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Transforming Old Neighborhoods Into New Communities

Connect Westside LA is the city’s most exciting CRE event! Join us at the Luxe Sunset on December 13th. Here’s where to register: Connect Westside LA.

By Dennis Kaiser

Southern California is experiencing a strong swell of development across the major property types. That activity extends across the region, encompassing a staggering number of residential towers underway in DTLA, as well as an interesting mix of housing projects in other product categories. In the third of a series of 3 CRE Q&A’s, Connect Media asked Johnson Fain design partner, Scott Johnson, FAIA, to share how the architecture practice approaches the design of high-density, mixed-use projects. His insights reveal what’s driving the urban housing resurgence, what projects are in demand and what makes projects work.

Runway at Playa Vista

Runway at Playa Vista

Q: We understand the concept of adaptive reuse is being applied to older, single-use historic neighborhoods. What are the considerations toward creating a new mixed-use community? 

A: Over time, areas which were known for single-use zoning begin to transform due to residential or commercial pressures. In our city, the former Produce District is rapidly evolving into an expanding Arts District. The process usually begins with artists, designers, essentially creative types who wish to live in a non-traditional physical environment, whatever inconveniences it may initially have. As density occurs, retail, services, cultural vendors enter the picture to appeal to the growing cadre of residents.

Q: What do people value most about these redevelopments? 

A: Frequently, the drivers for these redevelopment sites are historic building qualities like large industrial spaces, brick facades and huge windows. Sometimes, the driver is to be a part of the creative community who coalesces there. Also, nearby natural amenities, such as an ocean or river, large open space or a view of the mountain range might be an attraction.  At the outset, sometimes the peace and quiet of an underserved neighborhood is attractive and for artists, the driver at the outset is frequently the biggest space at the lowest price.

Q: What are some of the positive changes these new communities bring?

A: There is a huge need for expanded residential opportunities in all our major cities. The prospects are clear: by 2050, 75% of the world population will live in cities. Increased density is a future fact, and to the degree that these various neighborhoods can absorb some of that density and maintain their unique character, residents have more choice, can live more simply and stay out of the gridlock.

As an architectural practice based in Los Angeles, Johnson Fain has attempted to contribute positively to this urban density by designing a number of high-density mixed-use projects.  Blossom Plaza provides a new template for modern living in historic Chinatown, Runway at Playa Vista creates a new urban hub in a formerly suburban area, and LA Plaza Village will be a vital connector between Union Station, the downtown nexus of all public transit systems, and the many cultural opportunities of this great city.

Check out the first two parts of this 3 CRE Q&A: Part One: New Trends in Urban Housing, Part Two: Making Mixed-Use Tick.

*Johnson Fain designed Runway at Playa Vista for Lincoln Property Company, Phoenix Property Company and Paragon Commercial Group; Blossom Plaza for Forest City Realty Trust; and LA Plaza Village for High Street Residential, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Museum.

For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Dennis Kaiser


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About Dennis Kaiser

Dennis Kaiser is Vice President of Content and Public Relations for Connect Commercial Real Estate. Dennis is a communications leader with more than 30 years of experience including as a journalist and in corporate and agency marketing communications roles. He is responsible for Connect’s client content operations and is involved in a range of initiatives ranging from content strategy, message development, copywriting, media relations, social media and content marketing services. In his most recent corporate communications roles, he led a regional public relations effort across Southern California for CBRE, played a key marketing role on JLL’s national retail team, and was responsible for directing the global public relations effort at ValleyCrest, the nation’s largest commercial landscape services company. In addition to his vast commercial real estate experience, Dennis has worked on communications and launch strategies for a number of residential projects such as Disney’s Celebration in Florida, Ritter Ranch in Palmdale California (7,200 homes, 22,000 acres), WaterColor in Florida and PremierGarage in Phoenix. Dennis’s agency background included firms such as Idea Hall and Macy + Associates. He has earned an outstanding reputation with organization leaders as a trusted advisor, strategic program implementer, consensus builder and exceptional collaborator. Dennis has developed and managed national communications programs for Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, both public and private. He’s successfully worked with journalists across the globe representing clients involved in major-breaking news stories, product launches, media tours, and company news announcements. Dennis has been involved in a host of charitable and community organizations including the American Cancer Society, Easter Seals, BoyScouts, Chrysalis Foundation, Freedom For Life, HOLA, L.A.’s BEST, Reach Out and Read, Super Bowl Host Committee, and Thunderbirds Charities.

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