Prior to the 1950’s, the urban core of LA, centered around Downtown, was relatively small. It was also much more compact and vibrant, however, than it became in the second half of the 20th Century. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in urbanism and walkable communities, and LA’s downtown, historic core is now revitalized and booming with new highrise construction.
While LA is just in the early stages of creating an integrated metro system, the region once had a vibrant street car system connecting the urban core with extensions to street car suburbs such as Santa Monica and Pasadena.
According to Curbed LA : “in 1945, a sinister corporation called National City Lines took over the thriving Los Angeles Railway, which served most of the sprawling region. Then, over the course of the next two decades, LA’s extensive streetcar network was eliminated and the iconic Red Cars that Judge Doom mentions were replaced with shiny new buses.
The principal investors in National City Lines? None other than General Motors (a prominent bus maker as well as an automobile retailer), Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), and Phillips Petroleum.”
This conspiracy is depicted in the iconic 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
This led LA’s urban core, including downtown, to become a blighted wasteland, and increased the demand for new car oriented suburbs where there were once grasslands and farmland.
Leading up to the rise of suburbia William Mulholland secured water rights for LA which Inspired the film ‘Chinatown and built up The San Fernando Valley. The San Fernando Valley subsequently became the idealized version of the California dream, attracting the middle class in droves. Matthew Pegas mentions in his San Fernando Valley Photo Essay that “The San Fernando Valley was known as ‘America’s Suburb’ (think the original Karate Kid and Fast Times at Ridgemont High)” and was based on the idea of owning a single family home in the suburbs.
These new auto oriented suburbs, such as the San Fernando Valley, were much more spread out and less pedestrian friendly than the older Street Car suburbs such as Pasadena. However, they provided a high quality of life for the middle class.
Since then, The Valley has changed drastically as The LA Weekly reported on Middle-Class Flight From San Fernando Valley: “in 1970, 60 percent of Valley families could afford an average house and college costs, far outpacing other urban areas recently evaluated for the same era by the Pew Research Center. Even before the recession hit in late 2007, the Valley had lost a huge swath of middle-class workers, with just 43 percent of families by 2006 earning $50,000 to $149,000 — the identical income group, corrected for inflation, that made up 60 percent in 1970.”
The article also quotes California State University Northridge geography professor Eugene Turner, “It means exactly what we think it means: a growing population that’s not in that great middle class.”
Turner says that “the exodus accelerated in the 1990s as skilled, private-manufacturing jobs were replaced in L.A. with low-paying and increasingly unskilled work.”
The idea of building single family home suburbs made sense in the 1950’s when there was a baby boom and land seemed plentiful. However, the combination of the demographic transformation of the Valley, loss of high skilled jobs, and the limited supply of new housing has led to more sprawl in far out exurbs such as Santa Clarita.
And just as the middle class in the San Fernando Valley was replaced by lower income immigrants from Latin America Steve Sailer points out that the San Gabriel Valley has transformed into an Asian Ethnoburb.
Up in the Bay Area, in much more affluent communities, the Wall Street Journal reports on the The New White Flight in the Silicon Valley community of Cupertino in response to Asian immigration. And according to the 2010 US Census the Asian population of the East Bay Suburbs of Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon more than doubled, from 25,232 to 65,575.
As with much of the Bay Area Asians have also become the dominant demographic in affluent Irvine in Orange County. Irvine, as with the rest of Orange County, has traditionally been a White Republican stronghold but in the last election it voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump.
Mentioned in an article for the blog Urbanize LA by Jason Lopata on the origins of the NIMBY movement, urban critic Mike Davis, has argued that “although many of the movement’s concerns about declining environmental quality, traffic and density were entirely legitimate, ‘slow growth’ also had ugly racial and ethnic overtones of an Anglo gerontocracy selfishly defending its privileges against the job and housing needs of young Latino and Asian populations.”
The original NIMBY movement in LA in the 70’s and 80’s was not just a reaction to increasing density and aesthetic changes, it was also a reaction by the traditional White Middle Class to the demographic transformation of California.
For example, if one listens to AM Conservative talk radio in Southern California, whose audience is largely made up of older middle class Whites, there is strong opposition to mass transit, density, and hysteria about Agenda 21. Their stance against urbanism, while reactionary and misguided, is an implicit reaction to demographic changes.
