Blog: Updates on Urbanology

Home Base for Silicon Beach

 Trevion, a new neighborhood in Playa Vista, by Brookfield Residential.

Trevion, a new neighborhood in Playa Vista, by Brookfield Residential.

On February 22, 2014 Playa Vista officially continues its history of innovation with the opening of six new neighborhoods. These are the first of an eventual 2,800 new homes. The new neighborhoods include architectural advances unique to Los Angeles, yet designed precisely for Playa Vista’s Westside setting. The community is especially suited to residents who also work at its red-hot commercial campus.

This “home base” for Silicon Beach already includes YouTube Space L.A. and 72andSunny (Ad Week’s Agency of the Year), with more tech and creative firms continually flocking here… like fowl to Playa Vista’s restored wetlands. Community highlights arriving within the year include Runway (with Whole Foods, restaurants and theaters).

Media are taking notice of the completion of one of L.A.’s best urban masterplans. The Hollywood Reporter’s Alexandria Abramian broke the news last month. And this week L.A. Business Journal’s Bethany Firnhaber has a complete rundown of Playa’s final phase.

Here is the complete LA Business Journal story (for those of you without a subscription):


Playa Vista In Home Stretch

Real Estate: Developers launch the project’s final phase.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Nearly four decades after developers first began dreaming up plans for an idyllic L.A. community near the beach called Playa Vista, construction there has begun in earnest on its second and final phase.

Thousands of homes are in early stages of construction, with the sales effort for the master-planned community, which is nestled between Westchester and Marina del Rey, slated to begin later this month. The mix of single-family homes, condominiums, apartments and senior living facilities, will bring an additional 2,800 residential units to Playa Vista. The majority of the first phase, with 3,100 units, was completed six years ago.

Canadian homebuilder Brookfield Residential Properties Inc., which in 2012 bought Playa Vista developer Playa Capital Co. for about $250 million, will build two of six total for-sale communities. One, called Trevion, will offer the largest and most expensive options in Playa Vista, with a series of two- and three-story detached homes with small private yards and two-car garages. The other, dubbed Camden, will offer the smallest and least expensive floor plans in a series of sixplex condominium buildings, also with private two-car garages.

While Brookfield Residential has held on to some parcels, it has sold off pieces of the sprawling site, once owned by Howard Hughes, to KB Home of Westwood, Irvine Co. and Tri Pointe Homes of Irvine, Lincoln Property Co. of Dallas and the Los Angeles Jewish Home of Reseda, all of which have begun developments.

Marc Huffman, vice president of planning and entitlements for Brookfield Residential, said the homes are a necessary component of the overall plan for Playa Vista, which aims to provide residents a unified live-work community. Covering roughly two-thirds of the site’s developable area, the nearly 6,000 homes will complement approximately 3 million square feet of office space already built at the east end of the project, including the Hercules Campus and the Bluffs at Playa Vista. Those Class A office campuses have become home to technology companies such as YouTube, Facebook and Belkin. And so many ad agencies have moved into the area that people are beginning to refer to it as a mini-Madison Avenue, as reported in the Business Journal’s Jan. 6 issue. Employees at those companies are squarely in developers’ sights.

“West L.A. is very jobs rich; you’ve got something like three jobs for every housing unit out here,” Huffman said. “People who want to live closer to where they work can’t, so we’re making that possible.”

Hughes history

Efforts to develop Playa Vista on what was then the largest undeveloped plot of land in the city of Los Angeles began in 1978, just two years after Hughes’ death. The 1,076-acre expanse of oceanside property, largely grassy wetlands, was where Hughes built his aerospace empire, including the legendary Spruce Goose jumbo jet.

In the years that followed, the site passed through the hands of a series of developers, from Maguire Thomas Partners to Playa Capital – a venture of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Oaktree Capital headed by current Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff – which was sold in 2012 to Brookfield. Previous owners’ plans were stymied by both poor economic times as well as lawsuits and protests by environmentalists who worried about wildlife, native tribes who worried about ancient burial sites and residents who worried about traffic, to name a few.

