New Urbanism and Transit Oriented Development in Los Angeles
NEW URBANISM AND TRANSIT
ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT IN
Del Mar Station
The Del Mar Station is a 3.4 acre site in the city of Pasadena, California. For more than a
century the area around the site belonged to the Santa Fe railroad, whose passenger and freight
train stations sat on the property. The passenger station saw use until 1994 when Amtrak’s
Southwest Chief was rerouted via Santa Fe’s other mainline through Fullerton and the line
through Pasadena became the property of Metro, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan
Transportation Authority with a plan to put in a light rail line from Los Angeles to Pasadena with
the line opening in 2003.
The overall building site sits along Del Mar Boulevard between Raymond and Arroyo
Parkway. Arroyo Parkway becomes the Pasadena Freeway about a mile south of the complex. To
the south of Del Mar Boulevard and west of the Gold Line is Pasadena’s industrial district which
includes the sight were a majority of the Rose Parade floats spend a year being built. Arroyo
Parkway is largely made up of highway oriented suburban sprawl type stores and services such
as filling stations.
The Del Mar Station was envisioned by the city of Pasadena to be a showcase example of
Transit Oriented Development. To build the complex a team was put together which included
Urban Partners, Archstone, a major owner of apartment buildings, and Moule-Polyzoides
Architects. The design included 4 separate areas that were designed to look like they were 4
separate buildings but still interconnected. The density of the complex was 100 units per acre
which made this one of the densest areas in this quarter of Los Angeles County.
One of the most interesting aspects of the complex was the inclusion of the former Santa Fe
train station. While the intent was to keep the Spanish Mediterranean style depot, it had to be
moved for a year while a new underground parking garage was installed, so the station was cut
into thirds, moved across the street to Central Park where it sat while the parking garage was
installed, then moved back to its original location but now on top of a parking garage. The
building itself is now being used as a restaurant.
The total complex includes apartments that range from studios to two bedrooms with price
ranges between $1200 and $3000. For many cities that may seem like an extravagant price, it is
actually very reasonable for this section of Southern California. The complex also includes
20,000 square feet of retail most of which is along the western end of the building beside
Raymond Avenue north of the train station building. All of the stores are higher end specialty
retailers including furniture and interior décor and clothing.
One of most important aspects of a good Transit Oriented Development is how walkable it is
and if the complex allows people to reduce the number of car trips made. The complex sits to the
south of Old Pasadena, which is the city’s original shopping district, which was gentrified by the
city in the 1980’s in order to boost sales tax revenues after Proposition 13 was passed in the state
that limited the amount of property tax increases that could be imposed. While the area includes
a large number of stores most of them are oriented toward higher end retail, much like the retail
at the Del Mar Station, which means that they are not stores that people would shop at on a
regular basis. However, there is also a wide variety of restaurants in the area with a range of
prices so this can be done without an automobile.
The next important question is grocery stores, which is one of the most common non-
commute auto trips made and this is where the complex does not do a good job. Looking at the
Walk Score you would get the impression that there are plenty of grocery stores in walking
distance of the complex however, when you take a closer look at those stores you will discover
that Walk Score classifies tourist oriented stores that sell some specialty grocery items, such as
local jams, a grocery store.
After breaking down what truly could be defined as a grocery store you discover that there
are only two stores in close proximity to the complex, and that is a Trader Joe’s and a Ralph’s
grocery store. The Trader Joe’s is the chain’s original location along Arroyo Parkway but is
almost a half mile away from the complex and Arroyo Parkway is a six lane highway that, while
having sidewalks, is not a pedestrian friendly environment. In fact when I walked the area in
December, 2013 there was not a single pedestrian seen for the time I was in the area, which was
more than one hour. The Ralph’s store is about the same distance away but located west along
Colorado Blvd and getting to it requires crossing the stub of a freeway. Neither option is very
pleasant for the person trying to avoid using an automobile.
One of the questions that seems to come up with most Transit Oriented Developments is
whether the complex was part of the gentrification process of the area. When it comes to Del
Mar Station that is a complicated question. The site itself was the property of the Santa Fe
Railroad for more than a hundred years and was never used for anything other than rail service.
However, as noted above the city did gentrify the Old Pasadena area and, like many
governments needing additional sources of revenue, is looking to bring in more money to the city
and the city is now starting to see some of those changes. Three new higher density
developments have been built across the street and within a block of Del Mar station along
Cordova to the east in the last three years.
Another question that often arises with Transit Oriented Developments is the affordability
question and here the complex does not do well. While the rents in the complex could be
considered comparable for the city of Pasadena and the surrounding area, there is no affordable
housing included in the complex and the rents are out of reach of anyone who is low income.
Problems with the complex:
As already mentioned, this complex does not do well in the area of affordability and can be
considered poor for reducing auto trips. The other major problem with the complex is that like all
three of these case studies, it does nothing to put “eyes on the street” to make the streets seem
safer as Jane Jacobs would say. While many of the apartments do have windows that face the
streets, because Arroyo Parkway tends to be a highway more than a city street and Del Mar
Boulevard also is a major auto and truck route, most of the apartment’s main features are facing
inward on itself. There are no balconies on any of the apartments, even those that face the public
space next to the Gold Line stop and old train station.
There is a lot to like about the Del Mar Station, it is located directly on a light rail line, it is a
modern complex with nice apartments, has a historic element in the former train station that
gives it a sense of place, and has a public plaza next to the former train station. However, the
complex does not benefit the surrounding neighborhood; it does not put eyes on the streets, does
not have an affordability element, and does not have the amenities that could substantially reduce
the number of auto trips. With that being said, if I was moving back to Pasadena while I
currently need a three bedroom apartment if I could rent a two bedroom I would definitely look
at the Del Mar Station for what features it does have.
Del Mar Station Transit Village. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, from http://www.cnu.org/resources/projects/del-
Lund, H., & Willson, R. (n.d.). The Pasadena Gold Line: Development Strategies, Location Decisions, and Travel
Characteristics along a New Rail Line in the Los Angeles Region. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
http://www.equinoxcenter.org/assets/files/Caltrans Pasadena Gold Line Study.pdf
Moule & Polyzoides. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects/del-mar-
Picture 1: Light Rail train goes through TOD complex at Del Mar Station, photo by Bettercities
Picture 2: Light Rail Station and former Santa Fe train station, photo by Cooltownstudios.
Picture 3 Overhead view of Del Mar Station by MacUrban
Picture 4: View from Arroyo Parkway and Del Mar by MPArchitects
Picture 5: Former Santa Fe Stations with apartments in the background by BuildABetterBurb
Picture 6: Swimming Pool at Avalon Apartments
Mission Meridian Village
Meridian Village sits across the street from the spot where the city of South Pasadena was
founded in the late 1800’s and next to the Santa Fe train station that bisected the area. Over the
years the main business district moved to the area of Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Streets
while the Mission Street near Meridian continued to be home to an eclectic blend of retail
businesses serving nearby residences. Unlike the Pasadena train station, the South Pasadena
station was abandoned when Amtrak took over all rail passenger service in 1971 and was
subsequently torn down. The city saw rail service again with the opening of the Gold Line light
rail service from Los Angeles to Pasadena.
The city of South Pasadena was incorporated in 1888 and its borders have largely remained
the same since then with 3.4 square miles and hemmed in by the cities of Los Angeles, Alhambra,
San Marino, and Pasadena. South Pasadena shares more in common with its neighbor to the east,
San Marino, than any of the other cities in that its demographics show it having much higher
income than average in Southern California and substantially higher home prices.
Residents of the city fought the Gold Line fearing that it would bring more traffic and more
density to the largely single family community. The city has become well known in its fights
against change, particularly the proposal to send Interstate 710 through the city.
To ease residents’ fears about the development, Creative Housing Associates held 23 public
meetings about the complex to get resident’s opinions on what they were creating. As required
by city code the complex did blend the architecture of the complex with the surrounding
neighborhood of single family residences, taking design clues from the Green and Green
Architecture homes that were built in the early 1900’s.
The Meridian Mission Village includes 67 Condominiums and Townhouses and 3 single
family residences at the corner of Meridian Avenue and Mission Avenue. The complex also
includes 5000 square feet of retail, 324 parking spaces which includes 124 spaces set aside for
transit riders. All the new buildings were designed to blend in with the existing character of the
neighborhood which is part of the city of South Pasadena’s codes.
Financing for the project was $2 million from the developer, $2.5 million from the transit
agency, $500,00 from the city of South Pasadena, $2.5 million from Caltrans (California
Department of Transportation), developer equity of $2.5 million, and a general construction loan
of $12 million. The development was built by Creative Housing Associates and the architect was
Moules and Polyzoides like the Del Mar Station in Pasadena.
The complex does have a retail component along the Mission Street side of the facility and all
of the retailers continue to be smaller, locally owned stores despite the rapidly increasing rents
that have occurred since the opening of the Gold Line.
