Today, LA is buzzing with the creativity, optimism, and ambition that have made the city a bridge between imagination and reality. Named one of this year’s top five cities in the United States for investment and development by Emerging Trends in Real Estate and led by a dynamic young mayor, LA is already deep into planning for its star turn on the global stage as host of the 2028 Summer Olympics. The international Olympics Committee said it had selected Los Angeles as a “futuristic, transformative, forward-looking, dynamic” world city.
With forests of cranes and new construction underway everywhere you look, the LA real estate market is still on the upswing, drawing national and global investors, as LA transforms itself into a city of the future. The burst of excitement and energy released by LA 2028 resonated with the Fall Meeting attendees, from developers, investors, architects, and planners to brokers, attorneys, and government officials. “The Olympic games don’t require a leap of faith—the Olympic games require a leap of imagination,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has said. “I believe that no city on Earth does imagination the way we do here in Los Angeles.”
Another inspired decision by the ULI Fall Meeting planners was to kick off the Meeting with a full day of guided tours and lunches in diverse LA City and County neighborhoods with exciting new development projects. In many formerly neglected areas, an influx of development investment is preserving the historic, special characteristics of the locales while building housing and transit-oriented developments. Highlights included:
- Building Healthy Places Forum (Pacoima, San Fernando Valley)
- Orange County Master-Planned Communities (MPCs)
- Behind the Scenes at the Port of Los Angeles (the second-largest gateway in the world)
- New Transit-Oriented Projects in West LA (along the new Metro Expo Line from Downtown LA to Santa Monica and the beach)
- University of Southern California (USC) Village & University Park Campus
- Downtown LA: How Retail Is Transforming the City Center
- Playa Vista/Silicon Beach
- The Los Angeles River (restored wetlands with wildlife)
- Arts District LA (revitalized area with art galleries, dining and boutique shopping)
- Reshaping Downtown LA’s Skyline: Mega-Projects by Asian Investors
- Behind the Red Carpet: Academy Awards Infrastructure & Hollywood Production Lot
The 2017 Fall Meeting featured appearances by two LA giants of the imagination: superstar architect Frank Gehry and legendary basketball star, urban real estate developer, and civic hero Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. Gehry offered a critique of the feasibility of one of LA’s most popular and visionary projects, the restoration of parts of the Los Angeles River, currently confined in a concrete channel, to natural habitat, parks, and recreational spaces. Projects along the 51-mile river include new bridges and as many as 36,000 new housing units. Johnson has formed a $1.3+ billion fund to focus exclusively on infrastructure deals: “If you look at infrastructure in America, it’s old,” he told the audience. His fund has already invested in projects at Denver International Airport and NYC’s LaGuardia Airport.
Another hot LA topic is the multi-modal transportation development boom, influenced by the expected influx of driverless vehicles in the near future. Increased levels of traffic congestion and a return to neighborhood development have fueled the construction of new and expanded light rail lines and multi-modal transportation hubs. “Multi-modalism is the end of “Nobody Walks In LA,” said Marlon G. Boarnet of the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. “Los Angeles led the nation into an auto-oriented vision of transportation planning; perhaps not ironically, Los Angeles is now leading the way out,” he noted.
Closely allied to the boom in public transportation is the transit-oriented development of mixed-use projects built around transportation hubs that incorporate lively public spaces that create and nurture a sense of community. A panel discussion of “Mixed-Use: Myth and Fact,” described the economic benefits of well-planned mixed-use projects where three or more revenue-producing uses are mutually supportive. The panel cited Howard Blackson, Urban Design and Community Planning Manager at San Diego’s international airport: “Mixed-use makes for three-dimensional, pedestrian-oriented places that layer compatible land uses, public amenities, and utilities together at various scales and intensities.” (placemakers.com)
Homelessness and the crisis in available and affordable housing in U.S. cities was the focus of panel discussions that explored solutions for housing the homeless and low-income residents. In Los Angeles alone, an astronomical half-million affordable rental units are needed just to meet the present demand. Some innovative ideas for affordable housing solutions include repurposing struggling shopping malls to incorporate senior housing; micro-housing villages; and allowing high-rise development in and around Skid Row in Downtown LA for fees that could be used for homeless services. Discussions also explored the imbalance of investment in Los Angeles, where an influx of investment capital from Asia has created a focus on high-end condominiums rather than much-needed affordable and workforce housing.
This article was written by Nadene Gallagher of Lauter + Gallagher.