Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Least Walkable Block in Pasadena

Freshly-paved sidewalk along Colorado Boulevard, between Arroyo & Marengo
I'm only exaggerating, of course, but there's a one-block stretch of Colorado Boulevard that sorely needs a makeover. Separating the buzzing retail district of Old Pasadena on the west from Paseo Colorado and the Civic Center to the east, the stretch of Colorado between Arroyo and Marengo is unfriendly if not hostile to pedestrians, interrupting the flow of foot-traffic between some of Pasadena's liveliest neighborhoods.

Pasadena real estate blogger Brigham Yen has written about this block in the past in his excellent Ideas for Pasadena series. In a more recent post about the ongoing Pasadena Civic Center Improvement Project, he voiced hope that the freshly-paved sidewalks and new landscaping might address some of the block's problems and improve connectivity between the surrounding neighborhoods.

I know he's only being optimistic, but I don't see these very minor changes having any effect. There are more fundamental problems with this block that need correction:

1. Aloof Office Buildings

In this block, Colorado is straddled by two imposing office buildings that make little attempt to interact with the street. For example, the so-called Darth Vader building sets its main entrance back about 60 feet from the street, angling the doors away from the sidewalk as if to express disdain at the pedestrians passing by. This is a scene that belongs in an Irvine office park, not in otherwise-pedestrian-friendly Pasadena: 

Angled slightly from the sidewalk, the main entrance to the "Darth Vader Building" keeps its distrance from the passersby on the street.
In fact, the entire perimeter of the building is separated from the sidewalk by landscaping. There seems to be have been a conscious effort by the building's architects draw a distinction between the business inside and the street traffic outside.

The AT&T tower across the street is no better. It's also set far back from the sidewalk, its street entrance hidden behind the building's support columns. In fact, the street entrance isn't used as an entrance at all --  a sign announces that it's an exit only. Presumably everyone with business here enters through the parking garage.

2. Lack of Retail or Dining

With no shops or cafes, these two buildings are silent after office hours. They may not be a perfect location for retail, but adding a restaurant or a small coffee house would go a long way towards energizing the block.

The lack of any activity after dark also creates the impression of an unsafe block. In her classic book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote about the important role that ground-floor shopkeepers and the residents upstairs played in keeping order on the streets of Greenwich Village. Here, there is absolutely no one keeping watch on the pedestrians below. Crime may not actually be any higher (I would be interested to see the statistics), but I'm sure I'm not the only pedestrian who's quickened his pace while passing these buildings.

3. Poor Lighting

With little activity in the office buildings and poor street lighting, the block appears dark and uninviting at night.
Of course, that impression of danger isn't helped by the lack of adequate lighting. Through both Old Town and in front of Paseo Colorado, both the street and sidewalks are well lighted. In this one block, however, there are only a couple tall street lights that hardly illuminate the sidewalks at all. Sadly, there are no signs that the current construction project is addressing this problem; the old streetlights remain in place and no new ones appear to be on their way.


Downtown Pasadena is a terrific place to live, especially for those who prefer public transit and walking over driving. I've had many thoughts on my new city (many of which I hope to share eventually on this blog) since moving here in November, but this one block irks me every day as I walk from my apartment to the Gold Line station.

Can anything be done to salvage these buildings? Or should they, in a perfect world, be razed and replaced with mixed-use developments?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you that this one particular block irks me more than almost any other ped-unfriendly block in Pasadena only because THIS block has so much potential to be more. In fact, it is critical that this block is filled in with activity if we want Downtown Pasadena to become more coherent.

    The worst offender to me is that BLACK DARTH VADER building, which could EASILY be retrofitted with new retail/restaurants, improving the block by a 1000 times. In fact, the large set backs could easily become outdoor dining for a restaurant.

    So frustrating indeed!!