Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LADCP Releases Draft Citywide Design Guidelines

This morning I attended a public meeting at City Hall, where 
The Los Angeles Department of City Planning announced their request to receive input and feedback on draft citywide design guidelines.  Although the guidelines are not construed to be mandatory, they will help the City establish a precedent for design excellence.  The guidelines, if used effectively, can serve as a community-based tool to help shape the design process by focusing the dialogue around certain urban design principals.

To access the draft guidelines, click on the following links:

Industrial Design Guidelines

Comments are encouraged between now and September 27th and may be directed to city planner Michelle Sorkin at michelle.sorkin@lacity.org.

Feel free to copy me on your comments, as well.  I will plan to collate them and add them to this post, so that you can access each other's thoughts on the matter.

All best,

Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

For your ease of access, I've also posted the following additional resources from the Department of City Planning:

1. Develop inviting and accessible transit areas.
2. Reinforce walkability, bikeability and well-being.
3. Nurture neighborhood character. 
4. Bridge the past and the future. 
5. Produce great green streets. 
6. Generate public open space.
7. Stimulate sustainability and innovation in our city.
8. Improve equity and opportunity.
9. Emphasize early integration, simple processes and maintainable solutions.
10.    Ensure connections.

What are the Citywide Design Guidelines?

The City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning invites you to comment on the Citywide Design Guidelines.

The new Citywide Design Guidelines under consideration will establish, for the first time, basic Citywide design considerations with respect to the entire building envelope and project site. The Design Guidelines will address overarching design themes found in the City’s Framework Element and 35 Community Plans. The Design Guidelines are rooted in the 10 Urban Design Principles in the Framework (pending adoption by City Council) with a focus on creating high-quality built form and integrating sustainability. The Guidelines cover a range of topics such as Site Planning, Open Space and Landscaping, Building Design and Articulation, Signage and Lighting.

The Citywide Design Guidelines will be implemented on discretionary projects subject to review by the Department of City Planning.

For more information contact:
Michelle Sorkin
Department of City Planning
tel: 213.978.1199 

Friday, August 13, 2010

AIA|LA & LADBS: Implementing CALGreen for the City of Los Angeles

On Thursday, August 12th AIA|LA members Stuart Magruder, Jim Dixon and Tracy Stone discussed ideas and opportunities for what it would take to encourage new construction projects to go 15% beyond TITLE-24 requirements.    Together with LADBS management and representatives from Turner Construction, Clark Construction, Gensler and AC Martin, AIA|LA is exploring ways to incentivize the use of sustainable building materials.  

What are your thoughts when it comes to 'rapidly renewable' materials like bamboo or cork?  Or engineered wood products created from recycled scraps?  Or bio-based or agricultural-based products as opposed to concrete and earth-materials like marble and slate?

We recognize that this discussion needs to be balanced with the greater argument of total life-cycle assessments, factoring in longevity and the life-span of the material, its embodied energy and its rate of deterioration.

For instance,  what is more sustainable:  A bamboo floor imported from thousands of mile away that needs to be replaced every ten years, or an oak floor that was harvested nearby and has a lifespan of a 100 years?  A densified concrete floor, which requires no stains or coverings? A slab of marble?  Linoleum?  Terrazzo?  Also, what is globally/holistically more sustainable?  Materials imported from another nation that may enable or foster an economic talisman, which in turn facilitates   other nations to live and flourish more sustainably?  Or materials that essentially travel less, and therefore impact the lives of less people?

Speaking of, I once heard in the defense of the massive amount of Cor-Ten steel used in a Richard Serra sculpture:  that it wasn't just the amount of embodied energy that went into constructing, transporting and displaying the art that mattered; the amount of embodied energy saved by the fact that that material wasn't being used elsewhere for other purposes and those other purposes, in turn, would have consumed a certain amount of resources, and thus, the saving (or denial) of that amount of energy consumption needed to be factored into the spirit of the calculation, as well.

So, in essence, when you measure the carbon footprint of a material the calculation can get quite complex.  Speaking of 'carbon footprint', what do you think the carbon footprint of a carbon tax would be?  It's like asking, what's the carbon footprint of a CEQA lawsuit?

