Chapter 5
Urban Form
and Neighborhood Design


Los Angeles is a city of culturally and physically diverse neighborhoods - the fundamental building blocks that comprise the physical City and define its form and character. Since residents spend a great deal of time in their individual neighborhoods and often identify more strongly with those areas than with the City as a whole, the physical design of these individual communities determines, to a rather considerable extent, residents' quality of life.

In order to understand the physical nature of Los Angeles and its constituent parts, as well as discuss ways in which the City can influence the design of development and the physical improvements that can alter its form, this chapter is built around two concepts: "urban form" and "neighborhood design." The General Plan Framework Element defines "urban form" as (a) the "general pattern of building height and development intensity" and (b) the "structural elements" that define the City physically, such as natural features, transportation corridors (including the planned fixed rail transit system), open space, public facilities, as well as activity centers and focal elements. "Neighborhood design" is defined as the physical character of neighborhoods and communities within the City.

The following issues and opportunities are related to urban form and neighborhood design and were identified early in the preparation of the Framework Element.


  1. Many residents do not identify with the City as a whole, but, instead, with their own neighborhood.
  2. The existing and planned transit system (both fixed rail and major bus routes), as well as corresponding concentrations of development, provide a structure for defining the City's form.
  3. By recognizing that Los Angeles is com prised of neighborhoods, planning measures can reinforce those neighborhoods and connect them to one another and to larger districts, thereby defining a citywide structure.

L.A. is a city of culturally diverse neighborhoods.


  1. Many parts of the City, but especially commercial corridors, are unattractive and lack open space, community facilities and visual and recreational amenities.
  2. The rights-of-way along transit routes, rail lines, and drainage corridors afford opportunities to consider open space corridors and can link neighborhoods to parks throughout the City.
  3. Concentrating development in a limited area of the City, i.e., in transit-served centers and corridors, can allow the development of new community facilities and small-scale parks, gardens, plazas or other open spaces to serve surrounding neighborhoods.
  4. Streets can function as open space if properly designed and landscaped and if development reinforces their character.

 Hollywood Boulevard's newly widened sidewalks,
street trees,
lights and furniture enhance its open space function
 Leimert Park provides a focus for
both shops and surrounding
 Biddy Mason Park is a small park in the heart of one of L.A.'s busiest commercial districts

Accommodating Projected Growth

  1. Future development is likely to have little impact on urban form if it is dispersed.
  2. The existing and planned transit system provides the opportunity to concentrate development, affect the City's form, and conserve the existing character of stable neighborhoods.
  3. Many residents oppose higher-intensity development on aesthetic grounds.
  4. The Framework Element provides the opportunity to formulate appropriate development standards and guidelines for higher-intensity development.
  5. While the recommended urban form for the City is identified as compact centers, districts and boulevards, it is possible that the forecast growth may not occur. It is also possible that development in any area identified for higher-intensity will be constructed to lower than planned levels.

 Higher-density housing is often opposed because it is poorly designed  The concentration of new development in transit-served centers allows for the conservation of neighborhoods
 Housing built at the same higher-density, however, can be attractive  Development standards and design guidelines can help improve building design

The following presents the goals, objectives, and policies related to urban form and neighborhood design in the City of Los Angeles. Programs that implement these policies are found in the last chapter of this document. Programs are also referenced after each policy in this document.

A liveable City for existing and future residents and one that is attractive to future investment. A City of interconnected, diverse neighborhoods that builds on the strengths of those neighborhoods and functions at both the neighborhood and citywide scales.

Although good neighborhood design is a key to creating a liveable City, the Framework Element does not directly address the design of individual neighborhoods or communities. Instead, it embodies generic neighborhood design policies and implementation programs that can guide local planning efforts, thereby laying the foundation upon which the City's community plans can be updated.

Objective 5.1

Translate the Framework Element's intent with respect to citywide urban form and neighborhood design to the community and neighborhood levels through locally prepared plans that build on each neighborhood's attributes, emphasize quality of development, and provide or advocate "proactive" implementation programs.

 Neighborhood shopping districts provide a focus for and support daily life with connections to the rest of the City (Third Street near Crescent Heights Boulevard)  This is also true of larger scale shopping areas in community centers

5.1.1 Use the Community Plan Update process and related efforts to define the character of communities and neighborhoods at a finer grain than the Framework Element permits. (P1)
5.1.2 Implement demonstration projects that establish proactive measures to improve neighborhood and community design, and coordinate these activities with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative demonstration projects, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority station area activities, and other City, non-profit and private efforts. (P38)

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The overall form of the City is identified in the Framework Element. The growth that does occur is encouraged to locate in transit-served regional and community centers, neighborhood districts and corridors. With respect to neighborhood design, centers provide a physical and activity focus for surrounding residents.