According to the Congress of New Urbanism, one of the most important aspects of a good
Transit Oriented Development is that it is designed to reduce the number of automobile trips,
especially non-commuter, which represent 85% of all single vehicle occupancy trips. What
services are nearby that reduce the need for an automobile? In the case of Mission Meridian there
is a fitness center and restaurant on the site and, in fact, there are numerous restaurants within
walking distance of the complex. For those looking to do grocery shopping without a car the trip
is a bit longer as the nearest grocery store is an older and smaller Trader Joe’s which is about a
third of a mile to the west along Mission Street, and the nearest full line grocery store is the
suburban style Pavilion’s which is located a half mile to the Southeast.
Problems with the Development:
The question is what could have been done better with this development? One of the first
things you have to look at is the lack of density in the development. Compared to most TOD
projects the density is very low but on the other hand it is also keeping with the character of the
rest of the city and making the development any higher density would have triggered a firestorm
of protest from local residents who don’t want their neighborhood changed.
Unlike the other two case studies gentrification has not been a major worry for the area since
it was already a high priced community. However, some smaller stores and restaurants near the
complex have closed and been replaced due to the increase in rents that have occurred since the
opening of the Gold Line.
Affordability is another question that comes up with most Transit Oriented Developments and
this one is no exception. As mentioned above the city of South Pasadena is not an inexpensive
place to live and prices in this project have been averaging within 20% of the surrounding
neighborhoods with prices starting at an astronomical $859,000. Compare this to Pueso Del Sol
at the Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park station in the third case study where prices start at $185,000
which is actually about half the Los Angeles county average.
Finally, does the complex create eyes on the street as Jane Jacobs’s talks about? The answer
to that question is no. While the residences that border Mission Street do have windows
overlooking the street, the entrances and balconies are all focused toward the courtyards of the
complex, in other words they are inner directed. In addition, many of the retail shops located
along Mission are clothing and other stores that do not create a regular clientele, fewer chances
for those neighborhood characters.
While the Mission Median Village is not the ideal complex, considering the nature of the city
it is located in, it is somewhat amazing that the complex was actually approved. Because of the
tight architectural standards in the city only a small number of developments happen each year in
the city. The developer deserves credit for the outstanding public outreach it performed during
Mission Meridian Village shows suburban density done right. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from
Moule & Polyzoides. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2015, from http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects/mission-
TOD That Works. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from http://www.epa.gov/dced/pdf/phoenix-sgia-case-
Weaver, S., & Pahl, D. (2011, January 1). Mission Street Revitalization, South Pasadena, California. Retrieved
January 10, 2015, from https://lii-production.s3.amazonaws.com/cms-
Picture 7: Light Rail train passes Mission Meridian Village, photo by MPArchitects
Picture 8: Corner of Mission and Meridian by city of South Pasadena
Picture 9: Mission Meridian Site Plan by Moules-Polyzoides
Picture 10: Townhomes as part of the complex photo by South Pasadena Examiner
Picture 11: Along Meridian Avenue photo by Greater Washington DC
Picture 12: Parking Structure and Gold Line train, photo by MP Architects
Puerta Del Sol
Of all the stations located along the Gold Line when it opened in 2003, most experts would
have listed the Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park station as the least likely to see any type of
development. The area around the station has largely been industrial for many years; however
the area adjacent to the station had been abandoned for several years which meant there was
opportunity to develop the land without dislocating any businesses or residents.
The post-World War II era had not been kind to this part of the Los Angeles. To the west and
north of this land the area had been cut off from the rest of the city by first the Arroyo Seco
Parkway (now Pasadena Freeway) and then the Golden State Freeway to its immediate west,
which combine for a huge spaghetti bowl of ramps to the northwest of the complex.
In the last 20 years another problem came to the neighborhood in the form of gang activity.
The area to the north, across the Pasadena Freeway, is a hot spot of gang activity with all the
negative aspects that come along with it.
With the opening of the Gold Line in 2003, a new beginning was envisioned for the area, one
that would create a new residential community that would be the catalyst for positive change, not
only around the station but in the surrounding neighborhoods. A plan was put together as a
studio by the University of California Los Angeles planning department along with stakeholders
in the area to redefine what the area was and what changes should occur in the area and the many
constraints that limit the potential of the area.
The complex includes 165 mixed-use condominiums with 39 studios, 13 studio lofts, 15 live-
work, 50 two bedrooms, 4 two bedroom lofts, 28 three bedrooms, and 16 four bedrooms.
Financing for the complex was made up of a CitiBank Community Development Loan of
$35,400,000 along with $6,000,000 in equity by the reality group that built the complex. The
architect for the complex was Newman-Garrison Gilmore and Partners.
If there is one major problem with this complex it is walkability. The complex is currently an
island in a sea of industrial. The area could almost be considered a food desert as there are very
few locations to buy even a minimum amount of groceries in the vicinity, beyond a couple of
convenience stores that are located at Avenue 26th
and Figueroa, which is to the north past the
Pasadena Freeway and a few restaurants in the same neighborhood. The nearest full line grocery
store is located 1.6 miles away.
Is this complex the “Wild West” as Smith describes it in this article about Gentrification in
the Lower East Side? So far the answer to the question is no, although things could always
change. So far none of the surrounding properties have been developed granting that could vary
at any time. At the present time it would seem that developers are looking at other opportunities
in Highland Park, which is the station before South Pasadena on the Gold Line, as fears of
gentrification are heightened in that area right now. However, the question that has to be
answered is, can gentrification be a good thing? Both this area and the Highland Park area have
suffered from severe gang violence. Can gentrification be a benefit to the neighborhood by
getting rid of those problems or are we just moving those problems into someone else’s
The one area where this complex scores a major win is in the area of affordability. As
mentioned in the case study of Mission Meridian Village, prices in this area are very low, even
by Los Angeles standards. In addition 40% of the housing was set aside as affordable housing.
Problems with the complex:
This complex, like the other two case studies presented, would fail the Jane Jacob’s test of
putting eyes on the street. The complex is primarily designed to face inward, to its own courtyard,
and not putting those eyes on the street, which is so desperately needed in this neighborhood.
Also, none of the residences in the complex have balconies that look down on the street so there
is little reason for people to pay attention to what is happening out there.
Is this the best that can be done for the neighborhood? While the development does bring
new dollars into an area that has suffered for more than 60 years, you have to question whether
this complex could have been built to better urban planning standards. The complex has done
little to improve the immediate neighborhood although some revitalization is now being seen in
the Cypress Park area on the north side of the Pasadena Freeway.
Avenue 26: Reconnecting a Community. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from
Puerta Del Sol | AMCAL Housing. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
Picture 13: Gold Line train at Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park Station with Puerta Del Sol in background,
photo by free e-books
Picture 14: Condos and Apartments, photo by Ave 26
Picture 15: View along Avenue 26 by AMCAL Housing
Picture 16: Maine and Ave 26 photo by KFA Los Angeles
Picture 17: Inside courtyard of complex, photo by AMCAL Housing
18: Train leaving station toward Pasadena, can see industrial of the neighborhood in background, photo
Los Angeles, California (Playa Vista)
Playa Vista, California sits on the west side of Los Angeles just north of the Los Angeles
International Airport and to the south of Santa Monica. Immediately to the northwest does
Marina Del Rey which is most made up of condominiums and apartments and is one of the more
expensive places in Los Angeles own to the fact that is on the water at a major marina.
For many years the property was owned by the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes and was
home to industrial buildings and an airport. It was here that he built his plane the Spruce Goose
that now resides in a museum in McMinnville, Oregon. After his death in 1976 his heirs wanted
to develop the property but faced many road blocks along the way including environmentalist
who did not want any of the property developed and neighbors who wanted development but
only low density. The family was firm that it wanted to build something better than a typical
subdivision so after a few years brought on Stefano Polyzoides one would later be one of the
founding members of the Congress for New Urbanism to design the development.
For years the family and Polyzoides looked to get city approval and arrange financing to
create a true New Urbanist community but funding for non-traditional (compared to what was
being built for the last 30 years – suburban tract homes) was difficult and impossible to come by
and the city dragged its feet on approvals for the project.
In the mid-1990’s Dreamworks studios attempted to build a studio in the development but
were unable to secure the financing for the project.
After several years of frustration in trying to get the project approved a new developer was
brought on board in 2001 who did not keep Polyzoides as part of the project team. Construction
was finally started in 2002 but major portions of the complex did not open until 2010 almost 35
years after the death of Howard Hughes.
The final development of Playa Vista includes a mixture of office, retail, housing and open
space. What is interesting is that I could find not data on the amount of homes and apartments
that have been built already although the Playa Vista website does note that in their next and last
phase of the project there will be 2600 for sale and apartment homes, 200 independent and
assisted living residents, more office space, a new resident club, plus additional parks and open
space. Construction on the Runway a mixed use commercial center with 200,000 square feet of
retail, office and residences started last year and should be opening soon.
