Blackbirds Development: A Woonerf For Los Angeles?

A car-less street in Los Angeles? In a city known more for its traffic than fabulous mass transit access, a residential neighborhood arranged around such a concept may seem an unlikely sell. But The Architect’s Newspaper reports that LocalConstruct and architect Barbara Bestor are aiming to turn a one-acre hillside parcel in Los Angeles’ Echo Park into a high density-housing development that puts pedestrians and cyclists first.

This development has been dubbed Blackbirds, after project’s unusual rooflines and its resulting configuration, which reminded the developers of birds surrounding a pond. Located between Preston and Vestal avenues, it’s a project that could not have come into being before LA’s Small Lot Ordinance passed in 2004, as this legislation allows developers to build single-family homes and detached townhouses on a single lot originally zoned for multi-family housing or commercial development.

LA, Blackbirds, Bestor

image via ArchPaper

The plan for Blackbirds calls for 18 small-lot homes clustered around an internal living street designed after the Dutch Woonerf concept, where pedestrians and cyclists have priority. Here three 1,800-square-foot single-family homes, three side-by-side 1,400-square-foot duplexes and three side-by-side 1,300 square-foot-triplexes will bring high-density housing to a traditional single-family neighborhood in a way that doesn’t bring attention to itself, the way an apartment building would.

“Their density is similar to the fabric of housing around them,” Bestor told ArchPaper. “The trick visually is that some of the units are in duplex or triplex configurations but still appear similar to unique houses, a sort of ‘stealth density’.”

Another unusual facet is the fact that some of the homes in Blackbirds will lack that iconic amenity of the American home, the garage. Carports or open parking spaces will be placed strategically around the internal living street, which will leave more open space on site. “We think that is a needed step in the evolution of LA typologies,” said Casey Lynch, LocalConstruct co-founder.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply October 18, 2012


    This might be a woonerf, but a woonerf isn’t a car-free street. It’s a street where all modes are treated equally, so traffic has to slow way down, as would be appropriate on a purely residential street.

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