What will a carbon tax do to our built environment?  Will we start seeing a proliferation of 'rapidly renewable' building materials, or will a carbon tax manifest itself into a built environment that sustains a life-cycle 100+ years?  And will the craftsmanship required for such installation return to our City, or will it require pre-assembly elsewhere?

Will a carbon tax warrant the construction of buildings that last 300 to 500 years, with modifiable programs geared to accommodate our inevitable cultural shifts?

Or, as I once heard Qingyun Ma and Thom Mayne discuss, perhaps soon will be the time when buildings are built in the fashion of the Aeron Chair - to have a very-limited life-span, but to be 100% recyclable for ease of disassembly.

1. Software for calculating life cycle costs for materials and assemblies may be found at the following websites:

a.  The Athena Institute.  

b.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology - BEES 4.0.

c.  International Organization for Standardization - ISO Standard 14044

2. More information on life cycle assessment may be found at the following links:

a.  The Sustainable Products Purchasers Coalition

b. The American Center for Life Cycle Assessment

c. U.S. EPA Life Cycle Assessment Research

3.  To watch the full video of  "Do Cities Have Expiration Dates?", please CLICK HERE.

-Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

AIA|LA & LAUSD: Working Together to Build Better Communities ::: Update from the August 9th Meeting.

On Monday, August 9th AIA|LA launched the first in a  series of monthly meetings with senior management at Los Angeles Unified School District.  It was an excellent meeting with plenty of passion and energy,  optimistic with the opportunity to work together and to establish a systematic dialogue to help facilitate meaningful exchange between the architecture profession and the leadership team of the LAUSD Facilities Division.

Three themes quickly emerged and energized the discussion:  

1.  Is there an opportunity for the architecture profession to interact more closely with educators to explore ideas and opportunities for innovation and improvement?

2.  Is there tangible and measurable data that can be shared that demonstrates the power of design to promote
a.) financial savings in operations, maintenance and energy-needs,
b.) healthier behavior and lifestyles in students and teachers with a design-quotient-index that calculates higher productivity, financial savings, increased cultural innovation AND delight, and
c.) higher academic achievements.  And, how can such data help influence the selection criteria of the architect and the criteria of the academic facility's program and objectives.

3.  If LAUSD is able to more acutely articulate its needs and challenges (especially in regards to the higher expectations for each facility's program), then will this higher-threshold of stipulations translate into a higher caliber of  design services being offered by the profession?  

Quite a bit was discussed about LAUSD's disappointment with the results of their recent design competition, and the architects participating in Monday's discussion explained why the results may have been so poor:  the loose parameters and lack of articulated stipulations didn't allow any innovative design solution as a response, i.e., the best designs are often a defined result of the most stringent constraints; that high-caliber architecture firms often decide not to enter a competition for one of two reasons, a.) not financially feasible or cost-effective due to the expense of hiring staff to execute the competition and b.) the architect selection criteria doesn't favor diversity and innovation of design talent, so firms chose not to compete or submit RFP/RFQ's.  Which is the age old argument:  how do we open up the playing field to foster greater design competitiveness?

It was agreed that for upcoming meetings, there should be less general discussion and more specific action-oriented discussion focused on next steps to ensure that AIA|LA is helping provide LAUSD with real answers and implementable ideas, as opposed to more theory and conjecture that can not be integrated into LAUSD's current culture of operations.  As James Sohn noted quite profoundly, LAUSD is like a giant elephant and the only tools it has to work with are its four giant feet (oh, and its trunk of course).

Participants from AIA|LA included:
Clifton Allen, AIA - Meyer & Allen Associates
John Dale, FAIA - Harley Ellis Devereaux
Helena Jubany, AIA - Jubany NAC Architecture
Julia Hawkinson, AIA - Parsons
Ted Hyman, FAIA - ZGF Architects LLP
Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA - Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects
Kevin Mulcahy, AIA - studioTBD CO_LA(B)_o r a t i v e
Mark Nay, AIA - STV Incorporated
Randall Stout, FAIA - Randall Stout Architects, Inc.
John Wyka, AIA - Barton Myers Associates, Inc.
Will Wright - AIA Los Angeles

Participants from LAUSD included:
James Sohn - Chief Facilities Executive, LAUSD Facilities Div.
Neil Gamble - Construction Div., LAUSD Facilities Div.
Richard Luke - Planning and Development, LAUSD Facilities Div.
Judy Johnson - Executive Team

The objectives of these monthly meetings will be to further expand the dialogue between LAUSD and the architecture & design profession in an effort to maximize the value of our schools and neighborhoods.

