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 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. 

MusicVerse 2014

While about half of the HelterSkelley / JSPR Instagram posts are related to Urbanology, another large share reflect our obsession with music. 

This speedy Filpagram video -- 15 seconds! -- recaps just a few of those events and experiences from 2014. They include concerts from Tame Impala and Paul McCartney to the Punk Rock BBQs at Liquid Kitty where Jack Skelley's band Lawndale is the house band! Plus some of the songs on heavy rotation on HelterSkelley's Soundcloud and ipod. Video music is Andrew Weatherall remix of "Soon" by My Bloody Valentine.

Can Cars and Bikes Just Get Along?

By Jack Skelley

(Originally published in Huffington Post)

Los Angeles is going through an awkward stage. Long famous for its car culture, it now has a sizable biking/walking populace that is only getting larger. Drivers are used to ruling the road. Non-drivers are claiming their share of public space. Clashes between them – dangerous clashes – are growing.

This conflict came into sharp relief at the most recent CycLAvia event: You know, the scheduled festivals that close streets to cars. These celebrations are carefree because they are car-free. They allow people to rediscover and reclaim neighborhoods in ways that can’t happen when it’s traffic-as-usual.

But they expose a problem. Streetsblog Los Angeles reporter Sahra Sulaiman described the moment at the close of CycLAvia when the traffic barriers were removed from Wilshire Boulevard and cars were suddenly sharing space with hundreds of bikers. Traffic officers ordered bikes to the right side of the road. But there was simply not room for so many bikes and cars. This forced scared or novice bikers (including children) up onto the sidewalks with pedestrians. Which is no solution either.

As Sulaiman wrote, “If we want people to take cycling seriously as a transportation option… then cyclists need to have options that indicate the city takes their safety seriously.”

Those options are protected bike lanes. And more are coming.

As part of his Great Streets initiative, Mayor Eric Garcetti last week specified six streets that will be redesigned to better accommodate bikes, pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers, etc. (Plans include other ways to make streets more enjoyable and successful places. I wrote about the original announcement in Huffington Post.)

But until we get protected bike lanes on every major street – probably not in this lifetime – cars and bikes need to co-exist in the same space.

One solution is the three-foot law, recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown. Starting on September 16, of this year, California drivers must keep their cars at least three feet away from bikes they pass on the street. The law is bound to increase the friction between bikes and cars. Drivers are used to demanding full use of lanes. Some of them will aggressively resist the law. Some experienced bikers already claim that space. It’s not going to be pretty.

So here’s another solution: Drivers can slow down and become more patient. I realize this is a non-scientific demand. It requires a psychological change, not a legal one.

Today, when driving through a stretch of Overland Avenue, I saw a sign: “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.” That is exactly right. As drivers, too many of us feel compelled to get “there” as fast as possible. We squeak through the left-turn arrow. We adroitly shift lanes to get ahead. We dare the speed limit (when we can).

This is a natural reaction to driving in a city with terrible congestion. To “fight” the traffic we face every day is maddening. It can make the meekest person irrationally eager to “beat” the other guy and get ahead.

But if it’s your kids playing on the sidewalks, or you are biking in the right-hand lane, you have a different attitude. You want drivers to chill. They can be a few minutes – or seconds – late.

A beloved teacher of my daughter was riding her bike through an alley near school. A driver was cleverly taking this shortcut. There was a collision and hospitalization. That’s the problem we need to solve.

I realize there’s another side to this story: The driver’s side. Neighborhoods that have adopted lane restrictions, speed humps, etc. can make congestion “worse.” And that makes drivers even more frustrated. When you’re stuck in traffic, it’s hard to get on the “traffic-calming” bandwagon. But there is a trade-off, as explained by Michael Bohn, design director at Studio One Eleven which has created “complete streets” re-designs across Southern California.

“Congestion is not always bad: Two streets in downtown Long Beach originally had three lanes in one direction causing cars to roar down these streets and making them unbearable in terms of livability. Once one lane was converted for bikes, businesses such as restaurants and microbrews sprang up creating jobs and a more vibrant place. People don't always realize what economic hardships are imposed on a neighborhood when strictly thinking of vehicular movement. Streets are complex animals that need to respond to the desires and context of community as well as balance broader transportation movements.”

Maybe, one day, we’ll live in a frictionless city. Like the futuristic L.A. of that Joachin Phoenix movie, Her, where everyone takes smooth, quiet public transportation. But until we change our city that dramatically, we need to change our attitude.

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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.