By the LA Times’ resilience logic, we probably shouldn’t be building in Southern California at all

Ok, ok, ok before you scream at me, hear me out. Usual caveats: more housing units are important to California, etc, I don’t need you to explain Moar Supply to me.

I got kind of excited about the LA Times editorial posted up this morning because I thought the Times editorial board had finally begun to see some of the problems with basic “moar supply” line they always push. “California needs more homes, but in the right places.” Horray, I thought! They are going to point out that we should be emphasizing locations with good job access to existing transit! They are going to point out that we should be careful about how we go about changing places throughout south LA. They are…


It’s a discussion, worthy enough, of how we shouldn’t build sprawl, fires are bad, and we really shouldn’t be building in those locations prone to flood inland (like the high desert) and, well, climate change means the coast is off-limits (whee! Our smart growth machine now has thought of an excuse to avoid putting infill near rich coastal homeowners, yay us, so that we can go gobble up neighborhoods that aren’t those in the name of good planning; rich liberals can feel better in their NIMBYism). In order to build a resilient California, the only places to build are our cities, that’s all. It’s infill, my friends. Such a surprise from the Times.

They aren’t wrong, per se, and it’s good to see planning for resilience move into the mainstream thinking about urbanism so much that it makes a big daily op-ed page.

Of course, Los Angeles has always been a sin city among urbanists for a) not being New York and b) the cars and single family housing. Changing that last bit by adding more density is a good idea, but it doesn’t solve a really fundamental issue with resilience in my favorite city:

We haven’t got any water.

We never have had any water. The indigenous people throughout the US southwest knew how to live there without much water. Our answer has been to live here like we have water when we really don’t. Putting 17 million souls in a desert (the whole region) wasn’t a good idea, and while infill makes that better per capita, good-o, I’m not sure what we get from adding more people, even with less impact per person than if we continue our sprawly ways, leads to resilience when the entire urban system sits on a very, very serious environmental vulnerability.

This is not an excuse or a rationale for us to keep building on the outskirts. It’s a practical and theoretical question about trying to build solid superstructure of resilience atop a shaky house of cards. What do you do to plan for resilience in a place that was always dry and habitable turning into a place that is even dryer and where killing heatwaves have become multi-yearly events?

So California does need more housing; should it be going in the south at all, cities or otherwise? Granted the long-term changes of Southern California which now seem inevitable and immediate, we could argue that we don’t need housing in our cities in the south at all; we need housing in the northern part of the state (which we do) and that we should put more development focus on the places in the state nearer to Oregon than Mexico. Unfortunately, they hate us about as much as Oregonians do.

I honestly don’t know. There is a dour part of me that thinks we should be trying to guide people out of and away from LA before climate turns us all into refugees. Americans may be much closer than they think to finding out what it means to be in desperate need and to see people turn away.

All this sucks.

Happy Hanukkah.