With respect to citywide urban form, these centers support the bus/fixed rail transit system and need to provide a sufficient base of both commercial and residential development, to support that transit system. In particular, fixed rail transit requires a substantial capital investment and sufficient residential densities around station locations to make the system viable and the investment cost-effective. The area around transit stations should therefore be designed to support its use.

Objective 5.2

Encourage future development in centers and in nodes along corridors that are served by transit and are already functioning as centers for the surrounding neighborhoods, the community or the region.

5.2.1 Designate centers and districts in locations where activity is already concentrated and/or where good transit service is, or will be provided. (P1)

Subway rail transit is a major
investment that needs to be supported
by land uses located near stations (Pershing Square)

Like subways, at-grade rail transit is a major investment that needs
to be supported by land uses located near stations

Existing activity centers served by transit
can be reinforced
(Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles)






Encourage the development of centers, districts, and selected corridor/boulevard nodes such that the land uses, scale, and built form allowed and/or encouraged within these areas allow them to function as centers and support transit use, both in daytime and nighttime (see Chapter 3: Land Use). Additionally, develop these areas so that they are compatible with surrounding neighborhoods, as defined generally by the following building characteristics.

Note: Centers and districts will vary from the following general standards in scale and built form, depending on local conditions. Those serving higher-density neighborhoods may be at higher intensities, while those constrained by local conditions, such as compatibility with historical resources, will be at lower intensities.

a. Buildings in neighborhood districts generally should be low rise (one- to two-stories), compatible with adjacent housing, and incorporate the pedestrian-oriented design elements defined in policy 5.8.1 and policies 3.16.1 - 3.16.3. They should also be located along sidewalks with appropriate continuous storefronts.

b. Buildings in community centers generally should be two to six stories in height, with the first several stories located along the sidewalk. They should also incorporate the pedestrian-oriented elements defined in policy 5.8.1. Either housing or office space may be located above the ground floor storefronts.

 c. The built form of regional centers will vary by location. In areas such as Wilshire and Hollywood Boulevards, buildings will range from low- to mid-rise buildings, with storefronts situated along pedestrian-oriented streets. In areas such as Century City and Warner Center, freestanding high rises that are not pedestrian-oriented characterize portions of these centers. Nevertheless, regional centers should contain pedestrian-oriented areas, and incorporate the pedestrian-oriented design elements defined in policy 5.8.1 and policies 3.16.1 - 3.16.3.

d. Buildings located at activity nodes along mixed-use boulevards generally shall have the same characteristics as either neighborhood districts or community centers, depending on permitted land use intensities. Housing over ground floor storefronts or in place of commercial development shall be encouraged along mixed-use boulevards. (P1, P18, P24, P25)


Encourage the development of housing surrounding or adjacent to centers and along designated corridors, at sufficient densities to support the centers, corridors, and the transit system. While densities and distances will vary based on local conditions, the following residential density standards, which are based on the City's adopted Land Use/Transportation Policy, should be used as a general guide when updating community plans through a public participation process:

a. Four-stories over parking (R4) within 1,500 feet of grade-separated (subway or arterial) fixed rail transit stations;
b. Three-stories over parking (R3) within 1,500 feet of at-grade fixed rail transit stations;
c. Two-stories over parking (RD1.5) within 750 feet of major bus corridor intersections;
d. Where appropriate, two units per lot (R2) maybe considered within 750 feet of major bus corridors.
(P1, P18)

 R4 housing typically will be located adjacent to R3 housing typically will be located adjacent to at-grade subway stations fixed rail stations

 R3 housing typically will be located adjacent to at-grade fixed rail stations

 RD1.5 housing may be located at activity nodes R2 housing (duplexes) may be located along corridors along corridors

R2 housing (duplexes) may be located along corridors

Streets serve multiple functions (movement of vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, shopping, recreational strolling) and multiple users (pedestrians, transit, automobiles and trucks). They must therefore be designed to accommodate these functions and users.

Objective 5.3

Refine the City's highway nomenclature and standards to distinguish among user priorities.


 5.3.1 Establish the following highway segment hierarchy based on function and user priority:
a. Pedestrian-priority segments, where designated in community centers, neighborhood districts, and mixed-use corridor nodes, are places where pedestrians are of paramount importance and where the streets can serve as open space both in daytime and nighttime. Generally these streets shall have the following characteristics (as defined through the Street Standards Committee and designated by amendments to the community plans to address local conditions):

(1) Buildings should have ground floor retail and service uses that are oriented to pedestrians along the sidewalk, with parking behind. (2) Sidewalks should be wide and lined with open canopied street trees, pedestrian-scale street lights provided to recognized standards commensurate with planned nighttime use, and other pedestrian amenities.

b. Transit-priority segments, where designated, should give priority to pedestrians at transit stops and will consist of major bus or rail routes along which transit vehicles have priority over other vehicles. They may also include exclusive transit lanes. c. Vehicle-priority segments, consisting of all remaining highway segments, should give priority to the movement of through traffic.


