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An Alternate Proposal

December 7, 2004

Dear Editor,

Frank Gruber's recent column, Tall Order, captured a lot of my feelings about Macerich's proposed redevelopment of Santa Monica Place. ("WHAT I SAY: Tall Order," November 29, 2004)

I'm not offended by tall buildings, per se. Indeed, a recent trip I made to Vancouver illustrated that it is possible to create a city as dense as Manhattan without a subway system or freeway grid and still have very vibrant, attractive streetscapes. A dense network of electric trolley buses and high levels of pedestrian and bike travel leave the streets there no more congested than ours.

But I like the notion of finding a more relevant height and form for the taller elements of the project, with the Clock Tower Building as a great example. And I too was pining for a major step feature; the photo of the Spanish Steps is a great example. The simple elegance, beauty and function of well designed steps is something that has found too few venues lately. This project could really take advantage of this element.

My strongest feelings about this project, however, are at street level and relate to the general, large-brush-stroke pattern of this proposal: one, big (80 foot wide) Third Street connection to Colorado; open space concentrated in the rooftop parks; food court (I hate that term) concentrated in one place; residential expressed in a few big buildings. What I'd really like to see is an alternate proposal, finer grain but with the same "program" of new housing, retail, public space, etc.

To me, the measure of success of this project will be when it is approached at street level. You'll know it works if it doesn't feel like you are about to enter a "project", but rather the street grid will just naturally integrate into it (minus cars of course), as if it had always been there. The concept of a second to fourth street connection could help realize this, but why stop there? I want to stand on the corner of Third and Broadway or Fourth and Colorado and and be beckoned in by a cozy, inviting urban village, reminiscent of any number of European places. Such a setting could stop people in their tracks and find them saying, "Ooooh, I want to go in THERE!"

I think there are numerous benefits to revising the scale and increasing the complexity of the street pattern. If I lived in one of the project's residential units, I would hope my options for dining, shopping and hanging out were not primarily contained on an extension of the Third Street Promenade and all that that implies, which for me is a "scene" rather than a more genuine community retail district. Why try to extend the Promenade when this project has the opportunity to take the retail experience to a whole other level, more varied, more interesting and, for those who would live there, more valuable?

The more streets, alleys, paseos, courtyards, plazas, etc., the more opportunities for store frontage, outdoor dining and people watching as well. I would argue that stratifying and segregating the various land uses, as the initial concept seems to, scatters the vitality into disparate zones rather than nurturing it with a complex of inviting, diverse, well connected "outdoor rooms". The world is full of great mixed-use, street-oriented examples that are thriving, beloved, genuine places. That's a pattern I think Santa Monicans would have a lot of affection for.

Kent Strumpell

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