I want to add my voice the growing chorus of people who recognize that change may be hard and controversial, but continuing on the path we are on is the far less attractive alternative.
I am a local architect and also a chair of the AIA|LA’s Urban Design Committee. I attended last Tuesday’s Council meeting and heard the public comment regarding the Bergamot Transit Village.
One issue that always jumps out for me right upfront is the fact that whenever we meet to discuss how we can build a better city, we spend most of our time discussing traffic and cars instead. Cities, I want to remind all of us, are for people – NOT for out automobiles. Cars are merely the method ‘du jour’ for people to get around.
But there is, of course, ample reason for this focus on traffic. Greater Los Angeles has the worst traffic congestion in the country, and the fourth worst in the entire world. And we are eagerly awaiting the Expo Line to help us solve this problem.
Some of us know that building transit can only be part of, but not the entire solution. Inserting transit into the car-city is like squeezing a square peg into a round hole. Transit does not work well in the auto-city; transit needs ridership, and that depends on enough people living / working within walking distance to the transit stop – and that rarely exists in our cities. In short, we know that we need to build a different city around the transit stops so transit can function as well as we need it to.
Santa Monica knows about this quite well. The City Council had created and passed a LUCE that is one of the most forward looking documents in the Western US. It will protect our single family neighborhoods and concentrate future development along the transit lines; because this is where we need people, to create the ridership for the trains.
This project before the City Council is perhaps the most important such station area development proposal along the Expo line. In the big picture, the Bergamot Station Transit Village has the potential to prove that more density along transit can be a solution for our future. We don’t have examples for this on the West Side. The public needs to see this concept in action to believe it!
So, the decision before City Council is not only one about the quality of this design. On that matter, I think the yardstick by which one should evaluate the design at this point is to ask: “Is it good enough?” This project may have had a rough start, but design review is not there to redesign a project completely, as long as it complies with community development guidelines. And this project has by now included so many suggested improvements, that IMO the answer is now a resounding “yes, this deserves to be approved”.
But the more important question I suggest to ask is: “What will this decision, to approve or not approve this development, signal to the public?
We all know that traffic is bad in Santa Monica. And I sympathize with the general public’s fear of it getting worse. I might even agree with some speakers that some of the approved developments in SM seem to be in open conflict with the LUCE.
But this is not the case with this project. I heard a speaker say that “we should not build more projects, we should fix the traffic first!” And the truth is, that it is impossible to fix our traffic UNLESS we build projects like this.
How much does the City Council believe in their own LUCE?
If they do believe in it, then they need to approve this project. This will be signaling that they believe that the LUCE offers us all a way out of traffic misery. Approval will be signaling that trust we can still fix problems of our own creation. Traffic did not “happen” to us; we created it through our land-use patterns. If we change how we build our cities, we will also change the outcome of how they will function.
If this project gets voted down, are we not admitting that we are out of ideas or solutions; that we are mere victims of a situation that is now out of control? Are we then not saying that the best we can possibly expect from the future is that we stop all progress, bury our head in the sand and are satisfied that things will not get worse; at least not quickly?
The worst decision about this project is the decision to do nothing. The status quo is an unacceptable outcome.
We must be proactive and build our way out of our own problems. This need not necessarily mean “bigger”, but it means “different” in almost all cases. I believe what Santa Monica has written into the LUCE is a way out. I believe in the LUCE. I believe in new cities around transit. I believe in transit. I grew up this way and know for sure it works.
People here need positive examples of what such a life can be like. This project need not be “perfect”, it simply needs to be consistent with the LUCE, and then it can be just that – an example for a better future. I hope the City Council will see the Bergamot Transit Village as a new beginning for us all. I hope this project will be approved.
Gerhard W. Mayer, AIA LEED-AP