Gerhard Mayer – What is a City?

On July 17th, 2019 residents gathered at the Helms Design Center in Culver City to hear Gerhard Mayer give a presentation about the city’s General Plan Update as the fourth event in a speaker series. Not a Culver City resident himself, Mayer is an architect and urbanist, inspiring the city to embrace a different urban fabric.

He opened with an explanation of why people fear urban change – a fear of density, traffic congestion, ugly buildings, expensive construction which in turn leads to gentrification and not enough transit and ultimately results in displacement. After acknowledging these issues, Mayer displayed what this problematic version of urban change looks like around Los Angeles.

Taking a step back, Mayer posed a simple question: “What is a city?”

“A city starts with a common, open space,” he described, the projector beside him exhibiting photos of lush green parks. He argued that most of the United States is built both ineffectively and inferior to European cities, as well as college towns and older cities in the United States. So what does that mean for Culver City?

Mayer insisted on the necessity of different zoning models, mobility options, street design, more transit and more open space. Furthermore, he asserted that none of this change would be effective unless each and every aspect of it was implemented.

On a more abstract level, Mayer professed the need for a dramatic shift in thinking, away from the scientific method and peer review process and towards the non-linear “design thinking,” in which “you prototype the change you want to see in the world.” Mayer proposed to do this by following the lead of European cities, many of which have implemented an Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) or International Architecture Exhibition. An IBA is a method of implementing experimental, innovative architecture and engineering, focusing on creativity and sustainability.

Another change in architecture Mayer endorsed was closed buildings instead of open, meaning he favored building plans that surround an outdoor area, like a courtyard of sorts.

Overall, Mayer intends to improve quality of life while simultaneously incorporating a higher density of people. The entire process will take eight to twelve years, occurring in seven steps: initiation, framework, property identification, new urban design, individual property assessment, design competition and construction, and lastly the final year.

After the presentation about urban change, Mayer addressed parking issues, advocating for the use of third generation automatic parking, a system in which an autonomous parking robot lifts and moves each car into place. Mayer also described a multi-use building operation which replaces unused parking space with retail, office, or residential space.

Dorotea Crunk

Photo credit – Judith Martin-Straw

View of the downtown Culver City Plaza from with the courtyard of the Culver Steps building. 

The Actors' Gang

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