Orange County Business Journal

Future-Proofing Public Spaces


10/30/17 – OC Business Journal: Future-Proofing Our Public Spaces
Yehudi Gaffen, CEO, Gafcon Inc.

When I moved to Southern California from South Africa in the 1970s, what could have been a culture shock instead felt like a homecoming. I fell in love with the California coastline that reminded me so much of my roots in one of the most scenic coasts in the world. Since I moved to the U.S. and started my firm, Gafcon, I am still focused on oceanfront projects and feel a deep responsibility for how we develop our precious shorelines.

My thesis at Cape Town University was to work on a solution for a mixed-use vision for the city’s historic working waterfront. The project was an inspiration that stayed with me throughout my career. As my work at Gafcon has grown to involve major coastal assets, I notice an alarming trend on how we plan and build places where we live, work and play.

Consider how you use your phone today: checking email, photos, ridesharing and viewing the world through the tech-tinged lens of augmented reality. A decade ago, these were gems of an idea, and 50 years ago they were science fiction.

Contrast this with public spaces: The process of building things hasn’t changed very much over the past century. Significant emerging trends will take the design, construction and operations of physical assets into the twenty first century just as mobile devices have done over the past decade.

Orange County businesses and residents must be advocates for the best use of our spaces. I have seen the importance Orange County places on investing in our future. Gafcon’s work with the Orange Unified School District tasked us with finding savings of cost and time as the district implements its $288 million bond programof new buildings and renovations at the district’s four high schools.

Gafcon saw the region’s focus on teaching the leaders of tomorrow while leading a preconstruction engineering process as part of the classroom renovation effort at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine. In Santa Ana, we are providing construction management services to support the Magnolia Science Academy in building for new recreational space and expanded outdoor space. The region is investing in building the minds of our children and it must now renew its focus to provide young people with the tools to make their communities thrive.

Agencies that oversee California’s waterfront assets need to have a Triple Bottom Line: sustainability, public education and economic viability. At Gafcon, we have seen this promise delivered on at waterfront projects in prime public spaces: the North Embarcadero in San Diego, the Los Angeles Waterfront, San Francisco’s China Basin Landing and San Diego’s Central Embarcadero.

Today Dana Point is pursuing a major harbor revitalization. This project will be a bellwether for future coastal investment. The site is beloved by locals and tourists and presents tremendous opportunities for retail, hospitality and coastal beauty, in addition to its marina. California’s sustained economic expansion has many coastal communities looking at the next phase of redevelopment along their waterfront. It is important to approach these opportunities with a vision for more than the status quo.

Integrating cutting-edge Building Information Modeling (BIM) allows streamlining project management while saving time and reducing costs. Integrating BIM into our project management processes has reduced project time and accelerated project closeout timelines by two months on average, a good savings for taxpayers.

New modeling technology also provides robust outreach opportunities to involve the public in immersive digital representations of building plans. Why look at a printed flyer or static website when you can explore a planned development in full 3D with a VR headset?

Beyond expediting processes, technology empowers designers, contractors and owners to find new cost savings through efficiencies from the implementation of Virtual Design and Construction technologies.

That approach was taken in San Diego, where the City developed a partnership between our firm, universities and technology companies to integrate Smart Cities planning into public projects.

The education, research and technology sectors of the Orange County market should be encouraged to unite behind these forward-thinking efforts. The region is rich with the intellectual and financial assets. Now is the time for public leaders to unite these groups behind a common cause.

Decisions made today will guide how we address issues like traffic congestion, parking, energy, security, pollution, sea level rise, noise, etc. Planning for the challenges starts now.

Orange County has incredible physical assets, but how many are fully adapting the technology of today? Our communities should be built to be durable, environmentally-friendly, flexible in form and adaptable to innovations undreamed of today.

The cities of tomorrow are being planned today. Will they be future proof?

Editor’s Note: Gaffen is the CEO of Gafcon, Inc., a construction project-management firm based in San Diego. He has more than 35 years of construction and program management experience and holds a bachelor’s degree in Construction Management from the University of Cape Town-South Africa. In addition to the aforementioned OC projects, Gafcon provided design-management services for Orange County Great Park.

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