These discussions, we hope, will facilitate an opportunity to design healthier, more sustainable and more delightful learning environments - schools that will maximize the social, cultural and economic performance of our communities.  And, at the same time, we hope these discussions will foster a greater understanding about the value of design and the architect in the overall process that it takes to deliver these public facilities to our region.

As we move forward, AIA|LA will offer ideas to LAUSD on the following range of subjects:

a.  Contracting Reform – What are the areas of improvement that can help our A/E/C community in this time of stress?
b.  The Architect Selection Process – Are there means and methods that will both increase participation and transparency?

c.  Masterplanning Initiatives – What is LAUSD doing to ensure the best Master Plans for its next phase of work?
d.  Design Review Advisory Panels – How can we engage the A/E/C community to provide expert advice on the process of and the quality of school designs? 
e.  The Master Architect proposal – How can we return, even on a limited basis to a single entity that will design, manage and construct schools projects?
f.  Project Delivery Methods – A hearty discussion on the impact of 17406 vs. 17250  (Lease/lease-back vs. Design Build)
e.  Criteria Objectives - What defines an excellent learning environment?  What exemplifies design excellence?  What should LAUSD be asking for?  What are the tangible metrics of success?  Is there any hard data that connects design excellence to enabling better learning environments?

We've decided to schedule these meetings on the second Monday of every month, (8am-10am) at LAUSD Headquarters, 23rd Floor (red chairs).   Therefore, the next meeting will be on Monday, September 10 (8am).  INVITE ONLY.  Contact Will Wright for details.

Already, quite a few AIA|LA members have expressed interest in serving as a leadership resource.  As we focus each monthly meeting on a specific topic, we will pull from that leadership pool and rotate involvement in effort to utilize everyone's time and expertise as thoughtfully as possible.

If you have interested in volunteering your expertise, please contact me for more information = will@aialosangeles.org

At present, levels of interest have been received from the following:

AIA|LA & LAUSD Leadership POOL:
Clifton Allen, AIA - Meyer & Allen Associates
Henry Buckingham, AIA - Meter, Inc.
John Dale, FAIA - Harley Ellis Devereaux
Paul Danna, AIA - AECOM Design
Ming Fung, AIA - Hodgetts & Fung
Helena Jubany, AIA - Jubany NAC Architecture
Maria Garcia, Assoc. AIA - gkkworks
Julia Hawkinson, AIA - Parsons
Ted Hyman, FAIA - ZGF Architects LLP
Ryan Ihly, AIA - Barton Myers Associates, Inc.
Gerhard W. Mayer, AIA - Mayer Architects
Anthony J. Meza, AIA - 
Kevin Mulcahy, AIA - studioTBD CO_LA(B)_o r a t i v e
Risa Narita, AIA - Narita Architects
Mark Nay, AIA - STV Incorporated
Mehrnoosh Mojallai, AIA - Merhnoosh Architecture + Urban Design
Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA - Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects
Randall Stout, FAIA - Randall Stout Architects, Inc.
John Wyka, AIA - Barton Myers Associates, Inc.
Will Wright - AIA Los Angeles

For more information, please contact:
Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA  90010
(213) 639-0777

Monday, August 9, 2010

AIA|LA meets with Assembly Member Kevin DeLeon

On Friday, August 6, 2010 AIA members Michael Pinto and Travis Frankel joined me in a meeting with Assembly Member Kevin de León and his District Director Steve Veres.  

Essentially, we were there to introduce Kevin de León to the leadership resources of AIA|LA and to hear what's on his mind and discuss ideas for how we can help advance his key initiatives.  We were also there on behalf of the profession to advocate the need for the State to allow municipalities and other public agencies the same degree of flexibility as the private-sector in selecting capital improvement project delivery methods that best suit the needs for each particular project, as opposed to always relying on either Design-Bid-Build or Design-Build for all of them.

