Monday, September 22, 2008

NoHo Goes Upscale

While some residents of the Valley use New York to characterize the type of development they wish to reject, others see the city, at least in some ways, as a model to emulate. The clearest example of this can be found in the creation of the NoHo Arts District, whose name was inspired by the SoHo district in Manhattan. However, while promoters of North Hollywood redevelopment intended "NoHo" to connote an image of urban diversity, for critics of gentrification, SoHo has become a place of social exclusivity and in this sense increasingly suburban (Lippard, 2007; Sorkin, 2007). In this way, becoming like New York could actually make the neighborhood less diverse--or at least maintain the suburban segregation that "density" supposedly threatens.

In 1992, the North Hollywood Universal City Chamber of Commerce named former downtown Lankershim "The NoHo District" (Kapitanoff, 1992). Although the Academy Complex had just opened at the corner of Lankershim and Magnolia, the CRA did not create the district. Rather, declining rents in the area helped attract artist and actors to the area. A variety of small shops, galleries and theaters also opened up, leading some to describe it as the "Melrose of the Valley," referring to Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, known for it vintage clothing stores, galleries and eclectic restaurants. The proximity of film and television production facilities in Burbank and Studio City also benefited many of these businesses. Studios purchased props and clothing from vintage stores and drew upon the talent of local actors and artists working in theaters and post-production facilities (Blankstein, 2001; Llanos, 2008a).

Although the CRA was not responsible for the district's emergence, it did support its growth. For example, the agency funded the transformation of a former Department of Water and Power building into the Lankershim Arts Center (Kapitanoff, 1992). Several theaters, including the historic El Portal, built in 1926, also received funding for their renovation (More, 1999). In 1995 the city officially designated NoHo a "Commercial and Artcraft District" permitting artists to create and sell handcrafted products in their residences (Los Angeles Department of City Planning, 1995).

This change in zoning that gave artists the right to live and work in the same space had parallels to the creation of SoHo in New York. Originally artists occupied industrial buildings in lower Manhattan illegally, but in the 1960s, in response to a series of evictions, artists fought for and won the right to reside in their studio lofts. The long-term consequence of this victory was that the formerly undervalued manufacturing and storage space of cast iron buildings became highly valued real estate. The New York Times, architecture magazines and other media began to celebrate the idea of living like an artist in open space with high ceilings and large windows. This aesthetic spread to cities throughout the U.S. and soon wealthy professionals replaced working artists as the primary consumers of loft space (Zukin, 1982).

Several recent residential developments in North Hollywood explicitly draw upon the loft aesthetic. The Lofts at NoHo Commons, part of the CRA financed project, promotes itself as a "fusion of traditional apartments, Live/Work spaces and loft living." and a place "where urban and lifestyle meet" ("The Lofts at NoHo Commons"). Another building that received agency assistance, NoHo 14, promises floor to ceiling windows and a "colorful lifestyle" ("NoHo 14"). While borrowing the loft aesthetic, neither of these projects are converted industrial buildings. Moreover, although they appeal to an "urban lifestyle", they also contain typically suburban elements such as swimming pools, fitness centers and parking garages.

At least one new residential complex in North Hollywood did convert a former manufacturing facility. The developer of NoHo Lofts fabricated 68 live/work spaces out of a former meat tenderizer plant. The project was completed without CRA assistance, but it still involved a real estate developer rather than artists and features a fitness center, rooftop clubhouse and gated parking("The NoHo Lofts"). An interview with the developer further suggests the target is largely "upscale professionals" (Mascaro, 2004).

The rent for The Lofts at NoHo Commons ranges from $1565/month for a studio to $2510/month for a one bedroom ("The Lofts at NoHo Commons"). The one bedroom is well above the average rent of $1588/month for all apartments in Los Angeles County, and even the studio is above what most Angelenos can afford (Southern California Association for Non-Profit Housing, 2007b). The median household income in Los Angeles for 2006 was $44,445 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). An applicant for The Lofts at NoHo Commons must have a monthly gross income three times the rent, which for the smallest unit would require $56,340 a year.

