Square Feet: After Years of Decline, a California Port City Sheds Its Past

Today, on some of those same corners, bulldozers and construction cranes work almost nonstop to transform Long Beach’s 1.38-square-mile downtown and outlying areas into a more vibrant urban center. Roughly three dozen projects, valued at around $3.5 billion, are underway or in the pipeline in one of the country’s largest continuing downtown redevelopments.

“The downtown is being reborn and recreated,” Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach since 2014, said. “A lot of people view Long Beach as the kid sister to Los Angeles. It’s finally stepping into the national stage, and I’m really excited about the transformation.”

The whole world will get to see Long Beach’s shiny new self soon enough as Southern California prepares for the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. Los Angeles has been chosen as the host city, and several events are expected to take place in Long Beach.


The Long Beach Civic Center is part of a $520 million overhaul that includes a new City Hall.

Jake Michaels for The New York Times

The changes to Long Beach — about 25 miles south of Los Angeles — began in earnest more than 15 years ago. The city began buying up nearly four dozen properties, including vacant lots and derelict buildings, through its redevelopment agency. The total purchases, over an area of about 25 square miles, were part of a more than $100 million spending plan that included improving infrastructure and beefing up the police force, said Patrick H. West, the city manager.

“We purchased liquor stores, parking lots, motels and apartments that were gang hangouts — 911 hot spots, according to the police — and relocated the displaced tenants,” Mr. West said.

The properties were later resold to developers, and new zoning regulations were put in place about five years ago to help speed up construction and building conversions.

“We became a land banker,” Mr. West said. “The objective was to change the neighborhood and blight, not to regenerate dollars.”

As a result of these efforts by the local government, many developers have been eager to do business in Long Beach, and companies like Virgin Orbit and Mercedes-Benz have found new homes there.

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California Lawmakers Kill Housing Bill After Fierce Debate

Later, a long line of opponents portrayed the bill as a threat to neighborhoods and low-income residents and at one point began chanting: “827, what do we say? Kill the bill, kill the bill.”

Despite the disagreement, there was a broad consensus — among senators on the raised dais, among the constituents and lobbyists in the room — that housing costs remain a central issue.


Local governments argued that the housing-density bill amounted to a power grab that would strip them of ability to design their neighborhoods and central areas.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

“This issue isn’t going away,” Mr. Wiener said.

The public reaction to the bill seemed to underscore that. Ever since Mr. Wiener introduced S.B. 827 on Jan. 3 — the first day of the legislative session — it has dominated the state’s conversation about housing. The bill came up in political debates and candidate interviews, and cities across the state had votes on whether or not they supported it.

Mr. Wiener added amendments to reduce the bill’s height limits and strengthen protections for lower-income residents who might be displaced by demolition of older, more affordable buildings. But that did little to move the most entrenched opponents, and introducing it in an election year made it tough for lawmakers to support something so polarizing.

Some of the fiercest opposition came from local governments arguing that the bill would strip them of land-use decisions. The bill was also opposed by groups concerned about gentrification in neighborhoods already pummeled by rising rents.

“This bill will exacerbate an already perilous situation for tenants throughout the state,” said Damien Goodmon, director of Housing Is a Human Right, a division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles.

More than anything else, the bill showed the political challenges of building housing in places where people already live — something California will almost certainly will have to do to make progress on this problem.

But there seems to be little consensus on how to go about that. Mr. Wiener’s bill split a number of constituencies.

Mr. Wiener pitched his bill as a way to combat climate change by fostering neighborhoods that allow more people to commute to work without car — a goal that almost every conservation group supports. But the California chapter of the Sierra Club opposed the bill, while other groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, stood in favor of it.

Even with the committee action, the idea of state intervention in what has historically been a local problem is unlikely to go away. Mr. Wiener vowed to bring back the bill. So this may be remembered as the start of a long negotiation over how to make cities less hostile to new construction.

In an interview earlier this year, Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor now running for governor, said that California was in “code red” for housing affordability and that he liked the “spirit” of Mr. Wiener’s bill, but he would not support it as written. “I told him point blank, ‘I would not sign this bill, but I love what you are doing. How can I help?’”

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Wealth Matters: When Your Fixer-Upper Is Your Hometown

On her return to her hometown, Ms. Moore found that philanthropy takes finesse. “I didn’t walk in and say, ‘I’m back, and I’ve brought a bunch of money, so let’s fix ourselves up,’” she said. Instead, she paid for a study to see if anything could be done. It turned out there was a lot.

Ms. Moore is the sixth generation of her family to live on the same farm, where she has upgraded the farmhouse substantially and transformed the farmland into the Moore Farms Botanical Garden.


Ms. Moore, the sixth generation of her family to live on the same farm, transformed the land into the Moore Farms Botanical Garden.

Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Her bona fides as a philanthropist are well established. She has given $70 million to the University of South Carolina, which named the business school after her, and made a $10 million gift to Clemson University, where her father was a star football and baseball player.

But Ms. Moore knew she was going to need the town’s constituents, regardless of age or race, to buy into a vision they all could share. There were more than a few doubters, she said.