Additionally, with the expertise of Michael Pinto and Travis Frankel, we were able to expand the dialogue to include the need for more urban pocket parks and more opportunities for urban farming and local food production, especially in underserved areas of Los Angeles that don't often have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. We asked de León to explore further connecting health care reform funding opportunities directly to the built environment, since a healthy place is one of the best forms of preventative care.

As many of you may know, de León is one of the hipper, more down-to-earth and accessible assembly members (at Friday's meeting, he sported a week's worth of stubble and an oversized, super-stylish sports watch that gave me the impression that he's probably younger than I am!).

De Leon is most well known for advancing legislation centered around opportunities to improve access to parkland for underserved communities.  He authored AB 31 last year, which established a needs-based competitive grants program for the distribution of Prop 84 funds for local park development.  Hopefully, we'll start to see some of that park space emerge soon, predominantly in the guise of pocket parks that also help mitigate storm-water run-off and provide opportunities to improve air quality in Southern California (six freeways criss-cross de León's forty-fifth district).

Friday's meeting is just the latest in the series of one-on-one meetings we've been coordinating with our local legislators.  To date, we've also met with the office of Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, Assemblymembers Mike Feuer and Mike Davis and Senators Fran Pavely and Gil Cedillo.

As we move forward with planning additional meetings, please feel free to get in touch with me if you have interest in being a part of the greater conversation.  Your voice is the leadership of the profession.

-Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles

Future of LA City Planning - A Strategy Session for Los Angeles, written by Josh Stephens

Here is a great synopsis of the August 4th panel discussion on the Future of LA City Planning written by Josh Stephens for the California Planning & Development Report:

A Strategy Session for Los Angeles

If you are at all involved with urban planning in Los Angeles you were probably either in the audience or on the panel at last night's "The Future of the Los Angeles City Planning Department (and the City of Los Angeles)" event, sponsored by AIA, APA-L.A., ULI, and Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design. I suppose a third option is that you were stuck in traffic and couldn't make it.   
Those of us in the room at Southwestern Law School in Koreatown were treated to perhaps the most far-ranging, sincere, and sometimes entertaining discussion about planning in Los Angeles in recent memory. It was, to an extent, a master class for new Planning DirectorMichael LoGrande, who attended fresh off his confirmation by the Los Angeles City Council. The event was organized before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa nominated LoGrande, and his attendance was not promised. But how could he not attend, and how could he not share a few words, given that the entire two hours was dedicated to the equal measures hope and desperation that surround the years to come at the L.A. Department of City Planning?
By the looks of things, LoGrande has not exactly picked a cushy job for himself. His own brief introductory remarks, while replete with the requisite visionary rhetoric, focused on the department's financial challenges and his eagerness to partner with outside firms and organizations to help craft the city's plans.
Moderated by Planning Commissioner Michael Woo, the 10-member panel represented some of the region's most astute practitioners and observers of planning in Los Angeles, ranging from architects to developers to journalists to former members of the Planning Department staff. They amounted to an unusually candid bunch, whose expertise centers not necessarily on planning per se, but rather on that unquiet beast known as planning in Los Angeles. 
If no other lesson emerged -- for LoGrande or anyone else who would dare imagine what the city should and could look like -- it is that Los Angeles is sui generis, in its form, geography, demographics, history, and politics. Jane Blumenfeld -- the recently retired consigliere to Lo Grande's predecessor, Gail Goldberg -- said it most bluntly by calling it "the most politicized planning land use development city in the world." 
The discussion did little to contradict that stereotype. It's an amazing thing when a dozen experts get together and generally agree on goals: We want Los Angeles to be more pleasant (i.e. pedestrian-oriented); we want to preserve distinctive neighborhoods and respect community members' wishes; we want to take advantage of new and existing transit projects and we love the 30/10 plan; we want to provide more housing. To a lesser extent, we want to reach out to under-served communities and we want to stoke the city's economy.  Restoring the L.A. River would be a fabulous thing to do.  All well and good.  
(Notably absent, however, was so much as a whisper of rhetoric about sustainability. I have two theories on this: The first is that everyone has grown weary in the process of hoping for, and not achieving, a mythical "green future" -- especially in this economy.  The second, more hopeful theory is that sustainability has become implicit, especially to the extent that, thanks to legislation like SB 375, it has become synonymous with density. Indeed, now that L.A. is built out and that the transit system keeps growing, it's arguable that almost every new development will be sustainable by some measure.)  
How, though, to achieve those goals? 
Suggestions ranged from "enjoy the recession" as a time to think and plan to "Metro should take all the land surrounding transit stops by eminent domain." Some encouraged LoGrande to align himself with Mayor Villaraigosa's vision (whatever that may be; "elegant density" is still being batted around five years after the mayor first picked it as his slogan) while others were already talking about the next mayor and arguing whether the city charter even made the mayor relevant. Almost everyone agreed that having to serve 15 councilmembers, plus a mayor, is no way to plan a city. Baron Haussmann and Robert Moses would surely concur.  
If there was a single point of consensus about how to move forward with high-quality development, it was articulated most clearly by Forest City Sr. Vice President Renata Simril: "For me as a developer, the notion of by-right speaks volumes to my ears. Time is money. I’m more apt to be able to built a project that yields that (desired) result because there’s clarity, there’s certainty in that plan. And, by the way, I know I’m not going to get challenge by the community because the community has bought into that specific plan." 
Bill Fulton followed up that assertion, saying: “You prove to (councilmembers) that by doing a planning process that results in a consensus that people can buy into that developers will have more clarity…and a roadmap. If you can prove to the politicians that there’s some kind of a plan in place that makes it easier for developers to get to the end and built stuff that the neighborhood wants, that’s how you prove to councilmembers that good planning is good policy."
In other words, Los Angeles needs good plans and public officials who will enforce those plans. Beyond that, the panel offered LoGrande an abstracted, highly intellectualized version of what he will experience in L.A.’s neighborhoods and halls of power: passionate, articulate, and often contradictory sentiments. Some highlights from each speaker include the following: 
Planning Commissioner Michael Woo (moderator): 
"The City Planning Department and the planning director operate in a political culture in which it is more customary than in other cities for elected officials to intervene in the planning process. Also, the Planing Deparmtment and planning director operate in a city in which private property interests have very strong influence over what goes on….and where NIMBYism was not exactly born in Los Angeles but certainly moved here at an early age."
Jane Blumenfeld, former Acting Deputy Director, L.A. City Planning
"If you revise the community plans, a lot of casework is eliminated.  We need to get rid of that so that the people who are there…can function efficiently and effectively without having everybody be forced to do casework. Know what is expected in a neighborhood, you won't need to review the color of paint and roofs.  There’s a lot of work involved, and it’s needless and stupid in a lot of ways.  They won’t have those project-by-project fights."  
