Photos by Baktaash Sorkhabi. Scroll through the gallery above.
When it was announced that Bixby Knolls in Long Beach would be the home of SteelCraft—a foodie heaven made of shipping containers—no one really understood the impact of what was being initially accomplished in terms of urban design and moving Long Beach neighborhoods away from the limelight that DTLB constantly gets..
From San Diego’s Quartyard to Tijuana’s Telefónica Gastro Park, Portland’s Alder Street Food Cart Pod to London’s Boxpark, shipping container food courts aren’t necessarily unique but they are game-changing when they come to town—especially in a county and city whose building codes are complex if not outright challenging when it comes to working with new materials.
While foodies can easily jump up-and-down at the idea ecstatically—SteelCraft boasts of everything from a Smog City taproom to Tajima Ramen, the city’s first ramen house—urban designers nerd freak out over the fact that its design, led by local nonprofit City Fabrick, is challenging to current code.
Given shipping containers aren’t a material typically used for construction, details surrounding the design became even more tedious. From how to cut the containers in order to make them safely enterable and up to code (including creating kitchens that would be up to the Health Department’s par) to examining how our codes can become utilize urban ideals in a place that largely caters to suburban design like Bixby Knolls.
“From a planning perspective, we were working with the city to create a people-oriented place along a corridor whose development standards were drawn for suburban, auto-oriented development,” said Brian Ulaszewski. “There was not a lot of give on some things but there was some flexibility on the architecture and orientation. We had to be creative to craft a project that met the letter of the current law but engages the sidewalk and surrounding community.”
The timing couldn’t be more serendipitous: the City of Long Beach just updated the General Plan Land Use and Urban Design Elements, which is basically the roadmap for physical development throughout the entire city. Following this initial study, more people-centric development, especially in commercial areas like the Atlantic strip in Bixby Knolls and DTLB, are now on its way thanks to the newly-approved Land Use and Urban Design updates.
Speaking of DTLB, this project stands on another important pedestal: while it was originally slated for the Downtown, it eventually found its way to Bixby Knolls (mostly due to the efforts of Blair Cohn of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association and Martin Howard of Howard CDM, the contractor for the project).
We’re here to put out a frank point: DTLB is a beast of its own, attracting investment from Angelenos—hello, Beer Belly and Mezcalero!—and others on a momentum that is all its own (especially and including a multi-million dollar Business Improvement District that harnesses the power to create events, beautify public space, promote existing businesses, and assist incoming businesses.) [Disclosure: the author of this piece, Brian Addison, is a former employee of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, the business improvement district being discussed.]
North Long Beach, including Bixby Knolls? It has to be fought for on a much more frustrating, if not outright aggressive level with less money and a less urban environment. In other words, we don’t just want a great Downtown; we want a great Downtown and a great city—and that means investment in other areas. SteelCraft brings in a huge shift toward attracting outsiders to other parts of Long Beach while making an already-great neighborhood even greater.
So go. Explore its nifty layout, creative design, great food, even greater coffee, and—most importantly—enjoy the people it brings.
SteelCraft is located at 3768 Long Beach Blvd. City Fabrick managed the landscape design, environmental graphics, and building design for the project. Howard CDM was the contractor. Turpin Design did the interior kitchen designs and assisted with the building design. Kim Gros is the developer.
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