Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Modernism in the Motor City


Hello Again Everyone:

Today's the day I rant on about positive things in the City of Detroit, Michigan.  It's not all doom and gloom in the Motor City.  After all, how horrible can a city that gave the world The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles be.  It's also home to the Detroit Art Institute which contains a magnificent mural by Diego Rivera celebrating Detroit's industrial history.  So it would stand to reason that the city's industrial heritage would foster great works of mid-century modern architecture that could rival Los Angeles' modernist history.  Humm, we'll see about that.  An upcoming symposium titled Michigan Modern (http://www.michiganmodern.org) slated for June 13-16 and a four-month exhibit (June 16-October 13) assembled by the Michigan State Office of Historic Preservation (http://www.michigan.gov/mshda) and the Cranbrook Art Museum (http://www.cranbrookart.edu/museum/) will highlight the work of one-time Michigan residents Albert Kahn, Minoru, Yamasaki, Eliel Saarinen, Charles and Rae Eames and the role they played in American Modern Architecture.

Mid-century American modernism has largely been associated with Los Angeles, a city who came of age in the post-World War II period.  In the meantime, car culture, high design homes, and Herman Miller furniture, along with the iconic Eames lounge chair and Cadillac fins all originated in Michigan.  "When it comes to modern design, Michigan often gets left out of the conversation," says exhibit project manager Amy Arnold.  Following World War II, the Cranbrook Academy of Art (http://www.cranbrookart.edu) in Bloomfield Hills under the guidance of Eliel Saarinen attracted some of the world's best artists and designers.  The design tradition of the booming automobile industry, the modernist principles of the University of Michigan College of Architecture, the innovative furniture design of Herman Miller, Inc, and the strong base pre-Modern work by Albert Kahn and Alden B. Dow provided an environment for modernism to flourish.
Notable modern designers and architects such as Charles and Rae Eames, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, and Minoru Yamasaki  all studied and worked in Michigan.  Michigan also contains resources by Saarinen and Thomas Church's General Motors Technical Center in Warren and Lafayette Park, cited by Dwell magazine as "the single largest collection of [Ludwig] Mies van de Rohe buildings in the world."

Michigan Modern will document the period between 1940 and 1970 and will identify Michigan-based artists, designers, architects that worked in the modernist mode by presenting their oral histories.  This would be great.  Imagine this, listening to the actual voices of Charles and Rae Eames as they talk about their design philosophy.  Additionally, the program will document the Michigan work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.  Ten resources, not identified, will placed on the National Register of Historic Places which qualifies them for preservation tax credits.  The goal of the project is to change the perception of Michigan and feature the state's overlooked contribution to design, which has been as great as its contribution to manufacturing.  The hope is that the symposium and exhibit will inspire a new audience to learn about the wealth of design history and opportunity that Michigan has to offer.

The Michigan Modern symposium and exhibit are part of the greater goal to reclaim Michigan's place as a leader in international design.  The State Historic Preservation Office hope that when people hear the name "Michigan" they'll think "modern design" in the same way that the name "Hollywood" is synonymous with the film industry.  This all sounds promising but I can't help but asking what happens after the lights go down and everyone goes home?  How does this translate into bringing the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan back to some level of prominence?  What will happen to the unidentified resources once they're placed on the National Register? and what about the ones that don't make the register?  Who's deciding what get placed on the register and what are criteria?  They're real questions that will need an answer at some point.  I'm not saying that California has been so fantastic about historic preservation but at least we still have some of our modernist buildings and they're being used.  We'll what happens next in Michigan.

Arty things to do in the Motor City

Hello Everyone:

Yesterday we talked about two serious issues affecting the Detroit, Michigan area.  First, there was the gentrification charge led by head of economic development George Jackson Jr.  Mr. Jackson is an avid supporter of gentrifying the Detroit downtown area in an effort to increase the tax base in order to pay for necessary public services.  He seemed to be oblivious of the possible consequences of gentrification on the low- to moderate-income families and individuals.  The second topic we discussed was eviction by neglect.  In this post we used the Regency Towers as an example of how the out-of-state landlords were attempting to get rid of the low-income tenants by allowing the building to fall into disrepair.  The corollary to this is demolition by neglect, similar concept but the end result is the building falls into a state of hopeless disrepair that it has to be demolished.  All this is taking place while the owners continue to collect federal tax subsidies for providing housing to the disabled and seniors.

Today, I'd like to continue with the Motor City and look at an event that took place over the Memorial Day Weekend called "Hold the Fort."  This event was designed to support the local arts community, Detroit's non-profit organizations, and promote a positive image of the city.  The fort in this case is the Historic Fort Wayne, an 88-acre site near the city.  Historic Fort Wayne is located in Detroit at the foot of Livernois Avenue in the Delray district, about a mile from the Canadian shore of the Great Lakes.  The fort was opened in 1849 and the architect of record is Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs (1816-1892). (http://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/).  A brief, but interesting digression for a moment, Montegomery C. Meigs was a career United States officer, civil engineer, and construction engineer, and quartermaster.  General Meigs supervised the building of the wings and dome of the United States Capitol Building from 1855-1859.

"Hold the Fort" took place on Sunday May 26, 2013 and brought together local and global artists, building innovators, and community groups in order to create a "temporary world that provokes imagination and stimulates participatory engagement."  The mission of this event is to create an annual exposition that inspires and engages future generations through creative collaboration.  While Detroit is more known as an industrial center, this event hoped to harness the city's cultural DNA by presenting large-scale installation art and participatory programming.  The goal is to bring together local communities together and empower them with pride as stakeholders in their city.  "Hold the Fort" was also intended to act as a fund raiser for community organizations which benefit future Detroiters and promote the spirit of the city. (http://www.detroited.org/holdthefort/)  Sounds like an exciting and fun way to spend a Sunday.  The organizers intended to use the fort as a stage for this first-time annual event.

Why chose the fort to begin with?  Historic Fort Wayne has a close connection to the city dating back to colonial times.  It was first built by the French in 1701 and, in 1760, it was surrendered to the British during the French-Indian War.  The British built a new fort, renaming it Fort Lernoult and occupied until 1796 when the United States took over Detroit and renamed it Fort Shelby.  The fort was named for General "Mad" Anthony Wayne who defeated the British in 1796 and led to the American occupation of the Northwest Territories.  This location has served as an induction point for American service personal from the Civil War through Viet Nam.  In 1948, Fort Wayne was given to the City of Detroit in parcels and overtime, the city would come to own the entire lot.  Currently, preservation efforts are underway to restore and clean-up the fort.

Interesting use for a historic site.

Monday, May 27, 2013

More Motor City Madness


Hello Again:

Today is the day for looking at the city of Detroit, Michigan.  In the previous post, we turned our attention to the enthusiastic support of gentrification by head of economic development George Jackson Jr.  He seemed to believe that gentrification was the answer to all of Detroit's problems.  What was lacking in his grand vision was a way to entice more affluent people to the downtown area.  He appeared to operate under the notion of "if you build it, they will come, in the meantime let's get rid of all the low-income seniors and residents, take down their buildings, and put up pretty shiny new apartments."  Now, I'd like to focus on one building that suffered so greatly from neglect that it effectively did the job of getting rid of the tenants without the owners having to serve eviction notices.  The building is the Regency Towers.

As your scratching your heads wondering how can neglect act as an eviction notice, let me attempt to explain.  There is this concept of "demolition by neglect."  This means that building owners sometimes let older buildings deteriorate so badly that it's simply not worth the effort to rehabilitate it.  If there are still tenants in the units, then they are forced to move out due to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.  This is the case with the Regency Towers.  Is it legal?  It appears to be.  Do building owners get away with it?  Most of the time.  What happens to the tenants?  They either end up on the streets, with relatives, or in shelters.  Sad but true.  Let's start from the top.

Let's start at the top.  The problems at the Regency Towers began when Kohner Properites, a St. Louis, Missouri property management company, fired security in January.  Actually, I think the problems began long before that but were exacerbated when the building was acquired by an out of state owner.  Soon thieves began stealing catalytic converters in broad daylight.  Drug dealers and trouble makers were seen loitering around the lobby, pulling the alarms and stealing from residents.  When the residents begged the owners to do something, the response was, "we can't afford to."  This was despite the fact that company was accepting federal tax subsidies for low-income residents and people with disabilities.  In 2011, the company stopped paying its municipal taxes, which led to forfeiture in March of this year, according to Wayne County records.

Meanwhile, filthy conditions abound.  Garbage is left in heaps, chunks of raw meat is strewn about an unkept grass area, the is a bed bug infestation, and poor air quality.  While it's easy to dismiss it as poor housekeeping by the residents, which may be partly true, the management still has a legal obligation to maintain health, safety, and sanitation standards.  What has management's response to residents' complaints been?  A slammed door.  Repairs and housekeeping can't be done because the lone maintenance man has no supplies and the one cleaning person was let go.  In fact one tenant was quoted as saying he'd rather live on the streets then with the bed bugs.  This is what I mean by demolition and eviction by neglect.

Unfortunately, this goes on all the time.  What is the solution to this situation?  There really isn't one solution(s).  Even if the residents take the owners and landlords to court, it's time consuming and expensive.  I couldn't help noticing that the tenants in the Regency Towers and in the Henry Street Building, mentioned in the previous post, are predominantly African-American.  Even more interesting is that George Jackson Jr. is also African-American.  Word like "low-income, drug dealers," and "trouble makers" seem to be code words for people of color.  The stench of racism is pretty obvious.  We'll get back to the Motor City some more.  In the meantime, ponder at what price do you revive a city.

