Blog: Updates on Urbanology

A Year in Urbanology, 2016

Jack Skelley and JSPR thank colleagues, clients and cohorts for another inspiring year. For a 20-second highlight reel click below...

A Year in Urbanology: In 2015 Our Friends Set the Trends

The Toast of Bunker Hill: JSPR partnered with The Related Group on The Emerson, DTLA’s finest for-lease residences. Just a year after launching, The Emerson was filled with “cultural creatives" -- entertainers, gallery owners, entrepreneurs who are the essence of urban vibrancy. A host of sommeliers makes The Emerson their home. At the center of this cool clique is Elizabeth Heuttinger of friendly-chic Otium restaurant, between the Emerson tower and the new Broad museum.The

 

Home Sweet Work: Ehrlich Architects was firm of the year. American Institute of Architects said so, noting Ehrlich’s approach to “classic California Modernist style.” Its latest design is a creative office environment that looks and feels like a residence. At elevon at Campus El Segundo, there are lofty studios, rooftop conferences, outdoor fireplace/TV rooms. Bring your dog. The office condominium project is nearly 100% sold out. Retail too. Next door to the new L.A. Lakers Practice Facility.

 

Preservation Development:40 years in the making, Marblehead is finally a thing. Sea Summit at Marblehead in San Clemente opened in November. “These inspiring homes, trails and nature preserve reflect decades of careful planning – one of the longest development periods for a coastal project in California,” said Taylor Morrison Division President Phil Bodem. The Wall Street Journal depicted Sea Summit’s 116 acres of protected habitat, preserving views and creating public trails.

 

China and Climate Change: Climate breakthroughs included the Paris treaty and U.S. and China agreeing to lower carbon emissions. The design world was ahead of them with an historic commitment among 52 design firms working in China to design to low carbon standards. Cuningham Group Architecture has long been a leader here, organizing the Themed Entertainment Sustainability Summit among the top theme park developers working in China.
 

Largest New Community, Fastest Internet:Ontario unveiled SoCal’s first masterplan with ultra-high bandwidth data. As with the Google Fiber cities outside of Cali, gigabit living means lightning-fast downloads and future-proofed homes. Homeowners pay directly through their HOA (at reduced rates). The L.A.Times wrote about it. CBS2 broadcast it. Ontario Ranch is built by some of the country’s best homebuilders, including Brookfield Residential.

 

 

    

 

 

Silicon Beach Waves: Urban coolness inundated Playa Vista: Mayor Garcetti trumpeted the new Runway retail. Yahoo moved into its new HQ. Google planned its own move. Maltzan Architecture designed the new Brickyard creative space. Gensler hacked an older building, which nabbed new tenants (including Jessica Alba’s Honest Company). Culver City expanded transit service and connected with Expo Rail. And Brookfield Residential opened two stunning, vertically sleek neighborhoods

 

Props to Pardee Properties: Tami Pardee is #1 in Los Angeles, selling over $2 billion of residential and commercial properties. And #17 in the U.S., says Real Trends/Wall Street Journal. But forget the haughty stereotype of celebri-brokers. Tami is about community commitment. Pardee Properties’ Giving Back program directs 10% net sale proceeds to essential charities: Over $750,000 has gone primarily to needy neighborhoods. JSPR worked with CBS2 on two stories “Tami’s Tips” for renters, and "When is the Right Time to Buy?"

 

Huge Explosion in the Arts District: Investor’s Business Daily covered it: $2 billion of institutional funds blowing-up the east end of DTLA. The boom included “curated” retail (as in ABC7’s Eye on L.A.) at the Michael Maltzan-designed One Santa Fe community. The Arts District became L.A.’s art and architecture center: Hennessey & Ingalls bookstore moves to OSF from Santa Monica. Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel museum opens in March a block away. Did we mention One Santa Fe took top honors in AIA-LA’s 2015 Design Awards, and launched L.A.'s largest private bike share program

 

Foodie Districts: Anaheim now claims the world stage for more than Disney. The delicious urbanism of the Packing House food hall and nearby Center Street and their creators – City of Anaheim and LAB Holding – transformed the city’s downtown and were huge hits in the Wall Street Journal and at Urban Land Institute's international Fall Meeting. 

