Len Brown take note, don’t bash the ‘burbs

Len Brown wants us to live in apartments surrounding rail corridors. This isn’t new, it is the push all around the world including in California. Len Brown should take note of what happens when people don’t share your dream/nightmare:

For the past century, California, particularly Southern California, nurtured and invented the suburban dream. The sun-drenched single-family house, often with a pool, on a tree-lined street was an image lovingly projected by television and the movies. Places like the San Fernando Valley – actual home to the “Brady Bunch” and scores of other TV family sitcoms – became, in author Kevin Roderick’s phrase, “America’s suburb.”

This dream, even a modernized, multicultural version of it, now is passé to California’s governing class. Even in his first administration, 1975-83, Gov. Jerry Brown disdained suburbs, promoting a city-first, pro-density policy. His feelings hardened during eight years (1999-2007) as mayor of Oakland, a city that, since he left, has fallen on hard times, although it has been treated with some love recently in the blue media.

As state attorney general (2007-11) Brown took advantage of the state’s 2006 climate change legislation to move against suburban growth everywhere from Pleasanton to San Bernardino. Now back as governor, he can give full rein to his determination to limit access to the old California dream, curbing suburbia and forcing more of us and, even more so our successors, into small apartments nearby bus and rail stops. His successor as attorney general, former San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris, is, if anything, more theologically committed to curbing suburban growth

Same surname, same policies.

Sadly, much of the state’s development “community” has enlisted itself into the densification jihad. An influential recent report from the Urban Land Institute, for example, sees a “new California dream,” which predicts huge growth in high-density development based on underlying demographic trends – like shifts in housing tastes among millennials or empty-nesters rushing to downtown condos.

Yet it’s not enough for the planners, and their developer allies, to watch the market shift and take advantage of it. That would be both logical and justified. But the planning clerisy are not content to leave suburbia die; it must, instead, be cauterized and prevented, like some plague, from spreading.

Oh this all sounds oh so familiar…is Len Brown sharing resources with these muppets?

Ironically, it turns out that the “new California dream” is more widely shared by planners and rent-seeking developers than by the consuming public. During the past decade, when pro-density sentiment has supposedly building, some 80 percent of the new construction in the state was single-family, a rate slightly above the national average. Over time, Californians continue to buy single-family houses, mostly in the suburban and exurban periphery. They do it because they are like most Americans, roughly four of five of whom prefer single-family houses, preferably closer to work but, if that proves unaffordable, further out.

This includes both working-class and upper middle-class markets. The more-affluent, including many largely Asian immigrants, have been willing to buy high-priced homes closer to employment centers in places like Irvine or Cupertino, near San Jose. Meanwhile, the less-affluent of all ethnicities continue to move further out, to places like the Inland Empire or the further reaches of the Bay Area. These peripheral areas have continued to represent the vast majority of growth in both greater Los Angeles and around the Bay Area.

Again, very much like Auckland. Just take a drive out to Flat Bush and watch the houses being built before your eyes then being sold quicker than one would imagine.

More important still, forced densification, by denying single-family alternatives, is likely, and in some places, already is, spiking prices, which are up $85,000 in Silicon Valley in a year. This, over time, will force millennials, as they age, to look for other locales to meet their longtime aspirations. Generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, in their surveys, have found more than twice as many millennials prefer suburbs over dense cities as their “ideal place to live.” The vast majority of 18-to-34-year-olds do not want to spend their lives as apartment renters; a study by TD Bank found that 84 percent of them hope to own a home.

Much the same can be said of Asian immigrants, who are now driving much of the new-home sales, particularly in desirable places like Orange County or Silicon Valley. Nationwide, over the past decade, the Asian population in suburbs grew by almost 2.8 million, or 53 percent, while the Asian population of core cities grew 770,000, 28 percent. In greater Los Angeles, there are now three times as many Asian suburbanites as their inner-city counterparts.

Maybe I should have just done a find and replace…Auckland for Los Angeles.

Rather than seeking to destroy our suburbs, California leaders should expend their energy figuring out how to make them better. Rather than some retro-1900s urbanist vision, they need to embrace the multipolarity of our urban agglomerations. They could look to preserve open space nearby, when possible, or cultivate natural areas, parks, walking and biking trails that would appeal to families as well as to singles.

Instead of attempting to force employment into the center city, it would make more sense to expand home-based and dispersed work in order to cut down or eliminate commuting times. These moves would create both healthier suburbs and reduce carbon emissions without devastating the natural aspirations of most California families.

Len Brown, are you taking note…nothing you are doing has worked anywhere else and in fact is resisted in other “liveable cities”.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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