Construction on Playa Vista’s Phase 1 finally began in 2001 and the majority was completed in 2008. Six years later, Phase 2 is under way.

Alison Banks, marketing director for Brookfield Residential, said plans for the second wave of homes to be built in Playa Vista evolved over the years as the development company recognized that the community was changing. The first wave of residents to move into Playa Vista largely consisted of single people, childless couples and empty-nesters. Now, the wide sweeping streets are dotted with parents pushing young children in strollers.

“When people first moved in here, they had dogs, but most didn’t have kids,” she said. “But we’ve had a baby boom here over the last five years and now there are families on their third child.”

While housing options in Phase 1 included smaller one- and two-bedroom condominiums, apartments and homes, Phase 2 will put more emphasis on detached single-family homes with three- and four-bedrooms.

With options coming in at less than $590 a square foot, the housing in the latest phase will be above Los Angeles County’s median price but still below that of most nearby Westside communities.

The smallest, least expensive single-family option, in a residential development by Tri Pointe called Woodson, will start around $1.2 million, or about $561 a square foot. The smallest and least expensive condo option, in Brookfield Residential’s Camden project, will start around $950,000, or about $593 a square foot.

By comparison, in Venice, a hot Silicon Beach market a short jaunt north of Playa Vista, the median square-foot price of the 27 single-family homes sold in December was $955; the median square-foot price of the three condominiums sold in that period was $613, according to Seattle brokerage services firm Redfin. In Westchester, which borders Playa Vista to the south, home prices are significantly lower. The median square-foot price of 26 single-family homes sold there in December was about $489, with the median square-foot price of six condominiums about $305.

Banks said Playa Vista offers an independent small-town feel neighboring communities might lack. In addition to having its own ZIP code, Playa Vista has its own school, fire station, parks and a free shuttle service to and from the beach. Furthermore, Lincoln Property is expected to open Runway, a 220,000-square-foot retail center with a Whole Foods, a nine-screen Cineplex movie theater and at last five restaurants, before the end of the year.

“In the morning you can see hundreds of little kids streaming across the street to the school with their mom and dad on their little scooters, which they just lean up against the bike rack without even locking it,” she said. “We’re in the city, yet we’ve got sweet, small-town charms.”



Everybody Walks in L.A.! .... The My Figueroa Plan Hits a Roadblock

Beatles in DTLA.jpg

The below article first appeared in Huffington Post

Recently Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office hosted a City Hall talk by a transportation rock star. Gabe Klein, former transit czar for Chicago and Washington DC, spoke to L.A.’s rail boosters and bike-eratti about how he created hugely successful bike-share programs in both cities. Perhaps his biggest message is that there is one universal mode of transportation in all cities: walking!

Think about it: a certain percentage of people drive, another percentage take public transit, and a certain percentage bike. But 100% of travelers walk at some point in their commute. As Klein says, the ultimate end-user is the pedestrian. (L.A. Streetsblog has the video of his talk here)

“We should be planning for the pedestrian first, then the transit user, the auto user and the bike user,” he said. And the sooner we upgrade our streets to serve them – serve us – the more safely and efficiently we will all get around.

Los Angeles is pushing several essential plans to do this. The most important is the My Figueroa project in Downtown L.A. It will transform the Figueroa Corridor from a “freeway street” into a “complete” street – from Staples Center to USC.

My Figueroa improves signals and signage, installs boarding platforms for bus riders, and adds trees, art and “street furniture” to make the pedestrian experience smooth and enjoyable. Most dramatically, My Figueroa creates a three-mile bikeway: a big and bold link between Downtown and South Los Angeles.

These are not ordinary bike lanes. They include cycle tracks separated from traffic. The first in the city. They decrease collisions and improve safety for walkers, bikers, drivers.

“It’s an ambitious, holistic solution, and a unique one for L.A.” says Melani Smith, My Figueroa design-team leader and partner at Meléndrez. “But it’s not unique in the United States, and this is absolutely the right time and place to begin transforming L.A.’s streets.”

