CA vs. The Suburbs: Planners, Smart Growth, and the Manhattan Delusion


"If you really believe that suburbs are going to die, then let them die, and let the market address the situation" says Joel Kotkin, Chapman University professor and urban planning specialist.

But letting the market work is far from ideal for California's regional planners and local politicians, who want almost 70 percent of new housing over the next 25 years to be multi-unit apartment-style dwelliings, despite the facts that more than half of Southern California households reside in a single-family home and that more people are leaving California than are coming in.

"In a great nation like ours, you can't let people do what they want. It has to be coordinated," says Hasan Ikhrata, the executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Ikhrata's group, which directs planning for the Southern California region via subsidies and contracting with big developers, foresees a future in which Southern California is dense, full of high-rise buildings, and connected by rail, much like New York City.

The problem is, LA isn't New York. No city but New York is New York, and attempts to force high-density, New York-style development onto areas that don't need it can result in terrible unintended consequences.

"Many people see a light rail and think the San Francisco trolley line," says Damien Goodmon, spokesman for the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. He lives in LA's historical black neighborhood Leimert Park and has seen the effects bad planning can have on established communities.

"You can have transit riders and still destroy a community," says Goodmon.

And the ultimate irony of the unending push for high-density planning in sprawling Southern California is that while, yes, Manhattan is denser than LA, if you zoom out a bit, LA-Long Beach-Anaheim is already the densest urban region in the United States. That happened without any sustained, conscious high-density housing development or state-of-the-art rail transit.

"One of the things that happens when you force this kind of high-density development is you destroy the very urban neighborhoods that retain the middle class," says Kotkin. "The neighborhoods have to fight this kind of guerilla-style."

Watch the Reason TV video above to learn more about the ideology, politics, and outcomes of modern urban planning.

About 6:30 minutes.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Sharif Matar, Paul Detrick and Weissmueller.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

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  1. "In a great nation like ours, you can't let people do what they want. It has to be coordinated,"

    That'd be under the powers granted to his agency in Amendment 311 of the Constitution?
    Or did he just open his yap and let stuff fall out? I'm pretty sure his speech needs to be 'coordinated'.

  2. The urban planner is the commissar of America.


  4. When someone with a thick foreign accent says "In a great nation like ours, you cannot let people do what they want, it must be coordinated", I'm tempted to ask,

    You know who else spoke with a foreign accent and didn't let people do what they wanted?

  5. In a great nation like ours, you can't let people do what they want.

    And today's "More Honest than We Intended to Be" award goes to ....

    1. Kind of scary when their mask slips and they say what they really think for once.

      1. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that since the presidential election, the mask is not just slipping, it is being taken off and thrown away.

        I get the feeling the Left is on the march.

        But I live in CA the state that formerly was the greatest place in the world to live.

        It is now a cesspool ringed by the homes of powerful politicians, their wealthy cronys and heads of the public employee unions.

  6. SCAG - sounds like a vinereal disease.

    "I caught a really bad case of the SCAG from that transvestite hooker. Luckily my doctor hooked me up with some anti-biotics."

  7. "If you really believe that suburbs are going to die, then let them die, and let the market address the situation"

    If you really believe suburbs are going to die, you should have round the clock supervision.

  8. I like the sound of this dude, looks good.

  9. Damien Goodman (re: 2:54-3:21) should made to testify at every single municipal transit meeting on the west coast.

    1. "And now, we'd like Damien Goodman to speak about how the subway must be stopped before it turns LA into an expensive socialist hellhole like NYC."

      "Uhh, no, actually I came to speak about how we want it built underground and we want a stop in our neighborhood."

      ..(awkward silence)..

  10. Multi-unit communes apartments + high-speed rail = utopia.

  11. Looking at (the organization represented by Damien Goodmon), it looks like they aren't against the subway per se - they just want it built below-ground:

    "About Crenshaw Subway Coalition
    We are a grassroots group of Crenshaw Blvd stakeholders, seeking a Crenshaw-LAX Line designed in the manner desired by the community: underground on Crenshaw Blvd with a Leimert Park Village subway station"

    From the video, you'd think they were fighting the subway that will take away everyone's freedom to drive, but from their website, it turns out that they are nothing but looting, mooching, subway advocates. Looks like they want their subway, and they want it underground, as if they were in New York City or something.


    "Tonya Anthony's family has owned and operated a hair salon on Crenshaw Boulevard since 1959. She was initially excited about the Crenshaw line. But once she learned that there would be no stop in Leimert Park, a few blocks from her shop."

    She wants a subway stop in her neighborhood?? When will the mooching end with this woman?? Buy a car already!

  13. I get a weird feeling from this video. It's almost..almost as if the spokesman of, Mr. Goodman, was quoted selectively to misrepresent his views.

  14. I don't get the defense of Urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is specifically the creation of fractional reserve banking, mortgage deductions, government housing programs, government run roads, subsidies to big box stores, zoning laws, over regulation of the rail industry, land use regulations, and subsidized mortgages. Urban sprawl was itself promoted by planners like Robert Moses. The bottom line is that neither urban sprawl or smart growth is good because both are products are government intervention. Also suburbanization of LA was happening before the automobile with pacific electric. Many of the communities were developed by PE the only difference is that now instead of railways free ways occupy the space. The city destroyed the PE system.

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