Alumni Spotlight: Mott Smith
Alumni Spotlight: Mott Smith, MRED ’99
By Kimberly Ueyama
For Mott Smith, a city is not merely a densely populated, urban setting. He uses words like “organic” and “dynamic” to describe his vision of city, a place that reflects the range of needs of the individuals it hosts. Through his work in real estate development and urban planning, he strives to promote a sense of community and improve the areas he develops.
While many of the best developers devote their time and creative energies to huge creations, there is also a demand for reinvigorating neighborhoods within the context of the area’s current makeup.
Smith dedicates his energies to doing just this as co-founder and principal of Civic Enterprise (CE), a company committed to revitalizing emerging neighborhoods throughout Southern California.
“My work entails energizing neighborhoods,” Smith said. At CE, his efforts revolve around changing the development of a city.
The Maltman Bungalows project attests to the company’s successful realization of such goals. Smith and his partner at CE, Brian Albert, led efforts to restore this single-owner property from the 1920s and covert these units into seventeen individual housing units.
“We like to find solutions that will increase the urban quality of neighborhoods while lowering the bar of affordability,” Smith said.
In 2008, CE’s innovation was acknowledged when the Maltman Bungalows won the Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award and the Architectural Record Magazine “Record Houses” prize.
Parking, an issue that is especially pertinent in the city environment, signifies another area that CE strives to improve. The company implemented a community parking pilot project in Eagle Rock that makes more efficient use of existing spaces. Seven neighborhood restaurants have already opened under this program. CE is working on similar systems based on “parking credits” in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip and Melrose Avenue.
Under this system – one that has proven successful in Pasadena – businesses are given the option of paying a modest fee for an allocation of shared community parking instead of building, leasing or being excused from providing the mandated number of off-street parking spaces. Offering an area’s businesses this affordable option provides a practical option and encourages the growth of private industry.
“We are helping clean up the complex web of parking issues that plague neighborhoods and local businesses,” Smith noted.
Furthermore, Smith helped launch a shared public valet service in the West Third Street area of Los Angeles, an endeavor intended to help to increase the vitality of the commercial district and ease pressure on nearby neighbors. This system hopes to decrease congestion in residential areas and encourage development of walkable main street businesses while requiring little capital investment.
The company successfully meets its goal of finding innovative ways to reduce the costs of strategic development by engaging in positive partnerships with companies like AMCAL, a major regional builder of affordable and market-rate housing.
Smith’s involvement in the urban development sector is rooted in his admiration of what he calls “authentic cities,” places that encourage vibrancy and unity.
Although his immediate post-graduation position was as a bassist in a rock band, he also spent his time writing fan letters to respected civic leader Ira Yellin. His persistence was ultimately rewarded — Yellin became his mentor and, as Smith described, afforded him “a window into the world of urban development.”
While pursuing his master’s degree in real estate development at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, Smith continued to build his professional network.
“The people you meet at USC are irreplaceable,” Smith said. “SPPD has consistently been at the cutting edge of establishing real estate as a true professional practice.”
In addition, Smith’s advice to aspiring developers is threefold: “First, go get a graduate degree at SPPD. Second, reach out to people doing work you admire as much as they can stand you. Third, remember that people doing the most exciting work are constantly learning and forming new relationships.”
Through steadfast dedication to achieving his personal goal of coupling innovation with urban development, Smith has been able to leave a profound mark on the Southern California community and its residents.