My Figueroa plays off the exciting rebound of Downtown. USC has 15,000 bikes on campus with many students commuting from Downtown. L.A. LIVE is a people magnet that continues to grow with or without Farmers Field. Expo Rail has funneled a new wave of pedestrians here. The planned Downtown Streetcar will add another link. And several huge, new developments will require as much alternative transportation as possible.

“So we need a high-quality bike/pedestrian/auto/transit connection that encourages the broadest range of users,” says Smith.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

But My Figueroa has hit a road block. A business group including auto dealers at the south end of the Corridor is concerned that eliminating some traffic lanes will stifle access. The group is joined by Ninth District City Councilman Curren D. Price Jr.

A recent City Council committee delayed the project by requiring a new report. As L.A. Streetsblog Editor Damien Newton wrote, opponents threw up questions “already answered many times.” Councilman Price moved to require a new traffic study, including taking cycle tracks off Figueroa to other streets.

One should be sympathetic to business concerns, but My Figueroa will actually be good for them. A similar project in Long Beach resulted in the highest retail sales in 10 years. And a New York Department of Transportation study called Measuring the Streets  shows how “complete-streets” projects boost business, rents and sales tax by making streets safer and more efficient, and creating welcome public spaces.

L.A. is at a crossroads symbolized by My Figueroa: Will our streets continue to be ruled by cars – with the danger, delays and dismal livability that come with that – or will they serve the 100% of us who walk?

One direction is the past. The other is the future.

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The L.A. River at a Crossroads

 Kayaking at Glendale Narrows. Photo by William Preston Bowling

Kayaking at Glendale Narrows. Photo by William Preston Bowling

Poet Lewis MacAdams founded Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) 27 years ago, imagining a lifelong project to return the bedraggled waterway to greatness and greenness. He conceived this goal the best way he knew at the time: as performance art. An L.A. Times reviewer snarkily dismissed MacAdams’ FoLAR show in a Downtown theater, writing, "With friends like MacAdams, the river needs no enemies."

Back then, the L.A. River was a punchline. Authorities didn’t even call it a “river.” It was a “flood-control channel,” an ugly flushway to hide from view. (I remember this first-hand: I wrote the first-ever article about FoLAR; it was for L.A. Downtown News.) 

(Note: I originally published this article right here in the Huffington Post.)

How things have changed. In October MacAdams was part of a high-powered, river-support delegation to Washington, D.C. headed by Eric Garcetti, who, in his first visit as mayor, met with President Obama. They were among the many allies FoLAR has joined to support restoration. Over the years, these groups have claimed many victories: Two river-adjacent railroad yards are now state parks. There are half a dozen riverfront pocket parks, some carved-out almost by hand by neighborhood activists. A bike path nearly connects Griffith Park with Elysian Park.

Perhaps most importantly, the entire Los Angeles urban-design and architecture community has rallied behind the River. Every thinker, planner and legislator knows the River can become an extensive parkway, open to neighborhoods long denied environmental justice, and to a city thirsting for public space.

“Removing the concrete is now no more controversial than Mom and apple pie,” says MacAdams. “Even the County Department of Public Works, which for years believed only in rushing water to the ocean, now embraces education and recreation as goals. So let’s take a breath to celebrate all that. But let’s also not forget, as we move forward, that for nearly 100 years the river has been smothered and straightened, and that we owe her as complete a repair of the eco-system as possible.”

The focus is now on Glendale Narrows, the 11-mile stretch bending past Dodger Stadium toward Downtown. Because its water table is high, this is the only section never entombed in concrete. It is here that, after years of study, the Army Corps of Engineers plans an ambitious restoration.

The Corps – responsible for the concrete infrastructure – offered two main proposals. Alternative 20 removes about six miles of concrete in Glendale Narrows, restoring about the same length of habitat. Alternative 13 restores only about half as much. It costs about $500 million, while Alternative 20 doubles that, spread over about 20 years.

The Corps argues that Alternative 13 best maximizes habitat restoration relative to the cost.  But this proposal meets just the minimum restoration. It fails to connect riverfront parks and does not provide complete public access.

