Thursday, October 23, 2008

RIFT Does Not Prevent More Shopping Malls

The literature for Prop T claims that the City has projected the equivalent of up to five more Santa Monica Place Malls in the future. Presumably, passage of Prop T will cut that in half, and so we’ll only have to deal with 2 ½ of these. That doesn’t strike me as much of an improvement.

I don’t ever want to see any of more these mall in the City -- Not one more ever!
I don’t want to see another Water Garden project either.

However, my problem with Santa Monica Place and the Water Garden is not a quantitative one. So I don’t think setting an arbitrary limitation on the quantity of commercial development in the future will, by itself prevent such abominations in the future. The problems of these two projects and others of their ilk are ones of design, and diversity, not mere quantity.

By diversity, I am referring to the mono-culture that each of these projects represents. One is a concentration of office workers only, the other an amalgam of shoppers. Both such concentrations are recipes for congestion. They each subject the city to a pulse of traffic at certain times of the day, while allowing the underutilization of expensive resources at other times. Diverse development provides a more round the clock set of experiences. This spreads out the traffic, and utilizes resources more efficiently, while allowing people to live, work, shop and play within a walkable area.

By design, I am referring to their lack of transparency, both literally and urbanistically. Both of these projects (and they are very definitely projects, not districts, not neighborhoods, not pieces of a town) are ‘coarsely grained.’ Think of a fabric, where the City’s warp and weave is very tight, but a moth has come and eaten a hole in it. Each of these project sits within that moth-hole eaten fabric, what urban designers call a super-block, completely out of scale with the urban street grid of the city in which they sit. In the case of Water Garden, a very sub-urban, highly irrigated and non-native buffer of unusable green space separates the project from the rest of its neighbors turning the edges of the project into auto-dominated no-mans’ lands. At SM Place, a set of parking garages, and blank walls (only some of which are being ameliorated by the renovation) isoloate the behemoth from the City.

If the quantities of commercial space that each of the project represent were distributed more evenly, in more diverse and in more transparent and pedestrian friendly arrangements they would hardly register in terms of traffic and no one would be using them as the poster children of ‘over development.’ I know this because there’s a whole lot more commercial development on the three blocks of 3rd Street that constitute the Promenade than there are at these two projects and no one uses the Promenade as the thing to avoid. I don’t here folks complaining about how lousy Wilshire Boulevard is or Main Street. Good urbanism, diverse and well designed always has a constituency.

Proposition T does nothing to assure good urbanism anywhere. In fact it does the opposite. It limits diversity in favor of a mono-culture of housing. With Proposition T we’re just making the same mistake over again, just giving it different, but worn out clothing.

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