For almost twenty years I’ve made a home in Van Nuys, CA.
And since 2006, I have published this blog: walking, photographing and writing about a peculiarly blessed, and unjustly afflicted section of Los Angeles.
Here are some 11 ideas that I am proposing to better Van Nuys, especially Van Nuys Boulevard:
Create Walkable, Garden Court Housing
We need, desperately, little, affordable, small housing units that share common garden areas. These were built all over Los Angeles up until the 1960s when dingbats took over with their car-centric designs.
Such garden courts would be most effective within walking distance of major bus and light rail streets.
Relocate the Van Nuys LAPD to Van Nuys Boulevard
The Van Nuys LAPD is buried deep behind the Erwin Street Mall, way back from Van Nuys Boulevard. What this accomplishes is removing the police from active interaction with pedestrians, shops and the action, good and bad, on Van Nuys Boulevard. Putting the police station back on the boulevard where it belongs would send a message to the community that law enforcement is on active duty: watching and patrolling, enforcing the law.
Reduce the Size of Wide Streets and Plant Trees
When drivers see five lanes of road in front of them, but every single lane is packed with cars, or conversely, when there are wide-open lanes with few vehicles, both scenarios create frustration. The speeding, the road rage, the frustration of having so much space for cars and hardly any for bicycles or light rail, has caused the decay and decline of Van Nuys Boulevard, as well as Victory.
The heating up of our climate, the constant hot weather, is creating a meltdown of mood, with more anger, more violence and more irrationality. Trees would help cool down the street and provide shade. Narrower streets, lined with cafes, pedestrians, activity, would build a sense of community decency.
Hawker Centers Like Singapore
Singapore has “Hawker Centers” which are groups of different food merchants housed under one roof. A Singaporean can get off a train and within a few feet find delicious, cheap food in clean areas which are protected from the elements but still open air.
By contrast, Los Angeles has nothing like this other than Grand Central Market which is not next to a train stop. Van Nuys Boulevard would greatly benefit from one, large, enclosed, regulated building full of food sellers. This would bring the pushcart under control and provide a clean, reliable, fun, sociable place to eat and meet.
Give Commercial Buildings Without Billboards Tax Breaks
Billboards are so ubiquitous that we have wearily come to adjust our eyes to them. Yet their ugliness, their cheap, desecrating, looming presence brings down property values even while providing landlords with some income.
On every corner where there is a mini-mall with a billboard, the property owner who removes the signs should get a tax benefit because they are helping the community improve aesthetically.
A Monument When Entering Van Nuys
Why is there no marker, like an arch, an obelisk, or a gate when one enters Van Nuys Bl. at Oxnard Street?
Imagine a Washington Monument type obelisk in the center of Van Nuys Boulevard to make evident, proudly, commemoratively and architecturally, the fact that Van Nuys is a historic and proud area of Los Angeles deserving its own marker of identity and purpose.
Seen for miles, an obelisk perhaps 150 feet tall, should stand in the center of the boulevard, a booster of morale and an instigator of commerce and civic pride.
Pick a Unifying Style and Stick With it.
Paris, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Savannah: certain cities have an archetype of architecture which provides the base for how a city is constructed and designed.
In recent years, we have seen the onslaught of non-conforming, strange, computer-generated frivolities in architecture such as those which have marred and destroyed the beauty of London, England.
Yes, it is great to have one Disney Hall, but a street of melting blobs, narcissistic designs, starving-for-attention buildings, does not engender a district wide identity.
A classical Van Nuys would actually be revolutionary because it goes against so much architectural dogma these days and restores the primacy of community standards and group identity.
Tear Up the Parking Lots and Plant Orange Groves
One of the tragedies of Van Nuys since 1945, indeed of all of Southern California, has been the loss of agriculture.
Once we all lived near local fruit groves, and their soothing, healthful, beneficial trees provided not only big business for the state, but gave a mythical, blessed countenance to Los Angeles which was exported around the world.
There are hundreds of acres of unused asphalt sitting behind empty stores along Van Nuys Boulevard which could be torn up and planted with citrus trees.
Perhaps an innovative architect could design housing that is combined with citrus groves?
This blog has actively supported the preservation of an area of 33 acres, containing light industries, near the corner of Kester and Oxnard.
“Option A” would have destroyed 58 buildings, 186 businesses and thousands of jobs in a walkable, affordable, diverse district and replaced it with an open air, light rail service yard.
It would have been disastrous for the revitalization of Van Nuys. If it had succeeded it might have been the final nail in Van Nuys’ coffin.
Instead, happily, the Metro Board, with the support of Councilwoman Nury Martinez and others, objected to the Option A proposal. “Option B” was chosen, near the already existing Metrolink train tracks, thus preserving the Kesterville area.
So now is the time to put Kesterville on the map and make it a harmonious, vibrant destination of little apartments, stores, restaurants, cafes, all along the public transit corridor next to the Orange Line.
Remove Onerous and Expensive Regulations on Housing
Builders are required, by law, to do so many expensive things that they are dissuaded from building.
One example is parking. The average building must spend 30-40% of its construction costs to provide space for vehicles.
Thus we have the paradox: not enough housing. And the housing we have becomes more expensive because there is not enough of it to bring prices down. And each rentable unit only becomes affordable if four working adults, with four vehicles, split the rent!
So now we have less housing, more cars, more cars parked on side-streets because we have, by law, made the construction of apartments so expensive.
Remove parking minimums and stop catering to the car as if it were the ONLY important thing in city planning.If a building were built with 200 apartments and only 100 parking spaces, would it really harm Van Nuys?
Is NYC harmed by scarcity of parking?
California is often the destination for anyone living unhappily in any part of the world. Thus our state, because of its warm weather, attracts people coming here to escape.
Van Nuys, long considered the unofficial dumping ground of Los Angeles, is now under onslaught from homeless men and women sleeping everywhere, on bus benches, under boxes and tents, behind buildings and in RVs parked along the street.
We need to regulate where people can sleep by providing safe, clean, sanitary areas, to park RVs and where people can wash themselves, and get help so they do not have to sleep outside.
To talk about this is not to attack people who are in need. Rather, it is to assign us the proper legal and moral task of ending homelessness by not permitting it to exist in the first place.