Adopt appropriate standards for each type of highway segment that complement existing highway and development standards.

a. Roadway design standards shall address posted speed limits, minimum sidewalk widths, maximum corner radii, traffic lane width, on-street parking and frequency of curb cuts. These should consider all forms of travel including vehicle (private automobile, truck, transit, and other), bicycle, and pedestrian.

b. Public improvement standards should address street tree form and spacing; street light type, height, and illumination level; and other streetscape elements, particularly in the vicinity of transit stops. Street tree form is dependent on species and available planting space.

c. Building and site development standards for pedestrian-priority streets should address building design and use characteristics that encourage pedestrian access, as well as the following: building height; location and design of parking; location and transparency of front building facade; location and design of pedestrian entrances and other openings; utilities; and signage.
(P1, P3, P18)


Classify highway segments by user priority in consideration of the following and other appropriate criteria (see illustrative cross-sections):

a. Highway segments located in community centers or neighborhood districts on the Framework Element maps should be considered for pedestrian-priority highway segments through the Community Plan Update process.

b. Highway segments on which at-grade fixed rail transit lines would be located or which are major bus corridors with 10-minute peak hour headways in the Basin and 15-minute peak hour headways in the Valley should be considered as transit-priority highway segments through the Community Plan Update process.

c. All other highway segments should be considered as vehicle-priority segments.
(P1, P3)


5.3.4 Identify commuter and recreational bicycle routes that link major destinations within the City, and establish and implement standards to maintain their safety and security. (P3, P4)

Community facilities serve the basic needs of residents and are essential to the liveability and investment potential of the City. With respect to neighborhood and community design, they can provide a focus for activity and, by doing so, contribute to the definition of each neighborhood or community's character. Policies in the Framework Element provide the opportunity to locate community facilities in a manner that reinforces or defines the character of the communities or neighborhoods in which they are located. Given current fiscal constraints, facilities could be shared and financed/developed by non-traditional means.

Objective 5.4

Encourage the development of community facilities and improvements that are based on need within the centers and reinforce or define those centers and the neighborhoods they serve.


Encourage the design of existing and new schools for multiple functions, including, but not limited to, the following:

a. Design of school yards to be used as parks accessible to surrounding neighborhoods;

b. Design of school libraries to be used as community libraries, where feasible; and

c. Design of school auditoriums to be used as community meeting rooms.

5.4.2 Locate libraries, cultural facilities, police substations and other community facilities on the ground floors of mixed-use buildings, where feasible. (P18, P22)
5.4.3 Locate community facilities in or near community and regional centers. (P1, P18)
5.4.4 Encourage the use of community facilities for nighttime activity through the use of appropriate roadway and pedestrian area lighting. (P48)

As discussed previously, the definition of the City's current form and character resides largely in its neighborhoods. Neighborhoods should therefore be the focus of the City's planning efforts with respect to urban form and community character.

All neighborhoods in the City deserve to have well designed buildings and a safe, secure, and attractive public realm.

Objective 5.5

Enhance the liveability of all neighborhoods by upgrading the quality of development and improving the quality of the public realm.

Street trees in a residential neighborhood Street trees in a neighborhood shopping district

5.5.2 Install "slow residential streets" where requested by residents and feasible within the established street hierarchy. Techniques include speed bumps, diagonal parking, widened sidewalks and narrowed streets. (P24)

"Slow streets" may include speed bumps and diagonal parking to reduce traffic speed

5.5.3 Formulate and adopt building and site design standards and guidelines to raise the quality of design Citywide. (P18, P24, P25)
5.5.4 Determine the appropriate urban design elements at the neighborhood level, such as sidewalk width and materials, street lights and trees, bus shelters and benches, and other street furniture. (P1, P3)

Streetscape elements include trees, lighting, benches, trash receptacles, bus shelters, and special paving

5.5.6 Identify building and site design elements for commercial or mixed-use streets in centers, that may include: the height above which buildings must step back; the location of the building base horizontal articulation; and other design elements. (P24, P25)

Good building design can take a variety of forms and can vary from one neighborhood to another

 5.5.7 Promote the undergrounding of utilities throughout the City's neighborhoods, districts, and centers. (P15)

Conservation Areas
Conservation areas (all areas outside designated districts, centers, and boulevards) will not absorb substantial amounts of additional development. By encouraging growth and new development in mixed-use districts, centers and along corridors/boulevards, in revitalized industrial districts and around transit stations, the Framework Element proposes to conserve the City's residential neighborhoods. For a more detailed discussion of conservation areas, see the introduction to Chapter 3: Land Use.

