When a developer wanted to build another massive apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles connected by a pedestrian bridge, the Central Area Planning Commission — urged on by a city planner — said no.
GH Palmer Associates is building a 526-unit faux-Italian apartment complex on both sides of Temple Street in downtown and wanted to include a pedestrian bridge linking the buildings so tenants could avoid the homeless people living under the nearby 110 Freeway, according to David Zahniser's story Friday.
But critics said the pedestrian bridge violated one of the key elements of downtown development, which is to create a walkable, vibrant urban core. Instead, the project would leave the sidewalks below a "dead zone."
The city Planning Department came out against the proposal in February and persuaded the planning commission to reject the developer's request. Councilman Jose Huizar intervened and asked his City Council colleagues to overturn the commission's decision. City Planner Blake Lamb pushed back in public hearings against the bridge, saying it went against the community plan's emphasis on enhancing the pedestrian experience. And she said the department's policies do not support "the physical segregation of people" as a way of addressing safety and homelessness, Zahniser reported.
The City Council did in fact overturn the commission's decision Friday, and Palmer can build the pedestrian bridge. Still, it was refreshing to see the Planning Department challenge a developer on urban design.
At one time, the Planning Department was seen as a tool of developers, with planners tasked with helping get projects built rather than guiding the build-out of Los Angeles. Yet there seems to have been a shift in the agency. There's a greater emphasis on urban design and creating communities that encourage walking and biking, not just driving. Observers say planners are increasingly being empowered to challenge projects that don't fit the community vision. That's good.