Bill Boyarsky, former L.A. Times City Editor
"The biggest obstacle to moderate-priced housing are the land developers, property owners, Central City Association, and the building trade unions. They control planning in LA. I wrote many stories about neighborhoods where Moderate-priced apartment buildings were torn down for more expensive condos...the only thing that saved these people was the recession. When this recession ends, you’re going to have to go back. The mayor is going to have to take a chance."
Vaughn Davies, Director of Urban Design, AECOM
"The rulebook is there to protect and safeguard us from poor development. It doesn’t really promote great development.  Sets a minimum standard.  All the great places we travel to in the world are illegal to build in Los Angeles.  The more opportunities to create traffic and chaos in this city.  Sidewalks and the public realm. Make the pedestrian the priority. We need to move swiftly and we need to be as nimble as possible.  We can’t wait for Planning to unveil some big vision for the city."
Bill Fulton, Mayor of Ventura; CP&DR Publisher
"Duking it our at the community level is better than duking it out at the project level. But given the history of LA, nobody believes that. They all think they can duke it out at the project level and get a better deal." 
Emily Gabel-Luddy, Past Director, L.A. City Planning Urban Design Studio
"NIMBYs play an essential role in the public discussion because they raise things that would otherwise not be raised. People have insights into the local area that none of the planners have because they do not live there." 
Christopher Hawthorne, L.A. Times Architecture Critic
"There’s no city even close to its size that faces so many fundamental questions about what it’s going to be in the coming decades."
"It's a question of whether development is going to guide planning or whether planning is going to guide development.  There are a lot of vested interests who really like things the way they are and that they like piece-by-piece planning and duking it out. I think if we can agree that’s as an ideal to have planning guide development, then the tricky question is politically how do we get there?"
John Kaliski, Principal, Urban Studio-L.A.; Past President, AIA/LA
"The divide seems to be between those who believe these conversations are useful and those who believe they’re useless.  Neighborhood council process that’s advisory.  That’s a huge cultural shift in the city that hasn’t been recognized yet for all that it could be."
Renata Simril, Sr. Vice President, Forest City
"As we continue to move forward, I think the future is going to be bright as it relates to TOD. Coupled w/ the 30/10 plan and the effort to focus on key TOD projects throughout the city.  
"(There's a) battle between density and preserving the single-family house. If we can agree where density occurs, it’s not an either/or.  Focusing on TOD gives you not an 'or' but an 'and.'"  
Martha Welborne, Executive Director of Countywide Planning, Los Angeles Metro
"We've known for some time that we really cannot build our way out of the transportation problem.  If you want to solve mobility issues, a link of land use and transit planning is critical. The MTA controls no land use planning; we just do the transit side. An increased  dialog among the 88 cities in the county and the MTA, is critical if we want to build our way out of the problem."
Elva Yanez, Coordinator, L.A. Collaborative for Environmental Health Policy and Justice
"It's not just the responsibility of the city to create those mechanisms. There is no intermediary in the city of LA that's funded by foundation funds to educate people about planning and do advocacy in an appropriate and constructive manner. We don’t need developer front groups muddying the water."
So that's some of what the panel said. Perhaps the more salient question, though, is who heard it? 
The “Louis XVI Room” (not kidding) at Southwestern Law School was filled to capacity with acolytes, employees, and even peers of the folks on the panel. It was like old home week for the cognoscenti. But there is a difference between knowing about planning and having an interest in planning. 
And who wasn't there? The other four million residents of Los Angeles. 
I don't say that to be flippant, but I do mean that for this discussion to matter, it must, by necessity, reach the people who have not yet heard it. Millions of people in Los Angeles don't know what planning is, much less what "do real planning" means. Many haven't considered the pleasures (or not) of density and walkability, or if they have, they don't believe that L.A. could ever be a dense, walkable city. Many would not feel comfortable attending an event (even one free of charge) under crystal chandeliers in a restored Art Deco palace.  
As the discussion went on, I kept thinking about all the cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians passing outside (and about the straphangers passing beneath) the Southwestern Law’s Bullocks Wilshire Building in the twilight.  And I wondered if any of them had any idea that, in some small way, the future of their city was being discussed – or if they even knew that the future of the city was up for discussion at all. 
If it’s true that the recession will, as Renta Simril said, give LoGrande and other L.A. planners some unintended leisure time, then more meetings like this have to take place, both with official department sanction and though the efforts of APA, AIA, ULI, and the like. And they should take place throughout the city in front of mixed audiences, so that residents of different communities can mix and undo some of the atomization that clearly fascinates and troubles Christopher Hawthorne and others. 
Los Angeles embodies Jeffersonian democracy at its most absurd, with detached, diverse residents believing that they can control their own fiefdoms – however small – or resigning themselves to having no power whatsoever. And yet, from the city’s architecture to its physical environment, Los Angeles strives for greatness even while acknowledging its own shortcomings. Last night’s event proved, as ever, that nowhere else do ambition and ambivalence coexist with such intensity. 
-- Josh Stephens

