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Should California Get Rid of Single-Family Zoning? - The New York Times
“When I recently asked Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles about his stance on S.B. 50, the legislation that would have allowed more apartment construction near transit, he said it wouldn’t be a good fit for the city.

S.B. 50, he told me, would threaten the character of existing neighborhoods. And L.A., the state’s largest city, already builds more than its fair share of new housing compared with other cities in the county, he said.

This week, though, Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, my colleagues at The Upshot, reported that apartments and townhomes — anything other than detached, single-family houses — are banned from 75 percent of L.A.’s residential land.

All of which raises the question: When you’re dealing with a housing crisis, should a city even have single-family zoning? As Emily and Quoctrung reported, that’s a question cities across the nation are grappling with.

I asked Emily to dive a little deeper into what they learned about California. In L.A., at least, things weren’t always this way, she wrote:

In 1960, about 2.5 million people lived in the city of Los Angeles, but 10 million theoretically could. The city had the zoning capacity for that many residents — developers could legally build enough apartments to house them, neighborhoods were planned to accommodate that much growth.

Then L.A. began to reimagine itself in ways that constrain the city today.

L.A. and many California communities began the steady process of “downzoning”: converting land that allowed courtyard apartments to just fourplexes, fourplexes to duplexes, large-lot single-family homes to even-larger-lot single-family homes.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” said Greg Morrow, executive director of the Real Estate Development and Design program at Berkeley, who has studied the development history of Los Angeles. “You’re just taking a little bit out each time.”

Within 20 years, according to Mr. Morrow’s research, the city’s zoning capacity had been cut to just under 4 million people. And that number has barely kept pace since with actual population growth.

Today, many families are doubling up or paying far more than they can afford for a place to live.

This history — and the current zoning map that The Times has reproduced — portrays a clearer picture of the housing shortage in California. It’s not just that the state hasn’t built enough housing over the years; California communities have made it illegal to build much of the housing that was once possible.

S.B. 50 would have significantly changed that. But the proposal, from State Senator Scott Wiener, is just one of several from officials across the country who are starting to rethink single-family zoning entirely.

“If you look back at early attempts to downzone,” Mr. Morrow said, “they really were almost driven by this naïve belief that if you just downzoned, you could stop population growth.”

In L.A., that clearly did not happen.”
california  zoning  losangeles  housing  2019  cities  urban  urbanism  policy  sb50  scottwiener  ericgarcetti  emilybadger  quoctrungbui  jillcowan  downzoning 
june 2019 by robertogreco
Shade
[via: https://twitter.com/shannonmattern/status/1122670547777871874

who concludes…
https://twitter.com/shannonmattern/status/1122685558688485376
"🌴Imagine what LA could do if it tied street enhancement to a comprehensive program of shade creation: widening the sidewalks, undergrounding powerlines, cutting bigger tree wells, planting leafy, drought-resistant trees, + making room for arcades, galleries, + bus shelters.🌳"]

"All you have to do is scoot across a satellite map of the Los Angeles Basin to see the tremendous shade disparity. Leafy neighborhoods are tucked in hillside canyons and built around golf courses. High modernist homes embrace the sun as it flickers through labor-intensive thickets of eucalyptus. Awnings, paseos, and mature ficus trees shade high-end shopping districts. In the oceanfront city of Santa Monica, which has a dedicated municipal tree plan and a staff of public foresters, all 302 bus stops have been outfitted with fixed steel parasols (“blue spots”) that block the sun. 9 Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles flats, there are vast gray expanses — playgrounds, parking lots, and wide roads — with almost no trees. Transit riders bake at unsheltered bus stops. The homeless take refuge in tunnels and under highway overpasses; some chain their tarps and tents to fences on Skid Row and wait out the day in the shadows of buildings across the street.

Shade is often understood as a luxury amenity, lending calm to courtyards and tree-lined boulevards, cooling and obscuring jewel boxes and glass cubes. But as deadly, hundred-degree heatwaves become commonplace, we have to learn to see shade as a civic resource that is shared by all. In the shade, overheated bodies return to equilibrium. Blood circulation improves. People think clearly. They see better. In a physiological sense, they are themselves again. For people vulnerable to heat stress and exhaustion — outdoor workers, the elderly, the homeless — that can be the difference between life and death. Shade is thus an index of inequality, a requirement for public health, and a mandate for urban planners and designers.

A few years back, Los Angeles passed sweeping revisions to the general plan meant to encourage residents to walk, bike, and take more buses and trains. But as Angelenos step out of their cars, they are discovering that many streets offer little relief from the oppressive sunshine. Not everyone has the stamina to wait out the heat at an unprotected bus stop, or the money to duck into an air-conditioned cafe. 11 When we understand shade as a public resource — a kind of infrastructure, even — we can have better discussions about how to create it and distribute it fairly.

