Creating a Functional Community Retail District in Virgil Village

April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

This past weekend, Studio One Eleven started work on a comprehensive plan for Virgil Village: a new neighborhood project sponsored by Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiatives (LANI). The focus of our study is Virgil Avenue, a mixed-use (but mostly retail-oriented) street between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Like a lot of our work, this project involves the design of streets and sidewalks as well as commercial façades along an economically-challenged part of town.

We’ve always recognized the significance of being involved in these types of projects. In fact, our studio was born as a result of working with the 4th Street merchant association to implement a commercial façade program on Long Beach’s Retro Row (www.4thstreetlongbeach.com). The success of that project affirmed our commitment to what we call “Community Retail Districts” – local/independent stores that serve the community and occupy older and historic buildings along public streets. Community Retail Districts are the public face of a neighborhood, and operate on the triple bottom line of economic, cultural, and social return. This contrasts with “Corporate Retail Districts” (a.k.a. “shopping centers”), which are privately owned and often provide economic return only to investors who are not connected to the community. (Visit www.cooltownstudios.com for more on natural cultural districts and their return to communities).

As designers, we naturally focus on the physical aspects of a district. (Visit www.districtlabrea.com and www.eastvillagecreativeoffices.com for examples of districts where we have been involved in design development.) In Virgil Village, though, we have to look deeper. There are more difficult issues to consider; economic, cultural, and social concerns such as crime, homelessness, and bureaucratic tangles profoundly affect this diverse neighborhood. And of course there’s always traffic. As opposed to shopping centers that own and can control their own environment, retail streets share most of their open space (streets, sidewalks) with the public (see Steve Hyman’s transportation blog http://thesource.metro.net/page/3/ for his views on the links between commercial corridors and transportation problems).

Finding solutions to balance the needs of merchants, the public, cars, bikes, buses, and walkers – all within the limited means of municipal budgets and cash-strapped local businesses – is a challenge that is not unique to Virgil Village. It is, however, a challenge we are committed to meet.

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