Motor City Madness I

Hello Everyone:

First, we broke 500.  Hurray.  Thank you so much for your continued support of this blog.  I love presenting you with topics on architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  Can we do 1000?  Let's.  Second to all my American readers, Happy Memorial Day.  Today is the day we honor our fallen service personal past and present.  If you see a service man or woman, go over to them, shake their hand and thank them for making it possible for you to live in the home of the free.

Today, I'd like to start talking about a city that pops up on my radar every now and then, Detroit, Michigan.  Detroit is an interesting case study for urban planning because it is a city that's shrunk.  Really.  Cities are not static.  They expand and contract with the ebb and flow.  Detroit is not exception to this rule.  In this case, the contraction was caused by urban riots in the sixties and the automobile industry leaving the city.  Detroit has been suffering for a very long time.  However, plans are in the works to bring the city back and make it the grand dame of the Great Lakes it once was.  One thought is more gentrification.  Oh I can hear some of you screaming not another Andreas Duany project.  Let's hope that Mr. Duany doesn't get involved in re-planning Detroit and turn it into another Seaside.  In this case, George Jackson Jr., the leader of the economic development office in Detroit is leading the charge.

Mr. Jackson recently spoke at a forum on Detroit's future where he advocated more gentrification.  Why, you ask?  According to Mr. Jackson, it means a larger tax base.  In a very offhanded manner, he chalked up the need for more gentrification as simple a cost of progress.  That sounds like a very callous attitude.  Further, in a rather inarticulate fashion Mr. Jackson state, "We can't just be a poor city and prosper."  Granted the city has been in dire straits for who knows how long.  Essential services have been cut, there swarths of empty foreclosed homes blighting the suburban landscape, the downtown area is in bad need of redevelopment, the public schools are among the lowest performing schools in the nation.  I'm not so sure that gentrification is the only solution.

These comments coincided with the evictions of hundreds of low-income residents and seniors from  at least four large apartment buildings, three of which have been purchased by an undisclosed company.  This company, in turn, sent eviction notices to the residents of the Henry Street apartments in the Cass Corridor.  Also, it is widely believed that Mike Ilitch, the owner of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, is targeting the area for a new arena and entertainment district, a la L.A. Live.  In the Capitol Park district downtown, earlier in May, senior living in rent-subsidized housing were told the had one year to vacate because the property was going to be converted into upscale housing.  Alright, so let's say plans for a "Detroit Live" and more upscale housing are implemented and everything goes accordingly, just exactly how are developers and planners going to get people to come to a dubious part of the city?

Gentrification is a difficult subject for many Detroit residents.  In the forties and fifties, many of the African-American residents were forced out of their homes in the name of economic development and communities were leveled.  This is reminiscent of what happened the residents of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles when Dodger Stadium was in the process of being built.  I couldn't help notice the coincidence that, in Chavez Ravine, the residents were Latino.  Interesting how plans in the name of economic development always seem to target people of color.  During the forum, Mr. Jackson stated that gentrification needs to be done "as humanistically as possible," while maintaining that the city has plenty of low-income housing options.  Really?  Does mean the shelters and housing projects that haven't been closed to the shrinking tax base?  He continued, "We have more affordable housing than any city in America...It's not like we don't have options."  Further, Mr. Jackson declared his preference for dealing with gentrification than having to deal with empty lots that no one wants to develop.  Let me see if I get this wrong, Mr. Jackson would rather deal issues and costs of leveling communities, evicting low-income residents, the planning and development of multi-billion dollar projects that may or may not pan out than empty lots that can be bought and developed more cost effectively?  Pretzel logic.  According to Mr. Jackson, one of the biggest problems is not having the tax base to support the services the city needs.  I have a suggestion, if learned to manage your services more efficiently, you would be able to provide the things Detroiters need.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Grove

Hello All:

I'm coming to you live from Rick Caruso's vision for Los Angeles, The Grove.  Rick Caruso is a well connected successfully developer in Los Angeles whose claim to fame or infamy is these lux shopping mall that replicate a European street-scape.  In this case, The Grove was intended to simulate a Tuscan street.  I like the fact that it's an outdoor mall and it didn't totally trash the historic Farmer's Market next door.  A brief history of The Grove.  The mall was developed in the nineties as part of an overall scheme to reinvigorate the Beverly-Fairfax area.  The northern end of the Farmer's Market was demolished to make way for a parking structure and a commercial-retail building.  The central core of the Farmer's Market was left in tact, after all it is a historic land mark.  The central core is where the food stalls and kitschy tourist shops are.  The mall, depending on who you speak to, succeeds at some level.  It definitely draws people to the shops, restaurants, and movie theater.  The downside is that it created additional traffic issues in the area and spawned The Americana, a.k.a. The Grove on steroids.

Rick Caruso seems quite intent on turning Los Angeles into a giant Grove with trolley cars, ambient music, and twinkling lights in the trees.  Even more jarring is the faux historicism of the place. he architects evoke all the tropes of Tuscany.  Now they would like to use the Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean/Mexican architecture on Los Angeles.  What's wrong with the mix and match architecture and urban-scape that makes Los Angeles so unique?  Los Angeles does have historic architecture, it's just buried or unfortunately been taken down in the name of planning and development.  The idea of a cohesive architectural vision in Los Angeles sounds like what director Martin Scorese accused developers of doing to the Bowery, introducing a sense of conformity.  Here, the quality of conformity has never been part of the visual vocabulary.  Conformity is the antithesis of what Los Angeles is.  So, the idea of Rick Caruso coming in trying to impose a singular vision of Groves all over the city is disingenuous.  It shows his complete lack of understanding of what the city is about.

I suppose it's symptomatic of the direction of architecture and urban planning.  At least, for now, historic preservation has been immune to it.  We just try to save resources and use them to their highest and best use.  The Grove is a nice place to take tourists but as an urban model, no.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gentrifying disaster


Hello Everyone:

I'd like to start off today with a bit of current events news.  Hollywood area council member Eric Garcetti has been elected the new Mayor of Los Angeles, ho hum.  If I sound blase about it, it's because every time Los Angeles gets a new mayor, he comes in with a flurry of high-minded goals and expectations.  Then reality sets in.  All I can say is that I hope he doesn't mess up the city any more than it is already.  All right on to today's rant and rave.

I realized today that I've been carrying on about gentrification and leaving out an important, yet timely discussion about gentrification in the wake of disaster.  Hurricane Sandy and the tornadoes in Oklahoma have really brought this subject into sharp focus.  Mike Davis, an urban studies professor in Los Angeles and great writer (check out City of Quartz), wrote about the subject about seven and half years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katerina in an article for Mother Jones titled "Gentrifying Disaster".  I have to caution you that Mr. Davis is an avowed Socialist so sometimes his politics does get in the way of what is otherwise very keen observations about urban life.  Be that as it may, his observations about the George Bush administration's response to displaced residents in New Orleans really hit the nail on the head.  I'd like to focus on one section of this article, "The New Urbanism Meets the Old South" because we've been talked about the subject before and in the wake of the recent natural disaster, it has relevance.

In the wake of Hurricane Katerine, it was revealed that there was a shocking lack of any planning on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the return of residents evacuated from the hard hit areas.  On top of this, there were no strategies for any restoration of essential public services, job creation, or the delivery of social welfare benefits to the city's low-income residents.  Into this already chaotic situation the Congress of New Urbanism parades into the city trumpeting promises of a new and improved urban environment.  The CNU was founded by Miami-based architects and urbanists Andreas Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk in the mid-eighties.  Mr. Duany and Ms. Plater-Zyberk and their CNU cohorts offered a vision of building communities that were socially diverse and environmentally sustainable based on the systematization of the "City Beautiful" principles.  These principles were pedestrian scale, traditional street grids, an abundance of open space, and a mix of land uses, income groups, and building forms.  Sounds ideal doesn't

In theory, of course it sounds like a utopian urban dream but according to Mr. Davis, in practice diversity has never been achieved.  Mr. Davis points to the famous Seaside Development, caricatured in the 1998 film "The Truman Show," as an early warning that kitsch would win out over democracy in the New Urbanist world.  Indeed, the stage-set like building forms, intended to evoke a time past, reveal a sentimental-to-the-point-of-manic devotion to earlier period styles that one can find at Walt Disney World.  Despite the populist tone of the CNU manifesto, Mr. Duany did not hesitate to involve corporate imaginers, developers, and politicians.  For example, in the mid-nineties, then Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros incorporated New Urbanist principles into many of its HOPE VI projects.

HOPE VI was originally conceived as a low-rise, high-density replacement for the anonymous housing projects that blighted the urban landscape.  However, HOPE VI, according to Mr. Davis, quickly became a replacement strategy for the poor themselves.  The strategically-sited projects, such as New Orleans St. Thomas homes, were taken down to make way for neo-traditionalists townhouses and retail businesses (in this case a giant Wal-Mart) in the New Urbanist vein.  The "mixed-use, mixed-income" estates were usually advertised as pockets of diversity utopia but, in the case of St. Thomas, they were more exclusionary than inclusionary.  Why do I not sound surprised?  Nationally, the HOPE VI projects resulted in a net loss of more than 50,000 units of badly needed low-income housing.  Thus proving my point from yesterday's blog about the need to do low-rise, high-density housing right.