The Polyzoides Critique:
In 2012, Stafanos Polyzoides was interviewed about what the Playa Vista development and
what he thought of what was finally built there. His first statement concerned the city of Los
Angeles City Council and the planners who he blamed for many of the problems that he faced
when first trying to create a working plan for the community. He said the both the planners and
the council seemed to be stuck in the 1950’s and couldn’t comprehend what he was trying to
design with Playa Vista.
Second, he thought that the final product was flabby and characterless and did not come close
to the standards that they were originally looking to. He points out that many of the buildings do
not have much character and appear just general plans. He thought that the final product would
have been much better had they been able to get approval for the building types that they were
trying to design.
He was also critical of office complexes that were built despite that they are home to the
Los Angeles branches of such notable companies as Microsoft, Facebook, You Tube, Google,
and others, they are largely standard suburban office buildings with auto centric features and not
design to welcome pedestrians.
The Open Space Debate:
In Jon Christensen’s article called “Contingent Ecological Urbanism” he discusses a
proposed new urbanist development by Peter Calthrope in Redwood City, California that would
built on a former salt works site on the San Francisco Bay. Christensen argues that even though
the development would be replacing what was an industrial site for more than a hundred years
and half of it would be restored from its industrial past. Much the same argument was used by
the opponents of the Playa Vista plan who wanted the entire site turned back into its original
It is a difficult question to answer, many of us see the need to protect the environment and
here you have a case were the environment was irritably harmed many years before most people
understood the problems that filling in these marshes had on the environment. Today as the Los
Angeles area continues to grow and there is a serious shortage of affordable housing (caused by a
host of issues including the effects of Proposition 13 that one housing project will not solve). In
the end almost 60% of the property became open space. How do you balance the needs to house
citizens and the needs of the environment?
Walkability is a mixed bag with Playa Vista. There are nice mixed use areas but the major
office buildings were designed to be auto centric. In addition transit service is minimal at best
and the streets boarding the devilment are all high speed busy thoroughfares that are not for the
faint of heart.
In the 2000 census the racial make-up of Playa Vista was 34% Latino, 32 % White, 21%
Asian and the rest made up of a large number of races. However the incomes in the area at that
time were $68,000 which was higher than many other areas of town. Therefore it is hard to
imagine that this development has caused much gentrification in the immediate vicinity.
There is several public spaces spread throughout the complex. I could not find any
information on any of the public spaces beyond the fact that they exist. There is a large section of
the property set aside as wetlands but is open to public but the most interesting information about
the public spaces is that there is a pet in Ballona Creek but pets are not allowed in the pet
Playa Vista appears to be the preverbal political comprise that does something’s ok but in an
attempt to please as many groups of people, fails to do anything really well. The architecture of
the buildings is underwhelming at best. While some buildings do have some local Spanish
influenced architectural character, many of the other buildings look like a host of new urbanist
buildings that have built both here in Portland and in Daybreak, Utah.
Further there is little housing that is affordable in the complex. According to reports 15% of
the apartments are set aside as affordable although it does not specify what the cost for those
apartments are in an area where apartment rents range anywhere from $3000 to $6000 a month.
In addition 10% of the for sale housing is supposed to be considered affordable although there is
not mention of how that set aside works, how you qualify for it and if it is required that those
affordability standards transfer when you sell the complex. The least expensive housing in Playa
Vista is a small micro condo that is currently for sale at $800,000 with all other properties being
well over a million dollars. There is also 131 units set aside for groups such as teachers, fire
fighters, police officers and other public servants to purchase at low cost but once again there is
little information on what those costs are.
Ballona Wetlands. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/ballona-wetlands
Home - Playa Vista. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://playavista.com/
Playa Vista. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/playa-vista
Playa Vista Today. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.playavistatoday.com/
Photograph 1: Site Plan of Playa Vista from MDRC Condos
Photograph 2: Mixed Use in Playa Vista by Activerain
Photograph 3: Photo of open space, condominiums and apartments by the MLS
Photograph 4: Retail development that recently opened, photo by Curb LA
Photograph 5: Office Buildings in Playa Vista by JayRicky
Photograph 6: Open space by Wikipedia
Hollywood and Highland
Los Angeles, California (Hollywood)
Despite its prime location in the heart of Hollywood, just a few hundred feet from the
world’s famous Chinese Theater and along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for many years the
intersection of Hollywood and Highland languished being the site of tourist shops and lots of
parking for all the tourist that hit Hollywood Blvd. Despite all the presence of tourists
Hollywood overall from the 1960’s through the 1990’s had a reputation of being seedy and for
those down on their luck. While some of the major movie studios were still located in town
(including Paramount Pictures and Jim Hensen Productions), Hollywood seemed to have lost its
entire glamor from its glory days.
With the opening of the Red Line subway with a stop at Hollywood/Highland, the city of Los
Angeles saw an opportunity to revive its cultural icon and bring new life to the community. The
city of Los Angeles proposed a new Transit Oriented Development at the intersection in order to
revive the area.
The development was originally built by the Trizec Properties which is a Toronto based
company that took over the development arm of Earnest Hahn Corporation that developed many
malls throughout the nation. Trizec leased the 1.35 acres of land from Metro the transit agency
that runs the red line that has a station beneath the complex for 55 years at an annual cost of
$492,000 a year. In addition to its own funding sources the city of Los Angeles contributed $90
million from the Community Redevelopment Agency to help fund construction of the complex.
The development was sold in 2004 for just over $200 million meaning that the original
developer took a major bath from the loss on the complex. The new owner of the complex is the
CIM group which bills itself as a “premium” real estate fund manager with projects across the
nation but is ironically located across the street from the complex in the TV Guide building. The
first change the new owners made was to kick out most of the existing tenants of the complex
and bring in high end chain retailers.
The Development Today:
Today the development includes the Dolby Theater (Formally Kodak Theater) that is best
known as the new home of the Academy Awards Ceremony, a hotel and resort, 74 retailers, and
25 full service and casual restaurants including a Hard Rock Café along with a bowling alley and
two night clubs. The office space that is part of the complex is most notably home to the regional
headquarters of Wolfgang Puck.
While the building is considered a Transit Oriented Development, it would be better
characterized as a Transit Adjacent Development. The development while located on the
METRO Red Line caters to the automobile with a four lane entrance to its parking lot and the
hotel in the back of the building. However, unlike some developments that turn their backs to the
streets this complex does open up to Hollywood Blvd owing to the fact that many potential
customers are tourist walking along Hollywood Blvd looking at the imprints of stars along the
sidewalk and walking to the Chinese Theater which is also owned now by the CIM Group.
However, when you look toward what Jane Jacobs talked about when it comes to eyes on the
street would this complex fit the build? The answer to that question is a resounding no. First of
all the complex does not include any residential units unless you count the hotel in the back of
the complex and being the fact that none of the hotel rooms actually face the street you have
another strike against the complex. Further probably more than 90% of the people walking the
streets on any given day are tourists and not the casual acquaintances of Jacob’s world in
The goal of this project was to create gentrification in the area. The city wanted to bring more
new businesses to the area that will increase the sales tax dollars in addition to new development
that they can charge higher property taxes to that would not be covered under the Proposition 13
property tax imitative that limited tax increases to 1% a year. The problem with gentrification
especially in this area of Hollywood is that it was home to some of the more affordable housing
in the Southern California region.
While the Metro station to the east Hollywood/Vine has seen gentrification so far there has
not been much in the way of additional development at Hollywood/Highland. Across the street
from the development you still have a line of the tacky tourist shops that have been there for
years, right next to the classic and restored El Capitan Theater.
The Hollywood/Highland Complex does have a public space including a splash fountain that
seem to be all the rage especially in retail centers that are trying to new urbanist in design. But
the question once again has to be how public is the public space? Like so many other so-called
public spaces because it is on private property there is a limit on who can be there and when.
Fortunately there are other public spaces available nearby so not all is lost.
While the complex has been getting accolades for some, it has also had its share of criticism
from others. A few years ago LA Curb which is a major online news source in the Los Angeles
region had a poll about the ugliest building in Los Angeles and the Hollywood and Highland
complex ended up with the honor. Looking at some of the architectural features of the building
give the impression that the building would be more at home on Las Vegas Blvd as opposed to
There has also been criticism that the complex has been given a 20 year exemption for the
city billboard ordinance that allows them to have their huge multistory images plastered on its
building including the corner of Hollywood and Highland.
The biggest criticism the that the city gave the developers $90 million in Community
Redevelopment Funds that critics say should have been used to develop housing especially low
income housing that is vitally needed in the extreme Los Angeles marketplace. This was also
cited as one of the reasons why Governor Brown and the state legislature did away with
Redevelopment Agencies a few years ago.
Hollywood & Highland. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/hollywood-and-highland
Home - Hollywood & Highland. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://hollywoodandhighland.com/
Picture 19: Image of the property with the TLC Chinese Theater to the bottom left and the corner of
Highland and Hollywood to the center right.