The type of stores and restaurants that have so far located in NoHo Commons also suggests a slightly upscale and even more clearly suburban clientele. In the grocery store, a Hows Market, the deli features a gourmet olive bar and a flat panel TV above a fireplace around its seating area. Other shops are chains found commonly in shopping malls such as Panera Bread, Cold Stone Ice Cream, Daphne's Greek Restaurant and a T-Mobile store. These stores contrast dramatically with those found less than a mile north along Lankershim outside the border of the NoHo Arts district. Here a wide variety of businesses cater to a working class Latino population. Interspersed among auto dealers and repair shops are thrift stores, hairdressers, second-hand furniture traders and a bargain supermarket that specializes in bulk items. A variety of Mexican, Salvadoran and Armenian Restaurants can also be found.

Not surprisingly, this contrast in retail parallels a contrast in the demographics of North Hollywood. As already noted, the San Fernando Valley has historically fought first racial integration and then the integration of low-income groups. This has led to significant segregation within the Valley. For example, according to the 2000 census North Hollywood was 51% white, while Valley Village to the West was 73%, Burbank to the East 72%, Toluca Lake and Studio City to the South were both 85% (Kotkin & Ozuna, 2002). But more interesting is how North Hollywood itself is divided. In the zip code 91601, which covers the NoHo arts district, per capita income was $16,817, 49.5% were Hispanic, 39.6% were foreign born and 55.5% spoke a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000a). In the zip code 91606 above the district, per capita income was $14,095, 56.8% were Hispanic, 51% were foreign born and 71.6% spoke a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000b).

Moving the analysis to the level of census tracts within the NoHo district, the northern part of the district has a higher percentage of Hispanics and foreign born and a lower per capita income (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000a). However, this data is from 2000, before the new housing was built as part of redevelopment. Since the rent for the least expensive of these new units requires a household income in the 50,000 range, significantly higher than the $31,671 for the zip code in 2000, the population in this part of the district will now have a much higher income than it did in 2000.

It should be noted that a stated goal of the CRA is to build affordable housing, and all the CRA sponsored projects set aside some units for residents who earn the median area income or less. The percentage of units varies with each project, ranging from less than 10 to 25 (Community Redevelopment Agency, 2007). As an indication of the demand for these affordable units, The Lofts at NoHo Commons has a waiting list of three to five years.

The overall impact of new development may actually be to reduce the amount of affordable housing in the area. As NoHo becomes a desirable neighborhood, real estate becomes more valuable and rents increase. Furthermore, older housing is being demolished and replaced with new apartments and condominiums. Signs of new construction can be found on nearly every block of NoHo. This is problematic not just because the newer units cost more, but also because they are not covered by the city's rent stabilization law which limits yearly rental increases but only applies to units built before 1978.

According to a report by the Southern California Association for Non Profit Housing, the high number of demolitions and condominium conversions has seriously harmed the city's effort to address its affordable housing crisis. The housing element of the city's general plan states the city must produce 4000 units of affordable homes each year. Between 2001 and 2006 the city produced 12,800 units but lost over 11,000 to demolition and conversion, a net gain of less than 2000 units over 5 years (Southern California Association for Non-Profit Housing, 2007a).

Because efforts to restrict the demolition of old apartment buildings have failed, the changes occurring in NoHo will likely continue (Dellinger, 2008). Older rent controlled units will be replaced by costly condominiums. In May of 2007, the city council passed a law requiring new apartments that replace demolished ones also be covered by rent control (Hymon, 2007). However, these units will still start out at a significantly higher rent. Moreover, an exception is provided if 20% of the building's units are affordable. Thus, nothing prevents the number of affordable apartments from continuing to decline. In short, wealthy residents will increasingly displace lower income groups in neighborhoods like NoHo.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Debating Density

The phrase often applied to North Hollywood's development plans is "transit-oriented development" (TOD). Transit-oriented development is associated with New Urbanism, a movement among architects and planners that emerged in the 1990s to challenge traditional suburban development. Proponents of New Urbanism call for higher density growth that encourages walking and public transportation rather than relying upon the automobile (Leccese & McCormick, 2000).

