Today marks the launch of the "Los Angeles Cleantech Corridor & Green District Competition," an event sponsored by the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and The Architect's Newspaper. This call-for-entries seeks submissions focusing on clean technology infrastructure improvements in the Cleantech Corridor, an industrial area just east of Downtown Los Angeles that straddles the Los Angeles River. This cluster-based strategy – spearheaded by Mayor Villaraigosa and the Community Redevelopment Agency – has experienced an impressive wave of attention over the summer, propelling it to the national stage and broadening support for LA's case as the home of clean technologies.

More cities than you can count are trying to fashion themselves into the "cleanest, greenest city in the nation." Silicon Valley is hailing itself as the new cleantech capital because it lured Tesla Motors, an electric vehicle company, into taking over Toyota's defunct NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA.

But Los Angeles is going about its cleantech push in a more deliberate fashion, through "CleanTech Los Angeles"  and its Cleantech Corridor. Initially the Corridor was launched as an attempt to save and promote industrial land quickly being converted to residences. The area is located within two redevelopment project areas of the City of Los Angeles, Central Industrial and Adelante Eastside. 

While it qualifies for a variety of place-based economic development incentives (Federal Empowerment Zone, Community Renewal Zone, State Enterprise Zone), many of those incentives have expired. The incentives only apply to existing businesses that may obtain tax rebates for previously designated years. Thus, the primary way that the city can entice development is through exposure, connections, and a push to hype the benefits of a so-called "Porterian cluster." 

In May the Urban Land Institute brought a team of experts to Los Angeles to participate in a Technical Advisory Panel on the Cleantech Corridor. Sponsored by CRA/LA and LADWP, the group interviewed stakeholders, conducted site visits, and created renderings for their recommendations in the corridor. The official report is expected to be released in September. 

Concurrently, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) took an interest in the ULI project and decided to plan a competition piggybacking off ULI's recommendations. SCI-Arc's open ideas competitions are yearly events open to professional and student designers, focusing on a specific initiative in Los Angeles. 

Through this year's contest SCI-Arc is soliciting ideas as to how architects, designers, planners, and builders can foster environmentally friendly solutions to upgrade the area's infrastructure. The competition panel is looking for a focus on how to integrate clean technology with the built environment in this proposed green district. Recently announced judges include architect Ming Fung, LA. Metro environmental manager Cris B. Liban, L.A. Deputy Mayor Romel Pascual, and former Metro Board Member Nick Patsaouras. 

These ideas will complement the efforts of the Mayor's Office and CRA/LA, who are primarily focused on business attraction. LADWP and CRA/LA are making strides towards building cleantech incubator and research space in the heart of the Arts District. While an architect still has yet to be selected to design the campus-like location, CRA/LA has contracted a cluster strategy development company to produce a business plan for the site. When completed and opened, engineers and entrepreneurs will be able to work in the incubator space, eat at new cafes and restaurants, and live in new lofts nearby. 

So keep an eye out for the results of SCI-Arc's open ideas competition, the next nudge in the right direction for CleanTech LA. The exposure that will come from an internationally renowned institution is sure to continue Los Angeles' quest to become a global capital of clean technology. 

-- Nat Gale

Nat Gale is a planner in the Mayor's Office of Economic and Business Policy and is a primary contact for clean technology issues.