Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Urban sprawl in California

Example of American urban sprawl. Internet download.
The freeways' knot. Download from

Cars in the American freeways. Internet download.

By august 28th, 2008, LA Times published about a revolutionary bill that would reverse the increasing California urban sprawl. “The number of miles Californians drive is growing almost twice as fast as the state's population, as housing developments sprout farther and farther from commercial centers. Not only does this urban sprawl put upward pressure on gasoline prices, it creates freeway gridlock, worsens air pollution and makes fighting global warming next to impossible.” .. “The bill wouldn't eliminate suburbs, but it would provide more choices for people who are forced to live far from their workplaces because they can't afford a home in the city”. To reach these goals, planners would provide incentives to impose smart growth, it means to build houses with a bigger density, close to urban centers and public transportation corridors. In exchange, builders who construct projects closer to public transportation will be graced with lighter requirements for environmental studies.
There were concerns, as the cost of housing would be automatically increased, the Cities would lose the right to determine the use of its land, and there was fear that California would not grow, but the bill was ultimately supported by environmentalists, local governments, and builders.
Those identical condominiums can be built thanks to car culture. Though the gasoline prices have increased in the last years, a recent study found that 68 percent of Americans haven't altered their cars’ habits, and that only 7 percent use public transportation. The reason seems to be that Americans live further away from their schools, jobs, malls. But I can tell that there is not enough public transportation to produce a radical change. You do not have a car in California, you can’t move, or at least just travel in a few restricted areas.
The bill, aims to strengthen the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). This protects more than 850 parcels of federal land scattered across the American west from urban sprawl. But some groups are concerned by the exclusion of a New Hampshire-sized portion of the California Desert Conservation Area. Omitting this land would allow utilities to build power transmission lines and open it up to energy development.
A lot is said against urban sprawl and it won’t be easy to find a solution, though California lawmakers have tried for decades to keep sprawl under control. Up till now, my worst impression was at the 5 freeway, a few miles South from Silicon Valley, were a multitude of identical houses have been built, clearly to provide dwellings to many international employees. Because they are destined to temporary immigrants from India, China, Japon, Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, among other nations. It is difficult for me to understand, why planners accepted immense condominiums with repeating styles and patterns ad infinitum. I’m wondering, for example, how a Pakistani feels compared to a Chinese living in the same habitat, having as main distinction the apartment number. My conclusion, they all work with numbers, they are treated –in consequence- like numbers. Not like people with different back grounds, culture and habits.
As a moral, I’d like to bring up the subject of a short story I’ve read a few days ago. It is “Twice Around the Block”, by Lawrence Treat.
It is a mistery story, a man had the perfect alibi to kill his wife and stay with her lover, Velma, who was his neigbor. I did not enjoy the story because when Lawrence described the sprawled neighborhood with the identical houses, well, I saw it coming.
“He never could understand why a woman like Velma had landed in Sunny Hills, where even the small, neat houses were so monotonously alike that you hardly tell them apart”.
And at last…he was a mistaken assassin:
“Harry straightened up, and stared unbelievingly at his wife. A quick, hard lump seemed to rip at his stomach, and he grabbed the doorway for support –the doorway that was identical with Velma’s”.
Further readings:

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