The future of Westwood Village discussed at cityLAB forum

Westwood Village then and now. Image via Curbed via cityLAB.

Of all the neighborhoods slated to be connected to the growing Measure R transit network, perhaps none generates as much interest and debate as Westwood Village. It’s a tremendously busy district, with more than 105,000 vehicle trips daily to and from UCLA and thousands more going to office towers along Wilshire Boulevard.

Westwood was the premier entertainment and shopping destination on the Westside for nearly half a century. But the village has lost much of its luster in recent decades, with higher vacancy rates and rougher edges than some of its competitors, such as Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and Century City’s Westfield mall. Traffic and parking are notoriously frustrating.  While there is a plethora of bus service to the area, there’s no rail access — at least until the Westside Subway Extension arrives with a station along Wilshire Boulevard. And that’s still many years away, depending on the federal funding picture.

There has been a lot of conversation over the years about reviving the village. Now, into the discussion has stepped UCLA’s cityLAB, “a think tank within UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design [that] is concerned with contemporary urban issues, urban design, and the architecture of the city.” With the sponsorship of the Westside Urban Forum and support from UCLA, cityLAB has worked over the last year to diagnose what presently ails Westwood and identify what some of the cures might be.

On Monday night, cityLAB hosted a panel discussion titled “Curse and Vision: The Future of Westwood Village” that represented the culmination of their work up to this point. The talk featured various urban luminaries presenting what they have learned and developed, and others commenting on that.

Among the more interesting findings was an investigation into the truth or fiction behind what many people point to as seemingly intractable problems for Westwood, or what cityLAB calls “The Six Village Curses”: the changing big screen/bookstore marketplace, competing interests, lack of parking, unseemly streets, a 1988 shooting and looking backward rather than forward. Working with various community interests, two teams of architects developed different visions for the Village.  Roger Sherman and Edwin Chan presented the “Living Culture” vision, and Neal Denari presented the “Car-Lite” vision.  Neither is meant to necessarily be mutually exclusive and in the end their visions were combined.

The two biggest themes from the subsequent panel discussion were:

  • What does Westwood Village want to be? A regional hub for arts and entertainment? A college town? A local shopping district? None of the above?
  • What will the Subway Extension do for Westwood Village and how can we maximize its benefit to the community?

The consensus seemed to be that the subway is going to be transformative for the community, but not a magic bullet. On that latter point, panelists urged the major players — UCLA, Metro, the City of Los Angeles, residents and property owners — to work really closely to make sure that the subway is complemented with other changes that support a revitalized Westwood. I spoke with Metro Westside Subway Extension Community Relations Manager Jody Litvak, who also attended the event, and she assured me afterward that Metro has been having these discussions with Westwood stakeholders, including UCLA.

Some proposals for revitalizing Westwood included having UCLA move more of its cultural institutions into the village proper and increasing the amount of workforce housing in the heart of Westwood. Those both seem like solid ideas.

I was also pleased that both of the visions presented helped transform Westwood into a bike, pedestrian and transit-oriented district, replete with bike lanes, bus lanes and pedestrian oriented plazas to connect the subway stop, the village and UCLA campus. While still allowing for cars, these type of improvements could — and should — be done years before the subway gets to Westwood. And let’s not forget the Expo Line will have a station on Westwood Boulevard, about two miles south of the subway station — meaning Westwood can become more of a key transit street than it already is.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the challenge of just getting to Westwood today. Many Angelenos will avoid going to the village unless they have to because of high traffic volumes on Wilshire — though the Wilshire bus-only lane project should also speed up transit trips along the corridor. Fundamentally, there are just too many people trying to squeeze into too small an area to have them all arrive by car. That’s readily obvious on my daily commute: sitting in traffic on the Big Blue Bus or weaving through gridlock on my bike.

One early kernel of good news is that contractors for the recently re-formed Westwood Village Business Improvement District are set to begin cleaning and fixing up sidewalks and other street furniture in the coming months. But looking out a bit further, the future of the village remains to be determined.

