yet and that this was a misprint by the LA Times). A third giant project, a major expansion of Universal City, was unveiled last week. The projects, at a combined cost of about $7.5 billion, follow what has become the big planning trend in Los Angeles and elsewhere: mixing dense housing, retail and office space in village configurations near mass transit. The idea is to foster "smart growth," in which residents leave their cars behind, walk to shops, and take buses and rail to work.

However, critics aren't sold, claiming that in this case, "smart growth" is only a euphemism for more sprawl. Their concern is that the sheer size of the projects - Grand Avenue's six skyscrapers, Universal City's 2,900 homes, and L.A. Live's huge shopping and entertainment venues - will overwhelm any small improvements made by increasing the number of people who use mass transit.

So what do these projects mean for the future of LA and the city's development patterns?

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Really, the proof is in the pudding. It'll all shake down to how many of these folks actually take the mass transit options nearby.

Myself, though, being from California, I know that it takes a lot to separate a person from their cars, and with the quality of mass transit in the Hell-A area, I believe the critics of the plans are probably right.

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Having lived in SoCal for 21 years and L.A. or neighboring Glendale (which is partially surrounded by L.A.) for 16, I'm a tad skeptical--but genuinely intrigued by new Urbanist developments in SoCal. Recent improvements in public transit help, but there are hurdles that are somewhat unique to L.A., though some Western U.S. cities and some Latin American cities appear to have similar issues.

The Universal City development sounds interesting--the Red Line Metro (a limited, if efficient and very pleasant subway train) already has a station there linked to the Universal City Walk shopping and entertainment complex. Ample park-and-ride lots and a major bus hub are already in place, and I know of several people living farther out (still within L.A.'s city limits) who use the lot. But the lots are already so full that people have to rent spots monthly, and even then they aren't always able to find a spot. Except for the new Gold Line train going N.E. from downtown L.A. to Pasadena and beyond, most of the subway/elevated train stations were planned without park-and-ride lots. In a metropolitan region encompassing several MSAs with (1) limited reliable public transit except for the new trains, (2) massive expanse, and (3) controlled parking in many city neighborhoods (i.e., you need a special sticker, or can only park at certain times), park-and-ride is a necessity.

There would be a market for housing in Universal Village, given the central location and safety of the district--no matter what the downturn in the real estate market will be (sales regionally are already down by over 30% over last year, even if prices are still on the rise.) Surely some units would be snapped up as company-owned housing; Disney and Warner-Columbia are just a hop and skip away, and Viacom-Universal is right there. Universal Village would have some LGBT appeal, particularly for Industry people.

Drawback: Regular snarls of commuter and commercial traffic on the nearby (and antiquated and potholed) 101 Freeway and Cahuenga Blvd. in Cahuenga Pass--traffic that can make, say, Chicago's expressways look very tame (and modern in design). That traffic is even worse around the time of awards ceremonies (such as the Oscars) or other high-profile events held nearby in Hollywood. Well-attended events at venues within a 2-to-3-mile radius--Hollywood Bowl, the Ford Theater, the Greek Theater, or Universal Studios itself--can have the same effect. We're talking blocked-off through-streets, which can make a 5-to-15-minute drive in regular traffic take 45 minutes or more; city buses so far behind schedule and so full that they pass by people waiting at bus stops. Red Line Metro trains absorb a little of that congestion, but given their limited route at this point, only a fraction. The Universal area, being one of the few commuting routes between the sections of L.A. Metro lying on either side of the Santa Monica Mountains, will always absorb that level of traffic. You'd have to blast away part of the Santa Monica Mountains to create more major corridors than exist now. And L.A.'s planners have derided the notion of a vast monorail system for decades-even though such a system is compatible with metropolitan Southern California (L.A.'s city population is only a third to a fifth of the big picture, and factor in the massive truck traffic because of imports coming in through the ports of L.A.-Long Beach, which clogs the highways even more).

So the challenge wiil be how to develop the site while improving both roads and public transit (esp. trains)--and utilities and other needs. And of course, NIMBYs will cry wolf (they already are in nearby Studio City and Toluca Lake-older high-end L.A.-San Fernando Valley areas to the northwest of Universal).

Other concerns include the stability of SoCal's notoriously unstable hillsides (Universal is hilly, mountainous by the standards of Chicago or New York). And there are brushfires--there was just a major one in the Universal area that made the national news (flames were lapping at a large apartment development. Not too many major cities, you know, where landslides and brushfires are a concern, though Denver is beginning to experience them (if only in the suburbs). You can always tell the L.A. newbies, particularly the NYC transplants--they're shocked when they see hills burning within the city limits or sense some ground shift related to minor seismic activity.

The downtown developments are interesting--L.A. Times ran a series on a reimagined downtown stretching south from MOCA and the Disney Concert Hall. Odd I haven't seen any pics of the new Disney Hall for the L.A. Phil. on this site (or maybe I haven't looked in the right thread, being a newbie). Downtown living in L.A. is somewhat limited by the fact that many major employers--particularly in the media and entertainment or the sciences are not located there. So it wouldn't be as if someone were living and working downtown if they worked for Disney (Burbank and Glendale) or the Jet Propulsion Lab (north edge of Pasadena near La Ca

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^The topography of the LA area is indeed interesting and so varied within such a small area, relatively speaking. This betrays my ignorance of the area before visiting, but I didn't even know that LA was that close to the mountains until my trip in 2003. It makes for one awesome backdrop, but it does indeed present some challenges in terms of the city's buildout.

Here's the webcam for the LA Live project: http://clarkconstruction.oxblue.com/lalive/

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I lived in LA for a little while, but visit often. As a planner, I can see how these projects can be polarizing. LA region is huge, and is predicted to have another 6 mil in the next 20 years or less???? Where are these people going to go? Smartgrowth may not address all the concerns, but may be more helpful to the region in the long run. Keeping the same growth model, you encourage people to live farther away, and have even more problems obviously. But what I think LA should do is concentrate on establishing core areas throughout the city. Connect them with mass transit options, new and old. Build around some of the areas that have been listed to give people an opportunity to use other modes of transit, or walking etc. Downtown has some major employers, but due to old zoning styles of separating uses, and sprawl, Downtown was left for office towers and that was about it. It take a long time for an area to see some good change, and at times, it takes major projects to do that. I think LA is innovative, and will address growth concerns and reinvest in its inner core areas. LA is a perfect area for smartgrowth and other great ideas to flow and take place.

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