Once upon a time, a small town began to grow and grow until it could no longer fit into its suburban environment. That town was Isla Vista, and according to an L.A. architectural firm, the answers may be found downtown.
The "Isla Vista 2010 Plan" submitted by Urbanus Associates, a Los Angeles-based firm, offers the Isla Vista Master Plan Design Competition an urban alternative. The proposed changes include a bluff-top park running along oceanside Del Playa Drive, a pier extending to the ocean, a "Town Centre" on Pardall Road and an electric tram connecting I.V. to UCSB.
Urbanus Associate’s [Re]Vision I.V. Principle P. Vaughn Davies said one of the key components of the design is the accumulation of Del Playa Drive property in order to convert it into a continuous public bluff park.
"The major flaws in the current layout of Isla Vista are mostly the lack of connection with the university, and the housing that’s on the bluffs that really is kind of a scar on the landscape more than anything else," he said. "It looks bad; it’s probably a hazard to most people walking along the beach, and some of those houses are about to tumble off the edge. I don’t think the housing really adds any value to Isla Vista per se; it’s obviously very valuable for the folks who live on the water’s edge, but it doesn’t contribute to the town itself."
"Vista Point," an envisaged pier or bluff at the end of Embarcadero del Mar, would compliment the park and remind residents they are living in a close proximity to the beach, Davies said.
"For local residents it would provide sort of a high point when you’re walking along the bluffs, or the beach, or going for a stroll in the evening, to end up on the pier and have a romantic moment and be reminded of where you actually live," he said. "It doesn’t really have to be in the form of a pier. I actually put a pier there in phase one because there used to be a pier in Isla Vista, and it got destroyed, so this is a little bit of preserving and bringing back some of the memories of Isla Vista. We could have a great little tearoom [on the pier] or a fabulous restaurant there. It’s really for the community to embrace the notion, and then we’d come up with a specific design with the community."
If the plan is implemented, houses currently located on oceanside DP would be incrementally reclaimed in various ways, including eminent domain and the possibility of houses eventually falling off the cliff and not being rebuilt. Adding density through three-to-five-story buildings will compensate for loss of living spaces creating a more urban layout for housing, Davies said.
"Isla Vista is not a dense town, it’s a dense suburb and it really seems dense because there are too many students living in single-family dwellings. Those [houses] are designed for a mom and a dad and two-and-a-half kids, or whatever we are in America growing up in a household," he said. "And those are houses that have sometimes eight to 12 students living in them. So it’s just that [students] are living in a situation that is not conducive to their best lifestyle and it’s not what the houses were designed for. The kind of student accommodation that needs to be provided is of a different kind that we’re suggesting. It’s much more of an urban loft-like dwelling."
The plan also seeks to revitalize Pardall Road and Embarcadero del Mar into a "Town Centre" with first-floor restaurants, retail stores, entertainment venues and residential or work lofts above. Davies said the downtown area is where the most significant impact can be made with the least amount of change by using the existing roads and buildings to add onto.
"There needs to be a heart of the town that is much more urban. I think you need to create long-term value for any master plan," he said. "The idea of coming in and fixing things up as they are doesn’t work because it just becomes an expensive cleaning-up process. I think you need to create an incentive and value for the university, for the parks department, the county and for private developers so you need to create something like the center area, for instance, for more retail stores and to provide alternative housing."
Davies said the downtown area would also serve as a new setting for community interactions, as an alternative to parties throughout I.V.
"I think you also need to provide the students with an incentive to move out of the party district and so you need to provide an environment that gives them a better alternative. For example, right now there aren’t any white tablecloth restaurants in Isla Vista, so there is a very limited range of options," he said. "I think having a community that is much more diverse so that you don’t have to rely on the neighborhood block party for your only recreation during the week. That’s really what we’re seeking."
"[Downtown] is a little bit more of an urban environment, just to provide what’s not there right now. You’re still going to allow people to have garden parties and block parties and street parties, but it’ll be done in a more controlled manner in an urban core where it’s not interfering with residents," Davies said.
The Urbanus plan would also include a strengthened pedestrian and bicycle network, and include a transit system, which would initially consist of an electric tram. According to Davies, a light rail may be an even better transit system to strive for in the future.
"Subsequently working on it, the new proposal is not to do light rail, which was initially proposed, but to do more of a kind of a quieter electric tram, kind of like they have in downtown Santa Barbara," he said. "I don’t think we can predict where Isla Vista is going to be 20 or 50 years from now, but it may be a community that has a dedicated connection in the form of a light rail and a dedicated right of way to the airport or downtown Santa Barbara."
The plan also anticipates the construction of multiple 500- to 800-space multi-level parking structures totaling approximately 2,200 parking spaces.
"We’re recommending that probably multiple smaller structures get built within a block’s walking distance of Pardall Road on the north side and the south side, also at the end where we are putting university square, so the students have an alternative location for parking," he said. "It’s a tough thing to build and it’s also going to be very expensive, so we’re probably recommending that they get built by a private owner."
The parking structures, combined with a different curbside parking system, will eliminate the current parking problem, Davies said.
"You would certainly want to have permit parking, maybe so that residents have priority parking. In other areas you could have curbside parking, which is angled parking, or parallel parking and be limited to two hours at a time so people have to come and go and can’t leave their car there for two weeks," he said. "That’s why you would have the parking structure. If students come to Isla Vista and they’re not really using their car during the week, they can leave it at a much cheaper prorated rate for an entire week at a garage."
Davies said Urbanus’ design would tentatively have a significant portion of the plan complete within five years and the rest done after another five years.
"There were 30 contestants, and there are little bits and pieces of absolute gems in everybody’s plans, so I think what you’re selecting is not the plan, I think you’re selecting a collection of ideas and a team of people who can help the community fulfill your ideas," he said. "It’s the kind of thing we’ve done in plenty of communities in other situations and it’s really about making a plan for the community."