Southern California Needs A Better Marketing Strategy

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register

“Southern California is man-made, a gigantic improvisation” — Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land, 1946

Largely invented, a semi-desert far from the metropolitan heartland of the nation, Southern California has relied on a combination of engineering genius and marketing bravado. The constructed infrastructure has become creaky, but still functions. Not so our sense of marketing our region to the rest of the world — and ourselves.

In its earliest decades, the Los Angeles region merchandised itself aggressively, but the product largely sold itself by showing off its natural beauty and uniquely wonderful climate at events like the Rose Bowl. Read more

California’s Housing Crisis and the Density Delusion

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Once seen as a human-scale alternative to the crowded cities of the past, California’s cities are targeted by policy makers and planners dreaming of bringing back the “good old days,” circa 1900, when most people in the largest cities lived in small, cramped apartments. This move is being fronted by well-funded YIMBYs (“yes in my backyard”), who claim ever greater densification will help relieve the state’s severe housing crisis.

The goal, as stated by one YIMBY journalist, is startling in its retroactive boldness. “Getting people out of their cars in favor of walking, cycling or riding mass transit.” notes Liam Dillion, “will require the development of new, closely packed housing near jobs and commercial centers at a rate not seen in the United States since at least before World War II.”

Besides being ahistorical — this kind of housing was restricted to the urban cores a few of the largest metropolitan areas — many residents of these districts, including in California, gleefully abandoned this lifestyle for a more private, lower-density and family friendly lifestyle as soon as it became practicable. In fact, millions of people moved here from crowded cities, small towns, rural areas and other countries to enjoy this lifestyle.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Homepage photo credit: High-rise construction in downtown Los Angeles by Omar Bárcena, via Flickr, using CC License.

Left and Lefter in California

This article first appeared at City Journal.

The California Democratic Party’s refusal to endorse the reelection of Senator Dianne Feinstein represents a breaking point both for the state’s progressives and, arguably, the future of the party nationwide. Feinstein symbolizes, if anyone does, the old Democratic establishment that, while far from conservative, nevertheless appealed to many mainstream businesses and affluent suburban voters. The rejection of Feinstein reveals the eclipse of the moderate, mainstream Democratic Party, and the rise of Green and identity-oriented politics, appealing to the coastal gentry. It offers little to traditional middle-class Democrats and even less to those further afield, in places like the industrial Midwest or the South. In these parts of the country, bread-and-butter issues that concern families remain more persuasive than gestural politics.

To its many admirers back east, California has emerged as the role model for a brave new Democratic future. The high-tech, culturally progressive Golden State seems to be an ideal incubator of whatever politics will follow the Trump era.

Certainly, California is an ideal place to observe this shift, as radicalism faces no restraints here. The Republican Party has little to no influence in politics and culture and not much even among business leaders. For the Democrats, this vacuum allows for a kind of internecine struggle resembling that of the Bolsheviks after the death of Lenin. And just as happened then, a new Stalinism of sorts seems to be emerging—in this case, to the consternation not only of conservatives but also of traditional liberals and moderates of the Feinstein stamp.

Read the entire piece at City Journal.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: BenFranske [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From Disruption to Dystopia: Silicon Valley Envisions the City of the Future

This article first appeared at The Daily Beast.

The tech oligarchs who already dominate our culture and commerce, manipulate our moods, and shape the behaviors of our children while accumulating capital at a rate unprecedented in at least a century want to fashion our urban future in a way that dramatically extends the reach of the surveillance state already evident in airports and on our phones. Read more

Housing and the California Dream are at a Crossroads

“The Plains of Id, urbanophiles might sniff. Can anything good come from suburban Nazareth? Yes, the suburbanites were responding. Everything good was coming from this Holy Land: a house, a job, the quiet enjoyment of one’s premises …” — Kevin Starr, Coast of Dreams, 2004

For generations, California has offered its people an opportunity to own a home, start a business, and move up, whether someone came from Brooklyn, east Texas, Morelos or Taipei. That deal is still desired by most, but in a state that increasingly sees such activities as socially regressive and environmentally disastrous.

In new legislation, and supporting narratives from the academy and media, what most Californians have long sought out, a home of their own, is being legislated out of existence for all but the very rich and those who, 50 and older, got in when the getting was good.

The green religion and the middle class

The justification for this approach is to combat climate change, instinctively blamed for everything from fires and floods to drought. Californians need to abandon their cars, roomy single family homes and even their blue or white collar jobs, even if it means, as Brown himself has put it, employing “coercion” and “brainwashing.”