 

At the Center of Real Estate Trends: Led by Director Stuart Gabriel, UCLA Ziman for Real Estate is the voice of knowledge in scores of media stories per year. Through its Economic Letter, the Ziman Center released groundbreaking research and analysi. Most recently, “Will Airbnb Go the Way of Napster?” detailed how the home-rental company can shift from a “disruptor” to a partner. Meanwhile, CBS2 featured Gabriel discussing when is the best time to refinance.

 

KFA: The Next 40 Years: Killefer Flammang Architects' adaptive-reuse work reshaped Los Angeles, including historic landmarks Eastern Columbia building and Ace HotelAnd yet, 75% of KFA’s work is new-construction, including in the fast-moving worlds of hospitality, residential, transit-oriented development and creative office. The firm celebrated its 40th anniversary and will soon announce bold 2016 news.

 

JSPR is grateful to its friends for an abundantly exciting year. We have the joy of working with the best creative partners in SoCal, including Urban Land Institute, InterCommunications, Greenhaus, Air Condition, Polaris Pacific, Hayes Martin & Associates, Hexa, Alexandria Abramian, Gunn Jerkins, Kulli Marketing, Salt&PR, Downtown Breakfast Club, White Oak Communications, Casey & Sayre, Mike Hoye Public Relations, Rachel Forman, Urbana, Balcony Press, Michelle Moreno and many more. Forgive us if we neglected any of you. But thank you all!

 

 

A Case Study for the Senses

2014 saw Downtown Anaheim explosively revive its urban fabric.  In the spring, Brookfield Residential welcomed its first move-ins to The Domain, a community of 100 stacked flats and townhomes. On May 31, The Packing House, developed and curated by LAB Holding, Inc., opened as California’s most popular new food hall and as the nucleus of the restaurant-oriented Packing District. Most recently, an eight-story, class-A building leased its entire 191,556 square feet to St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare -- Orange County’s largest office lease of the year. The City also launched a branding campaign to propel it success. 

last week, JSPR worked with these players and Urban Land Institute Orange County/Inland Empire to produce "Exit Suburbia: Inside the Anaheim Packing District" case study and site tour -- the most delicious site tour ever, since it included all the Packing House vendors. JSPR President Jack Skelley organized and moderated the panel.

The standing-room-only event included Carrie Rossefeld of GlobeSt, who published the below report:

A Regional Experience in Downtown Anaheim

By Carrie Rossenfeld | Orange County

ANAHEIM, CA—The revitalization taking place in Downtown Anaheim contains many elements, but it’s most clearly seen in the Packing House, a modern/retro food hall housing entrepreneurial culinary vendors, bulk grocery stands, quaint pubs and other whimsical vendors. The place, reminiscent of a smaller, more intimate Chelsea Market in New York, was the ideal setting for last night’s ULI Orange County/Inland Empire presentation “Exit Suburbia: Inside the Anaheim Packing District. A Case Study and Tour of Orange County’s Dynamic Urban Revitalization.”

Several stakeholders in the new downtown area spoke at the event, including John Woodhead, director of community and economic development for Anaheim; Shaheen Sadeghi, president and CEO of LAB Holding LLC, which created the Packing House and curates the vendors; Beth Callender, principal of Greenhaus Marketing; and David Bonaparte, managing principal of the PRES Cos. Woodhead said the guide for downtown development here was updated in 2007 to reflect the urban revitalization it is currently undergoing: a mix of residential, office and retail, with two tenets in place: getting people to come downtown after 5:00 p.m. and “We want the public to enjoy this resource—the Packing House—from its interior as well as its exterior.”

Bringing in LAB Holding allowed that to happen. Sadeghi and his team developed the Packing House from what it was into what it is today.

The region is rich in history and culture, and the Packing District is beginning to reflect that. Once an area in which immigrants grew grapes for winemaking, Anaheim is 70% ethnic, said Mayor Tom Tait. “Forty-million people come to this district each year, and the people want local flavor.”