Architectural aesthetics are heavily connected to demographic changes and tensions. One example is historic preservationist opposition to ‘Persian Palaces’ built by wealthy Iranian immigrants on the Westside of LA which stand in contrast to Western aesthetics such as Spanish Colonial, English Tudor, and Mid Century Modern.
While I reject crude American chauvinism, my primary critique of immigrant’s aesthetic preferences is more a reflection on what LA is world renown for: crass materialism. This tends to attract people from all over the world who want to make a fortune rather than implement grande aesthetic visions and why McMansions are prolific in wealthy Iranian and Asian Ethnoburbs.
However, Tehran, Iran’s Niavaran Residential Complex provides a model for building functional and aesthetically pleasing communities. Niavaran was “designed by Iranian architect Mohammad Reza Nikbakht, Niavaran Residential Complex is located in Tehrans, Shemiran area. Shemiran, being spread along Alborz Mountains slope, used to be a summer resort of Tehran until 40 years ago due to its numerous gardens. Unfortunately, many gardens with old trees in the area have been destroyed by urbanization projects over the last century.
The parcel of land allocated to this project accommodates a number of these old trees too, whose conservation has been considered as the first priority in designing this complex. Mohammed Reza Nikbahkt took a different approach by building around existing trees in order to preserve them.”
While opposition to demographic change and concerns for architectural aesthetics are totally rational, the problem with White NIMBY’s is that, to quote the infamous 14 words: “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The reality is these White Boomer NIMBY’s might be thinking about the immediate impacts of development and demographic changes on their neighborhoods but they are not taking into account a future for their children and grandchildren.
Many of these middle and upper income single family home neighborhoods are rapidly ageing. Homes are being bought up by wealthy immigrants, and White Millennials in Urban California are either living at home to save on rent, leaving California altogether, or, if they have a decent job or a trust fund, become childless urban Hipsters.
While Conservative NIMBY’s have failed to provide a solution, at least they are somewhat ideologically consistent. The same cannot be said of the other major driving force behind the NIMBY movement: Wealthy Liberals who hypocritically promote mass immigration.
A NIMBY Ballot Measure in LA was supported by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, for example and Open Borders advocate Rob Reiner opposed a Whole Foods on a vacant lot in Malibu.
Writing for the Unz Review, Steve Sailer bemoans the hypocrisy of the ultra-exclusive city Malibu declaring itself a sanctuary city, and recalls the Reiner incident in particular: “It’s not that Rob is against Whole Foods, it’s the principle of the thing: the idea that Malibu might change, that more people might come to Malibu, that people from the … San Fernando Valley might not just come to use the beach but would stay.”
The combination of restricting the housing supply while allowing for massive levels of immigration has only exacerbated the housing crisis, driving out the middle class and contributing to further sprawl.
In contrast with middle class conservatives who are fleeing to Red State suburbs and Alt-Righters who are dreaming of an Ethnostate, these White Liberals are ironically the ones actively engaging in White Colonization or a Reconquista of former white communities to the protest of many left-wing, anti-gentrification activists.
There is another aspect of implicit Whiteness in the sense that these communities emulate a European aesthetic with sidewalk cafes in rejection of the bland American suburban identity.
Due to declining birthrates and White flight out of California the number of White people for gentrification may be limited. Besides the Asian Ethnoburb another growing trend is Asian gentrifying working class Latino communities.
Examples of this include Asians moving into the historically Latino El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley and the luxury high-rise boom in Koreatown which is now spreading into lower income Central American communities nearby.
While the dissident right has plenty of legitimate concerns about massive Asian immigration these are areas that were long abandoned by Whites, and a place like Koreatown are now being transformed from a once crime ridden impoverished area into a safe, walkable, urban community.
And unlike the White Hipster communities in Echo Park and Silver Lake, which primarily caters to young adults from upper income backgrounds, the Korean community is economically diverse and has amenities that cater to people of all ages including families. As European Americans increasingly become a minority and no longer have the luxury of White Flight they must look to communities like Koreatown for inspiration.
This debunks the pretense put out by sprawl apologists such as Joel Kotkin that suburbs are necessary for a vibrant middle class. The past shows us that prior to social changes, such as mass immigration and school busing, LA, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Chicago all had vibrant urban middle classes that lived in apartments and row houses.
Besides the many problems that make it difficult for the middle class to thrive in cities, Americans, as well as, new immigrants moving to Ethnoburbs have bought into this notion that the American dream is owning a single family home in the suburbs.
