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Opinion: The future of LA housing can learn from Silver Lake, Fairfax and Crenshaw

Just off Sunset Boulevard stands a bleached white structure with onion domes, as if it were lifted off the coast of North Africa. This is not the lodge of a mysterious brotherhood order, but a bungalow courtyard built in 1927 with twelve residential units. Along this short stretch of Parkman Avenue is an eclectic collection of structures: tile-roofed duplexes and stuccoed Arts and Crafts houses and castle-like residences. While the Silver Lake neighborhood is often parodied as an elite enclave of natural wine-drinking transplants, the rent-stabilized apartments along Parkman allow for a mix of residents that rivals the diversity of building types.

Los Angeles is often seen as an endless tableau of individual houses, each with its own yard and garden. Multifamily housing is anathema to the ethos of the city. But as the housing crisis becomes increasingly unsustainable, density is needed. The state requires the city to rezone more than 450,000 units Major new construction work was required by the end of the decade. Neighborhood groups are pushing back against these changes, arguing that the development means tall buildings overlooking backyard children’s pools.

But from Parkman Avenue to the four-family homes of the Fairfax neighborhood and the garden apartments of Crenshaw, multifamily housing in Los Angeles has a tradition as long and rich as single-family homes. Increasing density does not necessarily have to destroy the character of the city; This can be a way to reclaim a valued portion of the building fabric while creating affordable housing.

Older apartment buildings in Los Angeles are generally characterized by an open, light-filled atmosphere. These apartments are often accessed via outdoor terraces and courtyards and are no more than two stories high, giving them a size and design that could be mistaken for a single-family home. These features ensured Los Angeles housing was widely celebrated in the early 1900s, while reformers in New York and elsewhere railed against dense “rental housing.” In 1915, the LA City Council responded to one attempt by the state To ban four-family houses on the grounds that they are “particularly desirable” and should not be subject to any restrictions.

But in the middle of the 20th century, the city’s housing construction condensed into a homogeneous mass. Los Angeles’ first zoning code, passed in 1926, had only five broad categories and allowed a range of housing types in most neighborhoods. Over the years, policymakers continued to add categories, likely in response to voter feedback. These restrictions further limited the size and density of multifamily housing, while confounding their design with parking requirements and setbacks from other properties.

In the 1950s and ’60s, a new type of building that met zoning regulations dominated the city: six to twelve units side by side in a long, stucco-covered rectangle floating above the parking lot. The only decoration was typically a plywood sign bearing the building’s evocative name – “The Pad” or “Shangri-la”. These structures became known as “dingbats,” a common developer name for a building that was “quickly thrown up and poorly constructed,” as a newspaper reported at the time.

The dingbat spread throughout Southern California as the region grew exponentially after World War II. With the Removal of immigration restrictions in the 1960s, once the most naturally-born major city in the country, has become one of the most diverse on the planet. A backlash against immigrants and the dense settlement associated with them emerged. In the 1980s, dingbat construction was banned and large swaths of Los Angeles, including Parkman Avenue, were zoned for lower population densities. By the turn of the millennium, only single-family homes could be built in 75% of the city.

Today, six- to seven-story wood-frame buildings rise on L.A.’s wide commercial boulevards, making them one of the few places where new housing is permitted. These structures have become an expression of densification in large parts of the city and give previously low-lying neighborhoods a new dimension. But the small apartment buildings found on narrow side streets like St. Elmo Drive in Mid-City and West 41st Street in South LA suggest a different strategy for housing creation, more closely aligned with the traditional development pattern of the city ​​corresponds. Initiatives are being implemented across the country to make this type of housing possible.

In Portland, Ore.For example, as former working- and middle-class neighborhoods gentrified, small bungalows were demolished and replaced with large McMansions. A coalition of tenants and environmental groups opposed the passage of the Residential Infill Project, which ended the practice and banned new construction Single-family homes Larger than 2,500 square feet, allowing for a range of home types.

As a result, townhouses and four-family homes are now growing alongside 1920s Craftsman homes on Portland’s east side. Thanks to their well-thought-out design and modest size, they fit seamlessly into the existing housing stock. Buying homes in these new developments can be 20 to 40% cheaper than detached single-family homes on the same block. Portland’s politics followed Minneapolis’ decision to eliminate single-family zoning.

Over the last decade, California and Los Angeles have adopted a series of policies that allow new housing construction, including accessory dwelling units and split lots that create up to four units. Although these are positive steps, they are often complicated attempts to increase density in the most unobtrusive way possible.

Streets like Parkman Avenue are a reminder that we already have a template for building a range of multifamily housing that fits into neighborhoods. Rather than ruining the city’s character, building more diverse densities could make the Los Angeles of the future more like its past.

Max Podemski is an urban planner in Los Angeles and author of the forthcoming book “A Paradise of Tiny Houses: The Evolution, Decentralization, and Possible Rebirth of Urban Housing.”

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