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Re:code LA: Updating Los Angeles' 1946 Zoning Code

Overlooking Hollywood, California on top of Barnsdall Park

Re:code LA, an ambitious 5-year process to update the zoning code in Los Angeles, is undoubtedly one of the city's biggest projects, in addition to new plans guiding health and transportation. Zoning code refers to city regulations on the physical development of land – we can think of it as the DNA of city development, dictating land use regulations of what's allowed to be constructed and where.

In the case of Los Angeles, the current zoning code was first adopted back in 1946

What was then an 84-page pamphlet has grown to become a massive and inconvenient 600+ page book. Not only has this slowed the entitlement process of getting new projects approved, but it also renders it impractical, not to mention difficult, for Los Angeles residents to understand zoning laws in their area.

Mark Vallianatos, an adjunct instructor at the Occidental College and part of Re:code LA's team spoke to me about Re:code LA.

For Mark, the impetus for redesigning the zoning code for Los Angeles stems from the fact that the current zoning code is insufficient to reflect the growing and diverse needs of Los Angeles.

The 1946 zoning code promoted single-use zoning, or Euclidean zoning, separating residential from commercial areas.

Re:code LA hopes to create a more liveable city by enabling the existence of more mixed-use communities.

Thirty-five designated communities in Los Angeles will have their zoning plans redesigned to suit the specificities of their communities, with a special focus on downtown LA, where recoding is being prioritized.

Downtown Los Angeles, California outside of the Central Library

And while Re:code LA seeks to streamline an outdated zoning code, it doesn't come without major challenges.

Mark explains that in the attempt to encapsulate the city's best interests, tensions can occur, especially when deciding how to guide the development of the built environment.

What is worth preserving, and what needs to evolve? Ultimately, it is a question of necessity.

Along similar lines, the updated zoning code would only affect future development projects, leaving the question of how best to encourage current development to change to fit the new-age paradigm of a liveable city.

This is not to mention that Re:code LA is tasked with the daunting challenge of updating "the second oldest zoning code in the United States for a major city."

As Re:code LA seeks to make zoning codes more understandable and accessible for ordinary people, the internet will be used in various ways.

One end goal is to create a dynamic, web-based zoning code where users can search any address and have all relevant zoning codes instantly appear, thus eliminating the need to hire lawyers and land-use experts to interpret technical jargon.

Re:code LA is also utilizing tools like MapIt, which allows people to add comments to any geographic location in LA, indicating things that need improving or could stand to change.

In order to constantly reassess the work of Re:code LA, public consultations are frequent, and Mark really stresses that everyone should do their best to get involved.

When was the last time your city underwent rezoning and how were you affected? What tools were used in the process? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below. 

Credits: Images by Victor Tran.

Data linked to sources.