Savvy developers have been quick to take up the New Urbanist cause as part of their over eager land grabs and wholesale neighborhood demolitions.  Similarly, conservatives such as Paul Weyrich, the founder of the Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org), have recognized the connection between political traditionalism and architectural nostalgia.  This connection is older than dirt.  Look at Washington DC, for example.  The choice of Neo-Classical architecture for the White House and Capitol was a deliberate attempt to evoke the "virtues" and "ideals" of ancient Greece and Rome.  This connection is also in evidence in Daniel Burnham's plan for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and his "City Beautiful" plan for Chicago.  Really.  In 2005, Mr. Weyrich wrote that "new urbanism need to be part of conservatism."  This conservatism remakes cities that's purged of the "criminal underclasses."  I put criminal underclasses in quotes because it can be construed to imply those receiving social welfare benefits.

Andreas Duany's courting of politicians isn't limited to Democratic administrations.  Mr. Duany joined with Haley Barbour, the now former Governor of Mississippi, in 2005.  Then-Governor Barbour was trying to milk whatever political and economic advantage he could from Katerina.  For example, one of his stated priorities was bringing the casinos onshore, to create a Las Vegas-type setting, and to rapidly restore the shoreline property values and surpress any debate about moving the population to defensible higher ground.  You could argue that moving the casinos ashore and creating a Las Vegas south would greatly benefit the area in terms of jobs creation and property values but ask yourself, is that really what the residents needed in the wake of Hurricane Katerina?  Yes, they needed jobs, the restoration of services, and a place to live but was this the way to go?  This, no doubt is the same questions that the residents of the New Jersey shore affected by Hurricane Sandy are asking right now and not doubt the survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes will be asking.

Governor Barbour invited the CNU to help Mississippi rebuild the Gulf Coast "the right way."  The first step in the process was a "mega-charrette," which took place October 11-18, 2005 and brought together 120 New Urbanists with local officials and business groups for brainstorming sessions on the physical reconstruction of their communities.  Andreas Duany led the charge with his romantic visions of "Tara" and Gone With The Wind, extolling the beauty of Mississippi's architectural heritage.  Thus, with such images dancing in everybody's head, the CNU teams spent the week trying show the locals how to replace the strip malls with grandiose Greek Revival casinos and townhouses that would've made David O. Sleaznik envious.  The entire exercise was guided by the parameters of a gambling-driven "heritage" economy with casinos interspersed in the community fabric and mini-Mansions on the beach.  Gone With The Wind gone wild.

In the end, it was not the content of the charrette or the idealism of the participants that was important but the legitimacy that the CNU gave to Governor Barbour and his agenda.  It also made a  Republican shill out of Andreas Duany who never misses an opportunity to push his cure-all for the urban woes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Hello All:

Today I'd like to present a solution to the the issue of affordable housing.  This solution is in the form of an exhibition titles "Low Rise High Density" mounted by the Institute for Public Architecture (http://www.instituteforpublicarchitecture.org) which recently opened and running through the end of June at the Center for Architecture in New York City.  The exhibit examines the history of the low rise high density that has been evolving over the last forty years, when the need for space and better living conditions led to a search for alternatives to high-rise public housing.  The exhibit has been reviewed by Sabrina Wirth, a candidtat for a Masters in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.  Ms. Wirth compactly presents the findings of curator Karen Kubey, executive director of the IPA, who began extensive investigations in several countries on this topic while still a student at Columbia University GSAPP.

Ms. Wirth begins her review by citing recent US Census Bureau data which estimates that for the first time since pre-1950s more people are moving to New York City than moving out.  This puts the estimated population at a record high of 8,336,697.  This contradicts a previous post, "Hipsterurbia," which tracked the trend of people moving out of the epicenter of cool, Brooklyn, for the suburbs as Manhatanittes were moving and driving up the cost of living.  Over eight million people in New York City, where do you put everyone?  What lessons can a city like Los Angeles glean from this?  Ms. Wirth states, "So it is only fitting that we should start directing our focus toward different housing models that accommodate the city's changing needs for space."  I find this statement already problematic because New York City is not as sprawling as Los Angeles and land is at a premium.  Thus, spreading out horizontally may not be the best solution.

Low-rise high-density buildings first came to prominence in the sixties and seventies as an alternative for the high-rise public housing projects in the United States.  They were dense enough to support public transportation but low enough not require elevators.  This good for the elderly and disabled residents.  They brought together the benefits of urban and suburban living.  This building typology served two functions, intensify land use urban growth escalates by providing higher density and improve living conditions by using suburban housing characteristics such as more open space, light and closer connection to the ground.  This lovely model is evident in abundance in Los Angeles in places like Village Green.  Ms. Wirth cites the example of Marcus Garvey Park Village in Brownsville, Brooklyn (1973).  Marcus Garvey Park Village contains 625 garden-style apartment homes which range from studios to five-bedroom units.  The housing complex was designed by noted British architect Kenneth Frampton and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies following the "Low-rise, high-density" prototype for family in need of housing, incorporating such suburban amenities as a private front door and courtyard space. (http://www.marcusgarveyvillage.com/about-us.html)

The exhibit presents a curated set of photographs, architectural drawings, and original oral histories which brings context to a housing model that lacks current scholarship.  Ms. Wirth postulates that "Low Rise, High Density" demonstrates that these housing projects still have relevancy today as they were forty years ago.  She further theorizes that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and now, the tornadoes in Oklahoma, that this building typology needs to be discussed more and more.  True, but not all cities are conducive to horizontal sprawl.  New York City falls into that heading.  The hybrid of urban/suburban amenities is a promising solution to creating new affordable housing, especially for the elderly, disabled, and families with children.  However, in order for this idea to work properly, the necessary conditions have to be met.  Some of the conditions are, who is your target tenant, what are their needs, privacy, health, safety, sanitation, open space, access to transportation, and so forth.

Sabrina Wirth does an excellent job of neatly summarizing the highlights of the exhibit but misses the real practical issues that this building typology brings up.  For example, how were the everyday issues of transportation addressed?  Where were these housing estates located in proximity to city core?  What did the interiors look like?  These may seem like banal issues but to the residents they are concerns.  Too often in the haste to create some novel approach solution to a pressing urban concern, architects, planners, and developers ignore the everyday matters.  If the low-rise, high-density projects are to work they do have to address the real needs of the tenants not satisfy the vanity of the architects, planners, and developers.    

In metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, where the population is growing, it may not be possible to put these novel housing estates in the city center because of the amount of land they use.  In Los Angeles it is possible to create these typologies because the metropolitan area extends out beyond the core.  Thus, my concern for this typology is that they will end up like the ubiquitous high-rise housing projects, placed on the periphery of the city center without access to mass transit crucial to low-income resident needing to get to work or appointments.  In order to accommodate the need for access to public transportation, the cities and counties will have to place reliable bus lines near these housing estates.  Los Angeles is a city that was built, in part, by transportation.  First, the Pacific Electric Railway then the freeway system.  However, not every low income resident has access to a car, thus the immediate need for reliable and affordable mass transportation if low-rise, high-density projects are to be successful.  The climate is also a factor.  In Southern California, the warm climate is conducive for outdoor activity.  Thus, open, green spaces and courtyards are an excellent amenity.

The low-rise, high-density building typology deserves serious consideration.  When done properly, it can be tremendously successful.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Asians in Southern California


Dove tailing on the previous post, I would like to focus on the one statement made by Elizabeth Kneebone regarding the diversification of the suburbs.  Ms. Kneebone states, "Suburbs are increasing home to new immigrant populations either because they have communities there or networks there or they're following affordable housing opportunities or jobs..."  I'd like to use this space to discuss the Asian immigrant population in Southern California.  This, onto itself, is a broad subject because Asian immigration has had a long and sometimes violent history in the region punctuated by the heinous imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  However, in the San Gabriel Valley Chinese immigrants are making their presence felt in ways that are rapidly being felt in a myriad of ways.  This supports my theory that part of the reason of the diversification of the suburbs is due to immigrant population following the American dream of a house in the suburbs.  Jennifer Medina, in her article "New Suburban Dream born of Asia and Southern California" for the New York Times (April 29, 2013), explores this trend and its impact on the area.

About a few decades ago, Caucasians made up approximately two-thirds of the population in this posh Los Angeles suburbs.  Presently, Asians make up over half the population in the city of San Marino, which has long attracted some of Southern California's wealthiest, oldest families and was once home to the Western headquarters of the John Birch Society.  This shift illustrates a drastic change in California immigration trends over the last ten years, one that can be observed all over the area; more than twice as many immigrants to California now come from Asian than from Latin America.  This change is just one example of how immigration is remaking America, with political, economic, and cultural consequences being felt in a number of ways.  While the number of Latinos have doubled in southern states such as Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina, creating tension, Asian immigrant communities are growing in states like New Jersey and Latino immigrants are reviving small Midwestern towns.

Most of the current debates on immigration in Congress is centered on Latinos, and for decades California and by extension, Southwestern United States, had been the focus of that migration.  All the while, cities in the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County, and in the Silicon Valley have seen Asian immigrants become the dominant cultural force in places that were mainly white or Hispanic.  Ms. Medina quotes Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California (http://www.ppic.org), "We are really looking at a different era here...There are astounding changes in working-class towns and old, established, wealthy cities.  It is not confined to one place."