That is what they are getting at the Packing House, which offers authentic cuisines including Indian, sushi, ramen and Vietnamese and French crepes as well as gourmet grilled cheese crafted by local artisans and food merchants. The two-story building, once an actual packing house for Sunkist citrus fruit, also sells non-edible goods and gift items, and visitors are likely to see items as unlikely as a tractor and a linens cart within feet of each other.

Across the street from the Packing House is the Domain, a collection of 100 stacked flats and townhomes ranging from 800 square feet to 1,600 square feet. O’Brien explained that the homes, developed and owned by Brookfield Residential, are centrally located in the District and offer residents services and amenities that include a rooftop retreat and technology prewiring. In addition, they’re within walking distance of all the Packing District has to offer, including the Packing House, Anaheim Brewery, Umami Burger and a host of other community amenities.

Sadeghi said the Packing House offers “multi levels of satisfaction and experience. You can’t just be a retailer or a restaurant—it’s boring.” Basically, it takes a page from the current trend of experiential retailing that has breathed new life into the sector.

Callendar spoke of the rebranding of downtown Anaheim as CtrCity Anaheim, a square mile of shops, restaurants, craft breweries, the Packing House, office and residential developments that offer a sense of place for residents and visitors. She compared it to the emerging trend of people wanting to experience a region—the local cuisine, beer, etc.—rather than a chain restaurant or a Budweiser—“although there are still plenty of consumers who prefer the Cheesecake Factory and Budweiser.”

Whether they’re locals or Disneyland visitors from other parts of the country, this area is beginning to offer both options and a depth of experience usually seen in larger, more established cities.

Urbanology Update: elevon

Ehrlich Architects Reinvent the Work Environment: A recent site tour by Urban Land Institute unveiled new office-space solutions. ULI Los Angeles’ case study was held at the under-construction elevon at Campus el Segundo. Attending were community leaders, top brokers and design professionals. elevon allows businesses to purchase their office building – unique in the L.A. area. The design also sets it apart: “There is a feeling of being in your own house, including private outdoor areas,” said Architect Steven Ehrlich of Ehrlich Architects, famous for custom homes around the world. “And they are set within an overall neighborhood context.” Natural light and natural materials are everywhere. Ehrlich’s residential-inspired elevon design has been profiled from Globe Street and L.A. Business Journal to Form magazine. Above is a photo from the ULI event and below an interior rendering. Here is a report from the ULI tour.

Urbanology Updates: Life in the Food Lane

Los Angeles Times photographer Christina House photo of Jack Skelley and Shaheen Sadeghi at the future home of Make in Downtown Anaheim.

Los Angeles Times photographer Christina House photo of Jack Skelley and Shaheen Sadeghi at the future home of Make in Downtown Anaheim.

Life in the Food Lane: Along with his clients, JSPR President Jack Skelley recently made the cover of Business. LA Times reporter Andrew Khouri examined the revitalization of Downtown Anaheim – including its popular Packing House food hall, a wine- and beer-making development, new condos The Domain by Brookfield Residential, a central park for farmers markets and events, and artisanal shops along Center Street curated by retail wizards LAB Holding. The area is getting attention from urban-planning and food geeks alike. It is one of several nationwide “foodie districts” where gourmet (or just hungry) residents are revitalizing downtowns. Photo below is from Wall Street Journal reporter Katie McLaughlin’s story on same.

The Perils of Biking in Manhattan... and L.A.

By Jack Skelley

This story originally published in Huffington Post: http://tinyurl.com/mnp2yo9

This story originally published in Huffington Post: http://tinyurl.com/mnp2yo9

Biking in Manhattan is a contact sport. It includes confronting cabbies and dodging pedestrians (who in welcome ways have a supremacy of the street). It demands nano-second reflexes, a sense of daring, and nerves stronger than your bike frame. For adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers, I’d guess it rightfully vies with bull riding or wind surfing.

Let’s put it this way: I would not allow my 16-year-old daughter to dare the streets of Manhattan on two wheels.

I learned from my recent visit – riding from Midtown to the north end of Central Park – that bikes are still on the low, desperate end of Manhattan’s transportation food-chain.

