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Redevelopment Field Trip: Past, Present, and Future

Sometimes one has to leave the conference hall and go and check things out for oneself -- it wouldn't be a redevelopment conference without a nerdy redevelopment tour.  I would have liked the California Redevelopment Association conference to have explored more offsite opportunities, and have taken more advantage of accessibility to the Gold Line, newly extended to East LA.  Instead, I detoured from the main conference agenda to check out two of the LA area's most vaunted redevelopment zones: Old Town Pasadena, Downtown Los Angeles, and North Hollywood.  Some reflections�  Past: Old Town Pasadena Old Town has long been the poster child for (successful) downtown redevelopment - even by Shigley's standards. Walking from the Pasadena Convention Center to Old Town is still a bit awkward, but street-level retail has thirived.  The changing economy has resulted in the departure of a few major restaurants (Gordon Biersch, Jerry's Deli), and interesting retail turnovers � venerable Saks Fifth Avenue transformed into Gen Y emporium Forever 21, and the United Artists movie theater - long a cornerstone of Colorado Blvd. - has been transformed into a Tiffany & Co.  Old Town has held its own - constantly changing its approach, but remaining true to the dedication to revitalization and walkability (except for that one block) and continues to attract tourists and locals alike.  I'd be curious to see how Old Town does in the next ten years - will it continue to reinvent itself, or will the sheer number of tourists that come through the city continue to support it without any ongoing changes?  Old Town has hit on a nearly perfect formula for the past ten years, and shoppers have responded to the old-fashioned main street.  Pasadena must hope that they don't all get nostalgic for indoor malls. Present: Downtown Los Angeles Arts/Old Bank Districts I also ventured to downtown Los Angeles for their Thursday night Downtown Art Walk, which coincided nicely with the conference and easy Metro accessibility (Gold Line light rail to Red Line subway).  From the 1970s until early 2000s, this area was the home of Skid Row, dilapidated office buildings, and deserted streets in the evenings.  Although most of the "character" remains in the form of some spectacular Philip Marlowe-era buildings, it has transformed into more of an urban, revitalized environment, mostly a result of the efforts of the CRA/LA and early urban living developers such as Tom Gilmore.  Their vision was for a place where people could "live, work, and play," and it seems that the vision has just now become reality. Walking between Spring and Main Street, between 4th and 8th Streets, the new residents of the lofts and live/work spaces and the "established" residents of Skid Row interact somewhat in harmony.  And on nights like the Art Walk it seems to be a true 24-hour urban environment - if even for a few days a month.  We thought the vibe was close to what we imagine was New York City in the early 80s - packed intersections, interactions on the street, and public and private spaces utilized by artists. Interesting elements include: on-street live music performances, the takeover of an alley by the Skid Row Artists Collective, and the mobile food trucks which have permeated the Southern California food scene.  We also noted that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency was relocating its headquarters - out of downtown L.A, and across the I-110 freeway - to consolidate spaces with the City's Community Development Department - after over 30 years in the heart of it all on 6th Street.  The romantic planner in me wants to think that the CRA/LA's done what it's needed to do in the area and is moving on to a different area; to the more likely practical side of this move is probably fiscally related. Future: North Hollywood Finally, between the two more established redevelopment areas is the North Hollywood redevelopment area, which has the potential to be a great transit hub and a vibrant place � but it's not there yet.  Noho's notoriety as an arts center is conflicted.  There are vibrant and diverse arts media in the area, but the place hasn't be knitted together yet.  Although several parcels have been identified by Los Angeles Metro, a number of economic and physical challenges exist.  The connections between the Red Line train (underground) and the street-level Orange Line bus turnabout are less than linear, forcing Red Line riders to exit the station, surface to street level, cross Lankershim to wait for the Orange Line busses.  In addition, the potential for the synergies found in Downtown LA during the Art Walk are more difficult to imagine in Noho.  This is the Valley, so longer corridors with larger gaps in between venues and a larger mix of lower-density residential homes create a less walkable area, and one in which redevelopment efforts may require a different approach to revitalization.   Redevelopment zones like these came up often during the conference, and by most accounts they are successful.  But the City of Los Angeles alone has over 30 of them, and they can't all have art walks and subway stops.  So challenges still remain for planners and community development officials.  Let's hope that many of them are inspired by these projects and by what's been presented at week's conference!

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