By Jorge Casuso
June 30, 2009 -- Andy Agle, the City’s globetrotting director of Housing and Economic Development, likes to snap pictures during his trips to different parts of the world.
But when friends ask to see his photos, they don’t get the expected shots of majestic buildings like Notre Dame, the Vatican or Buckingham Palace.
Instead, they get pictures of sidewalks, pavement markers and signs.
“Most people come back and say, ‘Here’s me in front of some famous site,” Agle says. “I take pictures of small things I think make a community work and some that don’t work.”
|Andy Agle at a canal in Venice, Italy
Agle likes to apply his eye for the pedestrian detail to his job heading a City department that oversees all affordable housing investments and administers the Earthquake Redevelopment District (established after the 1994 Northridge earthquake) that will generate $283 million to bankroll the Civic Center development and the proposed light rail station Downtown.
In addition, Agle’s department manages the City’s leases (including the kiosks on the Third Street Promenade and the Pier), runs the Farmer’s Markets and serves as a liaison to the business improvement districts, including the Bayside.
“It’s exciting to make a community the best it can be,” says Agle, who was the City’s assistant planning director before being tapped for his current post in January 2007.
“There are so many factors that go into not only making a community successful but unsuccessful. It’s so inter-related, it’s only those communities that can balance those needs that know how to thrive.”
Agle, who rides his bike to work and likes to walk, thinks Santa Monica has found the right balance between a city that caters to the needs of its residents and one that offers enough added bonuses to lure visitors.
“I’ve visited so many places, and I think this is one of the greatest places to be,” Agle says. “There’s a reason people come from all over the world to Santa Monica, and we have it every day.”
What Agle has learned, as a City planner in both Santa Monica and Anaheim, is that a great place isn’t created haphazardly, nor can it be so overly planned it loses that sense of vibrancy that draws people to a public space. A leading example of a thriving place, Agle says, is the Promenade.
“This came out of the public process,” he says. “Not only communities, but private developers have tried to replicate it, trying to do what remains at the cutting edge. What’s really organic about the Promenade is you have all these different performers and theaters and a mix of retail and restaurants, walking, public transit.”
But the Promenade faces some key challenges as competing venues pop up across the LA area. Its movie theaters – once the drawing card for the outdoor attraction – need to be replaced with new state-of-the-art theaters if the Promenade is to continue to thrive.
“Movie theater attendance has dropped,” Agle says. “The spaces are too small. Stadium seating requires a larger [space] volume. To keep the area vibrant, you have to keep the movie theaters competitive.”
Agle hopes to present the council with proposals for a new theater that would go in the space of Parking Structure 3, which is slated to be torn down and replaced with a larger structure.
He also is working on a plan to add 1,700 new parking spaces Downtown over the next decade. “Increasing parking continues to make sense,” Agle says. “We need to make sure that we have enough parking. The City will need to continue to review the parking needs.”
When the proposed Expo light rail line rolls into the Downtown, which could happen by 2015, “it could change the parking demand,” he says.
Born in Honolulu, Agle spent his early years in rural Northern California and Utah before his family moved to Southern California when he was ten.
Agle still recalls “going to Pasadena and the excitement of Old Pasadena,” a memory that stirred a love for vibrant urban centers like New York and San Francisco.
This fascination with what made these places tick led Agle to study, first economics – “the underpinning of so much history is economics and what drove so many decisions” – then public policy and regional planning.
For most of the 1990s, he worked for the City of Anaheim in the City Manager’s office and in community development, before landing a job with the City of Santa Monica in 1998.
Agle’s fascination with places has taken him across the planet – from lonesome stretches of uninterrupted natural beauty in New Zealand – “you could go 15 to 20 minutes without seeing a car during peak season” – to a village in Tibet where “the devotion is overwhelming.”
So what are his favorite destinations?
“Usually, my favorite places are the places I’ve been and the place I’m going.”