Allegedly, bikes have jurisdiction in bus lanes. But all other vehicles shoot through these lanes as well, eliminating any advantage. And these lanes are sure to be blocked by double-parked trucks and eternal street construction. Only in bike lanes that are physically separated from rest of traffic can one travel safely. The problem is, in Midtown such lanes are rare. There is one on the far East Side (First Avenue), but it only travels north.  Another separated lane on the West Side is wide and beautifully landscaped, along the West Side Highway, with views of the Hudson River.

So, enjoy the freedom of these routes if they are going where you are. But just try to jag over to Central Park, for example, and it’s back to bare-knuckled confrontations.

It’s worth getting to Central Park, however. That’s where you’ll find the best ride of all. The hundreds of pedestrian paths are off-limits for cyclists, but a six-mile bike loop near its perimeter is carless. It takes you all the way to north edge of Central Park, then back down again, with exhilarating hills, dips and endless diversions. There are also certain throughways for runners, walkers, bikes and limited cars. Here is where you’ll hear runners and riders get verbal revenge on the cabbies that otherwise rule the city.

“This is my lane, not yours!” they bark at drivers obliviously drifting into their lane.

The same lack of bike infrastructure that plagues New York is increasingly alarming in L.A. It seems that almost every Angeleno knows of a bike rider who has been injured (or killed) by a car.

In fact, Chris Walker at L.A. Weekly recently wrote that Los Angeles is the most dangerous city in the world for bikes. 

He points to statistics showing an average of two bicyclists per month are killed in traffic. A figure that multiplies as more cyclists hit the road… and more cars hit them.

Some positive news: Bike advocates the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition seems to have gotten the ear of Pasadena planners to create a set of east-west protected lanes

And the much-discussed My Figueroa plan will include cycle-ways. 

As usual, Long Beach leads the way in bike progress, with 40 miles of Class I routes (bike paths dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic). 

But setbacks continue too. In a move the riled bike advocates, L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo recently cancelled long-planned bike infrastructure through North Figueroa Street. 

Cedillo claimed his veto was to improve safety, but his rationale defies reason. It’s an area that Los Angeles Times research showed is one of the most dangerous in the city. Over a 10-year period, David Zahniser and Armand Emamdhomeh report, the street had 68 car-vs-bicycle collisions, and 153 car-vs-pedestrian collisions. Nine of these resulted in death. 

More, not less, bikeways are needed for safer streets.

 

Follow Jack Skelley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JackSkelley

 

 

O.C.’s Packing District May Rival S.F.’s Ferry Building

The Packing House

The Packing House

SoCal foodies and retail-istas know The Lab and The Camp. These imaginatively successful anti-malls have taken root in a once-forgotten Costa Mesa triangle. Their shops and restaurants are more genuinely indie and artisanal than in any other development in O.C…. or in L.A.

Now LAB Holding, the brains behind The Lab and The Camp, are back with more amazement, this time in downtown Anaheim. Opening May 31 is The Packing House. This 42,000-square-foot, 1918 Sunkist warehouse has been transformed into a gourmet food hall: a huge, sun-drenched atrium with communal dining surrounded by cafes as well as picnic gardens, orange trees, outdoor fireplace and a building-length dining porch. The Packing House’s public spaces are designed for community events, concerts and movie screenings.

Given LAB Holding’s retail track record and this amazing space, The Packing House may soon rival San Francisco’s Ferry Building, developed by Wilson Meany, a respected magnet for locals and visitors.

The Domain

The Domain

The coolness doesn’t stop there. The Packing House is just one component of the new Anaheim Packing District. At the intersection of Anaheim Blvd and Santa Ana Street, The Packing District includes new Farmer’s Park, more historic structures converted into restaurants (including Umami Burger) and Anaheim’s new residences, The Domain.

The Domain is the residential centerpiece of The Packing District. It pays stylish respect to the classic architecture around it, with lofts, flats, pool deck and rooftop terrace overlooking the Packing House. The Domain just opened its doors and builder Brookfield Residential has nearly sold out the first phase.

One happy new owner is photographer Staci Hart who blogged about The Domain's opening here.

Inside The Packing House, before its May opening

Inside The Packing House, before its May opening

“The Domain completes the excitement of The Packing District,” said Brookfield Residential Senior Marketing Director Mercedes Meserve. “Right next door is, without exaggeration, one of the most innovative and appealing pedestrian and retail environments in Southern California.”

