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LA's Very First Design Rules Aimed at People-Friendliness

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LA could finally get itself some design standards for new development! While architects have to adhere to zoning rules that govern stuff like height and setbacks, so far the city hasn't had any blanket rules for how a building should actually look. Earlier this month, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee held its first public hearing on the Citywide Design Guidelines, "a set of design standards for all city discretionary projects--any new construction or renovation that increases floor area and requires an additional level of approval from the city," reports the Architect's Newspaper. While the Planning Commission has been using these standards since 2011, they can't actually enforce them--if the City Council formally adopts them, they'll be able to make sure that they're actually used by all covered projects. The rules provide "recommended" and "not recommended" design guidelines for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, but don't cover materials, specific design, or style (meaning architects are free to go with modern, fauxtalian, whatever).

Excitingly, Planner Deborah Kahen says the new guidelines could help fix the ubiquitous, insidious problem of stripmalls with their "large parking lots that front the sidewalk" (They suggest that parking be put in rear lots.) The guidelines for all three types of buildings "recommend outdoor public areas such as courtyards and plazas, while stressing the importance of direct paths of travel for pedestrian destinations, especially near transit."

While a lot of urbanists are psyched for the potential new guidelines, at least one architect is a little concerned that while "The guidelines may well prevent a lot of the worst from happening, but they may also prevent the best from happening." The LA chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which helped work on the guidelines, has put together a committee to provide more input so that "the guidelines will not hinder innovation and design diversity." The PLUM Committee has put off making a move for now.