Friday, August 6, 2010



by Michael Woo, Hon. AIA|LA 

Jane Blumenfeld

The Mayor and the Council have supported the concept of revising the community plans and the concept of re-organizing the City Planning Department along geographic lines.  But what has been the impact of budget cuts on these two goals?  What difference will it make if the community plan revision program and the geographic re-organization of the department do not proceed?

In some circles there is a tendency to think that the main purpose of a City Planning Department is to process permit applications as quickly as possible.  But you spent many years specializing in developing policy.  At a time when budgets are tight and there’s a lot of pressure to speed up the approval of projects, how can you justify having a significant number of staff working on planning policy instead of processing permits for specific projects?

The city’s inability to provide housing at a variety of income levels, close to major employment centers, is one of the factors which have led to the growth of areas such as the Inland Empire, Palmdale, and Lancaster as bedroom suburbs for long-distance commuters.  What more could the City be doing to foster housing at a variety of income levels?

If you had a key to the top drawer in the Planning Director’s desk and could write him a short private message, what would you write in the message?

Bill Boyarsky

About 18 years ago, after Ken Topping vacated the Planning Director job but before Con Howe was appointed, you wrote a column in the L.A. Times in which you argued that L.A. needed “a Daryl Gates of planning.”  In other words, you were saying that a planning director without a constituency is defenseless against politicians who either don’t support planning or don’t even understand what planning is.  Even though Gates is no longer considered a model police chief, does your earlier prescription still apply as a strategy for a planning director struggling to get support for his or her policies – if not a Daryl Gates of planning, then a Bill Bratton of planning?

Is the planning process in L.A. “too political” – or not political enough?

Vaughan Davies

AECOM’s designers and student interns succeeded in getting public attention for the Park 101 project.  What are the lessons to be learned from the Park 101 project about how to generate projects in L.A. which can make a difference?

If you had a key to the top drawer in the Planning Director’s desk and could write him a short private message, what would you write in the message?

Bill Fulton

As a Mayor and Councilmember and as a planning consultant, you know the world of local government and the world of urban planning.  Is the Planning Director’s position, especially in a big city, still a viable job?  Is it inevitable that a “strong” planning director gets into political hot water with a Mayor or a City Council? 

Is it unrealistic for a Planning Director to expect to survive in the job for more than five years?

Emily Gabel-Luddy

Some observers have said that the entitlement process in L.A. represents the worst of all possible world – it takes a really long time for a project to be entitled, and then after getting through the process, the project isn’t any better than if the process had been shorter.  What is your response to this observation?

There is relentless pressure in the local planning process to address short-term considerations, often at the expense of long-term goals.  And yet the long-term goals may comprise the core, the guts, of the rationale for the planning process itself.  Can you give us an example from within the L.A. City Planning Department of long-term goals taking precedence over short-term considerations?

The creation of the Urban Design Studio within the Planning Department marked a real commitment by Gail Goldberg to put resources into urban design.  Tell us what, in your opinion, was the Urban Design Studio’s biggest success – and what was the studio’s greatest failure? 

Christopher Hawthorne

Based upon what you have observed in other big cities in the U.S., does city planning in Los Angeles work better or worse than in other cities?  What makes L.A.’s planning better?  What makes L.A.’s planning worse?

In May of this year, you wrote an article in the Times about the role of civic architecture transforming the city of Medellin in Colombia, especially Medellin’s poor neighborhoods.  At an early point in the article you point out that Medellin’s population is 3.5 million – slightly smaller than, but comparable to the City of Los Angeles – which naturally makes an L.A. reader question why such things can’t happen in L.A.?  Is it essential to have a mayor who is a former math professor or a director of urban projects who is an architect?  Do the lessons of Barcelona and Curitiba also apply to L.A.?

John Kaliski

Architects seem to be divided between those who wish that the L.A. City Planning Department played a stronger role in encouraging better-quality design or more imaginative design and those who think that the routine City Planning processes are at best, meddlesome, and at worst, ineffective, in promoting good design.  Do you think that the City Planning Department should play more – or less – of a role in regulating design?

You work with local planning departments all over Southern California.  What do you see as the differences between the L.A. City Planning Department and the departments in other cities?

Renata Simril

You participated in the Urban Land Institute study panel on the economic impacts of Senate Bill 375 (generally concluding that better coordination of land use and transportation plans could be beneficial to the real estate industry). Because the City of L.A. and Metro have invested so much in transit infrastructure over the past 20 years, the City of L.A. potentially could do more than any other local government in Southern California to achieve the emission reduction goals of SB 375.  What could the City of L.A. do to achieve the goal of better coordinating its land use and transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How would you evaluate the City’s support of transit-oriented development?  And what could the City of L.A. do to promote better transit-oriented development?

You serve on the board of the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation.  Now that the L.A. River Master Plan has been adopted, what more can the City Planning Department do to promote the goal of river revitalization?

You’re very knowledgeable about real estate opportunities in the Cornfield/Arroyo Seco Specific Plan area.  How can the Planning Department help the area come to life?