Transit-oriented development seems to provide a great solution for perhaps the two most serious problems Los Angeles faces in the first decade of the twenty-first century: traffic and housing. L.A. consistently finds itself rated as the city with the worst traffic in the country (Los Angeles Times, 2007). At the same time, L.A. has a severe housing crisis. The construction of new housing has not kept pace with population growth. Since the city has very little undeveloped land on which to build, planners see greater density as inevitable (Haefele, 2007). Thus, building large apartment buildings near transit could potentially provide an ideal way of accommodating population growth without worsening traffic (Dreier & Steckler, 2007).

In addition to NoHo commons, several other large projects have emerged adjacent to L.A. Metro lines. The most prominent is the Hollywood and Highland complex built above a Red Line station. Completed in 2001, it includes the Kodak Theater, now host to the Academy Awards, a shopping center and a Renaissance Hotel. Transit-oriented developments were also completed in Pasadena, downtown and Koreatown (Fulton, 2007a; Kang, 2007).

Many residents supported the initial construction of NoHo Commons, delighted that long abandoned spaces were finally being filled (Nash, 2003). But as the final phase of the project, a seven screen movie theater with additional office and retail, was launched in early 2008, widespread concern emerged around the combined impact of NoHo commons and several other large mixed used developments in the area (Lopez, 2008).

The largest of these to be already approved by the MTA is the NoHo Artwave. Located on 15.6 acres adjacent to NoHo Commons, it's expected to contain a mix of office, retail and housing in three buildings up to 20 stories tall (Lin II & Bernstein, 2007). Moreover, in January 2008, developers proposed Artwalk East and West, another mixed used project adjacent to NoHo commons. This development would contain three 27 story towers. Supporters of these projects emphasize L.A.'s housing shortage and note the location at the intersection of the Orange Line and the Red Line is ideal for high density growth (Llanos, 2008b).

However, for critics of these plans, the problem is precisely with the expectation that transit-oriented development will reduce traffic. In support of this skepticism, a study by the Los Angeles Times showed that other TODs along Metro stops failed to significantly reduce car trips (Bernstein & Vara-Orta, 2007). Because the rail network is so limited and bus service so atrocious, residents living adjacent to rail stops find public transit inconvenient. Even if a large portion of residents in these new developments took public transit, traffic would still increase. Indeed, the NoHo projects include thousands of new parking spaces to accommodate this increase (Lopez, 2008).

The city has also received criticism for appearing to ignore the cumulative impact of seven large developments in the North Hollywood area. In addition to the high rises proposed near the North Hollywood transit hub, two major projects are planned two miles south, adjacent to the Universal City subway station. Finally, the largest mall expansion in the Valley, adjacent to the construction of hundreds of housing units, is planned two miles northwest of the North Hollywood station. Given its distance from the transit hub, it is less clear how this last project is "transit oriented," but City Councilwoman Wendy Gruel has called it "smart growth" because it mixes shopping and housing (Bernstein, 2007).

Beyond the criticisms of traffic, many residents complain that the character of their neighborhood will be destroyed, and it is here that the meaning of "urban" became especially relevant to the debate. At the town hall meeting held to discuss the development, one man emphasized, "We don't need any 37-story buildings to block our sun and views . . . If you want this move to New York" (Lopez, 2008). In an editorial, Roy Disney, chair of the NBC Universal/ MTA Project Community Working Group, claims the mayor wants "to force a new urban image on existing suburban communities" (Disney, 2007). Similarly, in a discussion about the proposed developments held on the L.A. Times website one contributor writes, "We're not New York City. We are Los Angeles, a sprawling inter connected land mass by tiny and large roads, streets, avenues, boulevards and cul-de-sacs composed of neighborhoods" (Maurece, 2008).