Yet cultural values complicate the provision of shade. Los Angeles is a low-rise city whose residents prize open air and sunshine. 12 They show up at planning meetings to protest tall buildings that would block views or darken sunbathing decks, and police urge residents in high-crime neighborhoods to cut down trees that hide drug dealing and prostitution. Shade trees are designed out of parks to discourage loitering and turf wars, and designed off streets where traffic engineers demand wide lanes and high visibility. Diffuse sunlight is rare in many parts of Los Angeles. You might trace this back to a cultural obsession with shadows and spotlights, drawing a line from Hollywood noir — in which long shadows and unlit corners represent the criminal underworld — to the contemporary politics of surveillance. 13 The light reveals what hides in the dark.

When I think of Los Angeles, I picture Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village, a streetcar suburb converted into a ten-lane automobile moonscape. People say they like this street for its wall of low-slung, pre-war storefronts, home to record stores and restaurants. To me, it’s a never-ending, vertiginous tunnel of light. I squint to avoid the glare from the white stucco walls, bare pavement, and car windows. From a climate perspective, bright surfaces are good; they absorb fewer sun rays and lessen the urban heat-island effect. But on an unshaded street they can also concentrate and intensify local sunlight."



"At one time, they did. “Shade was integral, and incorporated into the urban design of southern California up until the 1930s,” Davis said. “If you go to most of the older agricultural towns … the downtown streets were arcaded. They had the equivalent of awnings over the sidewalk.” Rancho homes had sleeping porches and shade trees, and buildings were oriented to keep their occupants cool. The original settlement of Los Angeles conformed roughly to the Law of the Indies, a royal ordinance that required streets to be laid out at a 45-degree angle, ensuring access to sun in the winter and shade in the summer. Spanish adobes were built around a central courtyard cooled by awnings and plants. 15 As the city grew, the California bungalow — a low, rectangular house, with wide eaves, inspired by British Indian hill stations — became popular with the middle class. “During the 1920s, they were actually prefabricated in factories,” Davis said. “There are tens of thousands of bungalows, particularly along the Alameda corridor … that were manufactured by Pacific Ready-Cut Homes, which advertised itself as the Henry Ford of home construction.” 16

All that changed with the advent of cheap electricity. In 1936, the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light completed a 266-mile high-voltage transmission line from Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam), which could supply 70 percent of the city’s power at low cost. Southern Californians bought mass-produced housing with electric heating and air conditioning. By the end of World War II, there were nearly 4 million people living in Los Angeles County, and the new neighborhoods were organized around driveways and parking lots. Parts of the city, Davis said, became “virtually treeless deserts.”"



"It’s easy to see how this hostile design reflected the values of the peak automobile era, but there is more going on here. The destruction of urban refuge was part of a long-term strategy to discourage gay cruising, drug use, and other “shady” activities downtown. In 1964, business owners sponsored another redesign that was intended, in the hyperbolic words of the Los Angeles Times, to finally clear out the “deviates and criminals.” The city removed the perimeter benches and culled even more palms and shade trees, so that office workers and shoppers could move through the park without being “accosted by derelicts and ‘bums.’” Sunlight was weaponized. “Before long, pedestrians will be walking through, instead of avoiding, Pershing Square,” the Times declared. “And that is why parks are built.” 19"



"High-concept architecture is one way to transform the shadescape of Los Angeles. Street trees are another. Unfortunately, the city’s most ubiquitous tree — the iconic Washington robusta, or Mexican fan palm — is about as useful in that respect as a telephone pole.

Palm trees have been identified with southern California since 1893, when Canary Island date palms — the fatter, stouter cousin — were displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair. On the trunk of one of those palms, boosters posted the daily temperatures at a San Diego beach, and the tree itself came to stand for “sunshine and soft air.” In his indispensable history, Trees in Paradise, Jared Farmer traces the palm’s transformation from a symbol of a healthy climate to a symbol of glamour, via its association with Hollywood. 26

Despite that early fame, palm trees did not really take over Los Angeles until the 1930s, when a citywide program set tens of thousands of palms along new or recently expanded roads. They were the ideal tree for an automobile landscape. Hardy, cheap, and able to grow anywhere, palm trees are basically weeds. Their shallow roots curl up into a ball, so they can be plugged into small pavement cuts without entangling underground sewer and water mains or buckling sidewalks. As Farmer puts it, palms are “symbiotic infrastructure,” beautifying the city without making a mess. Plus, as Mary Pickford once pointed out, the slender trunks don’t block the view of storefronts, which makes them ideal for window-shopping from the driver’s seat. The city’s first forester, L. Glenn Hall, planted more than 25,000 palm trees in 1931 alone. 27

Hall’s vision, though, was more ambitious than that. He planned to landscape all of Los Angeles’s roads with 1.2 million street trees. Tall palms, like Washingtonia robusta, would go on major thoroughfares, and side streets would be lined with elm, pine, red maple, liquidambar, ash, and sycamore. A Depression-era stimulus package provided enough funds to employ 400 men for six months. But the forestry department put the burden of watering and maintenance on property owners, and soon it charged for cutting new tree wells, too. Owners weren’t interested. So Hall concentrated his efforts on the 28 major boulevards that would serve the 1932 Olympics — including the now-iconic Ventura, Wilshire, Figueroa, Vermont, Western, and Crenshaw — and committed the city to pay for five years of tree maintenance. That may well have bankrupted the tree planting program, and before long the city was urging property owners to take on all costs, including the trees themselves.