The mayor and all top California elected officials, plus 10,000 petition-signers, are pushing Alternative 20. It alone has the power to leverage the river the way cities such as San Luis Obispo or San Antonio do: as a central urban artery and park system, that is also a healthy ecosystem.

“It's a down payment on the future of the city, and the first fundamental effort to re-weave the mountains to the city and the river,” says MacAdams.

Now it’s up to the Army Corps to sort through everyone’s comments and finalize a decision (slated for January 19).

"Despite which alternative is selected for recommendation to Congress, an ecosystem restoration project for the Los Angeles River would be a momentous opportunity for ecological improvements and would likely be a catalyst for future efforts,” Corps L.A. District Public Affairs Chief Jay Field told me.

Let’s remember that the Corps, too, has evolved. It was the Corps who – following devastating 1930s floods – first poured the concrete. Floods were a very real threat. Before then, the river would, during rainy years, overflow and try to change course.

Earlier in history, the river diverted through what is now the Westside. Culver City’s Ballona Creek (also in drastic need of restoration) is a vestige of that period. As is the very name La Cienega, which means “the swamp.”

So for the Army Corps to now embrace restoration is a big step forward.

Just not big enough.

Decycling: Can L.A. be a Bike City?

 photo courtesy of Streetsblog Los Angeles

photo courtesy of Streetsblog Los Angeles

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post (12.19.2013)

Before Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became outrageously famous for smoking crack and holding crazy press conferences, he was known for something else: He was an anti-bicycle crusader. He campaigned against what he called “the war on the car,” saying that bike lanes, for example, dangerously steal space from cars.

"What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you're going to get bitten," Ford declared as a Toronto councilman. Once elected mayor, he ripped-out bike lanes. In one case, bike-route removal cost Toronto $300,000. It saved motorists just two minutes along the route – not seven minutes, as he claimed.

Ford typifies a backlash against biking. In this country it has come mostly from conservatives, almost as if bike infrastructure – and the environmentalism that comes with it – is a cultural enemy along with gay marriage and Obamacare. The push to defund federal bike programs has come from Republicans such as Eric Cantor. The Wall Street Journal editorialized against New York City’s new bike-sharing program: Bicyclists are “the most important danger in the city” commentator Dorothy Rabinowitz gasped

Los Angeles mayors are far more bike-friendly. No surprise there. Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made regular appearances at CicLAvia, the popular events where entire boulevards are given to cyclists. As a councilman, our new Mayor Eric Garcetti introduced “sharrows,” or shared lane markings for streets without separated bike lanes. And way back in 2000, cycle-loving Mayor Richard Riordan opened bike lanes along the L.A. River. (Riordan was a Republican mayor.)

But L.A. has a long way to go before catching the worldwide bike boom. Unlike New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, it has no bike-share system. It ranks near the bottom of U.S cities in a lane networks.

Copenhagen’s “mobility expert” Mikael Colville-Andersen takes a refreshing approach to bike evangelism in his amusing interview in Notebook on Cities and Culture, , the superbly wonky urban-design podcast. Colville-Andersen, for example, rails against “bike geeks” and their expensive gear. A place that truly accepts biking, he argues, moves it from the subculture into the mainstream. He even refuses to wear a helmet, saying it as part of a “culture of fear.”

Long Beach, he estimates, has 2% of its transportation on bikes. Davis, California, a pioneering bike town, is 10% to 15% on bikes. Minneapolis may be the major city moving the farthest with about 4%.

Bike riding is not just for “bicyclists.” It is not the exclusive domain of MAMILs (middle-age males in lycra), those with spiky toe clips who ride in packs down Venice Boulevard or through Palos Verdes on Sundays. It is for everyone and part of a complete transportation menu.

But Bikes and cars uneasily share the road. Driver hostility can lash out dangerously, while some bikers passive-aggressively hog lanes.

