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Sam Hall Kaplan

There's Hope (Street) for Walkers

January 04, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

The hope of a more pleasant, attractive and memorable city begins this year, appropriately enough, on Hope Street downtown.

To be considered within the next month by the city Planning Commission is an inventive urban design scheme to turn a stretch of the forlorn street into a vital link in a downtown pedestrian network.

The first phase of the project--labeled the Hope Street Promenade--would connect the proposed west lawn of the Central Library to a proposed park at Olympic Boulevard by widening and landscaping the sidewalk along Hope Street.

The promenade is part of a larger scheme proposed by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to connect the emerging California Plaza complex on Bunker Hill, down the proposed grand stairway of the imaginatively conceived Library Square project to the ambitious South Park redevelopment project.

The pedestrian network is the stuff of dreams that has the potential to turn the auto-oriented, fragmented and not particularly distinguished downtown into a more cohesive and engaging district--prompting people to walk, shop and enjoy.

But it is not a pipe dream or something that would take billions of dollars and decades to accomplish.

As conceived by the CRA's dedicated planning staff, given form by renown urban designer Lawrence Halprin, aided by Campbell & Campbell, and enthusiastically supported by the central business district's Open Space Task Force, the network is quite achievable and relatively inexpensive.

What the Planning Commission is being asked at this stage is to simply initiate a so-called community plan amendment limiting future roadway widths on Hope Street between 6th Street and Venice Boulevard to 44 feet and requiring minimum sidewalk widths of 18 feet.

At present, the roadway widths are set at 56 feet, or six lanes, four for traffic and two for parking, with the sidewalk varying from about nine feet to 12. Landscaping consists of a few sad trees.

Under the proposed plan, the roadway would be four lanes, most likely all for traffic and none for parking. The balance of the street width would be heavily landscaped and devoted to the pedestrian, with the sidewalk meandering through a sort of linear park.

The hope is that under the guidance of an inspired Halprin (who also is the landscape architect for the Library Square and Olympic Park projects) Hope Street will become an enticing stretch of cityscape in the spirit of, say, Barcelona's Ramblas, Paris's Champs Elysees or Rome's Via Condotti, encouraging window shopping, sidewalk cafes, flower stalls and promenading.

Given the climate and growing cosmopolitan population of Los Angeles, the potential is certainly there.

Putting the Hope Street proposal in perspective, it was nearly four years ago that this column railed against the city "improving" Flower Street downtown by cutting down trees and widening it. Instead, it was suggested then that the city narrow the roadway and widen and improve the sidewalk with more trees.

And though three trees were spared (on the west side of Flower just north of Wilshire), the city went ahead with the widening, arguing at the time that if it wasn't done it would lose federal aid.

Subsequent inquiries reported here revealed that the aid was not dependent on widening the street, but simply improving it. And that such improvements could include narrowing roadways, creating more space for sidewalks and increasing so-called pedestrian amenities.

It is with this history mind that the Hope Street proposal is welcomed.

The proposal also is welcomed as an illustration of the type of planning the city desperately needs--practical planning applied on a street-by-street basis with tender loving care.

This is the type of imaginative planning that has marked many CRA projects and has given the city, among other things, the sparkling new Museum of Contemporary Art, a revived and expanding Little Tokyo, an increasing inventory of well-designed, subsidized housing complexes and the promise of the South Park and Library Square redevelopment projects.

This is also the type of planning that cannot be shifted to the city's Planning Department, as now being talked about by the current cast of would-be downtown power brokers operating in the vacuum of Mayor Tom Bradley's leadership. The current polemics concerning downtown's future is no substitute for solid planning.

And while the ultimate responsibility for comprehensive planning should rest in the Planning Department, the nuts and bolts of it, at least downtown, should remain with CRA. As if no one has noticed, the Planning Department at present has its hands full with a host of major land-use issues and actions.

If the management consultant operating in the dense woods of CRA needs grist for his mill before grinding up planning, he should look at the increasing interference in agency operations by its current stewards.

In the meantime, the hope is that the Hope Street proposal can move forward.

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