Objective 5.6

Conserve and reinforce the community character of neighborhoods and commercial districts not designated as growth areas.

5.6.1 Revise community plan designations as necessary to conserve the existing urban form and community character of areas not designated as centers, districts, or mixed-use boulevards. (P1)

Community plan designations can conserve single-family neighborhood

Objective 5.7

Provide a transition between conservation neighborhoods and their centers.

5.7.1 Establish standards for transitions in building height and for on-site landscape buffers. (P18, P24, P25)
5.7.2 Limit uses, where feasible, that are incompatible with housing on parcels directly adjacent to conservation neighborhoods. (P18)

The lack of transition between commercial buildings and single-family housing shown here is no longer permitted Transitions between higher-density housing and single- family housing can be provided by stepping down the building height and landscaping buffers

Neighborhood Districts and Community Centers
Neighborhood districts and community centers are planned to be central components of the City's physical structure. Future development will be concentrated within them and they are to serve as the focus of community life for the surrounding neighborhoods. The physical design of these areas is critical to those who will live in them and those who will visit them from outside to use their services.

Objective 5.8

Reinforce or encourage the establishment of a strong pedestrian orientation in designated neighborhood districts, community centers, and pedestrian-oriented subareas within regional centers, so that these districts and centers can serve as a focus of activity for the surrounding community and a focus for investment in the community.


Buildings in pedestrian-oriented districts and centers should have the following general characteristics:

a. An exterior building wall high enough to define the street, create a sense of enclosure, and typically located along the sidewalk;

b.A building wall more-or-less continuous along the street frontage;

c. Ground floor building frontage designed to accommodate commercial uses, community facilities, or display cases;

d. Shops with entrances directly accessible from the sidewalk and located at frequent intervals;

e. Well lit exteriors fronting on the sidewalk that provide safety and comfort commensurate with the intended nighttime use, when appropriate;

f. Ground floor building walls devoted to display windows or display cases;

g. Parking located behind the commercial frontage and screened from view and driveways located on side streets where feasible;

h. Inclusion of bicycle parking areas and facilities to reduce the need for vehicular use; and

i. The area within 15 feet of the sidewalk may be an arcade that is substantially open to the sidewalk to accommodate outdoor dining or other activities.
(P4, P18, P24, P25)

Mixed-use (housing over shops) with ground floor retail and a more or less continuous building wall along the street frontage


The primary commercial streets within pedestrian-oriented districts and centers should have the following characteristics:

a. Sidewalks: 15-17 feet wide (see illustrative street cross-sections).

b. Mid-block medians (between intersections): landscaped where feasible.

c. Shade trees, pruned above business signs, to provide a continuous canopy along the sidewalk and/or palm trees to provide visibility from a distance.

d. Pedestrian amenities (e.g., benches, pedestrian-scale lighting, special paving, window boxes and planters).
(P1, P3, P4, P25)

pedestrian amenities such as benches, trash receptacles, and shade trees


Revise parking requirements in appropriate locations to reduce costs and permit pedestrian-oriented building design:

a. Modify parking standards and trip generation factors based on proximity to transit and provision of mixed-use and affordable housing.

b. Provide centralized and shared parking facilities as needed by establishing parking districts or business improvement districts and permit in-lieu parking fees in selected locations to further reduce on-site parking and make mixed-use development economically feasible.
(P18, P24, P31)



Centralized parking may be necessary for the viability of mixed-use in some areas

5.8.4 Encourage that signage be designed to be integrated with the architectural character of the buildings and convey a visually attractive character. (P26, P27)


Good design is essential to the creation of safer, more comfortable environments. Defensible space is created when pedestrians have a clear sense of spatial definition, and when natural surveillance potential is used to its best advantage. Natural surveillance in development takes the form of placing public spaces or high activity areas where they provide a visual overview or line of sight to potentially unsafe areas. Mixed-use also provides increased security through increased activity and natural surveillance. Clearly defined and observable spaces create a perception of risk for potential offenders while giving pedestrians a sense of security.

Objective 5.9

Encourage proper design and effective use of the built environment to help increase personal safety at all times of the day.

5.9.1 Facilitate observation and natural surveillance through improved development standards which provide for common areas, adequate lighting, clear definition of outdoor spaces, attractive fencing, use of landscaping as a natural barrier, secure storage areas, good visual connections between residential, commercial, or public environments and grouping activity functions such as child care or recreation areas. (P18)
 5.9.2 Encourage mixed-use development which provides for activity and natural surveillance after commercial business hours through the development of ground floor retail uses and sidewalk cafes. Mixed-use should also be enhanced by locating community facilities such as libraries, cultural facilities or police substations, on the ground floor of such building, where feasible. (P18)

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