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over the stadium proposals from the perspective of urban planning. This is partly by design. AEG, for example, has refused to disclose the exact location of the proposed stadium site and has yet to complete a formal design. Hahn has not exactly pressed the company to do so. The assumption seems to be that all development is good development, that anyone willing to invest large sums of money in a decrepit downtown neighborhood should be greeted with heads bowed in appreciation--or at least get a supportive pat on the back. Such an attitude toward a pro- ject that would have a significant effect on the physical shape of downtown would be understandable if a big development company could be trusted to create an original, thoughtful alternative to the kind of sports-retail-entertainment centers that are sprouting all over America. But AEG's proposal is nothing more than a generic formula--one unlikely to spark the kind of urban renaissance that its planners have promised. Downtown Los Angeles, meanwhile, has been searching for a new identity since the mid-1920s, when its importance as a vibrant urban center first began to fade as the city expanded westward. Its revival will require the highest levels of planning, and an injection of bold, new ideas. Anything short is unlikely to turn around an area known
largely for its dilapidated buildings and empty parking lots. The stadium proposal should be understood as part of a much bigger plan, all of it currently controlled by AEG. The first phase, Staples Center, was completed in 1999. Last fall, the city approved the second phase of development, a 40-acre retail, entertainment and housing complex just to the north of Staples. It would include a 7,000-seat theater, a 1,200-room hotel, several blocks of retail along Olympic and Figueroa and 800 units of housing. (AEG has yet to set a date for groundbreaking on this phase of development.) The football stadium would cover roughly 20 acres just to the east of the retail complex. And although the developer has refused to disclose its exact location, most reports place it between 11th and 12th streets around Hope Street. AEG has unveiled a very preliminary stadium design by the L.A. office of Seattle-based NBBJ Architects. Nonetheless, the thinking behind the plan is relatively clear-- and somewhat predictable. It embodies the kind of "pedestrian- friendly" planning formula that has become the norm among major developers in recent years. In a nutshell, the idea is to create instantly the kind of vibrant street life that exists in older, denser and more traditional city centers. The tactics are simple enough: Replace large, monolithic structures with a more varied, small-scaled play of forms and build lots and lots of retail along the street.
That pattern is already visible in the design of Staples Center, whose ground level includes offices, a restaurant and shops, which wrap around its base from Figueroa to 11th Street and are intended to give the structure a more human scale. It is the development's second phase--the retail and entertainment complex--that is meant to provide the glue that will transform the area into a buzzing urban hub. Anchored by a vast pedestrian plaza, which faces Staples to the south, the complex would essentially be an open-air mall. Surrounded by parking structures, stuffed with a mix of chain restaurants and stores, it recalls recent developments, such as the Grove at Farmers Market in the Fairfax district of L.A. and Pasadena's Paseo Colorado. Not surprisingly, AEG has vague plans to include even more retail space along the stadium's base. The emphasis on shops and public space has obvious political benefits. It gives the public the impression that the developer is concerned about the kind of quality-of-life issues that have become a common theme in contemporary politics. And the conventional wisdom is that such developments are a significant improvement over the kind of enclosed, air-conditioned malls that became the norm only a few decades ago.
But the impact such a development would have on the surrounding urban fabric is more dubious. Sports retailentertainment complexes are largely introverted, selfcontained organisms. As such, they are unlikely to spur the kind of broad revitalization that the developers have promised. This is especially true of the football stadium. No amount of retail shops will disguise what it actually is: an enormous void that, the developer admits, will remain empty 320-plus days a year. There are other options. The most obvious would be to renovate the existing L.A. Coliseum, a landmark structure at the edge of Exposition Park. One of the city's oldest historic districts, the area was originally designed as a series of monuments set around a formal Beaux Arts park. It includes the 1920s-era Armory building-- currently being transformed into a science school by the Santa Monicabased architectural firm Morphosis--and the Natural History Museum, which is in the midst of hiring an architect for a major expansion. Renovating the Coliseum stadium would not only bolster such redevelopment efforts, it would add another element to what is slowly becoming a more genuinely rich and democratic public forum. It would also serve to strengthen the identity of an existing community of mostly lowermiddle-class homes. The more essential problem, however, is not where the
stadium should go, but how such decisions are made. AEG's decision to build the stadium near Staples has nothing to do with urban planning issues but with the logic of corporate tie-ins. It is intended to guarantee that, after paying the price of admission to a football game, visitors could then wander out and buy a T-shirt and steak dinner at an AEG retail mall or see a show at the AEG theater. That experience might be slightly less disturbing if AEG's proposal were more daring. The robber barons of an earlier age were often driven by greed. But they were also apt to promote bolder, more original visions. The original "Miracle Mile," for example, which was conceived by the realtor A.W. Ross, was an architectural response to L.A.'s nascent car culture that was radical for its time. In New York, Rockefeller Center was more than a moneygenerating office complex; it became a symbol of capitalism's relentless drive. Whatever the motive--a sense of civic pride, outright vanity or fear of death--these developers were driven to reach beyond the average and the mundane. Thus far, AEG's plans for downtown have yet to show such ambition. They are safe, formulaic, somewhat soulless. They embody an age of corporate gigantism in which decisions are made by committee, and the only real concern is the bottom line. If these corporations insist on offering up tired old formulas
as the future of our cities, then it is the government's responsibility to hold them to a higher standard. Hahn could begin by acknowledging that effective city planning requires more than just spending bails of money. He could stand up to developers who try to strong-arm the city into accepting gargantuan urban proposals even before they have been adequately thought through. Of course, some developers will tell the city to get lost. So what? No development at all may be a better option than selling off the city's soul.