|The recently completed Pacific Plaza building is four stories of condos over retail and parking. 3rd and Main, Alhambra, CA.|
One of the cool things about Greater Los Angeles is that you can keep discovering things right under your nose, and while Downtown Alhambra certainly isn't new, it's relatively new to me. Alhambra is a city of about 83,000 people in the San Gabriel Valley, and the center of its Downtown feels like Garvey and Main. For about ten blocks of Main Street you've got an impressive array of pedestrian-friendly buildings, shops, restaurants, a multi-screen movie theater, and housing. The Alhambra Place project is still under construction, adding a residential component to a shopping center that used to be all commercial. This looks pretty good for the most part, although some of the tenant spaces turn their backs to the street.
Aside from the mixed-use buildings, which always give me that warm and fuzzy feeling, Downtown Alhambra has managed to centralize parking in several city-owned garages and lots scattered around the district. It seems like a lot of the parking is free to motorists (although certainly not free to the City to build and maintain). Centralizing off-street parking in garages is really important because it helps preserve pedestrian scale. Surface parking lots take up a lot of land, and that parking sprawl makes it less rewarding to walk from place to place by increasing distance, robbing shade and diminishing the aesthetic appeal of an area.
One lesson is that just because you're a pretty suburban city, doesn't mean you can't have a downtown. Alhambra is about 42% detached houses and about 81% of its working residents drive alone to work according to the 2010-14 American Community Survey, yet Downtown Alhambra is a bona-fide walkable urban place. That variety of form is not a weakness. It's a strength.