Tuesday, May 24, 2005

will downtown ever be the "heart" of LA?

the developers behind the grand ave project hope so. the latimes reports today that plans for the $1.8 billion proposal were approved yesterday. the plan calls for 5 new skyscrapers downtown, a mix of retail, residential and office spaces and a 16-acre park between bunker hill and the civic center. four of the skyscrapers will be condominiums that will have a mix of market-rate and affordable housing. supposedly. the latimes neglects to report on what type or ratio of "affordable housing" will be available there. there are a few other worrisome issues with the project:

the developer is related cos - the same developer responsible for time warner center in new york - a "vertical retail environment" also known as a mall. the time warner center has been criticized for siphoning people off of the street, draining the vibrancy of street life: "Misguided and oppressive at every turn, filled with small outposts of retailers you see on every Main Street of every city, the Shops will only serve to confirm New Yorkers' views of malls as soulless, somnolent, and creepy." [via MUG.com] LA seems to be following in NY's footsteps here.

Eli Broad, who co-chairs the project, has likened Grand Ave's development to Paris' Champs Elysees. fortunately, the latimes does feature the voice of a few dissenters who argue the project doesn't create a unique public space. there is an entire body of work by urban theorists like Jane Jacobs and the resurgence of the "new urbanists" that rails against the type of development that turns inward into itself, rather than project outward towards the street. despite over 40 years of evidence that those types of projects do not serve the best interest of the city and its citizens, developers continue to ignore the warnings and create urban malls. playgrounds for the wealthy. the project doesn't acknowledge or address the small ethnic and commercial neighborhoods adjacent to the site - little tokyo, chinatown, the garment district, the jewelry district. its unclear what the impact of the project will be on these neighborhoods.

they have not yet chosen an architect for the project, but they are again considering the usual roster of "starchitects" with gehry as the most commonly cited name. interestingly, thom mayne has pulled out of the project.

already the developers are thinking about razing the mosk courthouse and the hall of administration, then renting their new office space to the city and county to replace those buildings. but as joel kotkin points out (is there an article on city development that doesn't quote him these days?) there is plenty of unused office space in downtown LA. moving govt workers from the court house into the related cos' new project is akin to a public subsidy of a private project.

the plans for the project can be found here in pdf form.


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