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Great Streets Make Great Communities 

Image © Gensler

In Los Angeles, more land is dedicated to streets and parking than anywhere else in America. At 7,500 centerline miles, streets constitute 15 percent of all land in the City of Los Angeles while over 14 percent of land in the county is dedicated to parking. In 2013, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti established the Great Streets imitative to activate this land and further bolster local economies, public safety, and different cultures present throughout Los Angeles.

To support this initiative, in early 2015, the Mayor’s office announced over $200k in funds to bring together innovators and community stakeholders to visualize the future for 15 designated Great Streets. Gensler Los Angeles saw this as an opportunity to foster community engagement, and we developed an application for funding. The Gensler Fig Jam team amassed a team of 15 community partners, two universities, and three developers to apply for a grant focusing on North Figueroa, the Northern stretch of Figueroa where Gensler Los Angeles is located. We won the grant with one of the highest scoring proposal of 30 submitted, and then leveraged the 20k of funding from the Mayor’s Office to raise an additional $17k in just four weeks for environmental upgrades and a one day event called Fig Jam.

Completely free to attend, Fig Jam is a one day event celebrating art, culture, community and health on North Figueroa in Highland Park. With the community, Gensler will build out temporary, low-cost improvements that transform under-utilized urban spaces into engaging social assets. Through primarily surface treatments, the vast sidewalk will become a place where the community can spend the day meeting, shopping, eating, and enjoying local culture. The installation will incorporate a living museum along the street exhibiting historical photographs and narratives alongside current stories of residents and business. A lane of parking will also be repurposed to demonstrate temporary street changes that promote safer, active transportation. This new context for North Figueroa will host performances, walking tours, samples from local businesses, and demonstrations of potential permanent improvements along the corridor.

Gensler’s role in Fig Jam aligns with Michael E. Porter’s theories on Shared Value and the position corporate businesses should play in contemporary society. Specifically, engaging with the Mayor’s Great Streets program creates economic value while also addressing the pressing needs and challenges facing our community. The outcome will enhance our competitive advantage and profitability within Los Angeles, while simultaneously advancing social and economic conditions in the communities where we operate. As Porter writes, “Shared value is not corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success.” More specifically, we seek to ultimately reinforce our ability to serve our clients through the following key ambitions of Fig Jam:

  1. Community Building through direct engagement during the planning process and local participation in the design and installation. Gensler bridged the gap between community partners, universities and other stakeholders to create a cohesive unit to tackle implementation and development of small scale urban solutions. We also are developing low-fab methods of construction to create high impact visuals that can be easily installed by community volunteers.
  2. Direct economic impact by testing methods to extend businesses, such as retail and food vendors, into the sidewalk.
  3. Connecting with educational partners through applicable research and study applications along with volunteer opportunities for students.
  4. Transportation planning and testing alongside civic entities to better understand community dynamics and desires while driving creative solutions to city-wide issues.

Metrics of the impact generated by the environmental upgrades during Fig Jam will be measured through increased economic activity, greater community engagement, enhanced neighborhood character, and improved access & mobility. We look forward to following up this blog post with event results and findings. In the meantime please join us for Fig Jam on March 19 in Highland Park!

Fig Jam Team Members

Rob Jernigan – Sponsor, Li Wen – Sponsor, Melanie Freeland – Team Leader, Tanya Paz – Team Leader, Dave Bantz, Brian Glodney, Dylan Jones, Brian Di Maggio.

Melanie is a registered architect in the state of California, a member of the AIA, and LEED BD+C certified. Since joining Gensler in 2013 as a senior designer, Melanie has exuded passion about the roles of design and the pedestrian in the city. Outside of the office you might find her roaming the city on two wheels with her husband and young daughter. Contact her at melanie_freeland@gensler.com.
Tanya brings a diverse portfolio of work fusing her background in architecture, public policy, and art theory. Her resume includes the award winning Los Angeles Federal Courthouse where she was a key team member from concept design through the beginning of construction administration. Contact her at Tanya_Paz@gensler.com.

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