Significantly, while a few responses to the online forum sympathize with development opponents, the majority seem to challenge precisely the desire to remain "suburban." One post summarizes the conflict succinctly: "The big issue at stake is whether or not the Southeast Valley is a suburban or urban area. I used to live in NOHO. It's URBAN. No one is entitled to a suburban, low density, single-occupancy car lifestyle because of how their neighborhood was back when Sam Yorty was mayor" (W., 2008). Several of the posts label critics of growth "NIMBYs." Steffen T. writes, "I fear the NIMBYs more than the developers in Los Angeles. . . .we're a city of four million people, not Rancho Cucamonga" (T., 2008). Another post makes the meaning of NIMBY explicit, "Truth is these people do not want the lower class moving into their neighborhood effecting property value" (Ryan, 2008).

The view that development opponents wish to keep out the poor as much as they wish to keep out traffic makes sense in the context of the Valley's history. For most of this history suburbia meant middle-class white homeowners, and since the 1970s Valley politics has often focused on maintaining this exclusivity. As already noted, through most of its history racial exclusion was the rule in the Valley and greater integration in the 1970s led to white flight. For white homeowners who did not flee, limiting growth was key to preventing the infiltration of poor blacks and Latinos into their neighborhoods (Davis, 1992). Homeowners associations fought for local control of land use decisions so that they could restrict things that would increase density such as the construction of apartment buildings.

The movement for local control was a central force behind the effort to make the Valley a city separate from Los Angeles. The vote to secede in 2002 ultimately failed, but as Raphael Sonenshein argues, the secession threat helped win the Valley a stronger voice in the reformed city charter approved in 1999. One place they gained this voice was through the formation of neighborhood councils (Sonenshein, 2006).

Although these councils are advisory, they have significant political influence. This influence became clear in 2004 when the city council considered a proposal to require new housing developments include a certain number of units that are affordable to low and moderate income families. Before taking a vote on the measure, community hearings took place and neighborhood councils expressed strong opposition. Because of this opposition, the authors of the measure decided not to submit it to a vote. Comments at these hearings indicated residents feared the incursion of low income groups (Zahniser, 2004).

In the context of homeowner's historic struggles to maintain social exclusivity, it is understandable that many interpret the resistance to new development in North Hollywood as a continuation of this struggle. In this view, the rejection of urbanization is as much about the rejection of diversity as it is a rejection of density. At the same time, the emerging development of North Hollywood reveals that urban diversity itself has a range of meanings. While it can mean people of a diverse income and ethnic background, in the case of the "NoHo Arts District" it primarily suggests the aesthetic diversity brought by artists and their alternative lifestyle, and this latter type of diversity may actually conflict with the former.

A Short History

A Short History of North Hollywood

San Fernando Valley covers approximately 345 square miles to the northwest of downtown Los Angeles and contains over a dozen different communities, most within the city limits of Los Angeles. The Valley was annexed in 1915 to allow for construction of the Owens Valley aqueduct, and over the course of the twentieth century it went from a land of farming and ranching to "America's Suburb" (Roderick, 2001). The subdivision of Lankershim was first established in the 1880s as a community of farmers cultivating a variety of fruit and nut trees (Link et al., 1991, p. 45). With the growing presence of movie studios, in 1927 Lankershim was renamed North Hollywood to emphasize its connection to the rapidly growing industry (Link et al., 1991, p. 54).

After World War II, housing developments replaced farmland as the Valley became a significant location for the defense industry, and the completion of the Cahuenga freeway in 1940 linking North Hollywood to the rest of Los Angeles further spurred postwar growth (Link et al., 1991, p. 63). By the early 1950s, the central shopping district of North Hollywood, Lankershim Boulevard, had become the downtown of the Valley (Link et al., 1991, p. 72). However, when the Laurel Plaza shopping center opened two miles to the northwest in 1955, and more malls were built in the west Valley in the 1960s, business on Lankershim began to decline.

White flight further contributed to the decline of North Hollywood. Restrictive covenants prohibiting home sales to non-whites covered most of Los Angeles in the early decades of the twentieth century. Although these were outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948, racial discrimination in housing continued to be the norm. Indeed, when California passed a fair housing law in 1963, a coalition of realtors quickly mobilized to place a proposition on the ballot to have it revoked, and it passed with overwhelming support (Meyer, 2000, p. 179). A Fair Housing Act was enacted at the national level in 1968, but because of strong opposition, its enforcement powers were weak (Massey & Denton, 1993).

