Colloquium VIII: The Use and Abuse of the Urban Block

Presented by the Los Angeles Region Planning History Group

City of San Gabriel, City Hall Council Chambers
425 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The urban block is a critical and fundamental unit in every city. Its crucial role as the mediating element between individual site and neighborhood cannot be overestimated.  Yet, in many ways, this significance has been lost; for decades, the block has remained marginalized in how we plan, design and develop the urban landscape. Much time, effort, and treasure have been focused on individual lots and buildings, ignoring their sometimes detrimental impacts on urban fabric and urban life.  At the other end of the scale, many development projects are big enough to dwarf the block itself.  The block has been stretched, squashed, scraped and repurposed:  suburban mega-blocks hold immense retail structures amid a sea of cars; residential super-blocks with repetitive buildings disrupt traditional neighborhoods, and aging inner-city blocks lined with parking spaces disrupt and degrade the streetscape.

In recent years, the design and configuration of the urban block has gained renewed attention and respect.  Numerous residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects are being undertaken not as mega-buildings but as block-scale, street-friendly developments, reestablishing the traditional relationship between the urban grid and the public realm. Focusing attention on the urban block suggests such questions as: How can block design mediate between urbanism and architecture?  How do residential and commercial environments affect block design? How can parking needs be balanced with building program while generating a rich public realm for people? What regulations and policies can encourage/require good block design?  As California cities struggle with the death of large, subsidized redevelopment projects, could the urban block itself provide an ideally-sized solution?

A distinguished panel will address these and other questions regarding the urban block:

•    Todd Gish, USC Price School of Public Policy; Moderator
•    Vinayak Bharne, Director of Design, Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists
•    Stefanos Polyzoides, Principal, Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists
•    Tony Perez, Director of Form-Based Coding, Opticos Design

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