Picture 20: Hollywood Blvd side of the Hollywood and Highland Complex photo by Trip Advisor
Picture 21: Looking from the complex across Hollywood Blvd, photo by Otigan13
Picture 22: Picture looking toward the corner of Hollywood and Highland including the billboards that
are exempt from the city sign ordinance. Photo by movieplaces.tv
Picture 23: The splash pool in the center of the complex along with some of the tacky architecture.
Photo by valleynet.com
Picture 24: Parking lot entrance and the hotel, photo by Parkwhiz
Los Angeles, California (Chinatown)
For the early part of the 20th
century, the Chinese community of Los Angeles was located east
of Alameda Street. But in the 1930’s when the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific
railroads decided to build a new union station (to be talked about later), the Chinese community
was forced to relocate to an area boarded by Hill Street on the west, Alameda/Spring Streets to
east, Ord Street to the south and Bernard Street to the north.
Today there is still a large traditional Chinese community in the area and is considered a
more authentic Chinatown that even San Francisco has today. However, today that community is
in danger as new development is now happing in the area which has seen a Wal-Mart
Neighborhood Market and a Starbucks located in the area that has always been largely Chinese
Blossom Plaza is a new development that is now taking shape on the eastern end of
Chinatown taking advantage of the Gold Line light rail station located at Spring Street and
College. The site where Blossom Plaza is being built has sat unused for nearly 15 years last
being home to an Italian Restaurant called Little Joe’s.
Blossom Plaza Development:
The $100 million Blossom Plaza will replace the long abandoned restaurant and parking lot
with a new multi-story mixed-use development. Blossom Plaza was first proposed less than a
year after the Gold Line Opened in 2003 from Pasadena to Los Angeles it’s next to last stop at
the edge of Chinatown. However that developer ran into a host of problems getting financing for
the project then went bankrupt after the financial meltdown in 2009.
The city of Los Angeles then bought the property at a bankruptcy auction and proceeded to
get requests for proposals for various developers. Forest City Developers who developed
Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards ended up with the winning proposal and became the new developer of
the site in 2011. It was announced that construction would begin in August, 2013 but after an
election the area had new representation on the city council who requested that the development
be stopped until he had more time to look into the project.
Finally after almost 10 years of delays Blossom Plaza broke ground in October, 2013 but was
quickly stopped when it was discovered that a piece of Los Angeles history was sitting beneath
the site. An aqueduct that was first used by the Spanish in the 1600’s then enclosed in the mid-
1850’s was found buried beneath the site. The developer with historic preservations looking on
removed the section form the ground which was then turned over to a museum to be put on
The final approved project for the site includes 237 residential units with 53 of them being
affordable housing units which are being paid for through a grant, 18,500 of “neighborhood
serving” retail, and 392 parking spaces some of which will be set aside for transit users.
One of the themes around many of these developments that I have been talking about is the
problem of gentrification. While Chinatown in Los Angeles has seemed immune to the
gentrification over the years in the last couple of years it is started to become a major issue.
By the late 2000’s a growing number of young people were moving into the area including
artists that are often the first sign of gentrification.
A former city council member in the area and a member of the Chinese community himself
said that the did not think that gentrification would be a major issue here because it is already
happening and that major elements of the Chinese community have been moving to the San
Gabriel Valley over the last 10 years anyway.
The question also has be asked who exactly will rent those “neighborhood serving” retail
spots. Chances are they will not be locally owned businesses since of them can afford the amount
of rent that must be charged to make a project such as this make economic sense. The exact
definition of what they mean by neighborhood serving has not be answered either
While it is difficult to ascertain what the walkability of a project will be like before it is open,
we can take some educated guesses by looking toward how the building is designed and the type
of retailers that the developer is looking to put into the building.
In the case of Blossom Plaza we do see a positive sign that balconies which are considered
vital to creating a walking environment are included in the concept drawings. Further the
developer has stated that the retail businesses will be neighborhood serving but would not go into
further detail on what they would consider those to be. There is will so be a pedestrian
promenade that runs from the light rail station to Broadway the major north south street in the
area and the heart of Chinatown.
The developers of the complex have incorporated Asian themes into their building to better
blend into Chinatown. However, when taking a closer look at the of the details of the building
designs questions arise about how much this development is really different from any other
mixed-used development elsewhere in Los Angeles. In some of the pictures it shows the
pedestrian promenade decorated with Chinese style lights but when you take down those
decorations there appears to be no difference between this complex and any of the others we
have look at.
Once again we have a new development that is promising to provide set amount of public
space as part of its design but how public will it be? One interesting feature of the design of the
public space is that there is a direct connect from the Gold Line station which is elevated at this
point to the new development through the public space so the developer or the operator of the
property has to consider that people will be walking through the area to get to and from the Gold
However, the actual space is located above a one floor section of the building that is closest
to the station which means that people walking at street level will not be able to find the space
easily unless there is appropriate way finding and the developer may not want the average person
on the street to find the spot that easily.
It has taken more than ten years to get this project from the drawing board to the dirt moving
stage. The building will provide badly needed affordable housing but could also accelerate the
slow death of another Chinatown. As James Kunstler says change is to be expected and we
should look forward to the new opportunities that are created by change and that gentrification is
a good thing. (Kunstler). We have seen areas revived but we have also lost unique
neighborhoods and many people have been displaced some of whom had little control over the
changes that took place. In a few years Chinatown in Los Angeles may become another causality
of how our cities are changing. Maybe instead of going to near downtown Los Angeles to
experience Chinatown in may require a trip to the San Gabriel Valley just like you have to go to
here in Portland to visit the new “Chinatown”.
Blossom Plaza. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/places/blossom-plaza
Chinatown Los Angeles. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.chinatownla.com/news.php?newsId=14
Vincent, R. (2013, October 13). $100-million complex to replace former Chinatown fixture. Retrieved March 17,
2015, from http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/13/business/la-fi-commre-chinatown-20131013
Picture 25: Image of Blossom Plaza from Urban Strategist
Picture 26: Blossom Plaza along Broadway by Z.A.R.
Picture 27: Public Space with Gold Line station at bottom right by watrydesign
Picture 28: College Street side of complex by LADowntownNews
Picture 29: Groundbreaking, photo by Gloria Molina’s Political Organization (City Council)
Picture 30: The long empty restaurant by LADowntownNews
Vermont (also called Lotus)
Los Angeles, California (Koreatown)
The corner of Vermont and Wilshire are a busy crossroads in Southern California which
includes a Red Line/Purple Line subway station and two of the busiest bus routes corridors in the
nation. For years this section of Wilshire Blvd was known for its upscale housing and for its
departments stores including Bullock’s Wilshire which sat at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont
were the Vermont now stands.
By the 1950’s this section of the city fell out of favor because it was considered too far away
from any of the freeways so the people moved out. In their place a large community of Koreans
moved into the area making it their own and eventually the neighborhood became Koreatown.
Bullocks eventually became part of Macy’s which decided it no longer needed the store in a
declining part of town. Then in 1992 the Los Angeles Riots occurred and one of the rioters
targets were the many Korean owned businesses located in Koreatown. Scars of the riots still
exist in several spots in the community and it is only now that they are starting to heal.
The property has a Portland connection as its owner through much of the 2000’s was Portland
developer Gerding Edlen. Another developer proposed buying the property from Gerding Edlen
and putting a high rise mall at the site with possible housing but that was proposed in 2008 which
meant the proposal did not survive the financial meltdown of that year.
While that project did fall through, Los Angeles developer Jerry Snyder did eventually buy
the property but the mall idea was never revived. In 2011 Jerry Snyder proposed to build two
towers, start construction that year and have them finished by 2011 but those plans were a little
too ambitious for the times and the ground breaking was moved back. In May, 2012 it was
announced that the project had received a HUD loan for $12.5 million dollars that will allow the
retail component of the project to be built along with the parking lots. Snyder also hoped to get a
Community Redevelopment Grant but that was put on the back burner when Governor Brown
did away with redevelopment agencies. However, the State Supreme Court reallocated the CRA
money and the project ended up getting $5 Million of that money.
Ground breaking for the new development finally took place on May 21st
, 2012 which was
quicker than many other project that have been held up for years because of oppositional
lawsuits. The project included two towers one of 22 stories and one of 28 stories. There would be
464 apartments with a percentage of them affordable, 40,000 square feet of retail space fronting
busy Wilshire Blvd and Vermont Streets, and 12,000 square feet of open space.
The project opened in August, 2014 with rents in the market rate apartments starting at $2365
going up to $3165 and two bedroom apartments starting at $3435 and going up to $4460. They
also have what is referred to as Flex apartments that could serve as an extremely small two
bedroom with now walls or an office which go from $2755 to $3640. While they may seem
outrageous to those not used to Los Angeles prices, they are actually reasonable especially for
new construction. Within the first month of the project being opened both the retail space and the
apartments were at about 29% occupancy.
Shortly after the buildings opened Snyder sold the property to Capri Capital out of Chicago for
$283 million which is almost $83 million more than it cost to build.