In more than half of a dozen cities in the San Gabriel Valley, Asians have become the majority, creating a region of Asian-dominated suburbs stretching for nearly thirty miles east of Los Angeles.  One example is Monterey Park, a middle-class city that began attracting Asian immigrants more than twenty years ago.  In some respect, it has replaced Los Angeles' Chinatown as the center of the Chinese community.  However, as Asians continue to arrive in Southern California, they've branched out into the more tony areas in Los Angeles County, making up more than 60 percent of the population in the San Gabriel Valley and Walnut along the county's eastern boundary.  Many of the new arrivals are from the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Taiwan, where they were part of a highly educated and affluent demographic.  I won't bore you with some sort of cultural digression here.  They have eagerly proceded to property in places likel San Marino, where the median income is nearly twice that of Beverly Hills and is home to one of the highest-performing school districts.  Perhaps the location is not so coincidental because of the proximity to Chinatown, albeit, the far proximity.  Nevertheless, the wealth is not uniform, there are poverty pocket in several of the area's working-class suburbs, particularly in the Vietnamese and Filipino communities.  Again, I'm not going to waste space on a digression.

Ms. Medina quotes Daniel Ichinose, a demographer for the Asian Pacific America Legal Center (http://www.apalc.org), "This is kind of ground zero for a new immigrant America...You have people speaking Mandarin and Vietnamese and Spanish all living together and facing many common challenges."  The chief challenge, I believe, is coming from a homogenous cultural and learning to live in a multi-cultural environment.  The children of the immigrants who first came to the San Gabriel Valley are now coming of age and acting as cheerleaders for the region, running for political office, and creating businesses that cater to an American born customer base.  There is a profusion of store displays and signage in Mandarin that advertise restaurant supplies, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, or brokerage services.  The most common storefront is the boba teashop, where young customers can spend hours sipping cold milk tea with tapioca balls.  A pretty delicious treat for those of you who've never tried it.  Just be careful you don't choke on the jelly-like boba.  The tea shops are a common feature in nearly every one of the region's hundreds of strip malls.

My point for writing this post is to demonstrate the changing face of American suburbia.  As new immigrant populations move into suburban areas, they begin to integrate into the community, setting up social networks that cater to the changing demographic.  This can translate into social service organizations that specifically cater to the immigrant poor who don't have access to local, state, or federal social welfare agencies, thus creating a more efficient way to deliver much needed services.  The possibilities are there, but implementing them will take time and require universal bottom-up change in the way we view suburbia.

More on suburban poverty

http://www.huffingtonpost.com May 20, 2013

Suburban poverty is a situation that continues to get worse as social service agencies and individual families struggle to keep up.  It's not just a matter of families re-financing their homes in order to pay for costly home additions.  This is a systemic problem that is a result of policy, corporate action, gentrification, increasing diversity of the suburban population, and so forth.  In his post published today, May 20, 2013 on the Huffington Post, Saki Knafo compactly examines the soaring American suburban poverty rate as social services agencies try to keep up with the demand in the new study released by the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program.

The Brookings Institute (http://www.brookings.edu) Metropolitan Policy Program recently released a new book by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.  In the book, the authors offer a new reality of the face of American poverty.  For the past few decades, the suburbans have added poor residents at a faster pace than cities.  The result is that there are more poor residents in suburbia than the central cities, composing over a third of the nation's total poor population.  The rub in this is that the social welfare infrastructure built over the last several does not fit the model of poverty.  The solution no longer fits the problem.  The authors summarize the source of the problem: job sprawl, shifts in affordable housing, population dynamics, immigration, and a struggling economy.  This raises a number of difficult challenges such as the need for more and more efficient transportation options, services, and financial resources.  However, necessity does produce opportunity.  What is that oft-quoted Chinese saying, crisis=opportunity?  Here, the opportunity exists to modernize existing infrastructure and procedures so that they fit the new crisis of suburban poverty.  Ms. Kneebone and Mr. Berube propose a number of workable solutions for the private, public, and nonprofit sector seeking to modernize poverty alleviation, community development strategies, and connect residents with economic resources.  They discuss and evaluate ongoing efforts in urban areas where local leaders are learning to do more with less while adjusting their methodologies to accommodate the metropolitan scale of poverty.  Some examples include: cross jurisdiction and sector collaboration, using data and technology in innovative ways, and integrating services and service delivery.  Sounds hopefully and forward thinking.

In his post, Mr. Knafo critically evaluates Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, neatly summarizing the causes without going into too great detail.  Pretty typical for a Huffington Post blog.  The first point he makes is that there are nearly 16.5 million suburban dwellers living in poverty, with 13 million indigents living in the cities.  He quotes Ms. Kneebone, every major suburban area in the nation has experienced growth in the poor population.  "These include older inner-ring places, but also more affluent communities that people think are immune to these sort of trends."  I suppose that it could include affluent areas of Los Angeles such Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hancock Park, and so on.  It sounds far fetched but let's bear this out a bit.  Ms. Kneebone continues, "Suburbs are increasingly home to new immigrant populations, either because they have communities there or networks there or they're following affordable housing opportunities or jobs...In tight housing markets, where city housing has become so expensive, people have been looking for more affordable options further out."  I would posit another reason for the increased diversification of suburbia, immigrants are pursuing the age-old American dream of a house in the suburbs.  Among the areas that have seen the sharpest increase in suburban poverty are: Cape Coral, Florida; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensboro-High Point, North Carolina, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Atlanta, Georgia.  Atlanta saw a 5.9 percent uptick in the suburban poverty rate between 2000 and 2010.

Ms. Kneebone also connected the rise in suburban poverty to the growth of low-paying jobs, a growing trend since the start of the recession.  According to Ms. Kneebone, "The lowest paying jobs are the most suburbanized..Retail services, construction jobs, manufacturing even."  Part of the problem, according to Milton Little, the president of the United Way of Greater Atlanta, "We have a significant increase in the number of jobs that are not offering benefits...People are having to cobble together a number of low wage jobs that don't offer health and other kinds of benefits and when they have some kind of catastrophic health crisis their income is immediately eliminated and their savings disappear."  Still think that the Affordable Healthcare Act is wrong?  Ms Kneebone, "Suburban communities haven't built up the kinds of resources and networks that have evolved in cities over time...If somebody comes and they have a utility shut-off notice, the agency may or may not have the resources to prevent that shut-off."

One case of this tragedy is LaDonna Peeples.  The health care administrator for the State of Georgia  had to take leave of absence from her work because medical issues and soon found herself without enough money to pay rent.  She turned to a wide variety of agencies in Atlanta, only to find that they mainly provided assistance to people who lived in cities.  Ms. Peeples moved to the Atlanta suburbs in 2006 but thinks it might've been easier had she stayed in her urban neighborhood of Canton, Ohio.  Yet she remains optimistic saying that there are people and resources that are trying to help anyway which way they can.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tijuana's emerging creative class


Hello Everyone:

After a Jewish holiday induced day off, yours truly is back.  Today I'd like to cover the topic of Tijuana in Baja California or if you prefer, Mexico.  Tijuana has this reputation of being the place where sailors, marines, and college kids go to party.  More recently, it's been the scene of drug-related violence.  Tourists love it because they feel like they're in Mexico proper and pick up cheap tchotkes for the folks back home.  However, there's change afoot.  On Sunday May 12, 2013 the Los Angeles Times published an article by Reed Johnson on Tijuana's comeback. Local entrepreneurs and artists are propelling a cultural revival along the city's main boulevard, Callejon de la Sexta (Sixth Street), near the main boulevard Avenida Revolucion, in an effort to move beyond the drug-related violence.

As recently as six years ago, the main area of Sixth Street was in the middle of a commercial dance of death, as brutal drug-related violence swept across Mexico enveloping the border cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. However, about three years ago a group of tijuanenses began to reclaim large tracts of their hometown.  The fire sale rental rates allowed young entrepreneurs and artists to move into abandoned buildings and convert them into thrive nightspots and trendy retail businesses.    Guess what?  It brought back the people.  Mr. Johnson quotes Ramon Amezcua a.k.a Bostich of the norteno-electronic fusion group Nortec Collective, "In 2007 we were afraid to go out in the night to the bars, to live the night-life style of Tijuana...But here, starting with Sixth Avenue, the people started to take back the streets."

Tijuana has had a colorful history.  Beginning with Prohibition, vice seekers made the trip down to the border town in search of forbidden alcohol and licentious activity.  When World War II broke out, the flow of pleasure seekers stopped.  The Great Depression slowed to tourism to a turtle's pace.  The September 11th terrorist attack the attendent tighter border controls had a similar dampening effect.  After each boom-and-bust cycle, the city rebounded.  What's different this time is that the artists and entrepreneurs are reclaiming districts like downtown Zona Centro and Colonia Cacho for themselves, not the tourists.  Quoting Luis Ituarte, director of La Casa del Tunel, an art gallery and performance space that now occupies a former private that contained a drug smuggler's tunnel, "Now when I go to Avenida Revolucion, and I don't see a [foreigner], it's shocking to me.  Now it's packed with Mexicans."  So what's going on?  I doubt that the drug-related violence stopped.  In fact earlier this year there were a string of homicides that swept the city, which recorded forty-two homicides in January.  However, the homicide rate has fallen dramatically since 2010, when the official murder rate spiked at 844.

