It’s the traffic, Jake, not the architecture.

Today,, the topic is traffic, a fact of life on the constant minds of people who drive anywhere in Southern California, and that is most people.

And traffic also above all is the tail that wags the development dog, the bottom line in those endless neighborhood battles, be it in a city or suburb.

Forget design and architecture, it is what how much traffic will be generated by whatever project is proposed, not how it is going to look and how it might serve the users and their community settings.

That is certainly the case in my misanthropic Malibu, whose major artery, its main street, is the Pacific Coast Highway.

Known locally as the PCH, it is basically a single road leading into and out of, and through, the 21 mile, one mile wide city, edged by the ocean to the west, and the Santa Monica mountains to the east.

Think of the traffic as too much tooth paste in a constricted tube labeled Malibu.

That wouldn’t be too bad if the PCH served just the city’s 13,000 residents, but an estimated 80,000 vehicles pass through it daily, most to and from a burgeoning City of Santa Monica to the south, and the sprawling L.A. basin beyond.

And on sunny summer weekends the area’s storied coast attracts some 300,000 more-when the sandy beaches beckon – the traffic and the parking be damned.

The result is gridlock, aggravated by at least a major accident a day, more on holidays., including an inordinate number of fatalities.

Most Malibu residents generally stay at home on weekends, avoiding the PCH like a plague.

The PCH is the bane of Malibu; unquestionably the number one complaint of residents, and visitors, too, a dark cloud in an otherwise bright real estate heaven.

The accidents, the gridlock and the general miserable driving conditions spurred increasingly shrill complaints of residents,, which in turn prompted the city aided by state and federal funding, to order a major study to see what could be done to make the PCH safer, and smooth the flow of traffic.

After several years of site specific engineering, the study is now complete. It is an exacting nearly 900 page document that fine tunes almost every foot of the PCH.

Recommended are some 150 improvements with a total cost of 20 million dollar plus, and includes. synchronized traffic signals, realigning several intersections, actually narrowing some sections of the road, while widening others, a median, an underpass , bolder stripping and host of fixes to aid pedestrians.

These were designed with the community in mind, so states the logo of the prime consultant team of Stantec.

But unfortunately the report is not easily accessible or digestible for the public. These projects usually are not revealed until the warning signs go up overnight. So much for government transparency.

Indeed, the combined public works and safety commissions met the other night in a nearly empty City Hall to blink at the study before sending it on to the City Council, which will have to act on it pronto to get under a July First funding deadline.

PCH undoubtedly will be safer, and traffic facilitated, That is good. But don’t expect it will offer much relief.

Improving roadways almost always generates more traffic; traffic being like water, flowing downhill, to find its way into the most conducive channel. And in Malibu the PCH is the one and only channel

If Malibu is a piece of heaven on earth, as its residents contend, then the PCH has to be its hell. No place is perfect.

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, and this is the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU FM, radio Malibu.net

aired 5.24.15

 

 

 

 

Design as Problem Solving

UCLA might be the prime attraction of Westwood Village, but increasingly becoming a focal point is the Hammer Museum on Wilshire Boulevard. It almost always has a provocative exhibit on display, as was the appealing genius of Thomas Heatherwick and his London-based Studio, which in a rare creative trifecta pursues art, architecture and design in an array of projects.

The exhibit was entitled Provocations, and it indeed provoked both the attending professionals and the public to recognize that at the core and calling of design is problem solving, not the look of something, however au courant; it is taking the complex and making it simple, not taking the simple and making it complex, as some of our star architects do.

It is not surprising that Heatherwick is quoted as saying when he was a young, inventors commanded his attention. “They don’t have style,” he said, “They look for ideas.”

And as I taught for years at the Art Center College of Design and at various architecture schools, design is the honest expression of function, while fashion and fad though occasionally appealing, is the fleeting mother lode for celebrity practioneers.

That the true test of design is how it serves the user, and if attractive and inventive, all the better.

These appealing qualities were very much on display in both small and large commissions the studio has been challenged by since its establishment 20 years ago.

They have included personal and household items, such as handbags, and rotation-molded chairs , as well as large public and private architectural projects around the globe.

These include several bridges, a distillery, a school, and a contemporary art museum, created within a historic grain silo. All dazzle, exuding an inventive approach to design, often combining novel engineering with new materials and innovative technology to create often sculptural forms.

To emphasize the studios user orientation, the projects explanation were presented as questions and answers, in effect literal provocations:

To quote: “How do you give individuality to the skin of an inexpensive building?”, “Can you squeeze a chair out of a machine, the way you squeeze toothpaste out of a tube?” “Is it possible to make a bridge out of glass?”

If you missed the exhibit at the Hammer, it is headed next to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum, in New York. .

This commentary was aired on 97.5 KBU FM May 9, 2015.

It Takes A Village to Make A Civic Center

Musings on the design of Malibu’s embattled civic center, with cautious lessons for other cities searching for a community focal point.

At present, Malibu’s civic center is less a focus for the area’s desirable sea coast real estate, and more of a scattered collection of suburban mini malls.

It is also a battleground for a continuing shrill debate over its development, whether high end chain stores for deep pockets tourists and transient owners of beach front trophy houses, or more modest retail for the city’s grounded residents.

This conflict prompted the recent approval by voters of an ordinance with the intent of constricting large developments, but if anything has just further entangled the planning process, to the delight of lawyers.

Sitting in this stormy sea seemingly like a boat without a paddle is Malibu’s City Council, at the whim of hot winds.

As in the past, the council has attempted to deflect the controversy by appointing a citizens task force, and hiring consultants to guide it.

From my perspective, the problem is that it has limited the effort to drafting design standards for the future development of the civic center. Essentially, how it should look. Nice, but no cigars.

What is obviously needed is a so-called specific plan for the civic center– to guide what should be built there.

The result is that the task force, composed of several respected professionals and lead by a particularly enlightened consultant team, have been in effect – to use a popular planning adage – rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

So, at the last meeting of the task force, much of the discussion was taken up by miniature and semantics, such as, a description of Malibu as a rural seacoast village.

Whatever, it gave me an opportunity at the meeting to comment, that if the civic center is truly to become a viable village, a village of people, it needs mixed use housing . In particular, affordable housing to cater to its school teachers, first responders, seniors and the local work force.

This housing would have many benefits, including reducing traffic on the PCH –residential generates half of what commercial does.

It also would more than satisfy Malibu’s affordable housing element required by the State. It certainly would please the Coastal Commission, and make it look more kindly on the city.

But most of all, it is the right thing to do. We owe it to those who serve us.

This essay was broadcast on 97.5 KBU.FM.