On June 13, 2013, I attended the American Planning Association, Los Angeles or APA LA’s annual Awards Gala which recognized exceptional planning achievements by individuals, cities, and businesses in the L.A. region. Held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel, this well-organized event was like the Oscars for planners and was attended by about 150 people. As an awards juror, I had the unique opportunity to review and evaluate nominations prior to the gala, and also the honor of introducing two of the award winners at the event. While all of the winners are deserving and worthy, I would like to highlight four projects of particular interest to me:
The MLK Medical Center Campus Master Plan and The Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community Vision was the winner of the Neighborhood Planning Award. The goal of this plan is to reinvigorate the unincorporated community of Willowbrook and the MLK Medical Center Campus in a context of health and wellness. The organizing feature of the Master Plan is the “Wellness Spine,” a path establishing the primacy of the pedestrian and bicyclist, while providing a strong visual identity and a clear connection between community resources and amenities including the Rosa Parks Metro Station. The plan specifically promotes health and wellness by encouraging physical activity, elevating environmental quality, and contributing to a livelier and safer community. I found this plan very interesting and relevant as my department is currently working on a community parks and recreation plan for Willowbrook.
Prepared by Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm, in conjunction with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office, the MLK Master Plan is a visually appealing, very readable document with amazing graphics. More importantly, it is the product of an extensive community outreach program. A series of over 60 interviews and three community meetings attended by over 100 people at each gave stakeholders opportunities to share their insights, observations, concerns and ideas for the Willowbrook MLK Wellness Community. The interviews and interactive meetings provided information on specific needs, assisted in building community support and provided specific recommendations on the direction on the Master Plan. Additional outreach methods included traditional and social media activities such as press releases, distribution of flyers, a dedicated Gmail address and the use of social media via Facebook.
The Hollywood Community Plan was given the Award of Merit under the “Comprehensive Plan Award, Large Jurisdiction” category. Prepared by the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning, this plan is a very detailed document that addresses a wide range of issues found in the unique community of Hollywood. The Hollywood Community Plan promotes building, landscape, transportation and land use policies that take the long view towards protecting the environment. Recognizing the value of Hollywood’s impressive historic architecture and cultural resources, the Community Plan also seeks to protect these assets. In addition, the Plan proposes innovative policies to deal with the lack of parks and open space in the community. The Hollywood Community Plan further recognizes the need to preserve the neighborhood character of established single-family neighborhoods and presents design guidelines to improve the transition between new, high-density development and low-scale single-family and multi-family homes.
As a park planner, I thought it was noteworthy that the Plan expressly supports the creation of the proposed 44-acre Hollywood Central Park as a new cap park over the 101 Freeway (Policy CF.5.67B). Given the density and built-out nature of Hollywood, this is a creative way to provide much needed green space and park amenities to community residents. While cap parks are costly and complex projects that are challenging to implement, they represent a strategy that must be seriously considered to promote sustainability, address the need for more parkland, and reconnect neighborhoods that have been fragmented as a result of freeway construction. A few years ago, I did some research on proposed cap parks in Los Angeles and summarized my findings in a paper. For more information on the proposed Hollywood Central Park, please visit this website.
UCLA received the Academic Award for “Reclaiming the Right-of-Way: A toolkit for creating and implementing parklets.” The toolkit, a collaboration between UCLA’s Luskin Center, Lewis Center, and the Institute of Transportation Studies, provides a practical guide for developing “parklets” which are small parks in urban areas created through the conversion of parking spots and other underutilized spaces for cars into places for people. The toolkit contains best practices from cities across the U.S. and Canada that have implemented parklet projects. It also encourages users to adapt plans to their own community, and explores a range of designs options and introduces the concept of “active parklets,” which include simple exercise equipment to provide an opportunity for active recreation within the parklet.
I found this document very informative and interesting. Specifically, the illustrations and photographs of parklets in other cities are helpful as there are not that many examples here in Los Angeles. I also see the toolkit as an educational tool as some Angelenos are unfamiliar with parklets and may be skeptical about their relevance and usefulness. Included in the toolkit are photo simulations to illustrate the range of potential possibilities for parklets in L.A. These are great and may even influence political leaders to translate these visions into reality.
PLANNING for College
USC graduate student Nina Idemudia received the Public Outreach Award for the “PLANNING For College.” This is an outstanding educational program designed to enhance knowledge about the basic concepts of urban planning while also stressing the importance of a college education. PLANNING for College is unique because of its use of and focus on the planning profession as an example. The program specifically targeted underrepresented minority middle school students from the Los Angeles area and introduced them to undergraduate and graduate students who have similar backgrounds. This approach gave students a chance to see themselves in college by showing them real life examples of individuals like them who attend USC and are pursuing degrees in urban planning. The student leaders gave the participants an in-depth look into their journey to college, including the barriers they overcame along the way and shared their perspectives on how a career in planning would help them give back to and improve their communities. As part of their visit to USC, students were given the opportunity to design their own park and mall.
I think this is a wonderful program, especially given the lack of minorities in the planning profession. I would also encourage other planning schools in Southern California to offer similiar programs if they do not already. It is very important that planners and planning educators play an active role in working with young people to build their awareness and appreciation for planning. For more information about this program, please read this article on USC News.
Photos: All photos by author.