Growth and Development in Pasadena


Pasadena Residents:
In her seminal book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs wrote, “Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success, in city building and city design.” If one accepts Jacobs’ view (generally a safe bet in matters of urban planning), Pasadena has been a very busy laboratory indeed. Several thousand new residential units have been built in Pasadena in the last decade, a period that also saw the construction of the Gold Line light rail system, the reconstruction of the Plaza Pasadena mall as a new mixed use project (Paseo Colorado), and a strong shift to an urban village sense of design. Demand for even more new construction—mostly residential—is at an all-time high.
Meanwhile, we also find ourselves in a renaissance of sorts: three of the most important public buildings that are the face of Pasadena to many inside and outside the city—City Hall, the Civic Auditorium, and the Rose Bowl, all of which were built in the early part of the last century—are in need of renovation and rehabilitation. Ambitious projects to improve City Hall and the Civic Auditorium are already underway. (Interestingly, in his new book "The City, A Global History," Joel Kotkin concludes that the existence of sacred places like these are one of three hallmarks of all great cities. The other two: public safety and an environment conducive to commerce.)
On many levels, the high demand for new development is encouraging—it means Pasadena is a desirable place to live, work, study and play. In the last year, Pasadena was honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with a "2005 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement," and Outside Magazine declared Pasadena one of the 18 most livable cities in the country. Yet many are understandably anxious about the unintended consequences of new development and its impact on the great quality of life Pasadena offers. They wonder how, if as we’ve been told Pasadena is “fully built-out,” the City’s infrastructure—from public safety to waste disposal to water and power—can keep up with these rapid increases in our population. Where will the new families who move here—overwhelmingly into multi-family developments, not single family homes with yards—recreate? Isn’t Pasadena already “underparked” as it is? Will new buildings have the gracious sense of design and the public art on which Pasadena prides itself? And perhaps most importantly, will there be adequate mitigation for the additional traffic and congestion that results (and has already resulted) from adding thousands or even tens of thousands of new residents to a fully built-out “town” of 142,000? One wonders, “When is enough, enough? Can’t we slow down and take stock?"
Against this backdrop, 18 months ago we convened “Whither Pasadena,” two Citywide symposia focused (as the name suggests) on where we are and where we are headed in terms of growth and development in Pasadena. Over the course of two public meetings and numerous planning and discussion sessions before, in between, and after the symposia sessions, several discrete topics emerged. Those topics are addressed in the enclosed “white paper.” Although, as the old joke goes, there were sometimes eight opinions by the seven panelists on any given issue, there was actually much consensus that developed.
Any credit for this endeavor properly goes to our facilitator, Patricia Martinez-Miller; to our District 6 Field Representative, Takako Suzuki; and to our gifted and dedicated panelists: Don Baker, Claire Bogaard, Vince Farhat, Leslie Gray, Michael Hurley, Joel Sheldon and Phoebe Wilson. With the talent and commitment they and many other Pasadenans possess, I personally am convinced that this chapter of Pasadena’s history will have a happy ending, as virtually all the others have. Jacobs could well have had Pasadena in mind at the end of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” when she wrote, “Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”
Steve Madison
District 6, City of Pasadena