Chris Bennett, director of development for LAB Holdings, repaid the compliment last week when interviewed by the Orange County Register.

“I think [The Packing House] is just an extension of the lifestyle that this is [The Domain’s] backyard,” Bennett said. 

-Jack Skelley

Does Downtown Need Frank Gehry?

Originally published on Huffington Post, 3.5.14

Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo by Debbie Zeitman

Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo by Debbie Zeitman

City watchers embraced the recent news that Frank Gehry has been rehired as designer of the Grand Avenue project. This is the $650 million stack of towers and plazas long-planned next to Disney Hall, also designed by Gehry.

Grand Avenue has been on the drawing board for nearly a decade.  Like downtown itself, its fortunes have risen and fallen with the economy, and with planning decisions good and bad.

No one wants this key part of Downtown to remain barren parking lots. And Gehry’s exuberant designs are sure to boost L.A.’s reputation as the capital of creativity. So let’s applaud the progress.

But let’s also remember the problem that Grand Avenue was supposed to solve. Presently, the Music Center and Disney Hall preside over dead streets. For a cultural complex, it sadly lacks the street activity such a landmark should enjoy. Instead, concert-goers drive into underground garages, escalator up to the theaters, and scoot back to their cars to return home.

It’s a one-stop destination that walls off patrons from surrounding neighborhoods. (The same selfishness, symptomatic of L.A. planning, afflicts The Getty Center and Dodger Stadium.) The root of the problem is the Bunker Hill area where it sits. In a fit of misguided 1960s urban renewal, the hill’s Victorian homes were sheared off to make way for the Music Center. If even just a few of those homes were saved, the place might have retained an authentic vibe.

Like the rest of Downtown has.

For while Grand Avenue plans gathered dust, other neighborhoods thrived. The old banks and theaters now teem with lofts and cafes. The residential market can’t keep pace with demand. Hipster havens like Ace Hotel are reviving faded landmarks. Every week there’s another cool, new restaurant. In 2013 alone, 64 retail establishments opened – most by independent proprietors – according to the Downtown Center Improvement District.

These neighborhoods grow organically from a porous street grid, with narrow alleys, wide sidewalks, multiple storefronts, and pleasingly mis-matched facades. They do it without a starchitect.

As Downtown’s tide has turned, Grand Avenue is not the only mega project to resurface. After 27 years in a coma, Metropolis – the $1 billion plan near L.A. LIVE – has been revived by China’s Greenland Group and a Gensler design. Also near L.A. LIVE, developer Mack Urban will build a $750 million set of highrises. The Wilshire Grand’s 73 floors will make it the tallest building on the West Coast. And more big deals are lining up.

They will all include residences. They will all have brand-new buildings. They will all be ginormous!

The question is whether Gehry and the other mega projects can, starting from scratch, capture the magic Downtown is already generating. Will they selfishly corral pedestrians? Will they be bunkers and monoliths? Will L.A. commit the same old errors?

Rick Cole, Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, is one of those who hopes for results that draw on traditional design principles like the ones sparking revival of Downtown's old core. Without prejudging Gehry's new conceptual design, Cole is skeptical of designers known for splashy architecture and not for attending to mundane details like the real-life experience of the pedestrian.

“Getting streets right isn't rocket science and it doesn't require ‘creativity,’ ” says Cole, the former Mayor of Pasadena who helped revive street life in Old Pasadena. “In fact, most 'creative' solutions have fallen abysmally flat because they ignore time-tested principles of how people behave. With Photoshop, you can show a space full of people in an illustration. But in the real world, you can't fix dead wall space at the ground floor with decorative pavement and landscaping. 'Door/window/door' is the science of engaging the pedestrian.  We know how to do it in malls.  We've forgotten how to do it on city streets.  More grand plazas and gardens aren't the answer.  Success comes from wide sidewalks and human-scale street activity.”

Let’s continue to succeed.

Great Streets Wrap-Up

great streets audience.jpg

At the recent forum I produced with ULI Los Angeles, we had an all-star panel. “Can L.A.’s Streets Be Great?” was hosted at Gensler in its jewel-box space on Figueroa Street. An ideal quasi-public setting for a discussion on how smartly designed civic space can boost livability.

