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...

How the Future Gets Built

Mayor Eric Garcetti's keynote to FutureBuild / VerdeXchange heralded the coming restoration of the L.A. River. photo by Dlugolecki Photography

Mayor Eric Garcetti's keynote to FutureBuild / VerdeXchange heralded the coming restoration of the L.A. River. photo by Dlugolecki Photography

Urban Explorations from FutureBuild / VerdeXchange

 By Jack Skelley

Los Angeles Major Eric Garcetti joined international change-makers of the built envirornment at the recent FutureBuild Sessions produced by ULI Los Angeles with VerdeXchange. The annual event, which attracts designers, developers, civic leaders, and environmental stakeholders, explored urgent urban issues, including: transforming the Los Angeles River; the world’s greenest buildings; how transportation tech is transforming cities; places built to withstand quakes, droughts and climate change, and more.

Garcetti’s keynote address trumpeted ambitious efforts to restore the Los Angeles River. A recent agreement with Army Corps of Engineers allocatoes $1.3 billion for the effort – which Garcetti deemed “the largest urban ecosystem restoration the Army Corps has ever seen.” Stakeholders have not yet approved plans, which include a proposal by architect Frank Gehry. Garcetti nonetheless was upbeat, saying, “I look forward to hearing the music of the River.”

 

Made to Last: Getting to Resiliency

Resiliency panel, left to right: Rick Cole, Frank Bush, Marissa Aho and Ann Gray. photo by Dlugolecki Photography

Resiliency panel, left to right: Rick Cole, Frank Bush, Marissa Aho and Ann Gray. photo by Dlugolecki Photography

Made to Last, a panel on resiliency (including seismic and infrastructure challenges) was moderated by Ann Gray, Principal of GRAY Real Estate Advisors. Contributors were Marissa Aho, Chief Resiliency Officer, City of Los Angeles, Frank Bush, Executive Officer, Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, and Rick Cole, Santa Monica City Manager. Gray launched the discussion with a compelling video, “Our Changing World,” produced by RICS and dramatizing trends reshaping the planet.

 The conversation quickly got local. Saying, “There is simply not enough money to go around,” Cole noted that before Los Angeles can address drastic resilience issues, the city faces approximately $100 billion in infrastructure needs. Bush cited the approximately 13,000 buildings in the city that require seismic retrofits. Aho offered some solace, reporting that L.A. is among the 100 Resilient Cities funded by Rockefeller Foundation, and that the city is implementing 18 recommendations of seimologist Dr. Lucy Jones, the influential “earthquake lady.”

 Challenges remain huge. Cole blasted the “immature poltical culture” that fixates on the click-bait of fear and hysteria, rather than on real solutions.

 “We have to get back to the basics” of fixing the city, he said. “Otherwise we willhave a third-world infrastructure trying to govern a first-world economy.”

 Cole had the ear-catching quote of the day: “The best cities in Italy are run by communists. The best cities in the Southern California are run by renters,” (namely, Santa Monica and West Hollywood).

 

The Evolution of Energy

Panel on the most sustainable buildings in the world, left to right: David Kramer, Harlan Kelly, Frances Anderton and David Martin. photo by Dlugolecki photography

Panel on the most sustainable buildings in the world, left to right: David Kramer, Harlan Kelly, Frances Anderton and David Martin. photo by Dlugolecki photography

 Another compelling panel was The Most Sustainable Buildings in the World, with moderator Frances Anderton, host of  "DnA: Design and Architecture," KCRW; joined by David Martin, FAIA, Design Principal, AC Martin, who is designing the the 73-story Wilshire Grand tower;  David Kramer, President, Hudson Companies, creating Manhattan’s Riverwalk on Roosevelt Island, considered one of the most energy-efficient developments in the world; and Harlan Kelly, General Manager, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

 The Riverwalk technologies are advanced, responding to New York’s extremes of heat, cold, and even inundating storm surges. In some ways, the mission for Los Angeles buildings is simpler: to unlearn unnecessary design habits. Martin says his team will “fine-tune” the Wilshire Grand to Downtown L.A.’s micro-climate.

