Sunday, January 1, 2012

Urbantunities: Long Beach Town Center

Yes, "urbantunity" means "urban opportunity". Now, on to the opportunity. The Long Beach Town Center is a large automobile oriented shopping center (a "lifestyle center" in industry parlance) in the northeast corner of the City of Long Beach, nestled between the 605 freeway, Carson, a wide arterial street, the San Gabriel River channel (complete with bike path) and El Dorado Park, safely fenced off to the south.

Here's a zoning map. The western part of the site is zoned "CHW": commercial, Regional Highway District. The eastern part of the site is zoned "CCA" the (this is the real name) Community Automobile Oriented District. In both of these zones residential uses are severely restricted. Houses and apartments are out, but apparently you can build an "artist studio with residence" with something called an administrative use permit.

Notice in the live Google map above that there is a large empty lot south of Carson and west of Town Center Drive. At street level it's clear that this is not a park. It's just a big grassy field. Although I could be mistaken, this area seems to be within the CHW zone. My idea is really simple. Change the zoning of this one little section and allow for the construction of housing by right. That area could fill up with townhouses or apartments and the people who lived in them could walk to all the stores in the Town Center, as well as the shops across Carson.

If this is a bad idea, there will be no market for the housing and nothing will change. Right now, the real barrier to turning the vacant lot into something useful is regulatory: the zoning. This concept is called mixing land uses. It's a wonderful way to get people to drive less. The idea doesn't require touching any of the existing parking (we all know the world seems to end when that happens). It can only benefit the nearby businesses, since they would have a built-in customer base. Part of the site could be turned into a real park to boot.

Do it Long Beach! What's a "lifestyle center" without people living in it?

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