Harlan: Costa Mesa can live up to motto with attention to detail

June 02, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

For many people, the gateway to Costa Mesa is at Harbor Boulevard from the San Diego (405) Freeway. What impression do we create for a passing or exiting motorist?

Within one half-mile south of the freeway offramp there is In-N-Out Burger, Chick fil-A, Del Taco, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, McDonald's, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and a Sonic. And these are only the projects that have been developed within the last two years or are under construction.

Is this really what the major entrance to our community should look like?

Sure, at the city's insistence, In-N-Out (of which I am a longtime fan) put up a nice stacked stone and iron fence along its northern perimeter. But often the design cannot overcome the nature of the land use itself.


A fast food phalanx like this is not particularly inviting. It sends the message that we'd love for you to grab a quick bite here, but there's not much else for you.

We want you, literally, in and out.

At one of the city's other major gateways, the terminus of Costa Mesa (55) Freeway near 19th Street, the City Council wisely rejected a poor and dated design for a recently proposed entry monument.

Funded by a $500,000 California Department of Transportation grant, the 16-by-12 structure containing the obligatory "Welcome to Costa Mesa" sign would occupy a newly landscaped median. For beachgoers stuck in southbound traffic, they would have enjoyed a close-up view of a banal, red tile-topped white stucco and stone arch that could double as a 1980s Taco Bell drive-thru.

Both contexts call into question what we value aesthetically in our community. Costa Mesa's motto — the City of the Arts — is supposed to reflect our respect for and cultivation of the cultural arts.

This is not limited to the visual and performing arts, but also should apply to our public realm — our streetscapes, signs, public buildings and parks. Our gateway signage and streetscapes, unfortunately, have not lived up to the standard espoused by our motto.

Costa Mesa, however, is home to several excellent examples of quality design and development. The Lab and The Camp, the iPod and iPad of independent retail design, respectively, illustrate a unique and well-executed vision.

Both of these successful developments by Shaheen Sadeghi are environmentally and context-conscious designs that make bold aesthetic statements. Most importantly, they are well-loved by the community.

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