Tijuana's latest reincarnation began about two years ago after the January 2010 arrest of reputed crime boss Teodoro Garcia Simental and slow dismantling of the Arellano Felix cartel, which, according to the police, was pushed out by the rival Sinaloa cartel.  According to most accounts, the first indication of Tijuana's re-emergence was the 2009 opening of La Mezcalera.  Cesar Fernandez, estimated that ninety-five percent of his clientele are from Tijuana.  This facilitated the opening of dozens of funky-chic cantinas such as Moustache Bar, squeezing out older establishments such as La Estrella and Porky's Place.  The dance clubs, such as Las Pulgas, are also packed especially on the weekends when it draws swarms of young factory workers.

The current revival isn't just centered on the bars and dance clubs.  Alternative art galleries, performance spaces, high-end restaurants, organic cafes, new and vintage clothing stores are sprouting up on Avenida Revolucion (La Revu) and La Sexta, as well as in the nearby Colonia Cacho district.  Pasaje Rodriguez and Pasaje Gomez, once grim downtown alleyways, have been transformed from from tourist traps to modest cultural start-up zones.  If that weren't enough, the jet setting foodie tribe have christened Tijuana the new culinary hotspot.  The logic behind this revival was simple, the tourists weren't coming so the locals took over the abandoned spaces.  Thus, picking up where it left off before former President Felipe Calderon cracked down on the cartels prompting a vicious cycle of violence that claimed an estimated 60,000 lives since 2006.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, the city was gaining a reputation as a vibrant center of cultural production.  For example indie rocker Julieta Venegas and the punk-ska band Tijuana No! gained a cross-border fan base.  Nortec Collective blended traditional norteno instruments: trumpet, tuba, and accordian with electronic dance music.  Hmmm, this sounds interesting.  Maybe I should check them out on spotify.  The DIY approach is evident today at places such Otras Obras (Other Works), an art and performance space in a former hair salon.  Two Southern Californians, Adam Mekut a college student from San Diego and Andrea Noel a native Angeleno and photographer who's lived in the city since 2008, are part of a growing number of younger Californians drawn to Mexico's creative potential.  However, outsiders remain wary.  Quoting Ms. Noel, "there's also a sort of counterpart of young people" who've assimilated by giving a wide berth to the criminal element.  If this is urban pioneer movement follows form, then eventually we'll see the same thing we have in Downtown Los Angeles.  Young professionals, the creative class, and older couples moving to the area, creating a demand for certain amenities and services.

Quoting Ms. Noel again, "It was kind of interesting timing to come in right before this resurgence which has sort of come in waves...It has its really up moments and then it has sort of these standstills where nothing much really happens."  The growing bar and gallery scene has helped push forward the city's second-wave homegrown music industry, including emerging artists like Madame Ur and La Ballena de Jonas.  I definitely see similarities in the Tijuana experience with those of Downtown Los Angeles and Brooklyn, New York.  Locals taking over abandoned buildings and creating spaces for themselves.  The rock-bottom rents enable urban pioneers to set up studios and spaces to make and display their work, retail and commercial spaces follow closely.  It's interesting that Reed Johnson didn't pick up on this.  However, unlike the young urban pioneers of the late eighties and nineties, the internet has played a large part in the movement.

The members of avant-garde electronic dance music collective Los Macuanos first met via the Internet during the years when many young tijuanenses stayed home and socialized online.  Jason Fitz, a photojournalist, Tijuana resident since 2009, and author of Tijuanalandia blog has suggested that the young creative class will benefit from seeing themselves as part of a larger, Internet-linked global movement.  They're no longer pigeon-holed as "border" artists but now linked beyond the fence that separates the United States and Mexico.  The new generation of artists don't define themselves by the border city but as part of the world community.  Not anchored to the United States, but part of a larger global vision.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

All Hail Suburbia?


Is suburbia making a come back?  According to Joel Kotkin the revival of cities and the decline and fall of suburbia is a fraud perpetrated a growing list of elitists and urbanist such as Edward Glaeser, Richard Florida, Alan Ehrenhalt, Christopher, Leinberger, James Howard, Kunstler, Peter Katz, and so on.  These gentlemen and others should be honored because according to Mr. Kotkin, they are part of a "hate affair" with suburbia that goes back to Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte.  What is the evidence to support this claim?  The evidence is a report from the Brookings Institute that states in 91 of 100 of american metropolitan centers, the share of regional jobs in downtowns declined from 2000 to 2010, while the distant suburbs gained in this category.  The term use is "job sprawl."  Cities that contradicted this trend were many were many of the largest metro areas and "job sprawl" diminished when sprawl became a crawl.  Oddly, on the road to the heralded triumph of the cities, the suburbs not only survived but began to regain their attractiveness as Americans continued to aspire to single family homes.  So what's going on?

Mr. Steuteville points out that the Brookings Institute report drew a target around the the main downtown area of each metropolitan region and counted jobs within a three mile radius, from three to ten miles, and ten to twenty-five miles radius.  The latter is an area fifty-eight times larger than the core area.  With that much land, greater population, and far lower job density-it's no shock that the share of jobs in outer suburbia rose relative to downtown.  Until the crash in the housing market in 2007, there were a lot of businesses such as Lowe's, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and assorted fast food places built in the outer areas.  Taking all of this into account, the downtown areas will continue to see a decline in the share of regional jobs even if there is a modest growth in the metropolitan areas.

However, Mr. Steuteville points to flaws in Mr. Kotkin's analysis.  First, Mr. Kotkin appears to disregard a number of inconvenient fact and trends that don't fit his narrative the inevitable march toward lower density generation after generation.  Real estate values have declined in the automobile-centric suburbs relative to more compact mixed-use neighborhoods.  Yet, there is a growing preference for rental housing and multifamily housing development has recovered more quickly than single family housing development.  This is quite true given the upswing in the number of multiple family housing developments in Southern California.  We're not just taking about faceless apartment buildings, this includes garden apartments in the suburbs.  I'm thinking Playa Vista as an example.  These garden apartments are being built in urban, transit oriented neighborhoods.

Another flaw in Joel Kotkin's theory is that the issue isn't about single-family versus multifamily housing; suburbia versus city; or lower density versus higher density.  The real issue is walkable places versus auto-centric places.  Being able to walk to places, what a concept.  Walkable urban places is the direction where the market is trending.  Personally speaking, I live in an area of Los Angeles where I can easily walk to grocery stores, banks, hair salons, and coffee places.  This trend is evidenced from many industry sources such as the Urban Land Institute (http://www.uli.org). Emerging Trends in Real Estate, and the National Association of Realtors  (http://www.realtor.org), can be found in the downtown, in urban neighborhoods far from downtown, and the suburbs.  Walkable urban neighborhoods often include single family house as well as mixed-use, more compact and better connected than the far suburbs.  There's a difference between small-lot single family homes in a mixed-use neighborhood and a large-lot house isolated in the suburbs like the difference between a strip mall and main street.

Mr. Steuteville uses the example of the Allentown in Buffalo, New York as his example of urban depopulation, which lost most of its residents since 1950.  Twenty-five years ago, Allentown was languishing but is now thriving and downtown Buffalo is on the rise.  This comeback was facilitated by the fact that Allentown is close to downtown but many of the walkable neighborhoods are far from the downtown neighborhood in the country's metropolitan areas are also thriving.  Another example is Washington DC with its rising share of commercial development taking place in the walkable urban places (WalkUPs), serviced by transit.  The majority of which are in suburbs.  The WalkUPs command seventy-five percent of auto-centric commercial development, whereas about twenty-five years ago, suburban office parks had the lion share of auto-oriented commercial development..  Forty-eight percent of the capitol's commercial development is taking place in WalkUPs, about less than one percent of land area.  Philadelphia, not one of the "Big 6" real estate markets and struggling city, is seeing a similar trend, according to a University of Pennsylvania study (http://www.design.upenn.edu/city-regional-planning).  Compact, urban places, both downtown and suburban areas performed better during the Great Recession.  Perhaps this is a lesson that the city of Detroit, Michigan can learn.

Mr. Kotkin does refer to a few important trends that urbanist should pay attention to such how to accommodate single-family housing in walkable neighborhoods, something that new urbanists have been working with for over three decades.  However, new urbanists haven't completely resolved the the problem, Andreas Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk; smart growth advocates have completely ignored it, really?  Yes, we need sustainable single-family housing and Mr. Kotkin is on target when he says that a large number of Americans prefer a separate house on a lot.  Blame or applaud the English for this one.  Further, the suburbs are becoming more diverse as many immigrant groups are moving out from the urban areas.  Fantastic, but this doesn't always translate into a need for access to transit and walkability.  Diversity combined with a trend toward rental housing in suburbia is a double-edged sword for suburbia which has based its attractiveness on isolation and exclusivity.

Is the revival of the cities a fraud and suburbia making a comeback?  Discuss]

Think bolder


Cities are always in a state flux.  They expand and contract in relation to the economy and demographics.  Currently, major urban centers around the globe are in a state of expansion.  In his article for The Atlantic Cities, Enrique Penalosa predicts the future for the American city.  In the opening paragraph, Mr. Penalosa asserts, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Welfare,  in forty years, 2.7 billion more people will live in urban areas than now in China, India, and most of the developing world.  What is not as well-known is that population growth in the United States will be huge.  What does this mean and how do urban planners and designers, government agencies, and community organizations meet the challenge?

By 2050, the U.S. population is predicted to grow about thirty-six percent, from 322 to 438 million. Based on the present average of 2.58 persons per household (I never understood how you have a .5 person), this would mean that there would be a need for 44.9 million new homes.  The twist in this statistic is that American households are getting smaller.  If we use the household size of Germany, 2.2 person per household, as our base number and the the estimated growth of the American population, this would mean the United States would need an additional 74.3 million new homes.  This means that in the next forty years, the U.S. will build more homes than those existing in the United Kingdom, France, and Canada combined.  Mr. Penalosa cites urban planner and theorist Peter Calthorpe, who predicts that the state of California will add 20 million people and 7 million new households by 2050.  These are staggering statistics, indeed.  Where do we put everyone?

