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.

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.

Full Story: High-rises dwarf options for downtown L.A.




My inclination is to ask "what's the big deal" as long as Fig's parking lots are eventually being converted into something more useful.

Planners have to jealously guard opportunities to build densely in LA, so my concern is allowing an inappropriately diffuse pattern of new development to spring up along the street.

Clearly, along the southern portions of the street, near USC, the existing neighborhoods are low-rise and older suburbs. Along these sections of the street, it makes a lot of sense to pursue a low-rise model of apartments/condos roughly in the 3-5 story range with ground-floor retail where feasible.

Ideally, we wouldn't just confine this type of development to major streets like Figueroa, where it has to contend with vehicular noise and requires architectural sensitivity that mitigates the noise impact.

Where's the Middle Ground

I think christopher Hawthorne's comments are well taken. Downtown Los Angeles does not lack for tall buildings which densely use their space--and that is as it should be. There are appropriate locations for more such buildings. But by themselves they don't add up to a strong place.

There are lots of destinations in Downtown Los Angeles--daytime destinations like office buildings, evening destinations like arts and entertaiment spaces. What's missing is the urban fabric between these buildings--small stores, restaurants, places that make walking interesting and delightful. Many Downtown LA buildings have no street-oriented activities on their ground floors. Contrast the empty plazas of so much of Downtown Los Angeles with the urbanity of streets in Downtown San Francisco or even parts of Downtown San Diego. The presence or absence of urban fabric is what distinguishes between a lively downtown and a high density edge city.

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