A young couple sitting on a bench-watching strangers go about their daily lives.
A group of office workers eating lunch and sharing stories in the warm sun.
Two retirees playing chess under a tree while chatting about the day’s news.
Although these simple acts may seem inconsequential, they are actually important indicators as to the vibrancy and economic health of Downtown Long Beach (DTLB).
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
By offering people public spaces where they feel comfortable, they are more likely to want to spend time, spend money, come back and do it again, and tell their friends about their experience.
The primary purpose of placemaking is to create and foster these memorable places. Placemaking is largely considered having the community take a direct role in the design of the public places so those spaces – whether they be streets, sidewalks, parks or promenades – reflect its needs and ideals.
As cities around the country compete for a share of the knowledge-based economy, it is critical for DTLB to invest resources in making our shared spaces attractive for existing and new urban dwellers.
There are several city-led initiatives underway to create a more livable downtown, such as the reconfiguration of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, 6th Street and 7th Street into a safer environment for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, and a Downtown Pedestrian Master Plan exploring strategies to make walking and access to transit safer.
While these projects and plans will benefit downtown for decades to come, they are often years in the making. In contrast, over the past few years residents, businesses and non-profits have taken the initiative to make a positive change by taking on less expensive projects that improve the public realm. From the recent week-long street art event, POW! WOW! Long Beach, to the new Children’s Gateway Garden at Cesar Chavez Park, these community-led initiatives are transforming downtown’s public realm into places appreciated by residents and visitors alike.
These smaller, “tactical” projects are being completed by a wider group of downtown stakeholders and are making a large impact for a relatively small investment, and sometimes in a short time period.
(Business Journal photograph)
In 2012, Berlin Bistro in the East Village financed the construction of downtown’s first parklet, an outdoor seating area located at the curbside. While Berlin saw the economic value in creating more outdoor seating for customers, the surrounding area benefited as well with a new sense of vibrancy and additional activity along the streetscape. People are drawn to people, and parklets provide opportunities to stay and linger, thus attracting additional people and potential customers.
One block north of Berlin, residents of the Embassy Park building saw an opportunity to leverage Downtown Long Beach Associates’s (DLBA) placemaking grant with their own investment in building facade and frontage improvements. Embassy Park was awarded a grant to enhance the streetscape with new trees and plants. With the support of adjacent property owners and volunteers from the neighborhood, the streetscape was transformed into a more pedestrian-friendly street.
This has spurred talk of the adjacent properties making enhancements to their properties as well. This year, Hamburger Mary’s installed a parklet on Pine Avenue, helping to draw additional foot traffic north of 3rd Street. With more parklets coming to downtown in the coming months and a recently awarded placemaking grant to improve the pedestrian experience in the Wilmore neighborhood with the addition of new landscape and trees, downtown will continue to see the benefits of making small investments to the public realm to enhance economic development.
Recently, the DBLA partnered with the Arts Council for Long Beach to fund its micro grant program. One of the projects funded was “Before I Die,” an interactive public art display currently at the ArtExchange building at 3rd Street and Elm Avenue. The DLBA also recently initiated a call for artists to create artistic designs for crosswalks along Pine Avenue.
The DLBA has issued a call for artists to design creative crosswalks at six intersections on Pine Avenue. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
To help further the current growth and economic vibrancy of Downtown Long Beach, it is important that we continue to make livability a priority and make both large and small investments in the creation of public spaces that are welcoming and that foster experiences that are memorable.
It is often these tangible and intangible elements that attract further investment, whether that be a new business owner opening his or her first restaurant, or a young couple buying their first home.
The southeast corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard has been left derelict for almost a quarter of a century, however, spurred on by last year’s Urban Land Institute exploration of ideas to better connect the waterfront to the rest of downtown, the DLBA is in the process of imagining a new space that better represents what Long Beach is today – a thriving multicultural city.
Sometime in the near future there will be a space where can you relax, listen to music, or enjoy a conversation with friends. And there’s a good chance you’ll want to come back and do it all over again, and tell your friends about it.