To meet the increased demand, completely new urban environments will have to be created in the United States.  Just exactly where and how will the new American homes be built?  What types of urban structures are to be created?  I'm having visions of rehabbing older buildings dancing through my head.  Mr. Penalosa postulates that while, it's unlikely that city building on this great a scale through 2050 will ever happen again, nevertheless, cities are a vehicle to a way of life.  The types of urban structures that will be created over the decades will have a profound consequence in term of the quality of life, environment, sustainability, economic well-being, happiness, and civilization for hundreds of years to come.  This is taking into consideration the influence American cities will have on the rest of the world, the way they're built, will determine much of the world's sustainability and well-being.  Mr. Penalosa, so far, seems to be making general statements about the direction of American cities.  Cities are organic entities that expand and contract according to outside determinants.

The United States' primary urban legacy has been low-density suburbs, which, as I've pointed out previously, have their shortcomings in terms of the environment and quality of life.  Just to sum up their shortcomings: they are high-energy-use environments: the homes are large and consume a lot of energy for heating, ventilation, and air-condition; occupant mobility is auto-dependent; the distances between home and work, shops, and recreation areas is too long; and low-cost reliable transportation is not readily available.  Further, the suburbs are restrictive for the mobility impared-the very young, elderly, and disabled-who usually have no access to a car.  Since suburban spaces are too far to reach by foot, they tend to be devoid of people-making them boring to tears, occasionally punctuated by the sound of cars or lawn mowers.  There is also a lack of diversity that comes with urban environments.  See Jane Jacobs was right.  Despite all this mind numbing bordom and blandness, most American do not want to live in a Manhattan-esque environment.  What's wrong with that?  So what should the American city of 2050 be?

To answer that question, we have to go back and see why people left the cities in the first place.  Critics of the pre-World War II American cities waxed prosaic about their compactness, access to shops, and the feeling of community.  They fondly looked back at the prewar cities as bright shiny models for the future.  Mr. Penalosa quotes the Charter of the New Urbanism, "We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and town"  In the book Suburban Nation (2000), architects and planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk wrote, "...would not look so different from out old American neighborhoods before they were ravaged by sprawl."  Further, "The only proven alternative to sprawl is the traditional neighborhood."  Duany and Plater-Zyberk conclude, "The principles and techniques of true urban design can be relearned form many wonderful older places which still exist."  Pretty lofty words from two people who so meticulously planned the Seaside housing estate that it resembles a Hollywood conception of suburbia.  If the traditional American city at the beginning of the twentieth century is the ideal, then why did Americans leave them en masse, fleeing to the suburbs as soon as they had the means to do so?  Duany and Plater-Zyberk suggest that readily available mortgages were not the sole reason.

Recently, density, regardless of any other characteristic, has been held in high esteem, as in Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City (2011).  In the face of global warming, this has the tendency to be accepted without question.  Mr. Penalosa points to high-rise developments close to the downtown areas are praised for their great sustainability success, examples of Americans' return to the city and a harbinger of the new urban structure that are destined to replace the suburbia.  From coast to coast, north to south, the downtown is being presented as evidence of the way to a better future.  When project developments are built on large brown fields, they often include high-quality public pedestrian spaces.  However, in most situations the new dense city usually mean higher buildings on the same lots previously occupied by lower-rise maybe decaying buildings.  Mr. Penalosa asks, "Are multistory buildings on traditional streets-which in U.S. cities generally mean very wide streets-the future of American cities?  Are children going to walk out of their homes to basic sidewalks and motor vehicle-filled-and thus dangerous and often noisy-streets?  Are those environments where new generations of American children will grow up and where a new and happier will flourish.  Is this where a better civilization will grow?"  All good questions to ponder.  I would like to add this question, in the future, will we see the trend toward growing urbanism cycle back to a return to suburbia?  Consider it?

High-rise developments, accompanied with high-quality architecture, often command high prices and have an increased market value over time, allying any doubts about their attractiveness.  The occupants of high-rise residential buildings live in or near the urban center with the clusters of commercial and retail businesses.  The residents are often highly educated young people, sought by cities for their roles in innovation and economic growth.  This reinforces the theory of the city as the path of a brighter tomorrow.  Mr. Penalosa asks if these same people that are seeking a more urban life have alternatives?  Will they stay in the downtown areas after the kids start school?  Even if they do, is it possible to better that that kind of traditional dense urban environment?  Further, would most Americans now living in the suburbs be attracted to such environments?  Mr. Penalosa answers his question by stating that he doesn't believe that a different urban model possible: dense city with a high percentage of buildings facing pedestrian and bicycle only paths or greenways.

Using Manhattan, New York as an example, Mr. Penalosa suggests that some of the city's more attractive attributes could be incorporated into a new urban model that would be very different.  Mr. Penalosa asks us to imagine a Manhattan with no waterfront roads, all the spaces between waterfront buildings and the water are now parks or pedestrian infrastructure.  A Manhattan where alternative streets and avenues are reserved for use by pedestrians and bicycles, tree-lined, accommodating public transportation.  A Manhattan crisscrossed by greenways.  Sounds lovely doesn't it?  While this scenario sounds lovely, removing the waterfront spaces takes away from Manhattan's innate urban charm.  It also runs the risk of turning the city into a generic looking place.

For millennia, children in cities have able to go out into the street and play with risk of being harmed.  What changed that?  "Look out for the cars!"  That's what's changed.  Of course there have been motor vehicle of some sort for thousands of years: chariots, donkey carts, wagons, and so forth.  The advent of the combustion engineer vehicle (the car), there should have been a change in the way cities were designed.  For example, Mr. Penalosa recommends that half the streets should have been dedicated for pedestrian use only and the other half for cars.  Sadly, nothing has changed in that respect except the road have become larger.  By the 1920s cars took over the American urban environment, forever changing them.  Cars also radically changed the nature of urban structures.  What was envisioned as a utopia became a dystopic nightmare of noise and danger to human, especially children's lives.  Cars also changed the location of desirable housing.  Before cars conquered the streets, the preferred location for the wealthy was along the main urban arteries; Park, Madison, Fifth Avenues. Pedestrians would stroll by to see and be seen.  Once the car invaded, the wealthy fled to more secluded streets and the abandoned mansions became government, educational, or cultural institutions, rarely used for housing.  Cars made urban living undesirable but at the same time, they freed people from being tied to the city where the work was.  However, they trapped people in the suburbs where it's impossible to get around without a car.  A real no win situation.

If low-density suburbs are not desirable and a return to 1920s urban life is not the answer (sorry all you new Gatsby fan), then what should the new American city look like?  The aphorism, "the new city should be designed for people" isn't accurate because over the last ninety or so years, cities have been designed around the car rather than human well-being.  This despite the fact that the best measure of a city's quality is how beneficial it is to children, the elderly, disabled, and the poor, who often don't have access to cars.  Thus, in creating the next American city, planners should question the conventional wisdom, considering these examples:

1) Rail is not always the best transit option and not just because of cost factors.  Elevated trains damage the urban environment and subways force users into tunnels with no natural light or views.
2) Expensive and inflexible light rail has been installed in many American cities although bus lines can achieve the same results with less cost, in terms of mobility and encouraging private investment.
3) Curbside parking is not a right.  Obviously Mr. Penalosa has never driven in Los Angeles.  Would it be better to eliminate it in favor of larger sidewalks and protected bikeways.  As a native Angeleno, I shudder at this.
4) Private waterfronts should not exist if the public good outweighs private interest.  Mr. Penalosa suggests that hundreds of miles of pedestrian promenades be placed along side the waterfronts which would democratize and improve urban environment.

From these suggestions we can conclude that a different urban environment is needed in order to attract the suburban dweller back to the city.  Therefore, it is necessary to create a higher-density habitat that would still provide all the suburban amenities within the urban context.  Mr. Penalosa points to projects in Battery Park City of Manhattan and Harbour Green in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada which have separated buildings from green spaces and waterfronts without using a road.  He further notes that the challenge is not only to create high-quality isolated projects but whole cities with new personalities.  Cities like Manhattan and Los Angeles have a certain innate quality that makes them attractive to begin with.  Would altering them make it more attractive or detract from the those qualities?

In the city of Bogota, Colombia, the municipality built Porvernir Promenade-a fifteen-mile pedestrian and bicycle only promenade and over twenty miles of greenways.  Essentially, they're both bicycle highways.  It has transformed urban life by offering a person the opportunity to walk or bicycle to work, errands, school, or simply for fun.  People watch, sure.  Get some exercise, hey didn't you always want to get rid of those extra five pounds?  As the old add for Apple computers put it, "Think Different."  Why not create cities with hundreds or thousands of miles of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.  Mass transit lanes could be added to some of the greenways, providing a low-cost way and pleasant surface mass transit.  Children living in high-rise buildings facing large parks or green spaces could walk out of their homes onto these expanses.  Buildings' car entrances would be on the opposite side of the greenways and promenades.  I wonder what Ebenezer Howard or Clarence Stein would think about this?  I think they might consider it.