What’s your vision for Westwood, Source readers? Check out the write-ups by Curbed LA, the Daily Bruin and the California Planning and Development Report and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

You can also send an email or an online comment to Metro’s Westside Subway team or post on their Facebook page.

14 replies

  1. Some may remember many years ago that there was a shuttle from the Federal Building into Westwood Village for the busy nights when folks came to the Village for movies and to walk around and visit the local shops. The Federal Building was also in walking distance for many so there was no need to travel by car into the Village. In those days there was a great mix of retail stores that fostered pedestrian activity. Rents got high, competition elsewhere strengthened and many of the great stores that made the Village popular could no longer survive. (Specialty retail stores, and especially those individual shops that bring a unique quality to shopping districts as opposed to chain stores, most often cannot compete for space with restaurants that serve alcohol.) So, the charming shops left, there was the unfortunate shooting and business in the Village went on a bit of a downward spiral.
    The architecture in the village is still wonderful (for the most part)and traffic isn’t any more horrible than other areas of the Westside, there are fairly wide sidewalks and trees, and there is a built-in student population as well. We need to foster new retailers, work on bike connectivity and do all we can to connect the Village with EXPO as best we can and until the subway comes west. While Westwood Blvd. may be the straight arrow connection from EXPO to the Village, I would suggest that planners look closely at having Village and Wilshire Blvd. building patrons use the Sepulveda station as their EXPO stop. There is a need to move many riders to and from Century City and EXPO and perhaps it is those riders who should be using the Westwood stop and accessing shuttles for Century City from Pico and from there. There could be a much-needed TRANSIT CENTER on site where the EXPO Sepulveda station is located and that CENTER could be the place where Westwood bound riders catch their shuttle, where riders from the Blue and Green buses transfer, where folks seeking to take the LAX flyaway could access it on its way from Westwood…. and on and on. What a great opportunity we have to have a WESTSIDE TRANSIT CENTER to provide connections with METRO, SM and Culver City buses, (future 405 transit), AMTRACK bus connectors, and more. Sepulveda has been a street long crying out for a new vision (particularly near EXPO and south of Santa Monica Blvd.), for sidewalk and street improvements, etc.
    We also need to think about what the best bike route will be from EXPO to Westwood as well. Should it be along Westwood Blvd. (and does that suggest that we want to reduce bus/shuttle traffic on Westwood to better accomodate bikes?)? What do we do in an area where north-south street capacity is so poor? I did not attend the cityLAB presentation and hope that it (and this discussion board) will serve to inspire new community discussions with stakeholders so that we can best prepare for how to integrate coming transit and riders to help build a healthier Westwood Village while working to reduce congestion in the area.
    The Westside already has significant density and the coming of transit should not be automatically translated into a carte blanche for significant increases in density. We need to carefully plan our community and integrate the transit to support our strong employment base and large traffic magnets like UCLA and the VA.

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  2. I am a librarian who has worked at UCLA for over 20 years, on campus until about 5 years ago. Currently two departments of the UCLA Library technical services are housed in a temporary building near the corner of Wilshire and Gayley. I walk in the Village several times a week; however, I must drive myself every day from the San Fernando Valley to UCLA. My San Fernando Valley colleagues and I are continually frustrated by the lack of north-south rail transit along the corridor that stretches from the Santa Clarita Valley to Long Beach. I know that colleagues from the Long Beach area suffer far more because the traffic they must navigate through is insufferable. Because of the lack of rail, we are forced to drive or carpool into this area, resulting in the need for parking lots for thousands of automobiles. Vanpools are provided by UCLA, but are relatively few in number, and inadequate to serve the widely-distributed commuter population. Until there are alternate means of mass transit for us, commuter parking near UCLA must be provided. The UCLA campus provides an intra-campus shuttle service that works well for travel to and from the various points on campus. It will need to be expanded when new student housing is completed and if housing in the Village area is expanded. Please be sure to include us north-south commuters in your planning.

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