Nation, World + Society

Re-envisioning Wilshire Boulevard for a more populous and sustainable future for L.A.

New reports show how to add 1.5 million people to the county while preserving the vast majority of the area’s character

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NOW Wilshire-LACMA
NOW Institute at UCLA

This possible plan to add density around the Los Angeles County Museum of Art would keep a lot of space for parks.

Los Angeles is reaching for a sustainable future — one with 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent locally sourced water, and enhanced ecosystem and human health by 2050. Simultaneously, Los Angeles is preparing for a more populous future. By 2050, the county is expected to add about 1.5 million people increasing the population to nearly 12 million. With both sustainability and a desire to avoid turning Los Angeles into a sea of skyscrapers at the forefront of future planning, the question is: How will the county accommodate so many more people without turning into Manhattan or spreading out even further?

The answer, according to two new publications from Thom Mayne, UCLA distinguished professor of architecture and Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect, is adding density along the Wilshire Corridor. In partnership with the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, two new reports — one focused on sustainability and ecosystem health and another on what Wilshire Boulevard could look like with added density — mark the first attempt at visually imagining what the future might look like in the nation’s second-largest city.

The greater Los Angeles area holds nearly half of the state’s population and makes up the third-largest metropolitan economy in the world. With this in mind, Mayne and the Now Institute at UCLA, which he founded, have proposed a scenario to create room for an additional 1.5 million more people in the region while changing only 1 percent of Los Angeles County.

The Wilshire Corridor extends for nearly 16 miles and spans three cities — Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. It is a microcosm of the cultural, economic and physical diversity of Los Angeles.

“It’s an ideal ‘urban laboratory’ for studying the relationships between density, demographics, transit, and access to resources in the city” Mayne said. “With the Wilshire Boulevard study, we’re bringing our own intellectual creative capital that comes from our international work in Europe and Asia and elsewhere, and presenting a comprehensive urbanist resolution to these problems that’s not uncommon in a huge amount of the world.”

Mayne said that Wilshire Boulevard could easily accommodate another million residents and still maintain levels of density less than Manhattan. Additionally, concentrating density along Wilshire would allow more than 1 million Los Angeles residents to live within a half mile of a Metro stop, once the Purple Line is extended to Santa Monica. Including affordable housing in development targeted along public transit could help promote socioeconomic diversity, as well.

Despite the presence of many highly dense areas, Los Angeles County is infamous for its urban-sprawl approach to accommodating population growth. Historically, development has spread into northern areas such as the Antelope Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley where there’s available land. The upshot is that as people move away from urban centers, water, energy and transportation resources are strained, resulting in more congested freeways, limited access to public transportation, and a higher water demand for single-family residents.

“L.A. is facing macro-problems that are not particular to this country or city. But at this point in history, particularly in the U.S., we seem to be a bit shy about dealing with the scale of the problems that seem to be so much a part of the 21st century,” said Eui-Sung Yi, director of the Now Institute.

With the proposed Wilshire Corridor strategy, Los Angeles could increase energy efficiency through mixed-use buildings, prevent increased water demand from single-family lawns, and reduce additional vehicle emissions associated with long commutes and sprawl, the report states. Were Los Angeles to follow its historical housing development patterns of low-slung apartment buildings and single-family homes, it would take more than 150,000 acres to meet housing demand at L.A.’s current densities. By “building up,” the report indicates that the corridor could easily create 70 percent more public open space for stormwater capture, habitat and heat diffusion.

These publications compare the Wilshire Corridor to major metropolises such as Barcelona’s Av. Diagonal ;and New York’s Broadway, suggesting that a similar approach be taken to sustainably accommodate growing populations in Los Angeles. As new research informs current models, the Now Institute recognizes that these scenarios can and will change just like Los Angeles itself.

“Thom Mayne and the Now Institute have provided a provocative vision for what a sustainable Los Angeles could look like,” said Mark Gold, UCLA associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability. “My hope is that it leads to meaningful dialogue on what Los Angeles can become in the future.”

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