Critics immediately pounced on the buildings for their huge parking structures that take up 3
floors of the complex just above the retail section. To make matters worse the residential portion
of the towers are set back from the parking structure portion making them stand out even more.
A giant Lotus art project was put up between the two towers along the parking garage to make it
a little more tolerable but because it actually sits set back from the street level its use is
somewhat limited. It has also been noted that the Vermont sits directly across the street from the
Red Line/Purple Line subway entrance that has its own development on top of it that is
comprised of all low income housing with no parking and say that the Vermont should have
limited to no parking also. However, the developer and designers have commented that they
wanted to reduce the amount of the parking at the site but the parking requirements by the city of
Los Angeles are just too high and planners and the city council are not willing to budge from
them despite its location.
Do we have a Transit Oriented Development here or is it another case of a Transit Adjacent
Development (TAD)? Once again it appears that we have another TAD development instead of
TOD although as mentioned about this may be the fault of planners and the city council and not
the developers. While the buildings do have ground floor retail, are located on two busy transit
corridors, and across the street from the Red Line/Purple Line subway entrance, the buildings are
designed do not encourage its residents to be part of the street life or to walk in the community.
However, the towers are largely high density suburbs in the sky much like the Urban
Renewal towers built here in Portland and elsewhere during the period from the 1950’s to 1970’s.
They do not create the eyes on the street like Jacob’s talks about since there are actually no
residences on the first several floors and instead you have parking garages that create their own
While gentrification is often thought of as bad especially for those that live in the area and
our displaced, is there times when gentrification is a good thing? While some residents may be
displaced in the area, this complex replaces what especially has been a vacant lot for more than
20 years. While there is housing nearby that may be affected if this complex does bring more
change, overall the Koreatown Neighborhood has never recovered from the destruction caused
by the 1992 riots.
In addition Wilshire Blvd west of Vermont is home to high density office and residential but
has seemed to have very little impact on areas along 3rd
, Avenue, 7th
Avenue, and 9
the Avenue which are some of the streets that parallel Wilshire Blvd in this corridor so the
changes of this development having a major impact that those streets appears to be minimal.
Once again we have a developer that provides a spot of public space which is sorely needed in
the Koreatown area but once again the question has to be asked, is it truly public or because it
sits on private property who will be permitted to be in this area and not? The most likely
response to that question is that private security guards would most likely be patrolling the
buildings and the open space ensuring that anyone that they consider to not be worthy of being in
the area would be moved to another location.
In my opinion the parking structure the way it is design in this building is just plain ugly and
make the whole complex just repulsive. I find it highly unlikely that a building such as this
would be able to pass design review here in Portland. The developer and designer were also
asked why some treatment could not be done to make the parking structure stand out and it was
stated that the price would have been too high.
This project could have been much better and there is plenty of blame to go around. In the end
we have a building that stands out like a sore thumb and while it does create new life to an area
that desperately needs it, you have to ask what might have been?
(n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-highrise-apartment-sold-
The Vermont. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/the-vermont
The Vermont. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.thevermont.net/
Picture 31: The Vermont and its parking structures at the corner of Vermont and Wilshire. Photo by Rent
Picture 32: Rendering of the resident lounge space from the developer
Picture 33: Poolside at the Vermont from Yelp
Picture 34: The Lotus Artwork being installed, photo by LA Curbed
Picture 35: View from the back from RentLingo
Picture 36: Looking across the street to the Red Line station and the affordable apartments built above
the station by Mcfarland
Los Angeles, California (Hollywood)
One of the iconic icons in Hollywood (and one of the favorite’s for disaster film’s to destroy)
is the Capitol Records building that sits on Vine Street just a block from the Hollywood/Vine red
line station. The building is 13 stories, completed in 1956 and is best known by its round shape.
On its roof stands a radio tower whose red airplane warning light flashes the word Hollywood in
Morris code. The building also has a direct sightline to another famous Hollywood Landmark
that disaster film makers love to destroy, the iconic Hollywood sign.
For years the property surrounding the building have been underutilized but after the opening
of the Hollywood/Vine Red Line station in 1999, interest in the area started to increase. Over the
last few years there have been several new projects underway bringing increased density near the
transit station. In 2006 the property that the Capital Records building sits on along with the
building were sold by current owner EMI to New York based developer Argent Ventures. It was
then no surprise then in 2011 that the developer announced that it intended to redevelop the site
while keeping the iconic building.
The project itself would turn what are now mostly parking lots into one million square feet of
new uses residential, hotel, office, restaurants, health and fitness club, retail establishments and
more than 2000 parking spaces. Among the specifics include: two towers one 35 stories and the
other 39 stories, 492 residential units, 200 luxury hotel units, 215,000 square feet of Class A
office space, 34,000 square feet of restaurant space, 35,000 square feet of fitness space, and
15,000 square feet of office space on the 4.47 acres of land.
The Battle Lines Drawn:
It took more than a year and a half but the planners in the city planning department made the
decision to approve the project. This immediately led to the filing of a slew of appeals trying to
stop the project. Among the groups trying to stop the complex from being built were residents of
the Hollywood Hills who do not want their views ruined by tall buildings, preservations worried
because the new towers would dwarf the Capital Records building, and the American Music and
Dramatic Academy whose campus is nearby were opposed to the project.
In addition this section of Hollywood which is right across the Hollywood Freeway from the
Hollywood Hills section of city is one of the most anti-development areas of the city and fight
development at all cost. In addition the Academy is against construction not specifically of the
buildings themselves but instead because construction activity would disrupt their classes.
After the city council started to take up the case of the new towers Caltrans the California
Department of Transportation voiced their opinion that the towers would be disruptive to traffic
along the Hollywood Freeway. They suggested the the traffic studies for the complex were
flawed and the city was trying to push approval too hard. The developers responded saying that
they would increase the number of park n’ ride spaces in the 2000 car garage from 10 to 50 and
would kick in $50,000 in free transit passes a year for all the residents in the complex.
Another controversy for the project occurred when the Los Angeles Times published an
editorial supporting the project which was word from word from the website of the developer.
Then the day before the city council was supposed to take its final vote on the project the city’s
Department of Building and Safety asks for more tests on the buildings capability of surviving an
earthquake which is an unusual step for that department. It was also further revealed that the
developers had made substantial political contributions to the members of the city council
including the new representative from the area. Despite all this or in spite of all these revelations,
the city council approved the project on July 24, 2013 two years after the buildings were first
Once the development was approved two lawsuits were filed against the project. The first
was by the W Hollywood Hotel environmental impact report was factually deficient. The second
lawsuit was filed by Hollywood Hills residents and development staller Robert Silverstein.
Silverstein has been accused of profiting from stalling developments although usually settling
matters out of court for large sums but only after they have been dragged through the courts for
Lawsuits have caused major delays in building the project, but geology may have provide the
final nail in the coffin although it is not for certain yet. A study commissioned by the city of Los
Angeles has found that Hollywood earthquake fault may lie directly under the proposed towers
or along the south side of the property. That would mean that the towers could not be built and
the developer would be very limited on what can be built on the site.
While geology may be the final straw that broke the camels back in the case of the
Millennium project, it is a perfect example of how difficult it can be to build a development
especially in the city of Los Angeles. It took two years from the time that the buildings were first
announced until approval was gained from the city council and that appears to be somewhat
tainted if the allegations made at the time are true.
Then after approval was finally given, groups stepped in who were opposed to the
development and in fact the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Association that covers this area
and the Hollywood Hills has been extremely anti-development over the years. Even without the
revelation of the earthquake fault, it was estimated that it would take several more years before
the developer would have finally been able to break ground on the project.
While it is hard to judge a book that has not been printed yet, if finished according to the plans
summited how well would have this development been when it comes to the standards of New
Urbanism and Transit Oriented Development?
First of all, there is excellent transit access to the area both in the form of the METRO Red
Line subway and multiple frequent service bus lines in the area. However, with a 2000 car
parking garage with only 50 spaces put aside for park n’ ride you have to truly question whether
this development was designed for the transit rider although if the developers did follow through
on providing transit passes for the residents that could encourage more of them to ride the
subway although the question has to asked how many people renting very expensive luxury
apartments or buying million dollar condominiums would be caught dead riding the subway.
The problem with evaluation the eventual walkability of the complex is that there was no
specific plans submitted on what kind of retail was planned and how it would be sited. One of
the criticisms of the city council approval was the fact that the developer had never submitted
clear plans on how the project would be developed but was approved anyway.
The next issue that comes up is gentrification which is a battle that was lost several years ago
in this area. The opening of the Red Line subway caused an immediate change in the character of
the neighborhood and has only accelerated with new developments that finally get built after
years of delay.
Finally the issue of affordability comes up. It is clear from the statements of the developer
that no affordable housing was included in the project and the city did not make any
requirements for it to be included in the project. With the large amount of displacements caused
by the gentrification in the area, it would only make sense for the city council to make some
requirements on the developer to set aside a some of the units for inclusionary housing but once
again we have to go back to the allegations of the developer investing heavily in the city council
members to encourage their votes.
