Friday, January 7, 2011

A Tale of Two States Separated at Birth

The population of California in 2010 reached 37,254,000 souls. This is a 10% increase over its population in 2000 or about 4 million people. We are ranked 13th in national density with 239 citizens per square mile (it’s a big state and there's lots space between us – except of course where you live). The state is projected to have 42.2 million people in 2020 and 46.4 million in 2030 (government projections - take them as you will). If these new 9 million people were to form their own state it would rank as the tenth most populous in the nation.

Today the majority of Californians, in fact the far majority, live within 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean and in fact, more like 30 miles. This coastal population is almost 25.7 million people with the split at 8.1 million north and 17.6 million south, a two to one split. The state has 163.7 thousand square miles. The 30 mile band of coastal paradise may not total 11,000 square miles, less than 2% of the state’s area. California will grow over the next twenty years by almost ten million people and is projected to grow to fifty million by 2050, this growth equals the current population of Los Angeles and Orange Counties combined.

This missive isn’t about the differences between the north and the south, culturally they are so similar (outside of some snooty northern Californian’s opinions about LA), that the discussions about their potential separation are moot and in fact, humorous. The real and most tragic difference is the cultural, economic, and educational extremes between the coast and the rest of the state. Sure there are pockets of charm and financial strength in the rest of the state, but these are extremely small and survive on the largess of the coast. It’s now a story of east and west, the haves and have-nots, the self-appointed elites and the desperate, the disconnected illegal and the prosperous patrician.

This coastal band of counties and cities have built bulwarks around their communities and pulled legal shrouds over their collective heads and, as a result, forced development needed to supply the basics for this incoming generation of residents into the rest of the state. This has been the natural course of American growth in the latter part of the twentieth century, like it or not. Remember cities, with few exceptions, only plan for the future, they do not build. Their exposure is to paper and maps, not to wood and steel and the marketplace.

As I have noted before in other blogs, the coastal communities must, in fact, welcome more people into their communities – period. This must be through changes in underlying zoning and density, increased height limits (the maximum four story structure must be put to rest), expansion of roads and infrastructure while at the same time increasing efficiency and standardization. The marketplace and the strength of the economy will determine whether residential development is rental or ownership, this buy/rent relationship will always be in a state of flux. The real issue is the unit itself and where it is built.

I came across Victor Davis Hanson’s blog called Two Californias the other day which brought this home in a new and frightening way. I have planned and designed communities throughout California for the last thirty years and Mr. Hanson’s observations about the Central Valley and the coast strike close to the heart. I have worked in these Central Valley communities, planned their neighborhoods, and listened to many city councils - all desperate to improve their small bit of California. But now within the state the strength in the soul seems to be slipping, an acquiescence to fate, a palpable bitchiness, and an almost tribal fear resulting in paralysis is growing. Gangs are now moving into suburban areas, meth labs are found throughout the countryside, and a real dumbing down of the population during a time of a manic need for education. There is a need to grab on and hold tight – the Golden State needs a new sunrise.

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