So back to the static quoted at the beginning of the post, by the year 2050, the United States will need 74.3 million new homes.  Where do you build them?  These new homes will generate millions of daily car trips.  As they say in real estate, "location, location, location."  The optimal location for all those new homes will be near as possible to the city center.  Beyond the brown fields surrounding the cities are low-slung suburbs.  If high density for the 74 million new homes to built by 2050 is not completed in the existing suburbs, where should they go?

Mr. Penalosa posits several ways in which the suburbs can be turned into high-density environments.  One way is to change the zoning rules to allow multistory or higher density structures where single families with backyards now sit.  Good luck with that one.  For this to happen, it would be necessary to increase water and sewage pipe, build new schools, larger parks, and wider sidewalks.  Other regulatory changes could include allowing mixed use buildings on some streets (like this one) that are currently exclusively residential.  This would produce higher densities in the right locations but would not produce a significantly different urban structure or the seed of a new urban civilization.

A more radical approach to create well-located low-slung suburbs would be to initiate large-scale demolition, redesign, and reconstruction programs, which would not only produce higher density, but also a different urban model with hundred or thousands of miles pedestrian and bicycles only pathways as well as miles of mass transit only roads.  At the very least it would eliminate blighted areas, if targeted properly.  By the way, did you notice that the author of this article is really massive on pedestrian and bicycle only promenades?  He seems to see them as some type of pancea for the urban ill.  Just saying.

Part of the problem in getting Americans to think bolder about urban planning and design, according to Mr. Penalosa, is that after several failures at radical urban redevelopment and the harsh criticisms of Jane Jacobs, people were paralyzed-wary and afraid to try anything else.  Pity, because sometimes a radical approach is necessary.  It would seem that if two neighbors stop and say hello to each, the neighborhood is deemed vibrant, any government effort to demolish it is considered unacceptable.  Think about the previous post on the Los Angeles Arts District image of people waving to each other as the ride by on their bicycles.  Jane Jacobs was not so influential in Europe, where there have many government-led urban renewal efforts in the last few decades.

Even the decaying and dilapidated suburbs near urban core have been passed over for redevelopment in the United States.  Both state and local governments stood idly while large swarths of suburbia collapsed.  Interestingly, thanks to the home mortgage industry collapse, some of these suburban areas have fallen into ruin because of neglect by foreclosure.  Some municipalities have taken the bold step of demolishing abandoned neglected homes and repurposing the lots.  Mr. Penalosa cites the example of Birmingham, Alabama as a case in point.  The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been growing steadily in the downtown area, but very few of its professors and researchers live downtown.  Only two miles west of the campus are hundreds of acres of deteriorated, dilapidated, and nearly collapsed suburbs with abandoned homes fall down and schools closed and boarded up.  Nearby is the almost unused Legion Field stadium with acres of parking.  Mr. Penalosa posits that a new city could be built there but there hasn't been any public or private initiative to forth.  Why build another whole city?  Why not demolish the stadium and the abandoned homes and create mixed use residential/retail buildings?

Urban redevelopment is not just for run-down areas.  In fact some of the best sites for redevelopment are in the most desirable suburbs if they are located near the downtown area and offer reliable mass transit and park areas.  So does that mean Silver Lake/Los Feliz or Hancock Park?  Not likely.  The Eminent domain clause in the Fourteenth Amendment states that public good prevails over private interest.  Since this is so integral in American society that it would be unthinkable that a necessary road or airport would not be built because one home owner refuses to sell.  What's missing in this argument is the Takings Clause in the Fifth Amendment guarantees just compensation for lands seized by a government agency for the public good and the Due Process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment which guarantees every citizen's right to attend government proceedings.  What is also left out is the case of Dodger Stadium built on property owned by mostly Latino homeowners without Due Process or Just Compensation.

Large-scale redevelopment projects are regarded with suspicion because of citizen's wariness of the government.  Yet government action is necessary in order to build cities.  Cities must be defined by master plans.  The easy way out is to do nothing and let market forces dictate the future, as we've seen in the nascent gentrification of the Los Angeles Arts District.  Can the United States lead the way in the twenty-first century in terms of radical urban planning and design?  We shall see.      

Monday, May 13, 2013



Before getting back to my previous post on digital cities, I'd first like to thank all of you for reading my posts.  Because of you we're over four hundred.  You guys are the best and I like to share my thoughts on Architecture, Historic Preservation, Urban Planning and Design with you.  Can we do five hundred?  Let's go for it.  Next, I want to share some LA Weekly reader comments on the May 3rd article about the Los Angeles Arts District, "Reinventing The Arts District" by Alissa Walker.

The response to Ms. Walker's article were mostly negative.  One reader called it "CRAP ARTICLE."  Pretty harsh.  The reader called it "a revisionist, hipsterific article," and wondered if Ms. Walker spoke with any of the long term residents-i.e. those living in the area longer than one or two years.  This reader accused Ms. Walker of pandering to the lowest common denominator of individuals how prefer cool over culture and community.  Truthfully, I think that Tyler Stonebreaker and company have conflated the two.  The reader concludes that it was the people that made the neighborhood by bringing in the SCI-Arc people and other creative types.  The efforts by Mr. Stonebreaker come off as exclusivity rather than inclusivity.

On that note, another reader pointed out that the Arts District was "...a lively, dynamic, and thriving community before Handsome Coffee moved in.  There are a broad variety of stakeholders who made it what it is-not a 'neighborhood curator...'"  True too.  The long term residents and businesses in the Arts District and surrounding area do have a say in what goes on in the area.  This agrees with the previous comment regarding why Ms. Walker didn't interview long-term residents and business owners.  It wasn't a "neighborhood curator' that made the neighborhood, it was was the residents and businesses.

One reader wondered if Ms. Walker's article was intended as satire.  In the interest of full disclosure, this reader has lived in the Arts District for four years.  The reader pointed out that while Handsome Coffee is a great addition to the neighborhood, it hardly had anything to with making the neighborhood more popular.  There were already a variety of oh, so cool coffee places and restaurants as well as various celebrity loft owners and renters, not "curated" by Mr. Stonebreaker.  Love or hate Mr. Stonebreaker's efforts, bottom line is that he made no notable contribution.

Finally, we have a reader who was concerned about the comment, "If you think the Arts District if going to be another Abbot Kinney (the main boulevard in Venice, California), you are thinking way too small."  The reader points to two of Mr. Stonebreaker's "curated" tenants, Garret Leight, the owner of eyewear company GLCO and fashion company Mattinson.  Both retail establishments cater to a moneyed clientele that can afford $300 for a pair of sunglasses or $3,000 for a suit.  The reader wondered if these were the most appropriate choices for businesses in the Arts District.  Good question.  The reader responses to this question, "Of course they must be, because Tyler has our back...After all, he said, 'We're thoughtfully guiding it down the path we think is right for the neighborhood, and 'We are hyper-locally focused, asking people on the ground-those living and working in the neighborhood-what do they want?'"  Is this what the long-term residents and businesses in the Arts District really want?  A place to get $300 sunglasses or a $3,000 suit?

To me it seems that the negative responses are couched in the knee-jerk emotions that gentrification brings with it.  Tyler Stonebreaker seems to be blithely disregarding the real needs of the neighborhood in favor what HE BELIEVES to be the best choices for the area.  Or is he simply responding to the changing demographic and socio-economic climate of the urban center?  You decide.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The digital urban experience


Data is rapidly becoming a valuable commodity.  It can be bought, sold, and used for various purposes.  For example, in the last presidential election, data became an important tool for targeting voters.  By the close of the election cycle, campaign staffs from both main parties knew exactly who their voters were, where they lived, what type of house they lived in, martial status and family size, preferences, level of education, and so forth.  In a talk presented several years ago by John Tolva, the Chief Technology Officer for the city of Chicago to a group of architects, he repeatedly used the phrase "information architect."  The question that arose from the confused audience at the end of his lecture was, "you don't mean real architect?"  In Emily Badger's article "What an Urban Planner Should Like in the Internet Age," she explores what it means to be an urban planner in the age of where information on anything can be obtained with a click of the mouse and how its changing the face of urban planning.

Is there a real difference between a real (let's refer to them as physical) architect and an information architect?  Let's ponder that for a moment.  The function of an architect is to create a built environment for humans to experience.  Increasingly, those experiences are being mediated through digital technology.  If you recall a previous post where I discussed this issue based on notes I took at a lecture presented by the AIA, one of the things I mentioned is that the architects who spoke where doing research in ways to integrate both the digital and physical experience.  This can be accomplished through apps, QR codes on building facades, WiFi hotspots in unexpected place.  Ms. Badger speculates that it would be a great idea if some of the best elements of the built environment could inform the digital one, such as broadband connectivity that as active as an urban street grid.

Mr. Tolva suggested that it's incorrect to treat physical architecture differently from information architecture.  He noticed that a lot of people were using information technology to resolve problems that physical architects already solved.  The physical architects have spent millennia figuring out how to design successful public spaces however information architect still struggle with the issue online.  For example, Facebook is public space in the sense the that anything you post is ripe for public consumption.  Remember this next time you decide to post or tweet pictures of a party you went to.  The downside of the social media sites is that unlike sitting in a coffee place, like I'm doing now, it doesn't allow for random encounters and exchange of information, like the one I just had with a gentleman sitting across from me.  Private malls and planned suburban communities are a type of mediated public space.  They have all the affectations of public space: fountains, benches, trolley cars, twinkling lights in the trees but they're highly controlled environments.  The social media sites are essentially the same thing without the chance encounters.