In the Valley, African Americans were restricted to the neighborhood of Pacoima, and Mexican Americans, although facing somewhat less discrimination, lived primarily in Pacoima and San Fernando (Roderick, 2001; Uranga, 2006). This began to change in the 1970s with school desegregation. While blacks and Latinos might not be able to live in white neighborhoods, the courts successfully required San Fernando Valley to integrate its schools with children from more diverse neighborhoods in central Los Angeles. The plan was eventually repealed, but it inspired many whites to move to outer suburbs such as Simi Valley and Santa Clarita (Davis, 1992, p. 185).

The movement of middle class whites to the urban periphery corresponded to a similar shift in manufacturing jobs. While older industry left the east Valley, new high-tech industry expanded in the west, first to the Chatsworth/ Canoga Park area and then to Ventura County (Scott, 1996). The recession of the 1970s and the reduction in defense spending after the Vietnam war further contributed to the east Valley's decline (Mulholland Institute and Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, 2004, p. 10).

Declaring the area "blighted" in 1979, the city established North Hollywood as a redevelopment project area. This gave the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) various tools, including tax increment financing and eminent domain, for use to revitalize the area. Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s the agency assisted in the construction of various office, retail and housing projects, the most prominent of which was the Academy of Arts and Sciences Complex completed in 1991 (More, 1999, p. 64). With a giant replica of the Emmy Award centered in a plaza surrounded by office and retail space, the developers hoped it would become a major tourist attraction and the center of a transformed neighborhood, but the building failed to attract retail and the plaza remained largely deserted.
The failings of the Academy Complex epitomized what many viewed as the redevelopment agency's inadequate effort to revive the area. Some critics noted the CRA dedicated fewer resources to Valley projects than to projects in other parts of the city (Garza & Sheppard, 2002). Others saw the agency's approach to redevelopment itself deeply flawed and claimed that it increased rather than reduced urban blight (McGreevy, 2000).

The extension of the red line subway to North Hollywood in 2000 brought renewed enthusiasm for the project area's potential. A seventeen acre mixed use development adjacent to the new subway station called Noho Commons was approved in 2001. After many delays the first phase of multifamily housing was finished in 2006 and the second phase, containing a mix of apartments and retail, in 2007 (Vincent, 2008). While the CRA's plans for North Hollywood had long faced controversy, construction surrounding the red line station brought a new dimension to the conflict. It was in the discussion surrounding plans for several new developments adjacent this transit hub that the meaning of urbanization took on a central role in the debate.

Beginning NoHo

Well I have finally put pen to paper and begun writing.


In their preface to The Suburbanization of New York Hammett and Hammett write, "Today New York is on its way to becoming a 'theme park city,' where people can get the illusion of the urban experience without the diversity, spontaneity, and unpredictability that have always been its hallmarks" (Hammett & Hammett, 2007, p. 20). Their concern echoes an analysis made by many scholars that cities are becoming increasingly similar. Andrew Wood and Anne Marie Todd argue that as big box retailers and fast food chains become more prevalent, neighborhoods lose their distinctive characteristics and become more like the generic city of "The Simpsons": Springfield (Wood & Todd, 2005). Marc Augé sees places with distinct traditions being replaced by "non-places," spaces "which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity" (Augé, 1995, pp. 77-78). And George Ritzer describes the tendency of mass-produced goods to displace local and distinct products as the "globalization of nothing" (Ritzer, 2003, p. 3).

But the tendency for cities to become more generic seems to be countered in Los Angeles: while New Yorkers worry about their city becoming more like an American suburb, in Los Angeles, a city associated with suburban sprawl, some worry their city is becoming too much like New York. In an editorial responding to zoning rule changes that permit higher density development, urban researcher Joel Kotkin asks, "Why the rush to Manhattanize L.A.?" Kotkin despairs that "only a handful of politicians . . . seem to recognize that some Angelenos think that adding density to our already crowded region won't necessarily improve the quality of life" (Kotkin, 2007). Kotkin is referring primarily to large development projects downtown, but the anxiety over growing density extends beyond downtown to the San Fernando Valley--once the quintessential American suburb. In February 2008 a public meeting in North Hollywood brought out hundreds of neighbors, mostly voicing their opposition to several large scale developments in the southeast San Fernando Valley (Lopez, 2008).