Overall, despite its billing as a Transit Oriented Development it appears from what can be
gleaned from the information available these towers would have been nothing but high density
suburbs for the wealthy. Personally while I always liked the Capital Records tower the truth is
the area is growing and change is going to happen. In this case the developers were going to
include the iconic structure as part of their redevelopment. Now the future of all development in
the area is in question making the residents of the Hollywood Hills happy but otherwise creating
some major headaches.
Millennium Hollywood. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://millenniumhollywood.net/
Millennium Hollywood. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/millennium-hollywood
Millennium Hollywood Towers Are Postponed. (2013, November 5). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from
Stop the Millennium Hollywood Project. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from
Picture 37: One of the many shots of the building being destroyed, photo by complex.com
Picture 38: Photo by Millennium Partners the proposed developer of the two new towers and how they will compliment (their
words) the Capital Records building.
Picture 39: Night image of the proposed development, picture by the developer
Picture 40: Proposed Public Space photo by ArchDaily
Picture 41: Street Level View by the developers
Picture 42: Current View along Vine Street. Photo by Wallpapers
Access Culver City/The Platform
Culver City, California
Even before the Expo light rail line opened to Culver City in early 2012, the city was looking
to change its character from a place that was referred to as drive thru whether than meant as a
place you drove through to get from point A to point B neither of which were in the city or that
fact that it was home to so many auto oriented business on streets that were very hostile to
Access Culver City and The Platform are two projects being developed next to the Culver
City station of the Expo line that is the current terminus station although the line will be
extended to Santa Monica in 2016 if enough of their new light rail cars arrive by then.
Access is a mixed use development that includes 115 apartments along with 31,000 feet of
commercial space which will located near The Platform which will be all retail and is being
developed by the 20-something founder of Runyon Group Joseph Miller. The Access is already
being criticized for having an excessive amount of parking for a development that is supposed to
be a Transit Oriented Development. In fact its developer Greystar Real Estate Partners have been
very tight lipped on exactly what the development will have beyond the announced retail,
apartments and an “open space”.
While both projects are indicating that they will be very walkable, the problem is not so
much the development themselves but the neighborhoods they will be surrounded by. While
Culver City has attempted to change its streets and sidewalks to make them more pedestrian
friendly, the area around the Culver City Expo Line station is still made up of mostly auto
oriented business such as car dealerships and fast food restaurants and industrial which do not
make for a very pedestrian friendly environment.
When it comes to the Jane Jacobs factors you have to question whether this a small island of
115 apartments can truly be a pedestrian friendly oasis that the developers have promised. It
should be noted that once you get a two or three blocks of the main streets of Washington and
Venice Boulevards you do run into areas of single family homes. In the long range changes
could be made to make tie these new developments into those residential areas about it would
take extensive changes of the urban fabric.
Once again you have to ask will 115 apartments truly change the area around this
development or will it barely be a blimp on the radar? You also have to take into consideration
that most of the area surrounding these new developments are largely auto oriented businesses on
busy streets, there appears to not be enough force to truly remake this area. In fact when you look
at the forces of gentrification they generally are not going to look at an area that does not have
the services that they are looking for such as cool restaurants and night clubs and I do not thing
that Del Taco or Wendy’s would be classified as the type of restaurant that would attract the
forces of gentrification. It appears that the current residents of the single family homes that live
beyond the largely auto oriented businesses near the Expo Line have little to worry about at least
for the next few years or so.
Here we have another developer that is creating an open space in their development but once
again we have to ask how public will the public space be?
The new Expo line appears to be creating new developments but in places where they will
have little effect on the existing residents of the area. While these developments may be a good
start it appears it will take many years before enough changes occur in this area to make this a
true New Urbanist/Transit Oriented Development that could be look to as a shining example of
what is done right. Many changes will need to occur in the existing fabric of the community to
make it more welcoming to those seeking true TOD developments. Of course you have to start
somewhere and this may lead to more changes.
Access Culver City. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/access-culver-city
Clark Builders Group - Project. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from
Construction Has Begun on Culver City's Retail-Happy Platform. (2014, June 6). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from
Creative ExperiencesCollaborative Partnerships. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://runyongroup.com/
The Platform. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/the-platform
Picture 43: Site plan of The Platform from the developer
Picture 44: Image of The Platform from Curb LA
Picture 45: What the area where The Platform is being built at looked like before construction started by
Picture 46: Rendering of Access from the Architect
Picture 47: Another rendering of Access with its public space by the architect
Picture 48: Map of the Expo Line from trolleyview
Bergamot Transit Village
Santa Monica, California
If there is one project that shows everything that can go wrong with a project before it ever
breaks ground, truly shows what a developer has to go through to develop in some places, shows
why development does not happen how we envision it, see where developers may not be
forthcoming with information that some consider necessary, Bergamot Transit Village is the
Bergamot station is located near the intersection of Olympic Avenue and 26th
near the future
Expo light rail station. The property that the development is being proposed at served as a
factory for Papermate pens from 1957 until 2005. However, the facility was leased by the
company and they had access capacity in Goodyear, AZ which is a factory owned by the
company so they made the decision to close. The site has been vacant since the closing of the
factor 10 years ago. The property was up for sale at the time of the closure and was finally
bought by Texas based developer Hines.
At first Hines proposed 300,000 square feet of office space to be built in two to four story
buildings be built at the sight. In 2009 Hines held their first community meeting about the project
which now included a building that would be 71 feet tall with retail on the bottom level. This
caused some in the Santa Monica community to start worrying about traffic problems.
Santa Monica is known as being one of the most anti-development cities in the nation with a
strong NIMBY force that fights nearly every project that comes down the pipeline. Despite the
fact that this development would be next to a station on the Expo Light rail line when it opened,
residents feared that no one would actually ride the light rail line and everyone heading to
development would choose to drive.
By December 2010 the project had grew to 80 feet in height with more than 2000 parking
spots further reinforcing to the opposition that the development would greatly increase traffic
congestion in the already auto chocked area. By March the development was now at 969,000
square feet and the opposition was accusing city council members of taking bribes from the
developer to ensure that the development got approved. In June the project got the blessing of
HUD that included $652,000 to build the project.
In August 2011 Hines returns to announce that it had revamped the development decreasing
its size to 767,000 square feet, plus adding pocket parks, public space, and now five buildings
with retail space being cut nearly in half to 47,123 square feet. The in the next few months the
city council of Los Angeles and the West Los Angeles commission announced they are against
the project due to the amount of traffic that would affect their respective cities.
In May 2012 the planning commission in Santa Monica moved a hearing for the proposal all
the way into 2013. In addition the development released its Environmental Impact Report which
was 8700 pages long and cost more than $1 million to complete. In 2013 Hines presented
another new plan which included adding housing including live/work units and creative office
space to the mix.
In February 2014 the city council approved the development with 427 apartments, 30,000
square feet of restaurant and retail space, 1926 parking spaces, 1284 bike spaces, and 375,000
square feet of office space. A group called Santa Monica Coalition for Livable City (SMCLC)
filed a lawsuit hiring a anti-development attorney that has fought several cases including the
Millennium project and started collecting signatures for a referendum. The city council gets cold
feet and reverses its decision to approve the development. At this point the development is still
stalled and now Hines is saying that it will reoccupy the existing space that will not require city
approval which may actually lead to more traffic problems than the proposed development.
While the SMCLC call it a bluff they have also threatened to sue Hines if they attempt to occupy
the property. Hines has also given indications that they are ready to throw up their hands and
walk away from the project altogether.
Who is right?
The first question that most people will ask is who is right in this case and the answer to that
question here appears to be both sides. It is clear that the development will cause traffic problems
and as someone who has been caught in some horrible traffic messes in West Los Angeles I can
tell you additional traffic will not help matters. However, the development is next to Expo Line
light rail station which should alleviate some of those traffic problems.
However, the developer also is in the right and wrong in this case. The developer has done
everything the city has asked of them and more but continues to face more obstacles. However,
the developer could also create a project that is truly a Transit Oriented Development that would
be focused on the new light rail station and may be able to convince some of the opposition that
they are truly trying to create a development that would work for the community and the new
Then there is the city council which has made its own problems. First it approved the project
and when faced with opposition they reversed their decision. Fortunately for the city the
developer did not choose to file a lawsuit for causing their business harm by reversing a decision
they made three months earlier.
Now to look at some of the issues that have been tackled in previous case studies. While it is
hard to judge exactly what the final product would look like, some educated guesses can be made
from the existing proposals.
Clearly in the first proposal from the developer a walkable community was not under
consideration. While subsequent proposals have included housing and open space, it appears that
the development would be design primarily for retail and office space and not for the residential
element of the project. In addition this section of Santa Monica especially along Olympic is not
currently a walkable environment especially by the standards set up by Jacobs.
When it comes to Santa Monica and gentrification the horse left the barn many years ago.
The city has become an enclave of the well to do with very few “old timers” left that owned
property before it escalated in price. While there is pockets that gentrification has not affected
they are too small for much to be done with at this late date.