The social media sites start to look different through this prism.  In the meantime, our actual public spaces, buildings and parks, can be viewed as platforms for information.  Try this, next time you're at work or school, sit somewhere for a period of time and observe the people.  Carefully look at what they wear, what they eat, who they're or if they're alone, and so on.  Thus, Ms. Badger concludes that it's high time for building designers and information designers to get together and blend their profession.  Mr. Tolva, publicly stated that it was time to create a new discipline that merged urban design and planning with urban informatics, with a networked public space.

John Tolva is touching on a number of ideas.  The unevenness of digital information has real-world implication in cities.  The smartphones, tablets, and laptops we use to access this information will insist on changes to the physical environment.  The social norms of private and public space start to blur.  Perhaps New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right when he said that privacy doesn't exist anymore.  For now, it's useful to consider who should be addressing this brave new world and if those people exist.  Mr. Tolva said, "The real opportunity is in thinking about how many points of tangency with the online world actually become embedded in the physical space."  It's not just data portals that contain information about cities, it's about interacting with your city from your computer.  However, that's not what the urban experience is genuinely about.

Emily Badger sums it up by saying, "the best part of the cities is on the street."  In the future, how that street is experienced could be enhanced through information gathering and exchange from buildings, stoplights, bus stops, and parks.  The possibility of a more personalized urban experience is a fascinating one, yet has shades of Big Brother.  Then again, think about this the next time you log onto the internet, look at the adds, they're generated based on your searches and buying habits, then think about everything you just read.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Arts District or Brooklyn West?


Hello everyone, it's time for the Monday edition of the "Preservation for Community Assets" blog.  Today we tackle the topic of the Arts District in Los Angeles, California.  The current issue of the LA Weekly featured a cover article written by Alissa Walker, which focused on the how the district became Los Angeles' hottest neighborhood.  Ms. Walker profiled real estate broker Tyler Stonebreaker and his "curation" of the neighborhood.  By curation, I'm referring to his careful choices of what businesses went into the neighborhood.  As I've previously written, providing right mix of commercial and retail establishments in Downtown Los Angeles helped lead to its revitalization.  The area of our blog today is outside downtown proper, near the Los Angeles River (hey it's real).  This is an area bordered by Sixth Street to the South, Alameda Street to the West, First Street to the North, and the L.A. River to the East.  In recent years it has become the hottest place in the city thanks in part to the commercial and retail businesses that cater to the artists living in the area and the students, faculty, and administration at the the Southern California Institute of Architecture.  What is Mr. Stonebreaker trying do? Is it a good thing or not?

Coffee and the now ubiquitous food trucks, couples sketching while their dogs nap blissfully at their feet, people riding bikes waving to each other.  Mayberry?  No, it's a scene painted by Ms. Walker of the Arts District.  A weekly pop-up farmer's market and a line outside Handsome Coffee Roasters (http://www.handsomecoffee.com), which moved into this urban arcadia a little over a year ago after months of searching for the ideal space that would allow to serve and roast coffee on site.  A last minute phone call to Mr. Stonebreaker resulted in the space the coffee house currently occupies, according to Handsome co-founder Tyler Wells.  The founders quickly realized that their role was more than just tenants.  Their store is surrounded by windowless industrial building filled with more than just residents.  Mr. Wells and his co-founders Michael Phillips, and Chris Owens wanted to facilitate the walkability and a real neighborhood feeling in the district.  The potential existed but it required additional like-minded businesses.  Specifically, connecting two pockets of development, up on Traction Avenue and along Industrial Street, making it one continuous community.

To put this plan into action, they turned to Stonebreaker for help.  I like this, entrepreneurs with a sense of community not just in it for the profit.  Stonebreaker was given the job of tapping into the neighborhood's potential for real community.  The co-founders wanted a community that was thoughtfully guided down what they believed to be the right path.  Oh, exactly what did they mean by "...a path that we think is right for the neighborhood."  Let's move along and see what happened next.  Under Stonebreaker's tutelage the red-brick building across the street from the cafe will soon be home to the Los Angeles branch of Laguna Hills, California restaurant Zinc Cafe (http://www.zinccafe.com).  Adjacent to Handsome is craft distillery Spirit Guild (http://www.facebook.com/thespiritguild).  Nearby, Stonebreaker helped other hipster friendly companies step up shop in the district, including an L.A. branch of Ace Hotel (http://www.acehotel.com).  As sign of true solidarity, Creative Space, the firm owned by Stonebreaker and his partner Michael Smith recently relocated from Hollywood to the Molino Street Loft nearby.  Oh, oh I smell Brooklyn West.  As if there wasn't enough caffeine pumping through the district, earlier this year, it was announced that Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters was coming to the Arts District.  A huge coup for Stonebreaker who envisions a"Napa Valley of coffee."  Hey I like good cup of espresso as much as the next person, but a "Napa Valley of coffee?"  Really? Is that the highest and best use of the resources.  Do you really want a bunch of over-caffeinated exhausted architecture on charrette using shop tools?

Is Tyler Stonebreaker a neighborhood "curator?"  Like Stonebreaker, I'm also tired of the the overuse of the word curator.  It seems like its applied to anyone who is deliberate about the choices they make.  However, in this case, we have to tred carefully here because, the scent of hipsterism is permeating the Arts District, threatening to spill over into the less affluent area of Aliso Village and the City of Vernon and cause tensions.  This is speculation, premature at best but one can't help thinking this.  Stonebreaker assured the article's author Ms. Walker that he's "...hyper-locally focused, asking people on the ground-those living and working in the neighborhood-what do they want?"  The residents wanted a grocery store in the neighborhood.  Working with the residents, he found a former glass manufacturing factory owned by Linear City developer Yuval Ben-Zemer, who also owns the Toy and Biscuit Lofts.  The artisanal grocery store Urban Radish (http://www.facebook.com/urbanradish) will occupy the space.  Trader Joe's or Whole Foods wasn't interested?  I could go off on this but I won't bore you with the digression.  Suffice it to say exactly how many people will shop there, other than the affluent residents.  If Mr. Stonebreaker is truly serious of investing in the "hood" as he claims, wouldn't it make sense to put in place businesses that attract a wider segment of society not just hipsters?  This sounds like curatorial work to me?  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe it's more of a case of catering to the people that live in the immediate area.  Hard to say for sure.

What is the future of the Arts District?  Currently the area is undergoing major developments that will not only change the face of the district but also indicative of the larger trends in Los Angeles in context to transportation, public space, and sustainability.  Here six examples of projects that are intended to add residents and businesses to the Arts District, deliver much-needed green space, and connect the neighborhood to the adjoining communities.

The Sixth Street Bridge: this "concrete cancer" is in need of demolition of this historic bridge will make way for a more ambitious proposal by HNTB, Michael Maltzan and AC Marting Partners.  The new viaduct will accommodate auto traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, and provide parks on both sides of the river.  Construction is expected to begin in 2015 and be completed in 2019.  Promising

Alameda Square: though not in the Arts District proper, the 1.5 million-square-foot former Union Terminal Annex on the west side of Alameda Street is converting its empty warehouse to a space for creative and fashion brands.  The space is being designed by Joey Shimoda with Tyler Stonebreaker's firm acting as the developer.  When completed the complex will have a public outdoor marketplace for retail spaces and food trucks (eye roll).

Cleantech Corridor: this four-mile corridor on both sides of the L.A. River hopes to lure businesses specializing in sustainable manufacturing and green technologies.  At its heart will be the Los Angeles Clean Tech Incubator, an organization that funds such businesses.  Though it currently occupies a temporary space, it is building the La Kretz Innovation Campus at Fifth and Hewitt, a 60,000 square-foot complex with office space, R&D labs and a workforce training center. This also sounds promising but given the surrounding communities' low levels of literacy, where are they going to draw workers to train?

Metro's Regional Connector: this massive project intends to connect the Gold Line with the hub of the Blue and Expo Lines at Seventh and Flower streets will expand the current Little Tokyo/Arts District Gold stop, demolishing the Spice Table and Senor Fish restaurants to accommodate more trains and a larger station.  The restaurants will be relocated.  Construction is expected to begin at the end of this year and be completed in 2019.  Great but how is someone who works in the Financial District supposed to get from the Regional Connector to his/her office?  Will there be dash bus lines?

One Santa Fe: this is a proposed mixed-use project on a slender strip of land between SCI-Arc and the MTA rail yard that, when completed later this year, will bring 438 new rental apartments to the neighborhood.  Additionally, the 510,000-square-foot complex, designed by Michael Maltzan, will have a theater, dining, parkland, and retail space including a large space that could be potentially used for a grocery store.  Promising, could provide housing for SCI-Arc students.  The one large space could serve as a branch of a chain grocery store.

SCI-Arc Arts District Anchor Project: the school won a grant to produce two arts venues, one of which, an outdoor pavilion by Marcelo Spina and Georgina Huljich of the firm P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, will be the largest public arts venue in the neighborhood.  The firm will also program the theater at One Santa Fe.  Okay, will see what type of productions they program.

This all sounds wonderful but I can't help thinking about what director Martin Scorese said about the gentrification of the Bowery in New York City.  It'll bring in an element of conformity.  While it's nice that Tyler Stonebreaker and his company are committed to retaining the industrial character of the Arts District and re-purposing the buildings, there is a certain feel of exclusion of the long-term residents of the area.  The meticulousness which Tyler Stonebreaker employs seems a bit too elitist.