 Approaches include breathable skin, and smaller and smarter air-conditioning, so that the building’s HVAC system is not working overtime. The skyscraper will include hundreds of openable windows, which, for some reason, are still rare in L.A. high-rises.

 “In New York City you want to insulate the client from the climate,” Martin said. “ In L.A. we want to connect with the outside where it’s beautiful outside right now!”

 

Hyperloop and Healthy Communities

 With panels jointly produced by ULI Los Angeles and VerdeXchange, the cross-polination was fertile. Next Generation Sustainable Development had moderator Richard Katz, Founder, Katz Consulting, Inc. asking questions of Randall Lewis, Owner, Lewis Group of Companies; Quay Hays, CEO, GROW Holdings; and Michael Dieden, Founder, Creative Housing Associates. These are three of California’s most visionary developers.

 Hays is creating Quay Valley, a sustainable town planned in Central California that will also house the first test-track for the revolutionary hyperloop transportation technology. Dieden is a pioneer of transit-oriented developments who is passionate about creating human-scaled environments. And Lewis is a constant innovator whose latest communities – many on Ontario Ranch in California’s Inland Empire – include emerging concepts

 He listed them in rapid-fire: healthy design (in coordination with ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative); education-centered communities with schools and joint-use facilities at the center; “Harvest” branded developments with edible landscaping and outdoor dining; and, with heathcare a growing industry in the Inland Empire, an ambitious coordination with local colleges and medical educators.

 Many of them fall under the Healthy Ontario banner, which emphasizes prevention and wellness, access to healthcare, education and lifelong learning, and safe and complete neighborhoods.

 

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 Year of Urbanology

Jack Skelley and JSPR thank colleagues, clients and cohorts for another inspiring year. May 2015 be even more awesome! This super-speed video grabs just some of the highlights of the year. 

Urbanology Updates: UCLA to 'The Art of Go'

UCLA’s Alarming Rent Report: When it comes to rent, Los Angeles is the most unaffordable market in the country – worse than even San Francisco and New York. This dire situation has been growing for decades, as affordable housing dwindled and wages stagnated. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate published a paper summarizing the data on this crisis. The news has been covered in Los Angeles Business Journal, Curbed LAKPCC, and major financial media. 


Creative Cooperation: There is a natural synergy between good PR and good branding. However, many marketing firms are missing in-house PR. JSPR is filling the gap. Since launching just over a year ago, JSPR has collaborated with SoCal’s best marketing teams in the realm of placemaking. These alliances are propelling high-profile developments in the region: With HEXA (L.A.’s top Asian media agency), JSPR helped make The Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. LIVE the best-selling highrise in Southern California. InterCommunicationsInc and JSPR are highlighting the innovative Elevon office masterplan in El Segundo. With Greenhaus and Sandra Kulli, JSPR is establishing a strong identity for the revitalization of downtown Anaheim. And with Gunn Jerkens we are building a whole new level of buzz for Playa Vista. Other collaborators are Urbana and Looking

 

 

 

Elevon: Be honest. Are you excited about going to work? Maybe more people would be if their offices were – you know – exciting. That’s the concept underlying Elevon at Campus El Segundo: SoCal’s only new work environment allowing businesses to own their space. (A huge financial advantage, at today’s interest rates.). The innovative design is by Steven Ehrlich, the renowned residential architect. It translates how people love to live to how they want to work. The for-sale spaces of Elevon are moving quickly.

 

 

 

 

Transit-Oriented L.A.: JSPR continues its affiliation with Urban Land Institute Los Angeles and its ToLA events – Transit-Oriented Los Angeles. Last year ToLA made news when Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his Great Streets initiative: transforming city boulevards through creativity and economic power. Here is a video from the event. ToLA will host world-famous names in transportation design, November 12, at Japanese American National Museum in Downtown L.A. The event is themed: The Art of Go: Active Transportation for Healthy Cities. Here is a quick preview.

 

 

 

 

Huffington Post: In New York, biking is a contact sport. That’s the takeaway from a recent NYC visit comparing bike infrastructure in Manhattan and L.A. Both cities are lacking and that’s dangerous for all of us. You can read my monthly HuffPo column here.

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!

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.