The only way to squeeze a generation’s worth of growth into existing urban areas plus 2% more land is with a heavy reliance on infill development. With the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) beginning to finesse its density-driven, “2% Strategy” growth vision from policy into action, Solimar Research Group is producing information of use to those planning and executing infill development.

In few of the giant metropolitan planning organization’s 13 subregions is this plan for infill-based development as relevant as in the South Bay, a 16-city cluster that is home to Los Angeles International Airport and inner-ring suburbs. Here, where the urban environment approaches full build-out and the population is expected to increase 170,000 by 2025, the South Bay Council of Governments has initiated an intensive examination of two development patterns that SCAG has deemed ripe with infill potential.

Since early 2005, Solimar Research Group has guided this study of the functionality of existing “mixed-use centers” and “mixed-use corridors” in the South Bay. Still ongoing, we have already uncovered patterns in the travel behavior of the residents of these districts. Although our study is ongoing, there are signatures of “performance” that offer vital clues about future, high-density infill development throughout Los Angeles.

We’ve discovered that those who live or work near these centers will travel to them more frequently than elsewhere, in effect absorbing trips to other destinations. Such residents are also more likely to walk than drive; in fact, at least 20% more will walk to the center than residents of a traditional suburban neighborhood accessing their local services. Overall, residents of mixed-use centers are likely to make fewer total trips, especially auto trips, than their suburban counterparts.

By project’s end, we will have evaluated project areas in six communities in order to develop a set of broad, strategic guidelines for creating functional mixed-use districts. After completing a Phase I study of centers in Inglewood, Redondo Beach and Torrance, and a Phase II study of Hawthorne and El Segundo locations, we are currently engaged in a Phase III study of corridors in Gardena and Redondo Beach.

Our methodology and results for the Phase II Hawthorne Boulevard project area exemplify the potential of this study. Like other “mixed-use corridors,” the City of Hawthorne’s one-mile Hawthorne Boulevard corridor is dense with commercial uses, is surrounded by relatively high-density housing and carries significant through traffic over a length greater than the typical “mixed-use center.” The corridor is socioeconomically typical of Los Angeles County as a whole.

Our analysis of this commercial corridor was designed to reveal linkages between the functionality of mixed-use districts and the travel behavior of the people who use the districts. In addition to an extensive, online travel survey, including detailed “travel diaries” for corridor residents and employees—as well as a series of sidewalk visitor surveys—we undertook an exhaustive examination of a 395-acre “inner” and 750-acre “outer” buffer zone surrounding the corridor.

This statistical and GIS-based functionality analysis covered the physical, social, commercial and transit-oriented characteristics of the corridor. We analyzed, among other things, demographic and socioeconomic figures, land use and year-built data, business functionality profiles, bus ridership and pedestrian activity, and parking and traffic patterns.

Just a glance at the results reveals lessons for future mixed-use districting. Like nearly all study areas, Hawthorne Boulevard acts very much like a neighborhood shopping center. We found that Hawthorne Boulevard generates $400 million in sales in its “inner” buffer zone and has a total of 1,041 retail/service-oriented businesses, However, survey responses revealed that residents are less likely to walk to, or along, the corridor as compared to users of mixed-use centers.

Yet it is also clear that the corridor plays an important role in the daily economy. Our survey results reveal that residents commute out of the area (largely by bus or Metrolink train) in the morning. Yet on their return in the afternoon, they consistently patronize the businesses along the corridor. This is an early indication that these arterial, “mixed-use corridors,” ubiquitous to all of metropolitan Los Angeles, can be transformed into successful mixed-use districts.

The results of the ongoing, third phase of this project will allow us to further isolate those characteristics of existing mixed-use districts that affect the travel behavior of residents, employees and visitors. In concert with detailed case-study reports, this analysis will further facilitate the fruit of our efforts: Creating a broadly applicable set of strategic guidelines for developing functional, “high performance” mixed-use districts in the South Bay and beyond.

Greg Goodfellow is a research associate and project manager for Solimar Research Group, parent company of CP&DR.