April 30, 1989 - From the April, 1989 issue

Los Angeles' Design Action Planning Teams

From March 3-7, 1989, a Design Action Planning Team met in the community of Los Feliz to develop plans and visions for the Olive Hill/Hillhurst neighborhood. The team, co-chaired by respected architects Brenda Levin and Rex Lotery, appeared later that week at the Planning Commission to detail its overview and implementation strategies for the area. Emily Gabel, who manages the Planning Department's Plan Implementation Division, and Michael John Pittas, an urban design consultant, were team members in Los Feliz and will continue to organize planning teams throughout the city.

 

Sequestered in the comer of a room, a developer, public official and a landscape architect are engaged in a debate: The developer argues for a construction intensity that will reach a “critical economic mass,” the public official insists on the value of preserving local areas, and the landscape architect points out that minimum lot depths are necessary to fit required autos and buildings. By tomorrow, this mini-dialogue will reach consensus and the debate will be over for the moment.

But now the heated discussion ensues surrounded by a jumble of tables, desks, and chairs strewn with maps and diagrams. In an adjacent room, students from graduate architecture and planning schools prepare a large base map of the existing buildings and streets in the two-mile study area. A xerox machine noisily cranks out enlarged copies of aerial photographs that will be used as the basis for analysis, and ultimately, illustrations in the final report. Lunch has been delivered in the next room; a donation from a local restaurant. In the back, four computers wait for an onslaught of thought and recommendations committed to paper.

This chaotic and frenetic atmosphere, belies a rational and orderly process at work. Two days ago the storefront was vacant. Yesterday, more than 40 people were interviewed from the local parish priest to the beat cop, along with homeowners, merchants, and the local children's librarian. By tomorrow, differences will cool, recommendations will be analyzed and the task of report production will begin. In two days following the group's work, first copies of the final report roll off the City presses in time for a formal public hearing and presentation to the City Planning Commission about the specific recommendations.

Thus, in less than one week a handful of L.A.'s best professional planners, architects, landscape architects, real estate developers and preservationists, came together voluntarily, to grapple with some of the more intractable local planning problems in the city. Augmented by Department of City Planning staff and students, the team's output is given substance and authority in a 60- 75 page fully illustrated report which gives precise direction and specific means of implementation for its recommendations. Thus far two areas of the city, Van Nuys and Los Feliz, have been the subject of this intensive analysis and forecast.

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The teams are called LA/DAPT's (Los Angeles Design Action Planning Teams). They are co-sponsored by the City Planning Department and the Urban Design Advisory Coalition with technical assistance from the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C. A portion of the costs have been supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This new local participatory process is in the nascent stage. Each successive study is expected to inform future LA/DAPT's. Thus far the benefits have proven considerable all around.

  • The process is non-confrontationalBecause those interviewed understand the volunteer “unofficial” nature of the LA/DAPT, their natural antagonism for public officials and government is avoided.
  • It enables broader input. Given the informality of the input, a wider spectrum of issues can be brought up and dealt with. Few interviewees worry about who or what they “represent.”
  • It validates professional planners’ work. Since there are few existing mechanisms whereby City Planning Department professionals can receive grass roots feedback, the LA/DAPT method can be a vital means of validating and modifying their ongoing work.
  • It is a timely process. Because “planning” is perceived to be overly time-consuming, the shortness of the LA/DAPT process allows for almost immediate gratification and thus gains validity.
  • It addresses neighborhoods comprehensively. Reaching beyond the narrow regulatory mandate of planning, the process welcomes comprehensive solutions integrating planning, recreation and parks, etc., in a synthesized "whole.” In addition, it allows free access to the planners without the inhibiting presence of one or more powerful well-organized vested interest groups. Thus neighborhood input tends to be more comprehensive.
  • Its focus is problem-solvingAnalysis and description are minimized in favor of action and implementation.
  • The productions are immediately available. A substantial, easy-to-read report with diagrams, designs, and plans nicely interspersed throughout, is printed two days after the team completes its work.
  • A synthesis of issues occurs which can become the basis for important follow-up work by all participants. The report covers not only traditional land use and zoning issues, but also issues of economic incentive, social service enhancement and even public safety issues. These broad spectrum of issues are synthesized so consequential planning can be pursued.

The benefits point to an opportunity for positive change to the City's participatory planning process and these techniques may be transferable to the City's new Community Plan Revision Program.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.