Certainly LA’s Koreatown pales in comparison to futuristic cities being built in Korea. Giovanni Dannato talked about his experience living in a self-contained highrise complex in Korea which has a thriving middle class and sense of community.
“In many city centers people live in apartment buildings where the bottom floor is all businesses. Within a block of someone’s flat, they can stop by the pharmacy for aspirin and by the bakery for a loaf of bread. They get a little bit of exercise, and come into constant contact with strangers who live near them. The same activities that are annoying chores in the suburbs can be part of a pleasant daily routine where residences are organized around human needs.
Clearly, the village structure where commerce and residences coexist in a walkable core should arise as the new unit of urban organization, even as we get further from city centers. That way, they aren’t as far and they are compact enough that public transport remains practical.”
E. Michael Jones’ The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal As Ethnic Cleansing is about how the elites destroyed urban working class White ethnic communities, replacing them with public housing for African Americans, driving the original inhabitants out into suburbia and diluting the political influence of the labor movement.
However, we can learn from some of these past urban renewal projects, despite their flaws, about how to revitalize the run down inner ring suburbs, like much of the San Fernando Valley, and bring back the middle class that has fled out to the distant suburbs.
To make way for new middle class communities, housing also has to be provided for lower income residences who now occupy those areas.
Highrise Public housing has gone out of vogue, with many demolished such as the notorious Cabrini–Green in Chicago, and the view of many leftist as well as mainstream conservatives who constantly like to say that “liberals are the real racist” is that the massive highrise public housing projects were motivated by racial segregationist views.
While these highrise public housing projects have their flaws now that many have been demolished many of their former residents are moving out into Section 8 Housing, turning former middle class suburbs into ghettos. Ferguson, Missouri, which is notorious for it’s race riots, is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
There might be some humanitarian motivations for this but a major factor is that the urban Liberal Elites want to remove their “undesirable” populations with the added bonus of changing the demographics of White Middle Class Conservative leaning suburbs.
It is important to make sure that the under classes are taken care of by providing them with shelter, food and healthcare, and we can learn from the mistakes of the past, but low density public housing or section 8 housing in the suburbs allows for the under class to occupy a larger swath of real estate and remain demographically dominant squeezing out the middle class.
Once the run down inner-ring suburbs are ready to be retro-fitted the potentials are boundless.
One of the most grandiose urban renewal projects that never came into fruition was Le Corbusier’s Plan For Paris. Ironically, Le Corbusier also influenced the public housing projects with his towers in the parks concept. Le Corbusier’s plan would have destroyed the historic core of Paris but it puts out a functional and aesthetically pleasing vision that can be used for revitalizing inner-ring suburbs.
The only major flaw with Le Corbusier’s vision is that it relies heavily on highways and the towers are too far spread out. Ideally the towers would be clustered together connected by walkways, sky-bridges, and external glass elevators and within close proximity to communal amenities such as shopping complexes, schools, recreation, and parks.
There must be a diversity in the degree of density when retrofitting suburbs. Le Corbusier’s higher density vision is ideal for Retrofitting the run down inner-ring suburbs, but sprawling middle classing suburbs can start with Ellen Dunham-Jones’ New Urbanist concept of Retrofitting Suburban commercial corridors into mixed-use, walkable developments where people live above where they shop.
Wealthier suburbs such as Calabasas near the San Fernando Valley and San Ramon and Blackhawk in the Bay Area, while less aesthetically pleasing than places referenced in my article Retrofitting Aesthetically Pleasing Suburb such as Lamorinda and Danville ,which are also in the Bay Area, can gradually replace their McMansions and gated communities with the model mentioned in my article of walkable villages, communal spaces, and reclaimed wilderness.
One great model of creating urban green space is Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay which “is a nature park spanning 101 hectares (250 acres) of reclaimed land in the Central Region of Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden (in Marina South, Bay East Garden (in Marina East) and Bay Central Garden (in Downtown Core and Kallang). The largest of the gardens is Bay South Garden at 54 hectares (130 acres).
Gardens by the Bay is part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”. The stated aim is to raise the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city.”
For a city like LA, which is very park poor, golf courses consume vast expanses of valuable real estate from affluent suburbia to LA’s urban core. One example is the Los Angeles Country Club which occupies a vast expanse of 325 acres bordering Beverly Hills and Century City. While some Historic Structures can be preserved, the country club has the potential to become LA’s version of Central Park.
