The Los Angeles Design Action Planning Team, (LA/DAPT) was created in 1988 by the City of Los Angeles Planning Department and the Urban Design Advisory Coalition (UADC). The Planning Team was founded on a $32,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct five urban design workshops in Van Nuys, Los Feliz, Watts, City North and Boyle Heights. The workshop process is based on a similar, and very successful programs developed by the National A.I.A called Regional Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT).

The process begins with a steering committee made up of community members and staff from the various city, county and state agencies that represent the area. Organized by the Planning Department, the committee begins its work by gathering important background information on the demographics and history of the district including an investigation of existing and proposed projects and programs. This material is used to develop a mission statement and issues brief.

To conduct the workshop a team of pro-bono architects, planners, landscape architects, urban designers, housing specialists, developers, economists, transportation experts, and other consultants is assembled from the Los Angeles area. During four days of intensive work, the team interviews 50 to 100 interested community members and agency representatives; tours the area guided by local experts; and develops design, planning and economic strategies that address the issues and opportunities identified by the community. By the end of this period the team has produced a 60 to 80 page camera-ready document that is printed on the fifth day and presented to the community and the City Planning Commission on the Seventh Day.

The unique aspect of this process is that it is proactive rather than reactive (which is the usual role for a planning department). The workshop gives the community, the city staff and the team a chance to look at the community as a whole, not as a series of separate autonomous projects. This approach not only creates a vision for the community, it also develops a sense of neighborhood both architecturally, through linkages, gateways, landmarks and other significant places, and politically, through the establishment of committed resident and merchant organizations.

One key element of these programs is the continuing involvement of the community from the very beginning of the process. Such involvement is essential if the community is to feel committed to the ideas generated by the workshop and, more importantly, to the implementation of those ideas.

Four of the five workshops have already been held: Van Nuys in October 1988, Los Feliz in March 1989, Watts in June 1989, and City North in December 1989. Each of the charrettes has generated a unique set of solutions particular to the areas in which they were held.

The Van Nuys workshop focused on the government center along Van Nuys Blvd., between Oxnard St. and Victory Blvd. Here the team recommended the creation of new office buildings, cultural attractions and retail shops to create a Valley Civic Center. They further proposed the reinforcement of the historic “Crossroads of the Valley” at Van Nuys and Victory boulevards by intensifying development of retail activity there. Mixed use, parking management, and landscape and streetscape improvements were all recommended to unite the community and create a sense of place in the vast wasteland of the valley. Since the workshop, the design standards proposed by the team for a new city office building and zoning and land use recommendations they developed have been used by the city in both the Request for Proposal for that office building and in the formulation of a Specific Plan for the area.

The Los Feliz team focused on the opportunity to unite isolated parts of the community into a dynamic neighborhood made up of distinctive places. The team recommended the creation of a gateway at Hollywood Blvd. and Vermont Ave. that would link together Barnsdall Park, the retail districts along Vermont and Hillhurst Aves. to the north, the many hospitals along Sunset Blvd., and the planned Metro-Rail stop at Sunset and Vermont.  They further suggested urban design improvements along Vermont and Hillhurst avenues, including the creation of parking structures behind shops that front on the street and limited vehicular access to the adjacent residential neighborhood to encourage more pedestrian activity.  The creation of a merchant’s association was encouraged to implement the ideas formulated during the charrette. The Los Feliz Improvement Association, the local residents group, has continued the team’s efforts with their own community meetings and have plans to do a demonstration project of the urban design ideas for Vermont and Hillhurst avenues.

The Watts workshop team developed a strategic plan for community development, occupational training, new and renovated housing, the creation of a cultural center around the Watts Towers, and a community center at the light rail station. Increased citizen participation was seen as a vital ingredient in the success of future projects in the community and the team recommended follow-up workshops on specific issues. The team called attention to the area’s often overlooked potential as a location for light industry and regional commercial due to its light rail lines along the Century Freeway, another from Long Beach to Downtown, and a third along the Alameda corridor. The team’s ideas for the cultural center have been included in the program that the Community Redevelopment Agency is producing on for the Watts Tower Art Center.

The most recent charrette for City North, the area north of the Civic Center downtown that is the historic and cultural center of Los Angeles, looked at ways to link together Chinatown, El Pueblo, Union Station, Terminal Annex, the L.A. River, Elysian Park and vacant railroad yards. This workshop was the most publicized and best attended of all the workshops. City North offered the team a unique opportunity to connect the vital and well established historic, cultural and landform elements of the area with greatly underutilized land in the heart of a major city. One of the major linkages in the community, and to the areas outside of it, is the Los Angeles River. This workshop called for the development of a mixed-use park district as the first step in the greening of the river. The other important connection is the proposed Pasadena Light Rail Line. Here the team recommended that stops be created in Chinatown and the mixed-use river park as well as the planned terminus at Union Station. North Broadway and Alameda St. were proposed to be linked to create a principal arterial north-south street. A network of public open spaces and pedestrian connections between Union Station and Olivera Street would further encourage the sense of community for these presently separated places.

Recently, the Planning Commission asked the Planning Department to reconvene the steering committee to determine the best next step for the ideas developed by the team. The possibilities for this work range from a policy statement about the greening of the river to the funding of a specific plan for the area.

The impact of the City North workshop emphasized the importance of this program. The combined involvement of the community, the city government and the design and planning professions provides a unique forum for the investigation and discussion of urban issues that affect Los Angeles. This participatory approach is an effective means of generating solutions that reflect the needs and aspirations of everyone concerned.

Deborah Murphy

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