Today’s Orange County: Not Right Wing—and Kinda Hip

What comes to mind when you think about Orange County? Probably, images of lascivious housewives and blonde surfers. And certainly, at least if you know your political history, crazed right-wing activists, riding around with anti-UN slogans on their bumpers in this county that served as a crucial birthplace of modern movement conservatism in the 1950s.

Yet today, Orange County—or the OC, as locals call it—is becoming a very different place. Today close to half the population of this 3-million person region south of Los Angeles are minorities, primarily Latino and Asian, and the county’s future belongs largely to them.

These days you color the OC both ethnically diverse and politically purplish. TheRepublican share of the electorate has dropped from 55 percent in 1990 to under 40 percent today. Two of the seven people who represent the area in Congress are Latino, and a third is of Middle Eastern descent. Four of the 10 people the county sends to Sacramento are minorities, three Asians and one Hispanic. Asians, now 20 percent of the local population, represent the majority on the county Board of Supervisors. In 2012 Mitt Romney took the county with 53 percent of the vote; this year it may be far closer than that.

The cultural landscape is also changing. What was historically a land of hamburger dives (we still have some) and little Mexican restaurants (we have many) is now home to some of Southern California’s best restaurants—including two on the top 30 list ofLos Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold. The OC is also home to one of the country’s leading venues for new plays, South Coast Repertory. Alongside the ubiquitous malls have arisen some of the nation’s most innovative urban environments, some of them revived small town main streets, from Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market to Orange to Laguna Beach and Fullerton.

When urbanists talk about the future, they usually imagine an environment of dense buildings, connected by train transit and highly centralized workplaces. Yet the bulk of all the nation’s economic and population growth takes place in “post-suburbia,” a term first applied to the OC. Post-suburbia, noted two urban scholars in 1991, reflects a “decentralized, multi-centered area” that puts “into question the mainstream urbanist’s concept of central-city dominance.”

This new geography of urbanity—far more than the much-discussed recovery of the urban core—dominates our metropolitan life; since 2000 over 80 percent of all metropolitan area jobs and population have remained outside the urban core. Post-suburbia predominates among our most demographically and economically vital regions, including STEM-intensive regions such as Silicon Valley, the northern reaches of Dallas, the western suburbs of Houston, Johnson County west of Kansas City or virtually anything around Raleigh or Austin. Orange County’s STEM sector (PDF) has expanded at twice the rate of L.A. County, despite all the considerable hype about the emergence of “Silicon Beach.”

See the original post at The Daily Beast