February 19, 2006

All Hail Gail

Deep readers of this blog might know that I have some ideas about urban planning. They took shape many years ago, but I have never campaigned them into higher levels towards reality... I got "distracted" by art school and the great beyond.


So, I'm optimistic that we have a mayor here in Los Angeles who is driving a vision of the city that bears a bit of resemblance to my very own pet urban concepts:

There are at least two Los Angeles landscapes in the life of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

There is real-life L.A., through which he hustles daily, running late by afternoon as the pictures and autographs, the abrazos and the press of eager constituents pile up. And then there is the Los Angeles of his imagination, the city whose outlines he hints at in speeches and whose details spill out when he settles in long enough to ruminate.

Villaraigosa's imagined Los Angeles is denser, taller and greener than the city he now governs. High-rises dominate the skyline and hold not just offices but thousands of apartments, cleared for construction by zoning rules that encourage development of housing towers. The subway reaches west under Wilshire Boulevard, paid for with money Villaraigosa is convinced he can secure from the state and federal governments.

Islands ? villages, as he calls them ? sprout around subway stops and are ribboned together by swaths of green space, most notably along the Los Angeles River, where the mayor imagines trees and grass in place of the long segments of concrete culverts and channels that once carried runoff to the ocean. And all across that vast landscape, scores of pocket parks bring smatterings of green to even the densest urban neighborhoods.

Downtown is the heart of Villaraigosa's future Los Angeles. It hums late into the night. The Civic Center is a sloping park surrounded by museums, restaurants and shops. New apartment buildings feature courtyards that offer public space during the day and protected enclaves at night. Some of the new buildings have small parks on the roofs, projects designed with energy efficiency in mind.

The article goes on to voice doubt through the figure of Joel Kotkin. Mr. Kotkin, one of the venerable wise men of LA, apparently believes that L.A. is not New York and that L.A. was built to be an automotively linked urbs and suburbs... essentially like it is... or was. Downtown L.A. wil not be Manhattan. He thinks that L.A. will be less like Paris and more like Teheran.

True enough. But people are still moving here, despite the rising costs of living. And while I've never been to Teheran, I don't think the Mayor's dream resembles Paris or Manhattan. For me, actually, the scary image of density is the northern freeway entrance into Barcelona through a canyon of twelve story apartment blocks, the Gran Via del los Corts Catalanes. But now that I think about it, there the inhabitants don't seem especialy unhappy and the streets are resonably clear.

What's better, the mayor has brought in the "Mechanic":

To transform his vision into a plan, Villaraigosa has hired Gail Goldberg, an urban planner whose tenure in San Diego has been lauded for its integration of neighborhood development with downtown expansion. Goldberg will soon assume her duties as Los Angeles' planning director, and she argues that the city can have density along the lines that Villaraigosa espouses without compromising neighborhoods.

Under her tutelage, San Diego adopted a plan known as the "City of Villages," in which priorities for downtown and the rest of the city were spelled out in detail after various communities met to discuss and harmonize their hopes for the future. Los Angeles, she said, may benefit from a similarly inclusive process.

I'm optimistic.

I found a decent bio on Goldberg here. (before we enticed her to move north).

UPDATE: I found a Krier site here (no surprise that it doesn't have many bells and whhistles. Here is a good page with his distilled argument googled into after looking for his book "Houses, Palaces, Cities".

I read that he lives in the South of France. Hmmmmm.

Posted by Dennis at February 19, 2006 9:49 AM

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