This post is part of a series about the inaugural U.S.-Australian City Exchange on Local Finance Mechanisms presented by the Future Cities Collaborative, an initiative of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, with the support of New South Wales Trade and Investment and AECOM. The Exchange allows city leaders to examine innovative sustainable development and finance mechanisms.

I was happy to be part of the team that welcomed the U.S.-Australian City Exchange participants on their first stop in Los Angeles. As a transportation and land use planner in the Los Angeles office with an academic background in international development, it was fascinating to hear the infrastructure and development financing challenges faced by local government officials in Australia. Many of the issues faced in Australia around financing redevelopment and revitalization are similar to those in Los Angeles. It was great to share how tools that I have worked on, such as community facilities financing districts and state and local grant programs, could apply to help local communities around the world.

Los Angeles was chosen as the first stop because it is a leading global city, with strengths in business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, sports, technology, education, medicine and research; and it was particularly interesting to the delegates as an example of a leading global city due to LA’s status of being ranked sixth in the Global Cities Index and 13th in the Global Power City Index.

Our focus in Los Angeles was transit-oriented development and the use of rail connectivity to add value to the surrounding areas. Participants took part in presentations and site visits to see how federal funding for transit and housing has been combined with private investment and local funding sources to enable catalytic projects that have transformed neighborhoods.

On Sunday, Edward Blakely, chair, Future Cities Collaborative, and honorary professor in Urban Planning, United States Studies Centre, hosted a walk-and-talk for the Australian city leaders that toured the Santa Monica Pier and 3rd St Promenade. He used these sites as examples of municipal financing and strategic urban design in redevelopment.

On Monday, our opening workshop discussed the governance and project delivery process, as well as the mature development around Hollywood/Vine and how local transit station redevelopments, transit infrastructure and the accompanying developments were funded. (Above, City Exchange participants view new transit-oriented development at the heart of Hollywood at the Hollywood/Vine light rail station. The project combines an upscale hotel with retail and residential uses.)

Another workshop focused on One Santa Fe, a new downtown apartment and retail development financed from public-private partnerships. One Santa Fe is expected to contribute to the ongoing invigoration of downtown LA and lead to additional investment in the Arts District. One of the newest and largest developments in the Arts District, One Santa Fe is significant in its iconic architecture, provision of affordable housing units, and public-private partnership delivery mechanism. The project was developed by a private partner, with an 80-year land lease from the public sector on a former parking and maintenance site.

We also visited Pasadena, where we examined mixed-density and mixed-use developments, including retail and entertainment along Colorado Boulevard. One of the highlights was learning about the Business Improvement District (BID) model and downtown revitalization, including the innovative methods the city has used to leverage value from their parking structures to finance redevelopment. A formerly blighted area, Old Town Pasadena was transformed by the BID to provide safety, public information and marketing, branding, and cleaning to the District. The BID is largely funded by an assessment fee that property owners have voted to charge themselves, as well as revenue from parking meters and structures throughout the district.

The case studies viewed in Los Angeles had significant parallels to the issues faced by Australian mayors, such as transforming aging and underutilized industrial areas, providing mobility and access via transit, and leveraging adjacent natural resources such as open space and riverfronts. By seeing how government has incentivized and partnered with the private sector, as well as how local private entities have organized themselves to revitalize neighborhoods and realize catalytic new projects, the delegates will return to their home cities at the end of this week with an expanded infrastructure financing tool-box — inclusive of some of the significant lessons learned from LA — to tackle their most pressing issues.

 

Veronica_SiranosianVeronica Siranosian (veronica.siranosian@aecom.com) is transportation & land use planning manager in AECOM’s Los Angeles office.

 

Originally published 06.23.2015