Still, L.A. is making strides. The recent USC report proving that the new Expo Rail has significantly reduced driving for residents within a half-mile of stations also suggested that bike infrastructure can grow from this success. “It could inform urban design as cities across the county install bike lanes and foster development around transit,” wrote L.A. Times transportation reporter Laura J. Nelson.

The Culver City leg of the Expo Rail incorporates a winding right-of-way for two-wheelers. (My kids love it!) The Orange Line busway in the Valley offers one of the best separated bike lanes in the city. Every new above-ground rail approved for the county should be joined with bike trails to maximize the impact of non-auto transport.

But in L.A.’s atomized political realm, one city council district may be ahead of the curve, while another is hitting the brakes.

“All it takes for cities to make the transformation away from car-centric enclaves of pollution and wasted public space is political will,” says Damien Newton, editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles, which advocates mass transit and bike infrastructure. “Los Angeles has a mix of leaders who are willing to put their capital behind projects, such as Councilmen Mike Bonin (Venice/Mar Vista) and Jose Huizar (Downtown), and those that capitulate immediately to even the slightest opposition, such as Tom LaBonge (Sherman Oaks/Miracle Mile) and Paul Koretz (Westside). The more Mike Bonin's there are, the safer and more attractive Los Angeles will be to cyclists.”

If there is one U.S. city where bike sharing and bike trails makes perfect sense, it is Los Angeles. The climate and topography are great. The need is even greater.

A Spiritualized Baptism for Ace Hotel


The long-awaited birth of Downtown’s Ace Hotel will get a musical baptism with a just-announced performance by Spiritualized. The psychedelic English group will offer a grandiose performance of its album Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space – replete with 30-piece orchestra and gospel choir. It will happen February 13, 2014 in the also grandiose United Artists Theater, part of the new Ace Hotel.

Spiritualized recently toured promoting their 2012 album Sweet Heart Sweet Light, but the Ace show marks the first Los Angeles performance of the entirety of Floating in Space. Its extended grooves and sparkly choruses recall The Rolling Stones to the 13th Floor Elevators while remaining uniquely Spiritualized.

The Ace Hotel chain has important place in urban revitalization. The hipsterish company – in the best sense of that word – is headquartered in Portland, and restores properties in urban cores, weaving its operations closely with surrounding communities and merchants. The Palm Springs version is a favorite of 20-somethings who flock to its DJ’d pool lounge all year round. Ace Hotel founder Alex Calderwood passed away last month at the age of 47.

The 1927 ornate theater and 18-story landmark descend from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The United Artists motion picture company was founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and and Douglas Fairbanks in rebellion against the studio system. In the 1990s the theater was purchased and restored by oddball televangelist Dr. Gene Scott, who used it for his services. At that time, it became the most polished of Downtown’s classic movie palaces, which together constitute one of finest collections of such gems in the country. Dr. Gene Scott was the subject of a somewhat disturbing 1981 biography, God’s Angry Man, by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Can Mayor Garcetti Make L.A.’s Streets Great?

 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

This story first appeared in the Huffington Post. It was my inaugural column for HuffPo.


In 2009, then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made one of the biggest changes Manhattan had ever seen. It had nothing to do with Big Gulps. Bloomberg and his transportation czar Janette Sadik-Khan took a congested section of Times Square and closed it to traffic. They erected barriers, painted the asphalt, added beach chairs and – presto! – the street became a park.

These and other instant plazas reduced injuries to pedestrians and motorists while they boosted retail receipts. Most importantly, they returned the public realm to the people.

Can the same magic happen in L.A.? For his first act as new Mayor, Eric Garcetti unveiled the “Great Streets Initiative.” He plans to turn the main thoroughfares of up to 40 neighborhoods into lively, pedestrian-friendly places.

Of course, L.A. already has great streets. A few, anyway: Ventura Boulevard is teeming with energy. First Street in Boyle Heights is a real community gathering spot. Abbot Kinney Boulevard – anti-gentrification protests – has become a hipster haven. But greatness doesn’t happen by accident: These places are like stages set with wide sidewalks, tamed traffic and authentic retail so that daily social dramas can happen.

