Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Building a green LA for everyone

When I lived in San Francisco I played softball in an architects, builders and contractors league. For a bunch of architects we were pretty good. The experience definitely demystified architects for me - they drank beer and wanted to win just like builders do - but maybe not architecture itself, a topic that few cover well, and not on public radio.

So it's with trepidation and fascination I approached these issues of green building.

Katie Swenson, one of the people I talked to for the story that aired today, actually directs the Rose Fellowship - she used to be a fellow herself. Her work was in Charlottesville. She wrote a book - Growing Urban Habitats - that describes the Urban Habitats 2005 competition, where Charlottesville designers sought plans for multifamily housing that prevent gentrification. The design - or re-design - target is housing court in the Hogwaller-Belmont part of Charlottesville.

Growing Urban Habitats puts together design ideas for urban housing emphasizing affordability, density, compactness, and sustainability. In it she and her co-authors make an argument for "design contributing more meaningfully to an equitable form of community development."

(Charlottesville, incidentally, has been the cradle of a lot of ways for thinking differently about what we build and how we build it.)

The actual story of the Sunshine Housing Court - where the actual people live, for whom the project is designed - is an ongoing one. If all goes well now, Habitat will break ground on Sunshine Court in 2011 - 6 years after the contest. Reasonable, real-world obstacles? Dunno.

When I was in New Orleans, I saw a charrette in progress in Gentilly. It was such a hopeful act, and the act itself held meaning, not only for the people who lived in Gentilly, but also for the city planners - New Urbanists Duany Plater-Zyberk - themselves. But I don't think anything ever came of it. For so many reasons: the way money flowed to the region after the storm, the way the city organized coming back, the different tastes all the different residents expressed.

In Los Angeles we've got plenty of homegrown architectural/city planning talent. I'm very interested in the distance they might see between the design of a building, and the building itself; between a neighborhood, and the neighborhood itself - especially as regards green building, affordable housing, and all the challenges for projects like the new Carver and the Abbey apartments around Skid Row.