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Who Framed Roger Rabbit — What Happened to Neighborhoods in Los Angeles

Gerhart Mayer, an architect, planner, and futurist in Los Angeles, has written a piece on how parking affects the ‘design’ of areas in the city. We have posted it on Park News trending.  You can read his piece here.

He is saying that all the surface parking is taking space that could be used for quaint villages surrounding metro rail stations. He longs for cities that look like Zurich or Amsterdam, not high rises like Manhattan and Century City. He calls these vertical gated communities.

An example of his ideal is Third street in Santa Monica, where he says that the city planned garages surrounding the promenade.  Well, not really.

Third street in Santa Monica has gone through many changes over the past half century. The parking structures were built to support the commercial activity on Third street. Then a shopping center was built at one end. Then the street was turned into a promenade. Then it was ‘revitalized.’  The shopping center basically torn down and rebuilt. The parking has existed through all this activity.  Now it will be the terminus of the expo line of the metro.

Amsterdam, Zurich, Bologna, Saltsberg, even San Francisco, and myriads of other quaint, walkable cities, are also old cities.  They were built before trains and buses. The rapid transit was added later.  In Amsterdam, for instance, the very efficient tram system was build to fit narrow streets and hundreds of bridges over canals. The neighborhoods came first, the transit followed.

Mayer posits that we should mandate such neighborhoods and assist in their creation by:

  • Eliminating parking minimums
  • Eliminating long-term parking above grade
  • Eliminating parking in the vicinity of a transit station
  • Allowing conventional parking below the public right of way (e.g., under streets)
  • Creating automated parking
  • Creating automated parking below the public right of way (e.g., under streets)
  • Managing parking as a public utility

The problem with all this is that quaint little neighborhoods are expensive to build. Revitalizing the century old buildings as they did in Santa Monica is one thing, to build them from scratch is quite another. Mayer disparages ready built neighborhoods like Americana in Glendale or the Grove in Los Angeles, which are basically shopping centers build to look like neighborhoods. He considers them fake and ‘bubbly’.

But the thing that makes neighborhoods in Amsterdam, or Paris, or London what they are isn’t the quaint buildings or the cobblestone streets, its the history that underlies the area. If you want a quaint walkable area in Santa Monica, go to Main Street. or Abbott Kinney. The shops, clubs and restaurants there have a history. The construction goes back what, 100 years. The Promenade in Santa Monica is in reality a long shopping center with upscale stores and readymade theme restaurants. Its The Americana or the Grove laid out in a straight line over four blocks.

Quaint walkable neighborhoods create themselves over time. Unique shops locate there because of the lower rent, people go there because of the shops.  I agree with Mayer that getting the government out of the business of requiring parking is a good first step. However changing zoning laws to enable a restaurant to go where a hardware store once was is also a beginning.

I admire his desire to have it all, a quaint walkable area with parking underground so it doesn’t show.  Suddenly those inexpensive shops and clubs become rent prohibitive. The most expensive construction you can have is underground.

My solution — let it evolve over time. Follow Houston’s lead and do way with zoning. Let entrepreneurs open their stores and get the regulation out of the way. Instead of light rail, why not put trams on the streets. Make it convenient for people to hop on and hop off.

You know, like they had in Los Angeles in 1920.  The finest most complete transit system on the planet. But then politics and greed destroyed all that. Rent ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’ As Mayer points out, it tells the whole story.

JVH

 

 

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