A crack team of urban design and development experts from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) descended on Los Angeles last week to help Metro and the city of L.A. develop its vision for the area surrounding Union Station. After several packed days of interviews and site visits, the panel presented its findings this morning to a crowd of community members, local elected officials and planners who gathered at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo.
Attentive readers will recall that Metro bought Union Station earlier this year, along with the rights to build roughly six million square feet of development around Southern California’s largest transit hub. Since then, Metro has begun soliciting concepts from a number of design firms for a master plan for the Union Station property itself.
The ULI panel’s job, then, was to help Metro envision how a present and future Union Station can better integrate with the surrounding areas of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, the Arts District, the Civic Center and the Los Angeles River.
Each of the panelists presented different components of the vision, so rather than summarize what each said, here’s a distillation of some of the key points, and hopefully we can post the PowerPoint presentation later on:
- In the long run, the panel thinks Union Station and the surrounding community are a very good bet for becoming an economic and cultural hub in the region. Union Station could serve as a “model” for sustainable transit-oriented development.
- Looking at a 25-50 year time horizon, Metro should work to bring in highrise commercial development — after the commercial real estate market rebounds — because employment centers are great drivers of transit ridership. In the short run, Metro should focus on more residential development to bring more people into the area.
- Young professions more and more want to live in walkable, vibrant, urban communities that are accessible to transit. The Union Station site has the transit component down — and will only grow stronger in that regard — but Metro should work to improve the pedestrian experience around the station site.
- The whole area needs to work on developing a coherent character and experience, so that travelers from around the region think of Union Station as a destination, a place where they can spend a day walking around and visiting the nearby cultural attractions. Current conditions don’t really support that, because places like Olvera Street and Chinatown are somewhat disconnected.
- Part of the problem is public infrastructure: major roads and highways like Alameda Street and the 101 Freeway create barriers to comfortable pedestrian flow between these communities.
- Metro should work to develop a coherent vision for the various publicly-owned parcels surrounding Union Station and consider trying to move some of the infrastructure — i.e. bus maintenance facilities, the county jail, etc. — to other locations further from Union Station.
With those ideas out there, what do you, Source readers, think the Union Station area needs in order to fulfill its potential?