Where's the Middle Ground?

Downtown Los Angeles' Figueroa Corridor is getting two new high-rises, the "all" in the area's seemingly "all-or-nothing" approach to development, says Christopher Hawthorne.
April 16, 2009, 6am PDT | Judy Chang
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The Figueroa Corridor, which city planners have long envisioned as a key connector downtown -- linking the USC campus, on its southern end, with Dodger Stadium to the north -- is a key case study in how that split personality is developed and exacerbated. It is a natural place for high-rise development, given its existing skyscrapers and links to mass transit. It will soon be getting at least two new residential towers: the first phase of the Concerto, a 30-story high-rise designed by DeStefano + Partners, and a 54-story hotel and condo building at L.A. Live, by Gensler.

But certain pockets of it remain filled by the same surface parking lots that dot much of downtown. Particularly south of L.A. Live, the area suffers from an extreme version of the all-or-nothing development approach that city leaders and most developers have long favored. There is almost no middle ground to be found between high-rise towers that take up full blocks at street level and empty swaths of land reserved for cars.

This approach prevents the emergence of the smaller-scale projects that can bring fresh vitality to a block -- and that may move forward even in a downturn, since they require drastically less financing. Such modest projects are also more likely to go to younger and more innovative architects.

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Published on Saturday, April 11, 2009 in Los Angeles Times
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