Martha Welborne

Does efficient utilization of an urban transit system require increases in density?  If the answer is yes, how is this feasible in a city whose planning process emphasizes the protection of single-family home neighborhoods?

As the biggest city within Metro’s jurisdiction, with the densest concentration of bus and rail transit in the county, the City of L.A. is a very important partner to Metro.  But with its budget and staffing in decline, the City Planning Department’s ability to be a partner to Metro is sharply limited.  What are the most important ways in which the City Planning Department can support the goals of Metro?

What lessons did you learn from your involvement in the Grand Avenue project about what works in the L.A. planning process and what doesn’t work? 

Elva Yanez

You were involved in some local planning controversies involving the Elephant Hill  and the Northeast Hillside Zoning ordinance.  What did those controversies teach you about the role of community participation in the planning process?

In neighborhoods where the unemployment rate is high, the argument that environmental regulation harms economic and business growth may find more support than in more affluent areas.  (Or at least, that’s the theory.)  Based upon your past history as director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park and your experience at Trust for Public Land, how would you characterize the support for environmental regulation among residents of high-unemployment areas?

The last time there was a vacancy in the Planning Director position, Councilman Reyes held hearings to enable members of the public to put their expectations of the new Planning Director on the record.  I distinctly recall hearing someone from a low-income neighborhood say that his top priority was getting more supermarkets in his neighborhood.  What can a Planning Director or a Planning Department do to increase the number of supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods?

 (posted with the permission of Michael Woo, Hon. AIA|LA)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Future of the L.A. City Planning Department (And the Future of the City): Panel Discussion on August 4, 2010

AIA|LA members Bill Roschen, FAIA, John Kaliski, AIA and Martha Welborne, FAIA participated in a panel discussion entitled, "The Future of the L.A. City Planning Department (And the Future of the City)," which was moderated by Cal Poly Pomonas' Dean of Environmental Design, Michael Woo, Hon. AIA|LA.

My consensus was that everyone agreed now is the time to expand the dialogue and further energize our Department of City Planning by advocating that the Council and the Mayor's office provide them with the financial resources they will need to implement some of the excellent accomplishments initiated by former Director of Planning, Gail Goldberg.

For me, what resonated the most was John Kaliski and Martha Welborne's sentiments that we need to find a way to support the Planning Department's ability to visualize a plan for the future - and to actually "draw/paint/render" that future.  Not just write about it, but create compelling images that suggest how our commercial corridors and our TOD's can peacefully co-exist with the resplendent character of our single-family neighborhoods.  

As an audience member, what I walked away with was the understanding that AIA|LA's chief role could be to facilitate this dialogue further and provide visualization assistance and mentorship.  Maybe this is in the form of teaming architects and planners together into teams, structuring a  year-long competition to foster some innovative solutions on the power of design to create livable 'transitions' between high-density and low-density.

We know the other two conditions are going to happen with us, or with out us.  But those transitory experiences - walking from one built environment into another.  What will that be like?  Is it simply the Park Mile approach?  Or something more unique, maximizing the value of the land?

-Will Wright

The Future of the L.A. City Planning Department (And the Future of the City)
at the Southwestern School of Law

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

AIA|LA Launches Two New Programs to Help Improve the Built Environment

AIA|LA Launches Two New Programs to Help Improve the Built Environment

As an architect passionate about improving the built environment, now is your chance to get more involved in one of two pilot programs we are launching right now with LAUSD and with the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

AIA|LA is currently building a task-force of local architects and urban designers who will provide critical insight and feedback to public agencies through one of two pilot programs launching in August 2010. The goal of both of these programs is to give architects the opportunity to serve their community and help shape the dialogue around such issues as: urban design; contracting reform; the selection process; masterplanning initiatives; design competitions; project delivery methods; peer-review & design review sessions.

These two separate volunteer programs are in partnership with LAUSD and the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. Participants will be asked to attend a meeting and engage in discussions aimed to achieve higher standards in city planning, architecture and urban design.

If you are passionate about making Los Angeles a more delightful community then please contact Will Wright to find out how you can be involved.

For more info on the opportunity to get more involved with the LAUSD meetings, please CLICK HERE.

For more info on the opportunity to get more involved in the Los Angeles Department of City Planning volunteer program, please CLICK HERE.