 

The below honchos and experts addressed a full house of urbanologists, bike-eratti, transit geeks and enlightened policy wonks (and I use those terms with utmost respect!)

 

José Huizar, Los Angeles 14th District Councilman, discussed the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan which recently got underway. Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor, City Services, City of Los Angeles, offered an update on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.  Rick Cole, Deputy Mayor, Budget & Innovation, City of Los Angeles, former mayor and/or city manager of Azusa, Pasadena, Ventura – spoke on the wider context of investment, neighborhood ownership of the street, events, marketing, pop ups, art programs and more. Laura Nelson, Los Angeles Times transportation reporter overviewed neighborhood mobility planning in the context of the region’s wider transportation system. Brigham Yen, Publisher and Editor of DTLA Rising, and Downtown real estate broker gave his impassioned critique of the plague of jaywalking tickets afflicting Downtown L.A.; and Melani Smith principal of Melendrez, updated everyone on the crucial but presently stalled My Figueroa project.

 

This week, Rick Cole went the extra mile by offering his presentation to The Planning Report, the influential policy journal published by David Abel. Here it is.

Lots of awesome going on

The Vermont, street view

The Vermont, street view

For example, JSPR is excited to announce superb new clients:

The Vermont: Wow, here's L.A.’s largest, new luxury highrise, with 464 for-lease residences. The Vermont has astonishing views, sleek design by Jerde Partnership, in one of the city's most vibrant settings (above the Wilshire/Vermont subway, with a superior “walk score”). Opening in April.

Playa Vista: Home base to L.A.'s Silicon Beach, Playa Vista opens six Modern-styled neighborhoods on February 22. They signal the final phase of the advanced community that also houses YouTube, Facebook, 72andSunny and The Clippers. JSPR has developed stories with The Hollywood Reporter, and more.

We continue working with other exciting places and people. Stay tuned…

On February 19 I host an Urban Land Institute panel discussion: “Can L.A. Streets Be Great? Urban Activism, Mobility and Socially Engaging Places.” The event includes representatives of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and Downtown L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar. There will updates on new plans for Broadway, and on the “controversial” My Figueroa street plan. (I put controversial in quotes because this enlightened proposal really should be embraced by all!) It happens in the cool Gensler “jewel box” space on – where else? – Figueroa.

If you want to know how I really feel about the My Figueroa plan – and the need for public spaces designed for the 100% of us who walk – see my latest column in the Huffington Post.

As they sing in the new Lego movie: Everything Is Awesome!

Wow. We’re Job Creators!

Publicists and Interns:

Check Out This Growing Marketing Firm!

JSPR Public Relations, Writing and Marketing has exciting openings: one for a kick-ass publicist and one for a savvy intern. The best intern candidates will have strong knowledge of media, social media, writing press releases and event coordination. The best publicist candidates will have that plus experience in real estate and solid media relationships. Excellent writing is not a lost art: It is found at JSPR, and it is a must for both positions.

These are freelance roles, with great growth potential. Our clients? Travel and resort, luxury brands, real estate, architecture, urban design and development. They are the leading influencers in the country and they value our work. This is an ideal opportunity to experience fulfilling projects and events, and to work directly with some of the top marketing pros in the business.

Hourly pay is commensurate with your experience. Send us your resume and a cover letter explaining why you want to work with us. But first explore our website to understand who we are and what inspires us: www.JSPRLA.com

The business-development and public-relations achievements of JSPR are responsible for multiple millions of dollars in sales and exposure, and its media placements achieve international recognition. Past successes include everything from the unveiling of the world’s highest-rated LEED Platinum building to innovative marketing campaigns for cities, designers and developers (recognized with several national Bulldog Reporter awards).

Amazing projects, people and places need our help and yours. If you have what it takes, send your resume and cover letter to JackSkelley@JSPRLA.com

 

A Spiritualized Baptism for Ace Hotel

spiritualized.jpg

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.

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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

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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,
you 

 

We are all better for Ed having survived.

 

(photo of Ed Rosenthal by Gary Leonard)

High-Speed Rail Panel: Mobility Corridors

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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.