Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Small lots, smart designs

The full name of the Los Angeles River is "El Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de Los Angeles de Porciuncula". That's "The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Very Small Plot of Land." Most translations just leave 'Porciuncula' as it's found in the Spanish, but it refers to a very small plot of land on which St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 13th century.

When the pobladores arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1700's, they found a small plot by Los Angeles River, and there they founded our city. And for a long time, that was the last anyone thought about small plots in Los Angeles. We shared the dream of lots with big back yards, and the real availability of abundant private space led to an atrophy of our public space. Why build parks when you can have your own patch of green?

You know the rest. We thought we could prevent growth by ignoring it, but instead of building skyscrapers, we built "yardscrapers", building out over those private green spaces until parts of our city achieved Manhattan-like densities.

Fortunately, today we're coming to terms with growth and density. Last November, we passed the Small Lot Subdivisions Ordinance, which creates opportunities to build smart designs on small lots.

The Enterprise Foundation has posed a challenge: who can come up with a design smart enough to allow good living on a small lot? On Douglas Street in Echo Park, where I kicked off the contest with Councilmember Ed Reyes and Bill Jones from the Enterprise Foundation, housing prices are creeping over $700,000. The winner of the contest to build an affordable design for a narrow interior lot—and it's open to student or professional, newcomer or master builder—will see that design come to life on Douglas Street.

Join the contest today at www.smallbutsmart.org!