This history partly explains the shade disparity in Los Angeles today. Consider the physical dimensions of a major city street in Hall’s time. Between the expanding road and narrowing sidewalks was an open strip of grass, three to ten feet wide, known as the parkway. Having rejected a comprehensive parks system, Los Angeles relied on these roadside strips to plant its urban forest, but over time the parkways were diminished by various agencies in the name of civic improvements — chiefly, road widening. 29 And the stewardship of these spaces was always ambiguous. The parkways are public land, owned and regulated by the … [more]
losangeles  trees  shade  history  palmtrees  urbanplanning  electricity  inequality  2019  sambloch  mikedavis  urban  urbanism  cars  transportation  disparity  streets  values  culture  pedestrians  walking  heat  light  socal  california  design  landscape  wealth  sidewalks  publictransit  transit  privacy  reynerbanham  surveillance  sun  sunshine  climatechange  sustainability  energy  ericgarcetti  antoniovillaraigosa  environment  realestate  law  legal  cities  civics 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Just Subtract Water: The Los Angeles River and a Robert Moses with the Soul of a Jane Jacobs - The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Archival photographs taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries show the LA River as a spreading arroyo of sand and gravel, crazy-quilting the basin for much of its length. It coursed into Santa Monica bay in the early 19th century before shifting to the Los Angeles Harbor, leaving Ballona Creek in its wake on the Ballona Creek watershed. The LA River as it eventually ran from the Valley toward Long Beach was never a miniature Hudson or Mississippi or Nile — wide, flowing, and storied — but a rugged and dry wash for most of the year, crisscrossing the alluvial fan and changing course and direction in a swath eight miles wide in places.

The character of this indeterminate river of changeable mind, alternately casual and violent, was transformed big-time after the 1938 deluge, when 3 million barrels of concrete were dedicated to a single purpose: flood-control management. From Canoga Park in the west San Fernando Valley down to the harbor, its wild, open, and sprawling Zane Grey character vanished into a canyon of concrete.

The river in this form was not designed as a social amenity. The goal-oriented engineers conceived the LA River as a highway for floodwater, to be left virtually vacant otherwise, for most of the year. For some, the river has seemed entombed by a brutal material cast in cold, hostile geometries. After a storm, the river was also treacherous, the pitch accelerating the flow. If the Mississippi seems lazy, it’s partially because it drops about 800 feet in 1,200 miles (if you start at Minneapolis). No rush. The LA River is amphetamine by comparison, dropping by about the same elevation but in only 51 miles.

The ripple effect of the channeled river wasn’t pretty either. The newly defined and protected shoulders of the river were dedicated to electric transformer substations, high-tension wires, warehouses, factories, jails, sanitation truck parking lots, rail lines, and rail yards. It was an industrial service corridor that wasn’t riparian and verdant.

But then it never really had been.

The invisible tributaries to this river of concrete were the street and drainage systems, and as the drought forces hydrologists to look for other sources of water through an integrated program of water usage, including retention, conservation, and recycling, they have come to understand that the river is symptomatic of a paved-over landscape. Focus has widened beyond the Narrows and even the entire 51-mile length of the river to a macro scale and a more holistic understanding of the basin and region.

The drought has changed the game, but another primary factor is the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who early in his term identified his mayoralty with the river: soon after his election, photos of the mayor kayaking in the river went up in LAX terminals. Perhaps because he grew up in Encino, where he walked alongside the river with his sister and father, and because he represented Silver Lake and other river communities in the City Council, Garcetti has dedicated considerable political will, energy, and capital to a cause he has cared about for decades.

In 2014, he established the multidisciplinary, multi-departmental LA Riverworks department within his own office to coordinate the implementation of the whole river vision, including the 2007 Revitalization Plan, the Army Corps’s Ecosystem Restoration Study, and other plans. “To get anything done in LA, it helps to have the headquarters in the mayor’s office to show the issue is central to the City plans,” Garcetti says, back to normal just a day after a terrorist threat shut down LA schools. “This was a way to centralize cooperation and formalize commitment to the river. It’s a one-stop shop for people to cohabitate, and a reflection of how important the issue is to me.”

