Urban Living | Downtown Long Beach
One the greatest pleasures I discovered as a foreign exchange student living in Europe was living in an urban space: multiple floors of housing above retail stores, markets, restaurants, cafes, all connected by a transportation network of roads, rails, sidewalks, and bike paths.
It happened here too. Crossing downtown Long Beach’s Ocean Avenue on a recent Saturday afternoon, we caught the last rays of a burning orange sun defiantly slicing through the canyons of tall buildings, our very own “Manhattanhenge”. Downtown Long Beach is an urban planner’s dream, a creative, energetic exciting place just next door to the booming Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Everywhere you look, you are rewarded with a rich palette of colors, lines, street scenes, many private lives coming together in a public whole, like the promise that cities were always meant to keep.
Downtown Long Beach is joining the ranks of other cities in the U.S. that are showing it can work here too. More and more mixed-use, multi-floor housing is coming online, and still more is under construction. Long Beach boosters, investors, renters, homeowners and visitors all know what the naysayers forgot: it’s fun, kid-friendly, diverse, engaging, and it brings the whole city to life.
Things are not perfect, of course. One of Long Beach’s most dangerous neighborhoods is just a few blocks away. And while the downtown has an impressive array of transportation options, public transit remains as problematic here as it does all over Los Angeles County. The Blue Line light rail connecting Long Beach with Downtown Los Angeles has raised too many fears that its rising crime on board the trains makes travel unsafe. Back to our cars, then. For now.
But cities were always kettles of imperfection; beauty sits side-by-side with drought. As always, people must use common sense, whether downtown or in the suburbs. And meanwhile, the smart cities rebuild themselves.
In the U.S. we are coming up with uniquely American terms to define a concept that has existed for centuries. Whether you call it mixed use, smart growth, new urbanism, adaptive reuse, or infill development, the result is old buildings like the 1925 Insurance Exchange Building which was converted into housing with a popular restaurant and nightclub on the ground floor. Next door sits the new-ish Lofts At Promenade, four floors of housing above restaurants along the pedestrian Promenade, which is fast turning into a magnet for visitors and residents alike.
Inside the Lofts At Promenade, the home of downtown-boosters Chas and Melissa smoothly blends the lively street scene with the quiet, personal intimacy of one’s own living space.
The combined kitchen, dining and living room features smooth polished concrete floors, exposed overhead pipes and floor to ceiling windows that open on the theater of life outside Chas and Melissa’s living space. A door opens out to what perhaps the builders intended to be a balcony but instead is a railing overlooking the cafe umbrellas shading seated diners below.
Much like many other urban housing developments, the Lofts offer outdoor barbeques, quiet corners with outdoor fireplaces and a swimming pool on the root of the parking structure which is connected to the housing. Melissa will often end her work day with a five-minute walking commute home from work and meet Chas on the roof to enjoy the sunset, catch up on their day and reconnect.
The exposed-brick side of the Insurance Exchange Building, a few doors down, displays its iconic painted advertisements for long-closed stores on the side. And this is exactly the point. The building was formerly a clothing store for men and and boys with offices on the upper floor. The adaptive reuse process led the way for its current incarnation. Buildings, and cities, like kids and families, grow and change. The cities that shine will be the ones that embrace that change and make it happen.