In recent proposals the developer has included some open space but it cannot be classified at
public space as it is manly small pocket parks that are not designed to be public gathering spots.
In addition like many of the other cases the public space would be on private land and would not
truly be “public”.
There was a recent newspaper article stating that Santa Monica is starting to lose the so
called creative class that started moving to the area due to the beach because of its anti-
development forces that are keeping the type of housing that the creative class are looking for
from being built and moving other nearby cities. As is typical in many of the NIMBY fights,
they have it and they want no one else to have it. On the other hand the developer can also create
a true TOD project that will truly build on Expo line.
Bergamot Transit Village. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/places/bergamot-transit-
Hines gets the go-ahead on Bergamot. (2014, February 5). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://smdp.com/hines-
Picture 49: Site plan from Friends of Expo
Picture 50: Rendering of development from Santa Monica Next
Picture 51: Another rendering by Samolive
Picture 52: From Curb LA
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Union Station opened in 1939 after several years of construction (including the
dislocation of Chinese population of the city which I mentioned earlier) and was referred to as
the “Last of the Great Train Stations”. It served the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific
Railroad’s passenger trains although after World War II the amount of travel by train took a
major decline with more use of the automobile and more advance planes starting to take to the
skies. On May 1st
, 1971 the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) took over
passenger train operations by which time Union Station saw only a fraction of the number of
trains that it did in its heyday.
If you would tell people back in 1971 that by 2015 Union Station would not only be busier
than it was in 1971 but actually be served by substantially more trains (although the same
amount of long distance trains as 1971) most people either would have laughed at you or thought
you should be committed. However, today not only does it continue to see Amtrak’s Coast
Starlight, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited it is also home to frequent train service to San
Diego with many of those trains running to Santa Barbara and a couple of them running all the
way to San Luis Obispo. In addition it is also served by a large number of buses that connect to
various Amtrak trains, Metrolink commuter rail trains that run across Southern California and is
served by both light rail and subway lines of the Metro transit system.
The Taj Mahal.
In the early 1990’s the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) started
construction of a new office tower to replace its existing headquarters that were located on Main
Street which as referred to as Skid Row and not a place that many people wanted to visit. The
SCRTD never saw the completion of the building as it was merged into the regional
transportation planning organization for the region, the Los Angeles County Transportation
Commission which formed METRO, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
Authority which oversaw bus service, rail service, and highway construction in the county.
After the merger the new agency decided to continue construction of the new headquarters
that the SCRTD had started but made major changes which increased the height of the building
to 27 stories and designing it so that it would resemble the nearby and iconic Los Angeles City
Hall. The building also included a bus plaza in front of it in addition to a station for the newly
opened Red Line Subway. The new building was located just behind Union Station through the
tunnels that connected the main station to the passenger platforms. As it turned out it turned out
to be very fortuitous as Metrolink was started up with voter approval after 1992 then saw greatly
increased service after the 1994 earthquake.
The headquarters building is often called the Taj Mahal and has been criticized for being
overbuilt even for the combined agency in addition to some of the extravagant spending on
materials such as expensive marble that adorns the exteriors and interiors of the building. Today
the transit center is heavily used seeing another major increased in usage after METRO opened
the Gold Line from Union Station to Pasadena.
For many years the property surrounding Union Station was owned by a corporation that was
formed to take over all the real estate assets of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroad when
their merger proposal failed in the mid-1980’s. Despite the increase in passenger usage over the
years and many proposals by the real estate company to develop the property including selling
the air rights over the tracks, nothing happened for more than 30 years. The restaurant and bar at
the station had been closed in the 1960’s, Amtrak ticket offices were moved to a corner of the
building while the main ticket lobby has been closed off for many years only to be used for the
filming of movies. Photographers have been detained and harassed for even attempting to get
pictures of this part of the station despite the fact that it is visually open to passengers in the
station with only a rope keeping people out of the area.
However, the outside of the station did see some major changes over the years. In the early
2000’s two new office buildings were built on the south side of the property while a new
apartment project was built on the north side of the property both of which replaced the vast
parking lots that were part of the original station construction. Another new apartment complex
is being built between the Moziac which is the first complex and the station tracks which are on
the east side of the property. Just last year METRO was finally able to buy the station from the
private owners and is planning major changes to the property.
One of the problems the station has always faced is that it is an island until itself. It is
separated from downtown Los Angeles and most of the hotels in the area by a freeway. Until the
opening of the bus plaza in the back the tracks always provided a barrier and still do along Macy
Street that runs to the north of the property. Further the Los Angeles city jail and the businesses
that associate with that kind of atmosphere. While Olvera Street located directly across Alameda
from Union Station which is the birthplace of Los Angeles and home to a large number of
independent shops and tourist attractions, Alameda is a major barrier to walking as it is a wide
street with fast moving traffic.
In addition the new apartments have not increased the amount of foot traffic in the area. One
of the problems is that despite being the location of a major transit hub many people still use and
need a car to get their basic needs such as going to the grocery store. Chinatown is located just to
the northwest of the Union Station property but is not considered a safe walking environment
with the high speed traffic on wide roads. One improvement that is planned as part of the Union
Station reconstruction is capping sections of the freeway to the south but even with the capping
people would still have to cross Alameda in order to reach the caps.
With gentrification staring in Chinatown there is renewed worries by some that increased
densities and new buildings at the Union Station site will have a detrimental effect and cause
even more gentrification pressures on the area. However, the fears for gentrification in this area
may be generally overblown. Olvera Street is a historic district and protected from any
development although there could be worries that increased property values could cause rents to
go up in the square and cause some or all of those locally owned businesses to move on. Beyond
that there is just not much to worry about. On the north side of Macy Street is the former main
post office distribution facility with industrial and former rail yards to the north. To the east you
have the transit buildings then the Los Angeles Police facility and jail which are proposed to be
moved with mostly abandoned industrial beyond.
To the south and southwest you have the freeway with more industrial beyond and if
gentrification is going to happen it will be in response to the Regional Connector that will finally
connect all of Los Angeles’ light rail lines together in 2021. As stated Chinatown is to the
northwest but far enough that it most likely will not be affected by the changes to Union Station
before its own gamification problems come to a head.
Because of the lack of existing residents in the immediately vicinity of the Union Station
there has not been the wide spread opposition to new development that has been occurring
One of the questions that have been asked throughout my case studies has been the inclusion
of public space and exactly how public is it. While Union Station was privately owned the public
space was not very public as Amtrak police and private security were very aggressive in
removing anyone who did not appear to belong in the area. The question is, now that the station
is owned by Metro and it is looking to add some major public spaces to the complex especially
on the north side, how will those spaces be patrolled and will they be public spaces or only
limited use spaces?
I have seen Union Station go from lonely train station that has seen its better days to being a
major focal point of transportation for the region. While the changes to the station look
promising it will be interesting to see what the final product turns out to be. Will there be true
open space? Will any apartments, condominiums, or office space built be affordable in Los
Angeles’ very expensive housing market? Will the changes have positive or negative effects on
Olvera Street or Chinatown? How many changes will occur with the opening of the regional
connector or California’s High Speed Rail system? The area is full of possibilities but as we have
seen elsewhere, politics and financing can completely change what is built.
Union Station Master Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.metro.net/projects/LA-union-station/
Union Station Master Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://la.curbed.com/tags/union-station-master-
Picture 53: Ariel photograph by Metro showing Union Station in the foreground, the tower in the back is the METRO office
building, the transit plaza is the semi round building, the office buildings are to the right next to the freeway and busway with
the Condo's in the left bottom photo and new apartments under construction.
Picture 54: Proposal by Metro to revamp Union Station, notice that the Moziac apartments at the
northwest corner (lower left in photo) are gone replaced by a plaza.
Picture 55: Another picture of the proposed changes to Union Station from Metro
Picture 56: Looking along Alameda in front of Union Station with the Moziac at the northwest corner of
the property. Photo by Metro
Picture 57: Alameda Main Entrance to Union Station and its welcome sign, the original ticket counters to
the left and roped off. Photo by LA Streetsblog
Picture 58: The Harvey House restaurant that currently sits unused except for the occasional film shoot
or special event. Photo by Metro
The Uses of Sidewalks
Jane Jacobs 1960
Jane Jacobs is one of the more recognizable writers in urban planning, despite the fact that she
was not schooled as a planner. In her article on sidewalks she first mentions about how it is
important to have trust in the neighborhood, the absence of trust in the neighborhood is a disaster
to the city street but its cultivation cannot be institutionalized.
One aspect that was important to Jane Jacobs was the inclusion of private space in the urban
environment. A good city street neighborhood will keep a good balance between the need of
people to have a sense of privacy and the need to have contact with the greater neighborhood.
She further talks about how important it is to have casual acquaintances in the neighborhood.