“I had a lot of credibility in the town because of my father and grandparents, not because of my resources,” Ms. Moore said. “You couldn’t do it without that. I’ve known people who’ve gone into towns with a large amount of money, and it failed. It’s hugely complex.”

Like much in philanthropy today, many of these makeover projects require a mix of giving and investments with a social return so they can be sustainable. That combination helped Hamilton, Mo., population 1,809.

In 2008, two of Jenny Doan’s seven children gave her a sewing machine designed for quilting. Twelve feet long and seven feet wide, the machine was too big for the family’s home. So they bought a building to house it. Real estate was cheap because the town was struggling and many buildings had been neglected.

At the suggestion of one of her sons, Ms. Doan began to make YouTube videos on how to quilt. The videos took off. She kept sewing and making videos, and the family enterprise, the Missouri Star Quilt Company, kept buying and fixing up buildings.

The company now owns 26 buildings, including 14 quilt shops, three restaurants and a quilting retreat house for women, where up to 40 visitors can stay.

“We bought as many buildings as we could,” Ms. Doan said. But they all required extensive work before the Doans could use them.


Barbara Miles, the owner of the East Main Market, has exhibited artwork in her shop during Lake City’s annual ArtsFields festival, which Ms. Moore organized.

Sean Rayford for The New York Times

She said the company had poured all of its profits back into the town for many years. It even put in the sidewalks along Main Street. Missouri Star Quilt now employs 450 people, mostly from the town.

“This was one of the poorest counties in Missouri, and now people have a job,” Ms. Doan said.

Rebuilding a civic space can be daunting and take years, if not longer, said Paul S. Grogan, president and chief executive of the Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations. He said it was important to record small milestones.

“The little victories add up to something significant,” said Mr. Grogan, whose background is in community development. “It becomes substantial. In a neighborhood accustomed to failure, you generate some success.”

Ms. Moore said she had started with the Bean Market, a historic building that was “spit and taped” together. It is now a central event space for Lake City. She moved on to the old feed and grocery store, which is now a Smithsonian-certified art gallery that hosted an exhibition of the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya in 2014.

But she has also funded less-glamorous tasks, like running high-speed fiber-optic lines into town.

For community leaders who lack resources, Mr. Grogan said, rehabilitating just one house or creating a community garden can have a catalytic effect. “You think, ‘How could those things possibly make a difference?’” he said. “But they do.”

Eventually, though, these towns need to attract outsiders to keep them viable. Ms. Doan’s quilting stardom — her YouTube channel has nearly 500,000 subscribers — drew tourists to Hamilton. That, in turn, brought in other businesses.

“In the beginning, not everyone was happy we were turning our farm community into a quilting community,” Ms. Doan said. “For those people who weren’t happy, we hired their children, and now they love us.”

In Lake City, Ms. Moore knew she had to create an event to bring in visitors. Plenty of people go to nearby Charleston for its historical charm and opera festival and to Myrtle Beach for its golf and 60-mile stretch of coastline, but Lake City was not on anyone’s must-see list.


The chef Marcus Samuelsson, who owns Red Rooster in Harlem, started Harlem EatUp!, a weeklong food and cultural festival in the neighborhood, to highlight its businesses.

Emon Hassan for The New York Times

In a meeting with advisers, some of whom she had known since she was a girl, one talked about an art festival in Grand Rapids, Mich., that is supported by members of the DeVos family, whose wealth comes from Amway, the multilevel marketing company. Ms. Moore thought that doing something similar with art from Southeastern states might work in Lake City.

That festival, ArtFields, is now in its sixth year. When it opens next Friday, 400 works of art will be on display in buildings that Ms. Moore has renovated and in downtown shops.

One shop owner, Barbara Miles, met with controversy last year when she selected a provocative tapestry from the festival to hang in her store, the East Main Market. But Ms. Moore said she had decided the artwork should stay. “It was a real humdinger of an image,” she said.

Some philanthropists are drawn to the challenge of renewing neighborhoods in big cities.

Marcus Samuelsson, the world-famous chef who owns Red Rooster in Harlem, started Harlem EatUp!, a weeklong food and cultural festival in the neighborhood, four years ago.

He said the festival, which draws attendees from the city and beyond, helped 80 businesses in the neighborhood. But Mr. Samuelsson said he was proud that 40 percent of the events were free, up from 20 percent when the festival started.

Harlem is a neighborhood with a deep cultural history, but Mr. Samuelsson saw this festival as a way to highlight its businesses. His goal has been to use a week of fun to bring economic benefits to Harlem and Spanish Harlem by connecting event sponsors with local chefs and restaurant owners.

“It’s a great place to live, to open a business, to create jobs,” he said. “But it’s also important that the restaurateurs meet sponsors like Ernst & Young or Citibank. That’s massive because the next time they need a business loan, they might be coached by Ernst & Young and get the loan from Citibank.”

That added benefit of opening up people’s eyes to a community is something all of these endeavors have in common.

