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      Acar is turning right at a cross street

      At El Molino and Colorado Boulevard in the Playhouse District (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)

      The monthly meeting of the Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association (DPNA), held for the first time at the historic private University Club of Pasadena, featured a presentation from urbanist Stefanos Polyzoides. The meeting was attended by an about 50 DNPA members and guests, including Brian Wallace, Playhouse District Association (PDA) executive director, board member Joel Sheldon, Chairman and CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore, DPNA residents, past and present city commissioners and property and business owners in the Central District of Pasadena.

      By Mike Pashistoran

      Mr. Polyzoides was born in Athens, Greece and earned his B.A. and M. Arch in Architecture and Planning from Princeton University. His long career includes 24 years teaching at the University of Southern California, formation of the Pasadena firm Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists in 1990,co-founding the Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993, and design of educational, commercial, institutional, civic, historic preservation and urban design projects around the world, as well as exhibits exploring new urbanism.

      Mr. Polyzoides is tasked with the creation of strategies and designs for the Streetscapes plan for areas along on North Lake Avenue, Colorado Boulevard, and Mentor Avenue.

      Building on goals and planning ideas developed in community “visioning” workshops conducted by the PDA, the scope of the current effort is to develop a detailed technical design for two core blocks of Colorado Boulevard and to develop visioning concepts for North Mentor Avenue and North Lake Avenue, including connections to the Gold Line.

      The purpose of the Playhouse District Streetscape Design project is the creation of streets that celebrate the heart of Pasadena-Playhouse District with a unique sense of place, vitality and livability, distinct from other parts of Pasadena.

      A man speaking at the podium with people attending ina large room

      Urbanist Stefanos Polyzoides speaking at the meeting (Photo – Jonathan Edewards, DPNA)

      Urban change requires time

      Although the visioning workshop process that resulted in a framework took a couple of years, Mr. Polyzoides remarked that an estimated 25-30 years will be necessary to achieve the desired streetscape for each of these areas. Urban change requires time. Mr. Polyzoides pointed out that an issue for Colorado Boulevard is the lack of shade on the sidewalks provided by the current trees; a tree canopy is badly needed.  North Lake needs to be transformed from feeling like a freeway into a memorable gateway into the Playhouse District. Mentor Avenue is suffering from mid-century planning; changing it from one-way to two-way traffic should be considered.

      Streets closure

      The idea of closing some streets to vehicle traffic in favor of “pedestrian only” use was discussed.  On the topic of street closures, Mr. Polyzoides pointed out that the places in which permanent pedestrian-only streets work (especially in Europe) are much denser than Pasadena and are served by more frequent transit services. He did not believe such closures would be practical in Pasadena. Although Mr. Polyzoides is open to temporary street closures, he expressed concern that businesses would suffer from permanent closures.

      The stepchild

      One attendee described the Playhouse District as “the stepchild” of the South Lake and Old Pasadena districts with respect to city investment and “identifiable places to go.”  Other comments made by attendees concerned the lack of parking compared to OTP, the possibility of combining private and public parking garages by turning private into public after business hours, and the presence of “Byzantine” zoning in Pasadena.


      A screen grab from the Streetscape power point presentation (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)


      When asked about the role of alleys in the Streetscapes planning, Mr. Polyzoides stated that the scope of work was “very limited” and did not include consideration of alleys.  He added, however that he has had discussions with architect and Pasadena area resident David Wolf.  Mr. Wolf worked on the original Pasadena city planning, including the alleys and “passages” in the downtown Pasadena area, and has written the book “My City” which gives guidance for city planning today. (More info at mycity.is  and pasadenapassages).


      The takeaway from the meeting is that accomplishment of the Playhouse District Streetscape Design Project requires a long-term commitment and rationalization of multiple inputs and priorities against the backdrop of stubborn realities.

      Mike Pashistoran is community reporter and co-admin of Pasadena Politics page on Facebook. Kate Bartlett contributed to this article.

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      1. Bev Ashley says:

        In a nutshell — ‘visioning’ takes gas.

      2. Cloud Backus says:

        Visioning? Puleeze

      3. Mark DeFazio says:

        Why? Does the Playhouse District suffer from an identity crisis or something? Quit trying to make your few blocks into the new “in” place. Thankfully the ridiculous parklet idea went away. Now you are hiring an urbanist? Leave it be already. It’s fine as it is….isn’t it?

      4. Kristy Brauch says:

        N Mentor is fine in the area mentioned. How about putting energy into my area of North Mentor and stop Chic fil a from taking over Carl’s Jr. thus adding more trash to my street and causing loads of unwanted traffic. That’d be a good start in improving N. Mentor.

        • Mike Pashistoran says:

          Kristy Brauch, that Carl’s Jr. is north of the 210 and outside the boundaries & responsibilities of the Playhouse District. So, you’ll have to talk to your council rep re that fast-food issue and “putting energy” into your area.

      5. Norah Switzer Small says:

        Wow – if only they’d thought about not cutting down all the fig trees that used to provide ample shade along Colorado Blvd at Lake Avenue. Then we wouldn’t need an urbanist to tell us we need more shade.

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