These are people you may see every day of the week but you may not even know or want to
know their names but they are people you see and have familiarity with. Among these public
characters might be the local shop keeper or a person who keeps track of the goings on in the
community and who is known by the residents in the area. By knowing the regular “characters”
of the area you are also more aware of people who may not necessarily belong in the
neighborhood. These are the people the neighbors would watch for any type of suspicious
Jane Jacobs saw what was happening to her community and the rest of New York and was not
happy about it. Instead of sitting back and complaining she did something about it in order to
preserve what she felt was a good way of life. It was not easy but she was willing to go head to
head against the political machine that was Robert Moses because she believed in the cause and
the cause was bigger than the person.
When looking at my three case study projects, the lessons we learn from Jane Jacobs directly
apply to whether we consider these projects successful or not. One of the most important aspects
of what Jane Jacobs discusses is the “eyes on the street” where people are there paying attention
to what is happening in their neighborhoods. In this case we have to say that all three of my case
studies failed in this category. While both the Pasadena and South Pasadena examples have retail
on the ground floor, not of the apartments have balconies that look over the sidewalks. In
addition, the retail in both locations is generally high end boutique stores not the type of stores
that residents in the TOD developments will shop at frequently. In addition, the ones in Pasadena
are generally chain stores so you don’t have the local owner who actually cares about the
neighborhood. There is no aspect of these projects that build trust with the people who live there
as Jane Jacobs talks about.
Jacobs, J. (1961). The Uses of Sidewalks. In J. Gieseking (Ed.), The people, place, and space reader (pp. 237-240).
The City Image and the Elements
Kevin Lynch 1960
How do we see the city? Kevin Lynch’s article and book talks about three separate cities (Boston,
Jersey City, and Los Angeles) and talks about how we see and interpret the city. Using maps Lynch
had citizens draw how they perceived certain elements of the city and how our perception of what the
city is draw from those maps.
Several elements came out of those maps on how people see the city, including paths, edges,
districts, nodes and landmarks. According to Lynch, paths became the predominant city element
depending on the person’s knowledge of the city. Landmarks are another important element that
allows people to have a sense of where they are. Lynch uses the example of the Los Angeles City
Hall that is a prominent feature in the downtown area while more modern landmarks that are very
prominent are the Willis (formally Sears) Tower in Chicago or the Space Needle in Seattle.
Landmarks do not necessarily have to be tall buildings but just a major feature that people
subconsciously associate with the area.
According to Lynch, Districts are large city areas that the observer can recognize formally or
informally as having some special character. Boston was noted of having a confusing array of paths
but was known for having many distinct districts. New York was cited unanimously for having the
most distinct districts of any city while the city of Los Angeles did not have any outside area around
the civic center.
Another important element is Nodes, which Lynch calls strategic foci, into which the observer
can enter typically at the junction of paths or concentration of some characters. As part of a node you
have a junction of transportation lines that has compelling importance to the city observer. Nodes
further give a sense of coming to a location within the city, a feeling of having “arrived”.
The final piece of the puzzle are Edges, which Lynch says are linear elements not considered
paths, they are usually boundaries between two types of areas. Edges seem strongest when they are
not only visually prominent but also continuous in the form and impenetrable to cross movement.
There are many kinds of edges, both natural and those built by humans. Edges can be freeways,
rivers, and hills. Anything that creates a boundary from one area to another is considered an edge.
Lynch’s work is important to my case studies because both Del Mar Station and Lincoln
Heights/Cypress Park are defined by their edges; one caused by a network of freeways the other by a
six lane highway. The Del Mar Station can also be defined in the fact that it is an edge between Old
Pasadena and the industrial district to the south. Further, the city of Pasadena and Metro has tried to
make the Del Mar Station a major node and entryway to Old Pasadena. Del Mar Station because of
its design could also be considered a landmark as it has become an important element that people
notice when driving or riding the Gold Line into Pasadena. South Pasadena on the other hand, defies
many of Lynch’s elements; the only one coming close is being a transportation node but a very minor
one at that. Beyond that it is not an edge, not a landmark that stand outs, is not a path in itself, and is
not part of any nearby district, it just exists.
Lynch, K. (2014). The City Image and its Elements. In J. Gieseking (Ed.), The people, place, and space reader (pp.
50-55). New York: Routledge.
Class Struggle on Avenue B
Neil Smith 1996
In Neil Smith’s 1996 article he discusses the Lower East Side of New York City and how
gentrification happened in the area. Smith opens his article discussing the riots that erupted in
Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side on August 6th
, 1988. The riot was started in
response to the enforcement of a curfew at the park, which was to clear out the large and
growing number of homeless people that were living there that upset residents in the area.
The story of the riot is actually part of a deeper story about the park as Smith says that
became a symbol of new urbanism being etched on the urban “frontier”.
Smith talks about how real estate interest will christen an area with a new name to create an
image of new. In addition the industry of culture finds that area as art dealers and patrons turn
what was once considered dilapidated into new urban chic. The artists originally come because
of the lower prices, but they bring in new patrons to the area that eventually makes the area more
hip. Developers then buy land on the edge of the frontier, an area that may be considered edgy
because the real estate is cheap and develop it and build on the new wave that is moving into the
However, the developers do not only use the artist as a way to create this new frontier of
profits for them. The city, through various policies, also contributes to the gentrification through
housing policy, drug crackdowns, parks strategy, subsidizing opportunities for real estate
development. They also may have contributed previously by not providing enough city services
to the area before it started gentrifying and thus lowering the value of the land in the area.
In addition, there is a global element to the gentrification as international capital will flow
into these areas but also international migration provides a workforce that needs a place to live.
Often these people come from areas of the world where they were dislocated because of US
Capital flowing in and disrupting local economies, extracting resources, and removing people
from their land.
This article is important to my case studies as gentrification can often play a role in Transit
Oriented Developments and New Urbanism. They will bring new capital into the area and
existing populations may be forced to move out. Each project is different and the extent
that these affect a neighborhood will depend on the existing conditions. What is most
useful is the element that city government plays in encouraging it to happen.
Smith, N. (2014). Class Struggle on Avenue B: The Lower East Side as the Wild Wild West. In J. Gieseking (Ed.),
The people, place, and space reader (pp. 314-320). New York: Routledge.
To Go Again to Hyde Park
Don Mitchell 2003
Don Mitchell opens his article by discussing the issue that occurred in Hyde Park back in 1866 in
which rioting broke out in Hyde Park in New York and what the meaning behind the rioting truly
was. The question Mitchell asks is what rights to we have to occupy space such as public space in a
park or other setting. He calls property the embodiment of alienation because property rights are
necessarily exclusive. He also states that rights provide a set of instructions about the use of power
but they also become institutionalized by becoming practices that are back up by force. In addition
while occupying some space is necessary to life it is not guaranteed as a right. We live in a world that
is defined by private property which means having public space takes on even more importance. He
goes on to state that representing one’s group to a large public creates a space for representation.
Representative demands and creates space.
Don Mitchell is a geographer who has taught at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University for
many years. He worked with Neil Smith which produced another one of the articles that will be in
this review who talks about what happens to a community when it gets gentrified. Mitchell is known
as being a radical and having worked with Smith understands how important the instituation of rights
are and how easily they can be taken away.
Mitchell’s article is important to my case studies because he discusses the importance of public
space and the differences between our concepts of rights and how they truly work. We have seen
were our public spaces are not truly public and because of the alienation caused by private property
you may not always have the freedom to be where you want to be.
Joe Christen starts his article by discussing the proposed Salt Works site in Redwood City
California which is a New Urbanist development by Peter Calthrope. He sees that there is a problem
when Calthrope wants to develop the Salt Works with new housing and not want to restore that
section of San Francisco bay to a condition before it was built. He goes on to discuss that while the
development would create a large amount of space that is returned to nature, that any building on the
site is setting us back words. He then talks about the glaring contradiction between a planned unit
development claiming green values in a spot that should not have been developed on in the first place
and should be returned to his natural state. He then goes on to discuss the problems he sees with
urban triumphalism were urban form should take precedence over the importance of nature. He goes
on to criticize the notion that if we increase densities and build more we can solve our housing
problems in such cities as San Francisco. He uses the example of development in the San Jose area
and if all the land was developed it would not lead to the number of housing units that people claim
they would and we would lose our open and natural areas in return. He concludes with saying that
conservationists and policy makers need a better understanding of the historic desires for recreation
and fitness and to valuing our open space for its health aspects.
Christensen has been a writer on environmental and science writer for 30 years. He is also an
environmentalist that deeply cares about our eco system and the natural environments. Because of his
experience writing about the environment he is deeply concerned about some of the contradictions he
sees in many aspects of development and planning and feels that we need to be more conscience of
how our decisions affect the environment around us.
Christensen’s work is important to my case studies as I have one that parallels what he talks
about with the development in Redwood City. The Playa Vista development is on land that was
largely marshes before it was filled in and used for several uses ultimately ending up in the hands of
Howard Hughes were he built the Spruce Goose. Here was have another opportunity to restore the
natural habit and have those natural areas that we need to survive into the future.