Where in Southern California Could We Fit New Suburbs? December 10, 2014

People like Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox have argued, to some extent rightly, that the majority of Americans prefer a suburban environment; and even the younger Millennial generation, willing to live in more urban places during their single and cohabiting years, hope to raise their children in a more suburban environment.  Some have argued, in this vein, against trying to densify places like Hollywood further.  I am not sure what this has to do with anything.

I don’t support efforts to forbid new suburbs and compel people to live in density, but you run into one little problem trying to find place to put new suburbs in Southern California; most of the landscape is already taken up, or is in mountainous places which are better off preserved rather than further terraced.  We can look first to the intermontane portions of the Inland Empire, where stretches of unurbanized land run north from Temecula through Winchester, past Hemet and Moreno Valley to the outskirts of Redlands.  We can also look to the so-called High Desert, the high plain north of the mountains, where some suburbs like Lancaster and Victorville, and exurbs like Phelan, already exist, but space for a million at least exists between them and California City, Boron, Kramer, Randsburg, and Barstow.  So if we make good use of areas like this, we have not run out of space by any means.

But we do have a couple of problems.  First, as people from Peter Drucker [Post-Capitalist Society] to Tyler Cowen [Average Is Over:  Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation] have informed us, companies are going to be more and more oriented around the talented few of their workers rather than the mass.  And the talented few will always be able to afford the coastal sector and the businesses will either stay with them, or jump right over Inland California and leave the state altogether.  [It’s the Inland Californians that really have the most at stake with tax and regulatory reform in this state.]  So the jobs will not follow, and the High Desertites will continue to face horrendous commutes.

The other one is one not as much talked about on the urbanist websites; that is water.  Even on large lot developments, the lawn is going to be a thing of the past, unless you like Astroturf.  [I look forward to the day when Astroturf is available in a variety of bright colors and not just green.]  Dirt-golf, or croquet, may become the sport of business people.  And is it rumored that chamber pots are the latest hip thing selling at Anthropologie and Crate and Barrel this year?  Seriously, we have to find some sanitary way of carrying off our toilet products that doesn’t involve water.  Desalinization will increase; we could solve the problem of rising ocean levels by merely drinking the ocean!  But this is not cheap; the price of water will have to rise. We all look carefully at the price of gasoline; but we are finding oil.  The price of water, not the price of gasoline or land, may be the next hot issue; people will flee eastward looking for ‘affordable water,’ and they will not stop in Arizona this time; they may have to go to Louisiana!  There, they have enough water in the air [otherwise known as humidity] that they can probably harvest the air for water.

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