Planning a City within a City

Planning a City within a City


On December 11, Los Angeles City Planning’s External Affairs Division visited NBCUniversal to learn more about the planning of Universal City, which includes the property’s movie studio, theme park, adjoining office buildings, and open spaces. The presentation focused on effective aspects of NBCUniversal’s community outreach strategy. Among the practices the company has used to communicate with neighborhood councils and residents of the surrounding area are quarterly meetings with stakeholders, memorable messaging that signals changes to come, and fun activities that keep community members informed and engaged. 

Universal City currently occupies 391 acres, most of which are located in unincorporated Los Angeles County, but about 15% of the property is located in the City of Los Angeles. It neighbors the local communities of Toluca Lake, Studio City, and Hollywood, and is bound to the north by the L.A. River. It is divided into four different districts: business, film studio, entertainment, back lot, with 10,000 employees coming to Universal City to work daily.

The day began with a presentation from Joy Forbes, NBCUniversal’s Vice President of Global Real Estate Planning. She shared background on Universal City’s master plan, called the Evolution Plan, which was approved in February 2013. This plan guides 25 years of Universal City’s development for the property. 

In creating the Evolution Plan, NBCUniversal developed a community and civic outreach strategy, which helped the team learn creative ways to engage the local community. During the company’s outreach phases, the team met with various project stakeholders such as local Neighborhood Councils, government officials, surrounding residents, and internal stakeholders like executives, employees, and contractors.

In the process of creating this master plan, NBCUniversal worked with City Planning and other departments extensively. A portion of Universal City falls within Los Angeles’s boundaries, triggering final Evolution Plan approval from the City and City Council. 

Since the Evolution Plan was approved, NBCUniversal has completed several projects, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, six new sound stages, the Tom Brokaw News Center, and has invested millions in transportation improvements. 

They are currently in a stage where they are developing the front lot, which consists of multiple office buildings, parking structures, and employee engagement space. The new office space and employee multipurpose building should be completed in the next few years.

This project has placed a focus on developing the surrounding landscape and improving tree coverage throughout the property. NBCUniversal helped bring the Lorax (Dr. Seuss’s fictional character who ‘speaks for the trees’) to life in film, and they are doing very well by him in the real world. For every tree they remove from certain parts of the development, they will plant four in its place in a “Tree Garden”, bringing additional foliage and tree coverage to the property. 

The knowledge exchange also included remarks from Tracy Cohen, Senior VP of Corporate Communications. She shared the communications strategies the company launched to ensure a smooth and efficient launch of their new projects and construction on site. In this case, one of their most important stakeholders are their staff, who are affected by the new development the most. Tracy explained the strategies they developed to engage employees so that they were aware of happenings and become the best ambassadors for the project. 

She also described NBCUniversal’s efforts to engage the community by offering neighbors opportunities to experience new developments in Universal City before the general public. By understanding different audiences’ needs, she said, they were able to develop specific strategies to reach those affected by certain projects. 

Following the presentations the team took a site tour of the property and the property’s current development projects, reviewed the Evolution Plan, and received first looks of renderings and models of current and future development. 

The day ended with City Planning staff sharing information about the work of the External Affairs Division. They discussed the functions of the Community Liaison program, which assigns particular regions of Los Angeles to dedicated staff members, and the Communications Unit, which fields requests from the media, publishes newsletters and reports about City Planning’s work program, and supports targeted community outreach efforts for each geography and policy initiative in the City.