In the film Falling Down, Michael Douglas’ character Bill Foster while trespassing on a Golf Course tells off an arrogant geriatric golfer “It’s not enough you have all these beautiful acres fenced in for your little game, but you gotta kill me with a golf ball?! You should have children playing here, you should have families having picnics, you should have a goddamn petting zoo! But instead you’ve got these stupid electric carts for you old men with nothing better to do!”
The overall theme of the film is the dispossession of the traditional White Middle Class in LA which is relevant to the concept of the Alt-Center in the sense that it mixes traditional middle class white populism with some left wing populist elements. The character’s preference seems to be traditional middle class suburbia, but take into account that the film is set in the early 90’s, before LA’s urban renewal.
Besides equating urbanism with demographic changes, the other major factor that conservatives, whose focus on “family values” have a strong dislike for, are cities. They view cities as being family unfriendly.
However, it is not cities themselves that are the problem but the policies that make cities difficult to raise a family, especially on a middle class income.
There is also the problem of cities becoming IQ Shredders for both the middle and upper classes. In Singapore which is a high IQ, high density City State, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew commented on the nation abysmally low birth rate of 1.2. And that’s taking into account Singapore is based on more nationalistic policies while in San Francisco the share of children has fallen to 13 percent.
One of the main factors that the middle and upper middle classes have fled cities for suburbia or decide to have smaller families is the public schools have been ruined by busing. While the middle class is pushed out completely the upper middle class is economically strained sending their kids to exclusive private schools they can hardly afford.
The ideal solution is not just to end school busing but to break up major urban school districts or have schools within self-contained urban communities.
Another issue is the number of bedrooms in new apartment and condominium developments in urban areas. Housing in urban areas are disproportionately one or two bedroom units even in higher income developments making it difficult to form a family. The solution is to require or offer economic incentives for real estate developers to build units with several bedrooms in exchange for allowing higher heights and density.
In this article and on my podcast The YIMBY Movement & The Alt-Center, I discuss how the Millennial oriented YIMBY Movement is very pro-immigration while the NIMBY’s include both pro-immigration liberal elites as well as conservative reactionaries.
One solution that could fix the housing shortage and build a new political coalition is to both limit immigration and dramatically increase the housing supply which will both provide housing for middle class and upper middle class millennials and once again make California a viable place for people from other parts of the Nation to move to.
We are presented with the nostalgia for the past of White Middle Class Suburbia contrasted with a future that is a Third World mode of urbanism where an Elite living in Penthouses and gated communities in the hills look down upon the slums.
There is a third way, and a growing demographic for it as mentioned in Matthew Pegas’s Alt-Of-Center Guide To Aesthetic Warfare. Here Pegas points out that there is an “inevitable result of urban, middle to upper class “ SWPL’s” becoming racially aware.” He goes on to explain: “with the baked-in-the-cake inevitability of white-minority-hood comes also the inevitability of a new white consciousness, and at that, one which will reach whites across the socio-economic spectrum. Whereas for decades– and still to this day– it has been working class whites who bare the brunt of cultural disenfranchisement wrought by liberalism (and economic disenfranchisement wrought by globalism) all of that is changing and more and more whites from across the socio-economic spectrum are realizing that their way of life isn’t so much the enlightened end-point of history to which all peoples strive, but an ethnically particular, “implicitly white”, mode of Urban living afforded by economic and cultural dominance: and one which will certainly not survive the reduction of whites to a minority status. The degree to which globalization harms the non-immigrant working class is well documented, but certain policies, such as H1B Visas have a direct, and very negative impact on college-educated middle-to-upper class whites (See Robert Stark’s interview with Kevin Lynn of “Progressives for Immigration Reform, in which the two reflect on the negative effect of mass immigration on both the working class and the environment, and conclude that there needs to be a new, perhaps alt-center?, paradigm).”
This demographic of “based” SWPLs will be much more open to alternative ideas in urbanism and culture than conservatives from the traditional middle class and possibly some of those people can be won over by the grand aesthetic visions.
This will also create a new political and cultural movement which will hopefully flourish, raising families in aesthetically pleasing communities rather than turning into bitter life long NEET’s or childless SJW Hipsters.
Cities are economic power houses where people connect and exchange new intellectual and cultural ideas. It is crucial that we do not continue to allow the liberal, capitalist elites to monopolize them. We must create a new thriving urban cultural, aesthetic, and political vision based on both practical policies and a vision of a better way to live.