The river is playing a role in Garcetti’s bid to bring the 2024 Olympics to Los Angeles: several sites along the river are being considered as possible venues for Olympics-related structures.

Early last year, the independent Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation wooed Frank Gehry, inviting the Los Angeles architect to study the river and make proposals encompassing everything from the river to the watersheds. “Frank called me and asked me if the invitation was real, and whether it had my support,” says the mayor, “and since I was committed, he committed. Then there was a spillover effect: if he was involved, others wanted to be involved.” Tapping the glocal Gehry, a popular avuncular figure, switched the kliegs onto the river, galvanizing public attention — and lately governmental support: the state has just awarded a $1.5 million grant for Gehry to complete the first phase of a study on which he and his consultants have already worked pro bono for 10 months.

When his involvement was announced, Gehry’s first comments pointed to issues beyond the prevalent notion of the river as a landscaping opportunity. Like Mr. McGuire in The Graduate wanting to say just one word — plastics — to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman’s character), Gehry memorably uttered hydrology: he would only be interested in the river project if addressed from a water-reclamation point of view. To recharge the basin, he would have to look at the whole river in the context of the larger water ecosystem, and not just the 32-mile Los Angeles city corridor."



"Besides expanding the scope of the inquiry, Gehry has already challenged assumptions. By admitting “concrete” to the palette of ideas, he has expanded the basis of the investigation from plant materials and river cross-sections to include other architectural and cultural issues. There is a place for intimacy and a place for monumentality, and for all the talk about speaking for the river, holding the microphone requires closer listening to what the entire length of the river says it wants to be. The LA River is many rivers, and its character shifts along its course, especially because it widens downstream, as more water enters the channel. Total landscaping is not the answer when the river might be calling for sports stadia with bleachers nested into the embankments.

Confronted with perhaps the largest project of his career, and what could be the commission of an already remarkable lifetime, Gehry didn’t balk at the scale of the endeavor but immediately expressed founding perceptions — hydrology and concrete — with large-scale consequences that break through existing assumptions. The concepts establish an expanded basis for going forward. Angelenos and others have wondered why he has parachuted into the problem. But few people, if any, are better qualified to see the river in all its complexities, and then answer the complexities with proposals. And few figures have the skills to coalesce a broad-based effort that can unite the city. He is a Robert Moses with the soul of a Jane Jacobs.

No one asked for the drought, but it has arrived and is shaping imperatives for the basin’s hydrology, and with it the shape and character of the river and the city itself, recentering it with a common core. In a short period of time, Gehry has assimilated and expanded a complex and lively conversation.

Garcetti explains that the river is not just the geographic heart of the city but also its historic heart. The waterway, which predates people, set pathways for the Tongva, then roads for the Spanish, and then our freeways. A quarter of LA’s population lives within walking distance of the river. “Running from the Valley to Long Beach, it’s really the backbone of the city. Reclaiming the river gives us the ability to reclaim our past and set our future. To me it’s more dynamic than just a magnet or a center. As I’ve said many times, it’s the zipper that can bring us together.”

After the devastating fire of 1871, Chicago remade itself into a modern city, based on innovative architecture and progressive urban planning. Through what seems a propitious alignment of political will, public interest, talent, and momentum, this is LA’s moment to seize its day. A revitalized river running through our megalopolis has the potential not only to revitalize the river, but also to revitalize Los Angeles itself."
losangeles  losangelesriver  lariver  history  cities  california  floodcontrol  2015  josephgiovannini  ericgarcetti  urbanplanning  parks  nature  rivers  urban  urbanism  lariverworks  architecture 
february 2016 by robertogreco
The Real Estate Deal That Could Change the Future of Everything - Neighborhoods - The Atlantic Cities
"Why can’t you be an investor in one of our deals? You live nearby, you’re young, you get it. Why is it that you don’t have this option? That’s unnatural, almost."

"Most American cities as we know them today weren't built this way. Historically, hotels and restaurants and shops were built by local people investing in their own neighborhoods."

"The history of modern financial investment has been the story of people and their money moving farther apart into abstraction, to the point where most of us don't know where our investments (if we have any) have gone. But shorten the distance between those two points, and things start to change. Put your money into a building you can see in your neighborhood, and suddenly you might care more about the quality of the tenant, or the energy efficiency of the design, or the aesthetics of the architecture. This proposition is like "Broken Windows on steroids," Ben says."
local  benmiller  danmiller  westmillcapital  chrisleinberger  regulation  kickstarter  danielgorfine  realestatedevelopment  community  communities  investment  sec  willsharpe  erikbruner-yang  tokiunderground  maketto  washingtondc  hstreetcommunitydevelopment  crowdinvesting  crowdfunding  ericgarcetti  neighborhoods  cities  development  economics  economy  finance  realestate  dc 
november 2012 by robertogreco

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