Sunday, May 24

New graduate class built around Westwood urban planning

A class at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs will study Westwood Village's urban planning and make recommendations to improve the Village. (Anisha Joshi/Daily Bruin)

A new graduate class will study Westwood Village’s urban planning and propose potential improvements to the neighborhood’s specific plan.

Architect John Kaliski’s class at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs will explore the existing Westwood Village Specific Plan, which regulates land use and development design criteria in the Village, and prepare recommendations for the Westwood Village Improvement Association, also known as the BID.

Kaliski said he worked with the BID in the past and thought the class would be a good way to continue the conversation about improving the Village.

“Since I teach this practice-based studio, we thought it might be wonderful to look at this through a different lens,” he said.

Kaliski said UCLA representatives on the BID board as well as officials at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs positively supported his idea from the beginning.

Kaliski said the Westwood Specific Plan has not been updated in over a decade, and the BID is evaluating whether the plan reflects their long-term goals for the Village. He added he does not think the controversy over whether to change the specific plan will pose a challenge, because the class will respect the different perspectives presented to them.

The class will interact with the BID at three different points throughout the course. During a walk shop Thursday, members of the BID will introduce the students to the Village and other members of the community. During studio reviews in May and June, students will present their proposals to the BID at meetings that will be open to the public.

Kaliski said he has taught similar classes using local neighborhoods as case studies, and said he thinks it is important for students to come up with real prototypes and solutions.

He added Westwood is an ideal project for the students because it is a dynamic community with a range of components and multiple interests that must be addressed.

“The complexity of the problem is fantastic,” Kaliski said. “The students are being presented with an urban condition and being asked where it should be in 30 years and what must be done to get there.”

Kaliski said he does not expect immediate action but rather hopes to improve discussion within the Village about the future of Westwood.

“I hope the clients choose to pursue the students’ ideas, but I will consider it a success if we can just encourage the folks in Westwood to think about a broader spectrum of potential,” he said.

Andrew Thomas, executive director of the BID, said he is enthusiastic about the opportunity for a fresh look at Westwood Village.

“These students are going to be professional planners, so they will look at all aspects of the situation,” he said.

Kaliski taught a similar class at Pepperdine University that evaluated the Pacific Palisades Specific Plan. The class culminated in a workshop where the students presented potential commercial design and development options to the Palisades community.

Chris Spitz, president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, said the students’ recommendations did not lead to any development or policy change. She added the commercial land the students focused on was purchased by a developer who will remodel the property in accordance to his own vision.

“It was a good community spirit-building exercise because those who attended became involved and learned about various possibilities, but it did not lead to anything more,” Spitz said. “I think it was mostly a good exercise for the students.”

Sandy Brown, president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association and long time Westwood resident, said she does not anticipate the students’ proposals will amount to any real change. She said she expects the students will want more nightlife and the residential community will not support that suggestion.

She added members of the community worked for two years to create the current specific plan and the city does not have enough money to update it.

Thomas said there is no set process in place for changing the specific plan. If any recommendations are compelling, the BID will create a committee made up of BID board members and other Westwood officials and residents that will work to implement the changes, he added.

“Making changes goes way beyond the BID,” he said. “If we like what the students come up with then we’ll go about engaging the community.”

Students in the class said they do not expect their role as students will interfere with their approach to improving Westwood Village.

Paige Colton, a graduate student in urban planning, said graduate students are more divided from the neighborhood and less likely to be biased towards student interests.

Colin Piethe, a graduate student in urban planning, said the students will take a data-driven approach to see what the majority of people think about the neighborhood.

“From the get-go, (the community) does not trust us, but we’re looking at it from a professional perspective,” he said. “When you’re planning for a city you have to make sure you’re planning for everybody from ages 8 to 80.”

The walk shop will take place Thursday at the Regency Village Theatre at 2 p.m.

News reporter

Sierra deSousa is currently a news reporter covering Westwood, transportation and Los Angeles. She has also covered the University of California.

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