Then there are the duds. Lincoln Boulevard from Marina del Rey to Santa Monica should be great. Instead it’s a headache of auto-domination, cluttered signage and crummy landscaping. (My mother used to call it “Stinkin’ Lincoln.”)

As L.A. Times reporter Michael Finnegan noted, Garcetti has created a Great Streets Working Group, in which eight city agencies will collaborate (imagine that!) to create new medians, sidewalk repairs, bus stops, police patrols, bike corrals, business improvement districts and, yes, pocket parks.

"And while we're at it, let's add some sculptures and murals," Garcetti announced at an October transportation conference by the Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles.

"Their first priority will be to make sure street projects are coordinated.  No more Bureau of Street Services paving a street on Monday, DWP digging it up on Tuesday," said Garcetti.  "Let's also combine a DWP pipe project with some street furniture funds and with a sidewalk repair project all at the same time." (Here’s the video of his speech.)

But this “first priority” is a no-brainer. It doesn’t take an urban visionary to see that departments should work together.

What would really transform the landscape is a Times Square-like project. Something big and bold. The ideas are already floating out there… some of which Garcetti endorsed as a City Councilman from Hollywood. He could cover L.A.’s sub-surface freeways, such as the 101, and turn them into parks. He could join forces with L.A.’s uber-popular Cyclavia events and revive the dormant bike-share program, such as those successful in Chicago in New York.

And he could identify the streets at present designed only to flush traffic through town and instead give them a human dimension. These places constitute our meager public spaces. Let’s cede more of them to walkers, to runners, to bikers, to skaters, to moms with strollers. To us.

When Bloomberg’s transportation chief Janette Sadik-Khan did this, there was opposition, naturally. But, according to Esquire magazine’s profile of “16 Geniuses Who Give Us Hope,” she created plazas in at Madison, Herald and Union Square. “A whole long stretch of Broadway — two hundred thousand square feet, the size of three and a half football fields — is a pedestrian parkland, tables and flowers and sweating tourists resting their eighty-pound Toys 'R' Us bags while billboards glint commercially above them.” (In her inspiring TED talk Sadik-Khan sums up these changes.)

Her changes were a huge success. Maybe the best move Garcetti could make is to hire her.


Greystone Mansion Goes Pop and Over-the-Top

 Valentino meets Magritte

Valentino meets Magritte

The theme of the latest designer makeover of Greystone Mansion is “Titans of Business.” But the results are anything but business-like. Color and imagination runneth-over in the more than two dozen installations at the already extravagant Doheny residence overlooking Beverly Hills. Curator Design House International had designers pay tribute to business leaders who inspired them. Even when that titan is the designer’s own patron, the results are elegantly fun – as when Lisa Turner of Interior Obsession salutes her client Stevie Wonder: It’s a music room of sculptures and artifacts from Wonder’s own collection, including a pop-art “Wonder wall” of album covers and a tangled, brass-instrument sculpture above the piano.

The Alissa Sutton Interiors tribute to Valentino drapes the fashion giant’s red gowns on manikins. These headless figures stalk the mansion’s basement bowling alley. It’s a dreamlike but friendly encounter. As much a tribute to surrealist painter Rene Magritte as Valentino.

L’Esperance Design, Inc. turns the Grand Entry and Gentleman’s Study into uber-Baroque salutes to William Randolph Hearst. There is chrome-plated furniture galore – gleamingly monochromatic – as well a set of absolutely bizarre, black armchairs in the form of oversized animals. Care to lean back into a giant octopus?

Other highlights: In the Children’s Playhouse Bedroom, inspired by Jim Henson, Eric Brand turns The Muppets into high art. The Gun Room, by Nicholas Lawrence Interior Design, a tribute to NBC Entertainment Chair Robert Greenblatt, is the ultimate TV lounge, streaming Fred Astaire musicals. Mrs. Doheny’s Suite, in the hands of Kara Smith and SFA Design, becomes celebrity stylist Petra Flannery’s studio, with a closet that is a gallery of Hollywood glamour, including portraits of Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor.

