SANTA ANA, CA—Understanding what each community needs and what their unique challenges are is key to a successful planning, design and environmental firm like PlaceWorks, principal Brian Judd tells GlobeSt.com. The firm recently won five awards from four different sections of the American Planning Association’s California Chapter for its exceptional work in comprehensive planning, urban design and transportation planning. GlobeSt.com caught up with Judd to discuss important things to keep in mind in comprehensive planning, urban design and transportation and what firms that specialize in these areas need to know in order to thrive.
GlobeSt.com: What are the interesting things you’re noticing when doing the type of work you do?
Judd: We’re a multidimensional firm, which is what makes us different from our competition. We offer environmental practice, urban design and planning all rolled into one. We have expertise in economics, policy and regulatory, environmental, landscape architecture, public health and greenhouse gases. We’re working with a private developer on a master-planning community, and we’re bringing in experts in those different fields to really help them understand the issues and opportunities. We’re gaining greater appreciation of the linkage between economic growth and housing affordability—how we deal with the built environment. For example, with the Bergamot Station Area Plan in Santa Monica, there are vital urban and suburban corridors, the award we won recognized our efforts to convert 142.5 acres of previously industrial land into a transit-oriented neighborhood centered around a new Metro Line stop that is expected to open by 2016.
We’re seeing a lot of innovation, and each community is very different. We’re also working on a collect connector study in the city of Fullerton to improve the connections between the college, the Metro station and downtown—the transit options for that community. And then on the healthy communities front, we’ve seen a combination of issues with respect to health services: how poor health behaviors have resulted in chronic diseases across the country and how social and economic conditions affect our health.
But I think what we need to see more of are really tailored solutions for each of these communities. The health issues are very different among the communities: poor walkability or bike-ability, poor access to open-space resources, or maybe even if the physical design of a block is there, it might not be conducive to walking because of crime. Poor access to healthy food or healthcare may also have an effect on a particularly community’s health. Each community is different, so a real understanding of each community is required.
GlobeSt.com: We’ve heard talk and reports that the suburbs are growing stronger than the cities. Do you have a response to this?
Judd: It’s hard to compare the two. With the trends we’re seeing, it’s not an either/or situation. The suburbs will continue to grow; that’s a natural trend. What you see are some of the keys to growth in urban vs. suburban have to do with different ages and preferences for living environments. These change as people age. Adults are looking for more of an urban environment—we’re seeing those trends—and Millennials are starting to have kids later, and once they do it will be interesting to see what their preferences are with their living environment as well. Working with so many communities and living environments, we hear about trends for urban development, and we try to accommodate that to the specific communities. But further down the line, in single-family established suburbs, it’s important to ask how do they compete for that particular resident? What are the amenities you need to plan ahead for that?
GlobeSt.com: What else distinguishes your firm enough to make it award winning?
Judd: In addition to the diversity of our services, we work at multiple scales, from a one-block radius where urban designs use environmental science to work on remediation issues and redevelopment problems to at the same time working on large regional plans and general plans for counties the size of some of the sates back east. We do a lot of work with the private, public and non-profit sectors, and not many of our competitors do that. When developing a zoning code for a city, we work continuously with a design team that does a lot of work in the private sector to examining, for example, how is this going to get implemented from the private-sector side? And for the public-sector client, we make sure the zoning codes are clear enough that they are able to implement a vision. We have that unique perspective.