Connecting Downtown to the Waterfront: DLBA Hosts Urban Land Institute to Discuss
Way back in 1927, then-Councilmember Alexander Beck of Long Beach decided to build a tunnel that went under Ocean Blvd. at Pine Ave., or what is now called the Jergins Tunnel (and still exists).
The interesting thing is not necessarily the pedestrian tunnel itself but why it was built: Pine and Ocean was seeing some 4,000 people cross its intersection per hour on the weekend. And they weren’t heading north on Pine but south—the exact opposite direction in which current downtown foot traffic goes.
How do we (re)connect Downtown to its waterfront?
I brought this question up nearly two years ago and re-emphasized it as part of a piece about building a better downtown earlier this year—and it was this question that a group of urban designers were addressing in the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA)’s latest gathering this past Friday as part of the organization’s effort to address space- and placemaking.
As I pointed out in my intro, so did the panel of guests: there hasn’t been a lack of ideas or discussions about this subject but rather a lack of implementation. They gave a list of studies, presentations, and group discussions—11 to be precise, ranging from a 1969 study to City Fabrick/CNU’s Highways to Boulevards concept—that have occurred decade after decade addressing “what to do with” the Downtown area. But the question is why none of these great ideas have been implemented.
And while I undoubtedly appreciate that we are having (yet another) discussion about South of Ocean, there is some irony in the fact that this group ended with the same question: great ideas but why haven’t we implemented them?
Even one of the panelists, Vaughan Davies of AECOM (and one of the men involved in the Rainbow Harbor), when asked about the actual implementation of shifting around Shoreline/Rainbow Lagoon/Marina Parks, noted that the group had not corresponded with the City on any of the ideas so he was uncertain of the legalities of anything being proposed.
According to the panel, our weaknesses are precisely our strengths: a lotta land, street capacity, parking, and governance all both contribute toward and detract from making a better connection from Downtown to its waterfront.
That being said, let’s go over some of the (great) ideas proposed which mainly revolved around bringing the more popular corridors—East Village Arts District’s Linden, Pine Avenue…—southward:
First and foremost (and I idea I also proposed): taking back the space at Ocean and Pine that has been nothing but a really hideous parking lot since 1988, the Jergins Trust lot. I had brought up bringing a shipping container on in and creating a Lord Windsor coffee shop; they brought up pretty much the same thing (though they also proposed a lotta greenery which isn’t the smartest of things given that small little drought we’re having).
Fixing the parking situation was one they admitted was “complicated” and, in certain terms, was overbuilt for existing land use. A large portion of our estate was provided to parking and Davies was particularly vocal about questioning how we can make parking structures less like monolithic, concrete blocks and more resident friendly. This included appropriating flat lots for events and adding real estate to edges of parking structures so that businesses could pop-up.
One of the more fascinating (but when you heard it, it was more, “Oh, duh”) is how to shift the facades of the Performing Arts Center and Arena. As of now, they are entirely north-facing structures; that is, their grandeur has one side. No one thinks of entering from the southend despite the fact that Rainbow Lagoon sits right behind it. In this sense, the PAC’s whole geometry needs to be reconfigured in a sense where it stops feeling like the crowning end of Long Beach Blvd.
Ideas were not at a loss: fill in Pine Ave. with sand like they did in a street in Paris; make a beach hotel (good luck on that!); insinuating that the Long Beach Grand Prix needs to be up and then taken down more expeditiously… One enthusiastic (though we believe misinformed) audience member claimed the City was going to conduct a feasibility study to build a roller coaster while another wanted to turn Pine into Promenade No. 2 because we could then brag to Santa Monica about having two Promenades. Bam, baby! (We held our tongue on both of the latter suggestions).
The ideas, like they said in the beginning, are there. But as always with Long Beach, it’s just about making them tangible.
Or, we can all just say what we’re really thinking: monorail.