society

In Southern California, it takes an assortment of villages

by Joel Kotkin & Charlie Stephens

Among urban historians, Southern California has often had a poor reputation, perennially seen as “anti-cities” or “19 suburbs in search of a metropolis.” The great urban thinker Jane Jacobs wrote off our region as “a vast blind-eyed reservation.”

The Pavlovian response from many local planners, developers and politicians is to respond to this criticism by trying to repeal our own geography. Los Angeles’ leaders, for example, see themselves as creating the new sunbelt role model, built around huge investments Downtown and in an expensive, albeit underused, subway and light-rail network.

Yet the notion of turning Southern California into a dense, New York hybrid makes very little sense. Nor has it done much for the regional economy, certainly in Los Angeles. The City of Angels thrived during its period of development into a multipolar region; in the 21st century, as Downtown has gained a few thousand hipsters, the rest of the city has lagged economically while population and job growth – including in tech – has been more robust in the surrounding counties of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Building off Strength

Southern California, even before the advent of the freeways, developed along the lines of an “archipelago of villages.” Even Downtown Los Angeles, the one legitimate urban core in the region, lost its central relevance by the 1930s and, despite all its self-promotion, employs close to the smallest share – well short of 3 percent – of the regional workforce of any large region in the country.

In contrast, the two fastest-growing areas in Southern California – the Inland Empire and Orange County – are arguably the largest regions in the country without a real downtown. Rather than a negation of urbanity, as some suggest, these areas are nurturing an expansive archipelago of smaller hubs, each serving distinct geographies, populations, tastes and purposes, and constitute the building blocks for Southern California’s urban future.

The advantages of such districts are obvious. They allow people to live as most prefer, in single-family homes, lower-density townhouses or apartments, while having easy access to a walking environment. In many cases, most notably Irvine, there is employment nearby, leading to very short commutes on average. This multipolarity is essentially baked into the Southern California cake; it cannot be transformed without massive economic disruption, and enormous expenditures on transit have so far done little to reduce gridlock or spur broad economic growth.

see full article at ocregister.com