Playa Vista: Will a Wired Community Promote a Wired City?

A paper specially prepared for
Cities in the Global Information Society: An International Perspective
Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
November 24, 1999

by John Niles, President, Global Telematics, Seattle, Washington
and Dilara El-Assaad Rodriquez, Principal, Office of Metropolitan Design, Pasadena, California

In the emerging Playa Vista community of Los Angeles, California, the opportunity is at hand to monitor and measure the effects of advanced, high speed telecommunications infrastructure and applications on urban development. In response to the observation by Graham and Marvin that "the effects of telecommunications on cities seem to be far more ambiguous and complex than many would have us believe," [1], this high-tech American development now offers a rich environment to enhance understanding.

Covering 1,087 acres, Playa Vista is a commercial and residential development being built on the site of a former aircraft factory three miles north of the Los Angeles International Airport. A map of the location is shown in Exhibit 1 [2]. The master plan for this project envisions six million square feet of commercial space and 13,000 housing units. Exhibit 2 [3] shows the site plan, which includes 340 acres reserved for a restored wetlands.

The focus for tenant recruitment by the developer, Playa Vista Corporation [4] is companies in the entertainment, media, and technology industries, those "which will benefit from the world-class telecommunications infrastructure and synergistic business relationships with related firms [5]." During several years of the planning, Playa Vista management expected the movie-making firm DreamWorks to be the major anchor tenant in the commercial space of Playa Vista. In July 1999 DreamWorks pulled out, but the commitment to the same industry mix continues.

Telecommunications Infrastructure Plans

Playa Vista management intends to install "the most current and stable technologies available today for the delivery of telecommunications, and during the development time frame will continuously research, evaluate, and deploy more advanced technologies as they become available [6]." In partnership with a variety of vendors, every commercial and residential structure in the entire community will be interconnected to each other and to appropriate worldwide networks. The campus will be served by a backbone of fiber optics and layer 3 switches running at one to four gigabits per second. Every building will be pre-wired with an internal Ethernet local area network, and also for telephone and cable TV services. "A focus on IP (internet protocol) based services, with particular emphasis on directory enabled networks, will take networking to a new level for members of the commercial community. All tenants will be able to access and control network use, [arrange for] services, request bandwidth on the fly, view billing and make changes to all of their network devices through smart card and permission levels within the network [7]."

The telecommunications infrastructure in combination with the services delivered over it is called a "community network." It will function as an internal network (intranet) with additional connections to outside sites such as libraries, schools, and medical centers. For example, one of the services delivered over the Playa Vista internal network will be MedNet from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The Playa Vista-UCLA Medical Group Clinic plans to use MedNet for telemedicine consultation services that deliver the expertise of UCLA's medical faculty directly to a Playa Vista health clinic, and for enabling patients to have video conferences with their physicians directly from their homes or workplace [8].

UCLA faculty also intend to work with the Los Angeles public school district to plan and design an elementary school at Playa Vista that would be involved in research, development, and assessment of new educational technologies. This school would be operated by UCLA as an incubator for educational innovation. It would be linked programmatically and electronically to other public schools in Los Angeles, making it possible to test and assess education and information technology in a variety of settings [9].

Other services to be offered over the community network include electronic mail, internet connections, videoconferencing, concierge service, community calendar, community access terminals, home security and integration, tracking of a community transit shuttle bus service, and electronic commerce. This technology provided some of the justification for the selection of Playa Vista as one of six communities in the United States to be part of a Federal Government pilot program demonstrating advanced technology in housing [10].

Three Key Issues

As the project emerges, the opportunity will be created to monitor three important issues related to telecom: (1) the degree to which pre-installed telecommunications infrastructure is an attraction for tenant commitments and investment dollars, (2) how the Community Intranet and other telecommunications applications mitigate the environmental impacts of thousands of potential new vehicle trips per day, and (3) whether the advanced telecommunications usage at Playa Vista can be intentionally leveraged to influence additional telecommunications development and the growth of associated human skills in other neighborhoods of Los Angeles that would otherwise fall farther behind places like Playa Vista.

The authors have highlighted these three issues to Playa Vista management, which has agreed to limited cooperation with data collection efforts by qualified researchers who seek to measure these areas of telecommunications impact. The limiting condition for this cooperation is assurances from researchers not to disclose proprietary information that would harm Playa Vista's competitive position in the Los Angeles real estate market.

On the first of the three issues named above, telecommunications infrastructure as an attractor, measures are not yet developed. Prospective measures include the length of time it takes for the properties made available in Playa Vista to be leased or bought in comparison with the length of time for commitments to be made on other properties in West Los Angeles. Other important measures will be the sign up rates by the occupants of commercial and residential space for the various advanced telecommunications services.

With regard to reducing the number of new vehicle trips below the level of what might be expected, Playa Vista's infrastructure will be able to support the substitution of telecommunications for trip-making to the degree that people make use of telecommunications in a way that reduces travel, either intentionally or unintentionally. The Los Angeles region through its association of local governments (Southern California Association of Governments, also the officially designated Metropolitan Planning Organization) has adopted a strategy of promoting the use of telecommunications for trip substitution [11]. An early step in this strategy is the identification and measurement of the effects of particular applications, such as working at home, distance learning, on-line shopping, and telemedicine.

As a way of monitoring one of the environmental impacts of the projects Playa Vista developers intend to measure the travel-saving impacts of telecommunications on the activities of residents and businesses located in the development.

On the third point, what telecommunications within Playa Vista might mean for other parts of the Los Angeles region, there are a number of encouraging developments. The Playa Vista management in a program called PVJOBS has made a commitment to hire "at risk" youth as a ten percent proportion of the work force for the construction of the development. PVJOBS -- "Playa Vista Job Opportunities and Business Services" -- is a demonstration of the project's interest in the health of the larger metropolitan area [12].

More to the point of telecommunications' impact, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez has in 1999 encouraged his staff to pursue the development of business relationships between institutions in his East Los Angeles district and the future tenants of Playa Vista. He has placed special emphasis upon relationships that can be supported with telecommunications applications. The Councilman as of this writing is in the process of acquiring funding for development of applications. What these initiatives accomplish will be made visible by Playa Vista managers to qualified researchers who choose to focus on this development.


Across the three areas described -- telecommunications influences on tenant attraction, travel demand management, and technology-based development in the greater community -- Playa Vista represents a unique available research environment for understanding the potential of telecommunications for improving the urban environment and economy.


1. Graham, S., and S. Marvin, Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Places. New York, Routledge, 1996, page 10.

2. Regional map at

3. Site plan at

4. Developer's website at

5. The Playa Vista Community Intranet Request For Proposals, May 21, 1999, page 3.

6. Ibid, page 4.

7. Ibid.

8. Press release from UCLA at

9. Ibid.

10. The Playa Vista Community Intranet Request For Proposals, May 21, 1999, page 3.

11. Table of contents and access to full text at

12. Press release from Playa Vista at

Author contact:

John Niles
President, Global Telematics
4005 20th Avenue West -- 111
Seattle, WA 98199 USA
voice: 1-206-781-4475
private fax: 1-206-282-9791