As entrepreneurs and architects, designers and thinkers gathered at Catalina Landing in partnership with business advocacy group Bisnow to discuss the future of Long Beach, it was clear that the hub of the city’s engine, DTLB, was the focus. And with it came a frankness that everyone shared but perhaps best exemplified by Sares-Regis President Christopher Payne: “There have been false starts after false starts before in terms of urban design and living in Long Beach—but no more.”
Of course, pundits might (rightfully) say that this has been said before; the seemingly ubiquitous sentiment that we couldn’t do it before but now we can—only to be met by another failure. However, the difference that each panelist expressed—one that was far more frank than before—was the generation itself. Long Beach, specifically DTLB, is rich with amenities that Millenials, the most powerful group of individuals right in terms of buying power and influence, want. Even more? We are more design intelligent and more importantly, we actually have the people to sustain it.
”Personally, I think there are too many big box spaces in DTLB,” said Alan Pullman, DLBA Board member and Principal at Studio. “Mixed-use when its done the way we are now doing it is what benefits a community like Long Beach.”
Jan Van Dijs, adaptive re-use guru, didn’t shy from pointing out that the “attempted revamp of Pine Avenue about 15 years ago was a complete failure” and that the failure was due to not just bad design but a lack of people. It was this frankness that was different from former conversations, where the chip on Long Beach’s shoulder resulted in a refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing when it came to relative success (or failure) of development.
This bluntness echoed: Jeff Fullerton, the Director behind Edgemoor Infrastructure and a partner in the private-public partnership that will oversee the development of a new Civic Center, noted that many of Long Beach’s attempts at drawing density and activity—particularly the current Brutalist-style Civic Center that was completed in the 70s—don’t “serve the public through major design flaws and safety concerns.”
While it all seems a given—good design, paying attention to the people who live in and use DTLB—that is only true through hindsight. Kurt Schneiter, longtime Long Beach business owner and Principal of Maverick Investments, noted a massive shift in the municipality itself, citing that Public Works is the “best it’s been in 27 years” and the work of Mayor Robert Garcia has led to discussions and meetings that business owners were previously unable to have.
Whether these Long Beach powerhouses wooed investors with their pitches remains unknown but what it certain is that Long Beach sits on the edge of what could be a large surge of development and investment that goes beyond the properties already entitled or sold off through the Long Range Property Management Program (LRPMP). Not only is Los Angeles proper struggling with a massive housing shortage—one that estimates the city would have to develop over 300,000 units to keep up with demand—but Long Beach has opportunities and spaces that a new audience desire and that surrounding cities can’t supply: an urban waterfront that caters to walking, biking, and public transit, all paired with locally owned bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.
If anything, the future is now.