We all know how scarce good public spaces are in the Los Angeles region. A metropolis that rapidly expanded after the invention and subsequent democratization of the private automobile, Los Angeles is a decade or more behind when it comes to catering our city to pedestrians instead of drivers. Our roads and highways have been congested and clogged, but our sidewalks have been empty for decades, and as a result, it is no wonder why walking in LA is about as enjoyable as a visit to a dentist.
Nevertheless, as Downtown LA continues to evolve into an active urban community driven increasingly more by pedestrian energy, high quality public spaces will become all the more important as people begin to explore beyond their cars and outside their comfort zones, which entails pretty much anywhere not contained within a “controlled artificial” environment, such as a mall or “lifestyle center.”
People will finally be able to roam and explore a true urban grid (yes all on foot!) and not be restricted by the region’s more common suburban-planned linear commercial boulevards (usually flanked by residential) that impede pedestrian movement. Downtown LA, as the largest urban grid in Southern California, has the potential to be as serendipitous and fulfilling for the pedestrian as almost any other great urban center in the country.
However, the potential for Downtown LA to become that great walkable center relies on the concerted efforts, however piecemeal they are, to create high quality urban spaces designed for pedestrians. Within Downtown LA, we are currently lacking enough open space where people are inclined to sit and relax and people watch. Go to any pedestrian oriented city in the world and one thing you’ll see is the proliferation of pocket parks that dot the urban landscape.
One of the spaces that currently exist in Downtown LA that could be 100% better is the concrete barren plaza that is connected to the 888 International Tower, also known as 888 S Figueroa. This extremely outdated but fair sized plaza has incredible potential to become a hub of pedestrian activity as it sits within the context of a burgeoning intersection (at 9th and Figueroa) surrounded by the 271-unit Apex tower, The Pantry restaurant, and the 214-unit Watermarke Tower. Not to mention a stone’s throw from other exciting developments and the Staples Center/LA Live.
The owners of the plaza need not look too far for inspiration as the CitiGroup Center plaza at 5th/Flower in Downtown LA–once barren and inhospitable as well–was recently updated with a park-like setting and is now much more pedestrian friendly as a result.
Or we can look at Piazza Basilone in Little Italy in Downtown San Diego for inspiration. On my trip there last week, I was very impressed by how well this little plaza functioned within the neighborhood by attracting people to linger. In fact, I saw numerous people walk into the piazza, grab a seat, and either sat and chatted with their friends or just enjoyed the sunshine while people watching. That natural inclination to just enjoy the city is a reflection of good public spaces. Something we could use more of here in Downtown LA.
Piazza Basilone in Little Italy, Downtown San Diego