The Man Determined to Connect Downtown to the Water: Sean Warner • Long Beach Post

Here’s the thing with the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), the private organization that has taken upon itself to do things that the City can’t or just won’t: you can have your issues with them but they are becoming an undeniable advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians in Downtown.


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The so-called issues some have with the DLBA range from the divisive PBID—detractors of the ordinance revolted against the controversial voting process—to the role the organization itself plays in the shaping of downtown—it is impossible for political conspiracy theorists to not want their heyday with a massively influential (and wealthy) organization.

Have and say what you will in this regard but the DLBA’s continual focus on accessibility and their love of Downtown as a Downtown is unquestionable. Not only have they renamed their Capital Investment Projects Committee the Public Realm Committee, the organization’s intent on subsuming Downtown biking/ped culture is no clearer than when one speaks to their newly minted Placemaking Mangager, Sean Warner:

“Bringing more parking downtown doesn’t bring people downtown,” Warner said. “It’s people on the streets that attract more people. And people, especially in Southern California, are beginning to realize this.”

That is a sentiment that is more harnessed by the Millenials than it is the Gen-Xers. The latter are the last bastion of the purely car-centric folk, frustrated by the decrease in parking spaces and the increase in parking difficulties. The former, however, are mostly the opposite: they prefer working in places that engage walkability, are searching for jobs that are much closer to home (if they can walk or bike or easily use transit to access work, that is an absolute win for them), and are avoiding the use of their car as much as possible in favor of public transit not just because it is better for the environment, but because it is antithetical to an urban lifestyle.

“There’s a generation—and the DLBA gets it,” Warner said. “If you genuinely don’t care for making the place where your community lives more… livable, you are a competitive disadvantage. And those people that you ignored are going to go somewhere else: they’re going to Downtown LA or Santa Monica… [The creation of the Public Realm Committee] might just be lingo for some, but it’s important: it’s important that such a large organization is recognizing the importance place and people, that [the DLBA] is putting people that walk and bike, if not ahead, at least equal to people who are driving.”

“Bringing more parking downtown doesn’t bring people downtown,” Warner said. “It’s people on the streets that attract more people. And people, especially in Southern California, are beginning to realize this.”

And it is precisely that sentiment—accessibility and urban living—that the DLBA anointed Warner with the position; a position, mind you, that was created for the sole purpose of activating space through shared value in our Downtown. Placemaking has often been called the Architecture of Place in that it is simultaneously rooted in community participation and urban design. In fact, his interning with the New York Department of Transportation in the late 90s taught him that SoCal has been a bit behind the curve on picking up Placemaking.

“If you’re not concerned with Placemaking, you’re not concerned with growing healthily,” Warner said. “There’s a creative pattern to Placemaking—and Downtown Long Beach is a vibrant workspace to initiate that.”

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Long Beach has an aura about it that typically only those who live here understand: its diversity is essential to its livelihood, and whether you are a native or moved here because you fell in love with it, the cultural array of our community fabric remains our pride.

Warner embodies that on multiple levels: hailing from Whittier, Warner eventually went to Cal Poly SLO where he switched from studying Civil Engineering (“lifeless with no comradery” was Warner’s succinct description of that endeavor) to city and regional planning. During his education, he scored the aforementioned pedestrian planning internship in New York (“I would’ve stayed, but there was no way I could make enough money to actually live there”) and eventually got a planning gig in Orange County (“I tried, over and over, to get them to create BRT train stations to better connect OC but it never went past the talking stages”). With the OC job, he did a random tour of Downtown Long Beach—visiting the affordable housing complex at PCH and Long Beach Boulevard, Marina Pacifica, and other developments in Long Beach—fell in love, and moved Downtown.

His move was right before Downtown and the East Village began their mutual Renaissances. In other words, he came pre-Promenade, pre-Pine Development, pre-Arena renovation, pre-Molina, pre… Downtown as we are beginning to see it, before development became focused on people rather than cars.

Working previously for the Planning Center out of Costa Mesa, he even biked a few times to work (yeah, that’s a good 25 miles each way). At the peak of the Depression in 2010, he was laid off and was left to his own devices. Creating his own business—Open Square Consulting—and doing pro-bono work with bio guru and Long Beach advocate April Economides, Warner soon became more connected to Long Beach.

This brought with it the glaring need for activating spaces, something which differs from dictating spaces through singular or prohibited uses.

With this, Warner can rattle off odd and unused spaces throughout downtown, from Hickory and Santa Cruz Parks—”Yeah, they’re public parks but they’re more landscaping projects than anything”—to empty lots to stretches of streets that are both unwelcoming and/or unaccessible to pedestrians—Shoreline Drive and Ocean he particularly noted.

These notes about spaces are connected to his larger oeuvre: How do we connect Downtown to the waterfront?

It’s why Warner, who notes that the DLBA can act as a liaison between the City and community-focused groups/individuals, is thrilled to be leading the charge on a project between the DLBA and the Urban Land Institute. Succinctly put, the DLBA is gonna give a chunk of change for the ULI to bring in a panel of planners and designers to survey Downtown, from stakeholders to community organizations to random individuals and report their data back to the DLBA. The report, to begin some time in February, will provide a snapshot of what the people want their Downtown to be, not what the powers-that-be expect people to like.

“Here’s the thing I want to do,” Warner said. “I just want to be a bigger advocate for Long Beach. Because honestly, there is no reason why we can’t be an amazing waterfront city.”

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