 “Titans of Business and the Best of Design” is open Thursday November 21 through Sunday, November 24, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The above post was first published in Form magazine. 

The Open Floorplan Backlash Has Begun!

There’s a lot of hype around open floorplan offices. You know, downsized workspaces without private offices, where everyone works in a communal space. Perhaps the concept has become so hot and trendy because it’s associated mostly with tech and creative firms. (Creative space is the darling du jour of the commercial real estate community, don’t you know). Or perhaps it’s part of an elaborate conspiracy on the part of tenants to reduce their rent.

fast co floorplans.jpg

If so, it’s a counter-productive conspiracy. At least judging by the growing backlash. Fast Company yesterday posted this diatribe from one its writers. And the Wall Street Journal recently cited several studies showing that open floorplans harm productivity and cause costly interruption errors.

As Fast Company writer Jason Feifer says, “This is the problem with open-office layouts: It assumes that everyone’s time belongs to everyone else. It doesn’t. We are here to work together, sure, but most of the time, we actually work alone. That’s what work is: It is a vacillation between collaboration and solitary exploration.”

Or as associate of mine who recently toured a new, highly touted creative space observed: “All the private offices that anyone can use were occupied. Also, I noticed lots of employees sat themselves down in work stations away from others to concentrate.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll close my office door….

Surviving Was a Big Deal for Downtown’s Poet Broker

Ed Rosenthal closeup.jpg

Just over three years ago, after making a wrong turn on a hike, Ed Rosenthal, The Poet Broker of Downtown L.A., was lost for 6 days in Joshua Tree National Park. He was (and is) a close friend and hiking buddy of mine. It was a desperate, anguishing 6 days for all who knew Ed. Millions of others learned of “the missing hiker” on TV news. The temperature climbed above 100 degrees every day that week. Miraculously, Ed survived.

Upon his rescue, I hastily called a press conference to satisfy the clamoring media. (The event was held at Downtown L.A.’s Clifton’s Cafeteria, as Ed had just brokered the sale of the building prior to his ill-fated trip.) Dozens of reporters – local to international – heard Ed’s amazing story, though he had barely processed the ordeal himself.

Now, three years later, he has processed the experience. Beautifully. Ed has just published The Desert Hat, Survival Poems (Moonrise Press). And reading it is an astonishing experience in its own right.

If Ed has just recounted his dramatic story, that would have been a good read. But Ed is a poet. He gropes for elusive meanings in his transformational desert suffering.

Recurring images broaden into symbols, link, and elevate the book into, essentially, one extended poem. At times – perhaps regressing to childhood memories – he comes close to the mystery of self… such as this section from “Elizabeth B. Moon Canyon”:


You left me branded with a wish to return
to your heart. After a week in a furnace
bookended by unsafe vertices, cruel precipices,
a last minute door of death rescue, the rush
to the emergency room and a miraculous family reunion,
I was left only crying for you,


We are all better for Ed having survived.


(photo of Ed Rosenthal by Gary Leonard)

High-Speed Rail Panel: Mobility Corridors


November 5-7, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference comes to Los Angeles. I have been asked to moderate a panel on Transit-Oriented Development -- specifically, "mobility corridors," and how smart planning around transit stations can uplift urban economies. Joining me on the panel -- titled TOD Transformations: From Stations to Corridors -- are Jonathan Watts, principal of Cuningham Group Architecture; Michael Dieden, president of Creative Housing Associates, and Gaurav Srivastava, Associate Principal, AECOM. My panel is Wednesday, Nov. 6, 3-4 p.m. and the entire conference runs through Thursday at MTA Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza, next to Union Station in Downtown L.A. 

The concept of mobility corridors is gaining traction in urban planning circles. It dominated ULI Los Angeles' recent, very successful ToLA transit summit, where Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his Great Boulevards initiative. And it is was the focus of L.A. Business Council's 2013 Livable Communities Report, authored by Paul Habibi of UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.

I will also be publishing an article on the topic in an upcoming edition of Urban Land magazine.