am one of a vanishing breed—a native Californian raised in
In the mid-1950s,
Some of my earliest
childhood memories include the Sunday drive from our
The traffic-free trip took us through orange groves until we pulled up at Granddad’s isolated ranch, long ago paved over.
Several factors contributed
Jet travel made it easy for
easterners to visit the
But by the mid-1960s,
damaging demographic changes came to
Today, my hometown of
the five years since Census 2000, nearly one million of those 10 million people
Over 40 percent of
What happens to all those
people? Where do they live? Increasingly, they feed sprawl by moving to the
outlying areas north and east of
In their 2000 report Sprawl in California, NumbersUSA.com Executive Director Roy Beck and environmentalist Leon Kolankiewicz found that
In most urbanized areas,
Thus, one could argue
correctly that the average Californian now consumes land in an increasingly
environmentally responsible way. But each year there are so many more Californians (nearly 600,000 per annum)
that sprawl marched ever on regardless of decreasing per capita land
Put succinctly, the volatile growth of
Don’t be decei-ved by the relatively small percentages; those represent huge, unsustainable increases.
Expanding the census review
to include the top twenty-five largest cities,
Despite those gloomy statistics some Californians, obviously with their heads firmly wedged in the sand, continue to insist that “ Smart Growth” is the answer to accommodating the state’s population pressures.
But the Smart Growth concept—that sprawl induced housing developments and the environmental degradation that followed could be alleviated by building upward instead of outward—has always offensive to the enlightened among us.
We know that the unabated
population increases, now approaching 300 million
On the rare occasion someone suggest to me that Smart Growth represents the future, I ask them to point to one place where it has succeeded.
Whether development takes the form of sprawl by building on the fringes of our communities or landfill by building inside the city limits, the net result is the same: our quality of life erodes, our sense of place vanishes and our hope of finding a small plot of land somewhere in this vast nation to retire to grows dimmer by the day.
The American dream, wrong-minded though it is, includes McMansions and SUVs (maybe two of them) and living in small, self-contained housing enclaves and riding a bicycle to work.
Interestingly, Smart Growth
vs. Sprawl may play a pivotal role in the 2006
Democratic challenger and state treasurer Phil Angelides is a long-time advocate of smart growth while Schwarzenegger is in the developer’s pocket. Real estate developers have donated more to Schwarzenegger than any other special interest groups.
On his website, Angelides promises, if elected, to push for new laws requiring local governments to develop “ meaningful regional growth plans” and targets. Cities and counties that meet these targets—protecting farmland, matching houses with job growth—would be eligible for financial incentives from the state.
Angelides understands the
challengers that lie ahead: over the next 40 years,
Where will they live? How
will they travel? Will they find homes in transit-friendly villages, as
Angelides hopes? Or will they live in sprawling suburbs, built in deepest of
deep floodplains in the
Addressing the Congress for
the New Urbanism, a group that advocates for cities to be planned more on the
European model than on the
We are a state of 26 million cars, SUVs and trucks that travel 314 billion miles a year and burn 15 billion gallons of gasoline. We are on a path, over the next 20 years, to becoming a state of 36 million cars that travel 446 billion miles and burn nearly 18 billion gallons.
We must choose not to take that path. We must choose to grow smarter, to give Californians more transportation options, the choice to drive fewer miles and burn—and pay for—fewer gallons of fossil fuels.
But can Angelides be counted on? What he chooses to talk less about is his sixteen-year career pre-political career as a real-estate speculator and land developer.
The centerpiece of Angelides
development career is Laguna West, south of
But Angelides is the only one who sees it that way. The Sacramento Bee and several urban experts called Laguna West “a catastrophic disaster.”
If someone as wealthy and as
committed to Smart Growth as Angelides is cannot make it work in
rare occasion someone suggest to me that Smart Growth has a chance, I ask them
to point to one place in
Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, Director
of Environment, Energy and National Resources at the National Governor and
author of the new book,
Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health
and Money, told me this when I asked him about why Smart Growth has failed
huge contribution of illegal immigration to our high growth is a major problem;
it definitely contributes to driving the housing market to continue using its
familiar and profitable business model; immigrants first flock to urban
locations, but as soon as possible they too buy into the phony American dream
concept and seek a home in sprawl land, with the big difference that multiple
or very extended families occupy the sprawl homes with a large number of
occupants (especially school age children) and large number of cars.
The sad truth is that over recent decades
there has been no will in this country to seriously examine our high population
growth (the equivalent of adding a
If people would contemplate the additional 100 million people coming our way in the not too distant future, and our current gluttonous land use, then they might become more alarmed.
In a word, the problem is population. If it can be stabilized through sensible immigration policies, we have a chance to level off growth.
But if we continue on our suicidal immigration path, whether the inevitable development takes the form of sprawl by building on a city’s periphery or landfill by building inside the city limits, the net result will be the same: an eroded quality of life and a vanished sense of place.