It’s tough to fight the forces of civic decay, particularly in a place like LA’s struggling Inglewood. But two local architects are proposing a new plan—currently gaining momentum in City Hall—to revitalize the area’s most underutilized resource: the beautiful but largely empty main thoroughfare called Market Street.
The architects Christopher Mercier and Douglas Pierson of (fer) Studio worked together at Frank Gehry’s office before starting their own firm. They’ve been in Inglewood since 2003.
Their scheme would rehabilitate the small retail and commercial street, a once bustling and elegant center currently overrun with vacant storefronts, abandoned theaters, and junky stores. They’d place anchors on each end, vibrant infill along its length, revamped storefronts and streetscapes, and—perhaps most importantly—a connection to the upcoming extension of the city’s Expo light rail line, which will have a station here when completed in the next couple of years.
“Nobody knows about Market Street,” said Mercier. “But it already has the infrastructure to be something special.” The street is narrow, pedestrian-friendly, and lined with shops, rich plantings, small islands, and beautiful (if not well-kempt) historic buildings along its entire length. “Everyone wants to save downtown, but they don’t have the faith in what it can be,” added Pierson.
The visually-oriented plan (“Charts and numbers don’t get anyone inspired,” said Mercier) is set with detailed schematics, maps, and land-use proposals. It also leaves open the possibility of such cutting-edge elements as an urban agriculture zone, a renewable energy station, adaptive re-use zoning, and even a green belt and a water reservoir. The two architects also have suggested closing the street off to cars, similar to Santa Monica’s Third Street promenade.
The architects say the idea, which has been embraced by Inglewood’s new mayor, Daniel Tabor, could be paid for with the influx of redevelopment funds to the city. Tabor adds that additional funds could come from bond money, HUD grants, and private investment.
So far, the plan has been held up by the poor economy and government indecision, said Tabor. The city is also currently fighting in court over one of the major land parcels on the site. Plus, following years of corruption in city leadership, failed promises, and the possibility of gentrification, the population is wary of large projects.
But the two press ahead, meeting with community groups and pressuring the city to make a move before it misses the boat, especially since the addition of light rail is almost certain to spur future development. “We need to look at not just what can happen, but how it can happen and commit to making it happen,” Tabor said.