Time and Paradigm—Part II

Because of my friendship with the director of the ULI Los Angeles Chapter, I was invited to the presentation of the executive summary of the ULI National Advisory Panel’s charrette on the Jordan Downs community and greater surrounding area of Watts. Those of you non-Angelenos may recall this storied community as the flashpoint of the 1965 riots in Los Angeles. It is also, incidentally, the birth place of the infamous LA gang known as the “Crips.”

In what was ultimately a wonderfully optimistic program, a couple of things struck me. Among the recommendations of the Advisory Panel, which consisted of national experts on this kind of community planning, were:

  1. That the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) identify A SINGLE PERSON TO ACT AS THE LEADER OF THE OVERALL REHABILATION EFFORT (the Redevelopment “Czar”, if you will);
  2. That HACLA partner with A FOR-PROFIT DEVELOPER for the redevelopment effort (and not just a consultant), and
  3. That the community be RE-BRANDED.

Wow. This, naturally, got my attention as I have already drunk the Kool-Aid of the idea of public-private partnerships being necessary to provide any kind of affordable housing throughout our region, and probably nationally as well. But what really got my engines running was the intricate balance suggested between the government and a private entity driven by a profit motive. As I’ve said before, I believe this model is the only one by which we will successfully produce the vast amount of housing necessary to accommodate the “working class.”

In the prescriptions for the resurrection of Jordan Downs, it was suggested by ULI that the city adopt a mentality that reflected private development—namely, that ONE INDIVIDUAL be CLEARLY in charge of the overall effort. Forgive me, but I conceive of this as the “Peter Ueberroth” effect—that a single, focused, motivated individual, through the sheer power of will, can align vast teams of people to carry out the tasks to bring the vision to reality. (Speaking of PU, should I mention California’s current “governator” will be termed out in 2010? Mr. Ueberroth, are you listening?)

Next, the panel also recommended that a private, for-profit developer PARTNER with HACLA to undertake the renaissance of Jordan Downs. This is significant for the simple, clear suggestion that the calcified City bureaucracy is not quite up to handling what will be the labyrinthine issues that will dog the effort; it will require a near Quixote character, ready to tilt at the windmills of small thinking, territoriality, and irrational competition.

What a wonderful mix—a strong, independent, forceful leader on the City’s side matched with an entrepreneurial, spirited, visionary capitalist captain from the private realm, teaming to forge solutions to the utterly intractable predicament of one of LA’s most notorious neighborhoods.

This, I believe, is the picture of the future. Will such a match be made? Is it possible? Keep your eyes peeled. ULI may have kick-started the future, in the unlikeliest of places—Jordan Downs, Watts, Los Angeles. Perhaps with the passage of President Obama’s stimulus package, the tide will turn, even if only for a mercurial moment, in favor of this neediest of communities.

Hope and change, indeed.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects)