As LAplus begins to explore ways to inspire and advance the LA region, land use planning is an obvious early research focus. Planning touches on so many aspects of life and potential: sustainability, participation, housing, health, mobility, development, etc. We take it for granted that land use planning takes a certain form: that the main tool of city planning is zoning and the main process is community meetings to seek feedback on individual proposed developments and local plans. But are we planning at the right levels, for the right things, with the right tools, and in ways that engage our diverse residents?
A. Why do we plan? Do we plan too much or too little?
To kick off thinking about how we can plan effectively, it’s worth remembering that we plan private land uses and places in a much more direct way than we plan other sectors of the economy. Is this a positive step towards economic democracy, or a flaw in urban planning? What are justifications for planning? Are there ‘anti-planning’ sub-currents in urban theory and architecture? Does planning reinforce, duplicate or undermine other regulations, pricing strategies and other methods we have to shape cities?
B. What type of planning is LA required to do?
California requires cities to have a general plan with certain elements, and the City of Los Angeles has chosen to divide its required land use planning into 35 community plans. What has to be in these plans, what additional issues has LA planned for, and what flexibility is there within the state requirements?
C. Can we plan regionally?
LA puts the teeth of its planning- zoning- in community plans. What are the benefits and limits of local planning? Is it possible to ‘invert the pyramid of planning’ to put more rules and guidance at the regional and citywide level? Ironically, LA City’s first state-mandated general plan was based on a regional vision of centers linked by transit- and the city mapped out potential centers beyond its municipal borders. I’m interested in looking at metropolitan areas- like Toronto- that plan regionally and take some of the decision-making power over local projects out of the hands of local decision makers.
D. What is a citywide vision for LA?
The City of Los Angeles is updating its general plan through a process called ourLA2040. With components addressing public infrastructure, sustainability as well as growth and land use, can this provide ‘real planning’ for LA? Can more decisions be made at the city level to guard against the natural tendencies towards parochialism and exclusion that surface in local planning?
E. Can community plans accommodate growth & housing?
The chief legacies of LA’s community planning era has been aggressive downzoning, stubborn inequality, and a housing shortage with tragic consequences. Whether we continue to regulate land use through 35 community plans or consolidate planning at a higher level, how can we make sure that there is adequate capacity for new housing?
F. Do we over-plan private property and under-plan public assets?
Last year one of my LAplus co-founders, Mott Smith, and I argued that LA ineffectively attempts to micromanage private land while missing opportunities to productively guide the evolution of the City by planning and providing infrastructure and public space. I’d like to look at both sides of this equation - the private and public spheres - in more detail.
G. Should we rethink zoning?
Los Angeles was a pioneer in zoning for use and our current zoning is a mishmash of motivations and patchwork of policy concerns related to incompatible activities, exclusionary politics, and aesthetics and ‘neighborhood character.’ The City is fully revising its zoning code for the first time since 1946 through re:code LA. Do we still need zoning? If so, should Los Angeles’ zoning be made more customizable, with flexibility to cover local concerns and neighborhoods? Or is there a way to simplify the zoning code to address a few key goals?
H. How can planning be democratic and effective?
Traditional planning meetings are frequently criticized for excluding most residents, especially low income residents and renters, for limiting input to feedback on predetermined frameworks, and for empowering opponents of change. Are there better methods to involve the public in creating a vision for the future and to channel participation to aspects of the city’s future that plans can actually shape?
I. Can CEQA be reformed?
The environmental impacts of many urban plans and planning decisions are interpreted through CEQA. Is this law, designed to be skeptical of some human actions that threaten ecosystems and scarce resources, the right tool to analyze the lot by lot evolution of cities or installation of modern infrastructure? What exemptions or reforms to CEQA would facilitate the positive environmental impacts of urban change, and do we need a new generation of environmental planning laws?