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.