In February and March AIA/LA is hosting a series of forums with five of Los Angeles’ mayoral candidates. The forums will help voters learn more about each candidate’s urban planning and design priorities and overall vision for the city. We asked AIA/LA Director of Government & Public Affairs Will Wright to single out the issue that he would most like to see addressed.
One question I’d like to ask each candidate is whether or not they’d support structuring their office to include a Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design. This person would work with the Deputy Mayor of Economic and Business Policy to optimize investments in infrastructure and capital improvement citywide and ensure design excellence all on projects that influence the public realm. LA has an opportunity to transform itself into a healthier and more delightful place to live, work and play. But these investments need to be coordinated more holistically.
That includes coordinating and overseeing projects by the region’s sprawling bureaucracies: LA Community College District (LACCD), the LA Unified School District (LAUSD), Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) the Port of Los Angeles and the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO).
Short of charter reform, one way to restructure the decision-making hierarchy of these huge organizations when it comes to building is to enable a team within the Mayor’s office to create a more integrated system of project delivery and facility operations with a greater emphasis on design and performance.
That way a crosswalk doesn’t get torn apart by LADWP just months after streetscape improvements are made by the Bureau of Street Services. Or a park doesn’t get designed and built by LA Rec and Parks simply to be torn down a year later by LAUSD for school construction (an event recently reported in The Los Angeles Times). We see it all the time, unfortunately, because we’re such a vast and expansive place and there are too many departments and agencies working on overlapping elements to different projects.
If there were an individual, or team, analyzing all of these moving parts, then their execution would be more efficiently coordinated. Those cost savings could then be invested in the projects themselves to make each facility look and feel better and operate and perform more efficiently.
Another responsibility of the Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design would be to ensure implementation of the highest design standards. They could coordinate a Design Excellence Program modeled after what New York City has done under the leadership of Department of Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney. Or perhaps they could implement a peer-review selection process similar to the Federal GSA Design Excellence Program, which “includes a streamlined two-step architect/engineer selection process and the use of private-sector peers to provide feedback to the architect/engineer of record" according to its website. These types of programs can help elevate the value of design and provide more metrics like a design-quotient index to help defend up-front investments that will save vast sums of money on construction, operations, and maintenance down the road.
Granted, we are seeing more examples of design excellence under the leadership of Gary Lee Moore and Deborah Weintraub with the Bureau of Engineering (such as the LAPD Headquarters Building or the Hollenbeck Replacement Police Station). Also the Department of City Planning’s Urban Design Studio, led by Simon Pastucha, often helps enhance the overall design and integration of both public and private-sector projects. This type of leadership and commitment needs to be celebrated more often to re-emphasize that we are moving in the right direction. However, I think elevating the citywide roles performed by our current design-thinkers will help result in an even faster and more substantial return on investment.
The cost of a project isn’t simply measured in what we spend on it, but it also includes what we fail to gain from it. Imagine a future when LA can capture greater value on its investments by attracting more people and business. We’re close to making that happen. Public facilities and overlapping networks of infrastructure make up a large portion of the city. They form our bones, organs, and muscles. We need a Deputy Mayor of Architecture and Urban Design to ensure that all these moving parts are performing optimally to maximize the health and functionality of our City as the world-class destination that it is.