101 square miles. Four times the size of Manhattan.
That is the amount of space dedicated to surface parking lots across Los Angeles County—and a new report from architectural firm Woods Bagot posits one very specific question: What if we made those lots more useful for humans?
The answer? If those lots, like the massive crater known as the Elephant Lot in Downtown Long Beach, were either partially or entirely converted into housing, that would create 1.5 to 3 million new housing units without altering any zoning laws.
In addition to the report, presented at this year’s LA CoMotion mobility conference, the developer behind the study, Superspace, created an interactive map—one part Downtown Los Angeles, one part Inglewood, one part East Los Angeles, and one part Koreatown—that allows users to examine the empty lots and play with developing all or none of them. With each switch, the interactive map showcases the amount of humans that could have a roof over their head if they hypothetically developed the spaces into housing.
According to Superspace’s director Christian Derix, the company’s LA-centric map and countywide research is meant to have citizens and politicians directly examine how we prioritize real estate while spurring possible solutions for the state’s dire housing crisis with a dash of addressing climate change issues.
In other words, our lack of investment in mass transit, our favoritism toward the individual car, and an stagnant development of housing has put us into a space where solutions are essential.
“Let’s be honest: You’ll never develop 100 percent of parking lots with housing but if you reduce sprawl, you reduce commutes and if you reduce commutes, we can maybe meet our climate change goals,” Derix said.
The study, from a data perspective, strengthens Sen. Scott Wiener’s proposal that seeks to alleviate the red-tape attached to housing development by creating more affordable units in transit- and job-rich areas.
But as both Derix and Wiener point out, we face two debilitating realities in terms of creating more housing.
Restrictive zoning is largely driven by local governments because most zoning and land use decisions are left to those governments, which have driven policies that drive density and affordable housing away from transit and job centers. Some cities have even attempted to ban new housing altogether, like Los Angeles’ aggressive-but-failed Measure S in 2017.
Secondly, the intimate relationship between housing and climate change—California is failing to meet its emission goals because gentrification, displacement and a lack of building enough housing has pushed poor and working populations out of transit- and job-rich areas, forcing them on lengthy commutes in order to get to their jobs and pay the rent—is a driving factor of the bill.
“That’s why we conduct this research,” Derix said. “To take a step toward a better Los Angeles.”
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