If residents of suburban Los Angeles express concern about their neighborhoods becoming more like urban New York, an important question becomes what exactly "urban" means. Does it mean, "ethnically and economically mixed" with "diverse neighborhood scale stores" (Hammett & Hammett, 2007, pp. 19-20), dense and crowded multistory apartments where "human activities are more important than sunlight, nature or individual privacy" (Kotkin, 2007) or something else? The struggle over the meaning of urbanization in the Valley relates to the struggle over its physical transformation. This relationship will be the focus of this paper.

The paper first provides a brief history of North Hollywood and its establishment as a redevelopment area. Second, the debate over plans for North Hollywood's growing density is discussed. The anger over increased density has been interpreted as reflecting Valley residents' desire to maintain their suburban isolation, which historically has been a major factor in local politics. However, as explored in the next section, the new development surrounding North Hollywood does not represent the economic and racial diversity traditionally feared by suburbanites. Rather, the "NoHo Arts District" at the center of redevelopment resembles more closely the upscale urbanism of gentrified Manhattan. Thus, ironically, to become more like Manhattan may mean becoming more suburban.

The Loft Lifestyle

As recorded in Sharon Zukin's now classic Loft Living, the idea that raw building space designed for manufacturing and storage could become a sign of upscale trendy living got its start in an area of lower Manhattan that, by the 1960s, many viewed as an industrial wasteland.

Proponents of Manhattan redevelopment hoped to replace manufacturing that remained on the island with what they considered to be more valuable real estate devoted to business services. Few people saw the value of preserving some 500 cast iron buildings designed for production that was increasingly moving to the urban periphery.

The low rent of these buildings along with their undivided space, high ceilings and large windows made them quite attractive to artists for studios. Although artists had been living in these lofts since the 1930s, it was in the 1960s their presence became prominent. Due to concerns over fire hazards, many artists faced eviction and in response organized to win the legal right to reside in SoHo lofts.

Artist's appreciation for buildings previously considered arcane structures for a declining manufacturing sector helped led to widespread support for their preservation and helped create the loft aesthetic. The New York Times, architecture magazines and other media began to celebrate this aesthetic and soon wealthy professionals replaced working artists as the primary consumers of loft space.

Consequently, although SoHo still carries the cache of an artist's unorthodox lifestyle, in reality few artists can now afford rents for a studio apartment that average above 2000 a month.

Noho's Etymology

Noho as a term for a section within North Hollywood can be traced to the 1980s, but its use as term for a neighborhood district can be traced at least to the early 1970s when people began applying it to a neighborhood of warehouses and factory buildings north of Houston Street in New York City. This label emerged after the parallel district south of Houston received the label SoHo in the 1960s.

New York's SoHo is probably the most famous, but it was not the first. A district in London named Soho dates to the 17th century. By the 19th century, London's Soho had become a neighborhood for immigrants, including Karl Marx in the 1850s, as well as home to a seamy nightlife of music halls and prostitution. In the twentieth century, the unconventional atmosphere of the district attracted artists and poets to its pubs and music scene, and in the 1950s coffee shops became the center of Beatnik culture. Soho also became the launch point for British Rock and Roll, with The Rolling Stones performing for the first time at the Marquee Club in 1962.

When the name from a neighborhood in one city is applied to the neighborhood in another city, some of the accumulated associations of the original neighborhood are extended to the new neighborhood.
These associations may ultimately have little connection to the complex history of the original neighborhood.

In the case of the NoHo arts district, local business leaders explicitly intended to borrow from the image of SoHo in New York, where a formerly industrial area became an arts district and then a trendy upscale shopping area.

For this reason it is valuable to provide a brief overview of how SoHo's transformation took place.