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A Stakeholder Speaks Out

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2008, at 01:54AM
Overhead Ed Fuentes

Architects and developers can be deeply ambivalent about projects with a RFD requiring input from community, much less two. For the city-owned parcel bounded by Alameda, First, Temple, and a Hewitt Street footprint, the mandate included “Any future development maintains the community spaces of Little Tokyo and the Arts District.”

Emerging into community feedback at the conceptual stage empowers advocates the opportunity to bring into a neighborhood far reaching goals, and can be a difficult balancing act, as seen at last weeks proposals for First and Alameda, aka the "Mangrove" site.

First up was The Nikkei Center's direct walk from Japanese-American Little Tokyo that has only a slight nod to the heavily invested Arts District. The team of Kaji & Associates, Urban Partners and the Little Tokyo Service Center was well received by some members of the Little Tokyo community in attendance at the meeting.

Also presented was the Tokyo Artpark Crossing's high density in multiple towers, exciting those who like the idea of a modern commercial Tokyo. To me, it offers the Arts District a pathway to shop but not necessarily a way participate, and acts to isolate Los Angeles Japanese-American culture.

Both concepts bring in elements of a contemporary Japan, yet bypasses what Little Tokyo now offers to all residents surrounding it–– an intimate and accessible community.

ProposalAbove In between those two was an unnamed proposal designed to make the parcel a gateway to Little Tokyo. With the Gold Line as part of the plaza, the corner also becomes a gateway to the rest of Downtown.

The use of retail space that supports small shops will promote an active street life, as seen at Second and Central. Yes, there is question and concern of the on-going loss of Japanese-American character, but the very site the public meeting was held, the Japanese American National Museum, is a contemporary building with no obvious Japanese architectural flourish. There is no question as to JAMN's importance to the community.

The unnamed project by Niemann and RSA compliments both Little Tokyo and the Arts District with a series of buildings that contain 400 living units, an office tower at Temple and Alameda streets that doesn’t block evening sun, 40-foot setbacks that compliment the Gold Line and space for outdoor street life along First street. The buildings themselves form four plazas, not including the proposed park space.

Just as important, it is the only proposal that plans to be completed in one phase.

I can’t help notice that First and Alameda Partners have both established communities considered. Like a restored Hewitt Street, Little Tokyo and the Arts District become functional components.

That makes the two neighborhoods the identity for the proposal, that for now will remain nameless.

Images courtesy RSA

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