When my grandparents came to Los Angeles to attend my graduation two years ago, they continually complained about the American neighborhoods. These complaints came as a surprise, as my grandparents would often remark, “Nothing compares to a single house with frontyard and backyard”. They had plenty of complaints:
“You cannot take a walk outside after dinner!”
”Why there is no convenient store within your neighborhood? What ?! A supermarket of 5 minutes drive?!”
“Where is your community security people?”
“ This is unacceptable!”
A typical Chinese residential community design.
Thinking about my neighborhood in Beijing – a big gated community with tons of people dwelling in high towers, all connected by wide expanses of public space – I do understand and agree to some extent with my grandparents’ criticisms of Los Angeles. Back in China every morning and evening, my mom walks my two dogs within the gated community, a trip that can take up to 2 hours just to navigate through all the pocket parks. I used to wake up early on weekends due to the loud music that accompanied the activities of morning dancing and exercising groups nearby.
With modern Chinese metropolitan cities operating under the duress of growing population density, residential tower communities reaching upward seem to be the only solution. A few months ago the Chinese government issued a statement declaring the end of constructing gated communities, causing more urban troubles. But I do see some interesting effects resulting from building upward rather than outward, especially the appearance of wide open landscape.
Towers can accommodate for more people in a smaller footprint, leaving more ground level space for urban ecology and transit access, a basic concept from Le Corbusier’s assumptive urban planning scheme [right]. Such urban layout works well for certain types of residential projects, such as student housing, industrial parks, residential community, etc. Reviewing the urban planning changes, it’s easy to imagine the application here in Los Angeles where we could reclaim public spaces to improve communities.
The illustration below might seem idealistic or perhaps even “delusional” – a conceptual exploration overlooking political, social and economic issues. But even so, the idea of denser and larger developments with multi-level buildings (earthquake-safe, of course) is worth exploring for all the benefits of incorporating more open landscape connecting multiple residential parcels instead of developing small parcels separately, with vacant spaces converted into community gardens. Los Angeles will always struggle to find opportunities for developing large open spaces for the community, but perhaps we can integrate numerous smaller open spaces to connect neighbors to neighborhood as they’re doing in China today.
A “Delusional” reimagining of Century City, with a Chinese residential towers and open public spaces connecting the buildings together. Image by Yiran Wang.