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Square Feet: Building a Connected City From the Ground Up

General Electric will use Union Point as a laboratory for testing new products and as a showroom for working systems. Eric Gebhardt, the strategic technology officer at GE Power, said the community’s energy plan will include micro grid technology, renewable generation and power storage. The company will also install “intelligent” lighting — streetlights with sensors that can track sound, light and other conditions. The data can be used to monitor traffic, help drivers find parking spaces and alert law enforcement if a gun is fired.

G.E. has piloted some of its smart products in existing cities, but Union Point is an unusual opportunity because most of the infrastructure does not exist yet and the developer is open to experimentation, Mr. Gebhardt said.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to open an innovation center in the air station’s old power plant. The center will house an interactive planning tool called CityScope, which will aid in Union Point’s evolution by allowing users to visualize and explore trade-offs around factors like density, transportation and walkability, said David Rose, a researcher and lecturer at MIT’s Media Lab.


The streets within Union Point will not be public ways, giving the developers leeway to test autonomous vehicles and lighting technologies.

Elkus Manfredi Architects

“We want the center to be a showcase for what the city could be, a place to monitor what it is becoming, and a place to ask existential questions like, ‘Could it be more inclusive, say, or energy efficient?’” Mr. Rose said.

LStar also has an agreement with Optimus Ride, an autonomous vehicle start-up in Boston, to set up a self-driving vehicle service at Union Point. The company is already testing its electric vehicles at the property.

Union Point’s first commercial tenant is expected this spring, when Prodrive Technologies, a Dutch company that develops and manufactures products for the automotive, medical and other industries, will break ground on its 60,000-square-foot United States headquarters. The site’s proximity to Boston, access to commuter rail service and ample room for expansion were crucial to the firm’s location decision, said Roy Willems, the company’s general manager of United States operations. He said Prodrive expected to build a second 200,000-square-foot building within three years, and increase its work force to roughly 300 people.

LStar had to persuade the three host communities to approve critical zoning changes before it could move forward with the project. They also granted the developer considerable latitude over the design and layout of the community, which will take shape over 15 to 20 years.

“The three towns recognized an opportunity to do something quite extraordinary” on a site where previous development plans stalled, said David P. Manfredi, a founding principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects, which helped create the master plan for Union Point. “This is an alternative to what could have been suburban sprawl.”


Union Point will be developed over the next 15 to 20 years. Its first commercial tenant, ProDrive Technologies, is expected to break ground on its United States headquarters there this spring.

Elkus Manfredi Architects

Union Point promises to bring badly needed tax revenue to Weymouth, said the town’s mayor, Robert L. Hedlund. “It’s the commercial build-out that we’re lusting after,” he said.

Still, similarly ambitious smart city projects have proved perilous. Mr. Rose cited Songdo, a smart city nearing completion in South Korea, as a prime example. The city boasts advanced connectivity, but it has so far failed to meet expectations in attracting international businesses and residents.

“What they got wrong was any sort of sense of streetscape,” said Mr. Rose, who has visited Songdo. “There’s no sense of patina, no authentic street life. It’s super sterile. It was built as this fantasy of the future, but it’s a place that humans don’t want to occupy.”

The integration of technology into urban planning has prompted questions about how the data being collected will be used. In Toronto, for example, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, attracted considerable publicity when it was selected last year to help create a smart neighborhood of sorts in a waterfront district called Quayside. Some local officials and critics are questioning whether the deal gives too much authority to Sidewalk Labs without putting limitations on Google’s collection and use of data.

The need for greater regulation of driverless vehicles has also come up for debate after the death last month of a woman who was struck by one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Ariz.

“Very few local governments have thought through the long list of public- and private-sector values and concerns that should be deployed to constrain” the use of autonomous cars, as well as the technologies being used to monitor city streets, said Susan Crawford, a Harvard Law School professor. “Once you’ve given a developer license to deploy total surveillance, with no public limitations, you’re done.”

LStar has considerable leeway to test technologies at Union Point. The developer is purposely holding on to its roads, rather than asking for them to be made public ways, to maintain flexibility in testing autonomous vehicles, lighting and other technologies, said Robert Luongo, Weymouth’s director of planning and community development.

“If these were public ways, we might not be able to give them that flexibility,” he said.

Mr. Corkum said retaining ownership of the roads would enable them to play with designs for amenities like drop-off areas for driverless shuttles and heated sidewalks. “It’s better for us to stay in this testing phase until we have good workable solutions,” he said.

State oversight of autonomous vehicles applies only once there is public use, he said. Even then, the rules are vague. Ryan Chin, the chief executive of Optimus Ride, said his company would adhere to the same high-level safety standards and testing protocols at Union Point that it followed for testing driverless cars in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.

As for privacy concerns, Mr. Corkum said that he believed in setting boundaries on data collection and use. There is value in using technology to improve quality of life by, for instance, alleviating traffic jams, but he said he was wary of falling prey to a “preoccupation with optimization.”

The company is working with law firms and consultants on operating guidelines for gathering and anonymizing data and ensuring it cannot be hacked or used to invade privacy, he said.

“I don’t like the Big Brother notion that we know everything about you,” he said. “We will use data for the benefit of the group, not in a way to leverage the group.”

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