In the process, development along the fringe, the traditional “safety valve” for the aspirational classes has been systematically cut off by endless environmental and other wrangling. New supply, even some traditional urbanists admit, would do much to relieve pressures on rents and prices closer to the urban core, as we see elsewhere.

Murdering the dream

The schemes of the climate theocracy and their developer allies hit most those whose rates of homeownership, such as millennials and minorities have fallen the most precipitously. The average age of California homeowners is rising, with the over 55 set, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, accounting for close to a majority of all homeowners in the state…

Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.

A New Vision for Southern California

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Since the start of the last century, Southern California has been a pioneer in building ways of living, and an economy, that broke with normal convention. Our region created a new paradigm, one both defining suburbanism and friendly to middle class aspirations, that attracted millions here.

Today’s Southern California has clearly lost its innovative spirit, straining to emulate — both economically and socially — other models, whether that of dense New York or to reinvent itself as “Silicon Valley South.”

Neither gambit has worked, or is likely to succeed in the future. Instead, the region must focus on a strategy leveraging its most outstanding assets — creative industries, ethnic diversity and, perhaps most important, the entrepreneurial spirit of our people.

Learning from Dragnet. Just the facts.

Some may see high-housing prices as an avatar of success. Others simply tell people that, if they find costs and opportunities too restrictive, they are “cowards” to seek greener pastures. But great regions are shaped not by mindless forbearance, or real estate speculation, but following a city’s core mission, as Aristotle noted, to create conditions so its citizens can “live well.” Over the past quarter century, we have largely failed to improve our region, in part due to misplaced priorities.

Consider the facts. For all the hype of becoming a new “Silicon Valley,” according to the economic analytics firm EMSI, our region since 2006 has been created zero modern technology jobs; in contrast the nation saw an over 12 percent jump; the Bay Area has created STEM employment at nearly three times that rate. In a recent Brookings survey on the most “digitized” metro economy, our region, once a technical powerhouse, did not even rank in the top ten, behind not only the Bay Area, Boston and Austin but also places like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Albany and Salt Lake City.

More broadly, the area has failed to create high wage jobs at a rate close to those of key competitors. Overall, since 2010 the region has lost a net 26,000 high wage jobs while New York has added 122,000, Dallas-Ft. Worth 114,000 and the Bay Area nearly 200,000. Combined with high housing prices, the erosion of high wage employment has helped generate the nation’s highest rates of poverty, notes the Census Bureau, as high as high levels of overcrowding and inequality.

A search for solutions

We do not believe our region faces an inevitable descent into dystopia, but quite the opposite. But we must focus on those things we do better than most, or even any, competitor.

Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.

In the New Year, Worry-Free California Has a Lot to Worry About

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Propped up by media idolatry, California is moving from denial to delusion. Case in point: A recent AP story claimed that the state “flush with cash from an expanding economy” would consider spending an additional billion dollars on health care for the undocumented, as well as a raft of new subsidies for housing and the working poor.

All this wishful thinking and noble intentions ignores a slowing state economy, and a structural deficit, keyed largely to state worker pensions, that may now be headed towards a trillion dollars. Perhaps the widely celebrated, although poorly distributed “good times” of the past few years, have clouded Sacramento’s judgement.

Jerry Brown, repeatedly lionized in the national press, finally leaves office after next year, he will likely leave his successor both a totally out of control legislature and looming fiscal crisis. Brown’s replacement will also have to deal with a state that, according to the Social Science Research Council, suffers the greatest income inequality in the nation and the third worst economic environment for middle class families. Worse yet — upwards of one-third of the state population subsists near or in poverty.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: Daniel Schwen (Own work) CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Eric Garcetti for president? Really?

This article first appeared on The Orange County Register.

Someone may be putting something in the Los Angeles water supply. In the past months, two unlikely L.A.-based presidential contenders — Mayor Eric Garcetti and Disney Chief Robert Iger — have been floated in the media, including in the New York Times. Read more

The Bottom Line of the Culture Wars

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

America’s seemingly unceasing culture wars are not good for business, particularly for a region like Southern California. As we see Hollywood movie stars, professional athletes and the mainstream media types line up along uniform ideological lines, a substantial portion of the American ticket and TV watching population are turning them off, sometimes taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the bottom line. Read more

California Politicians Not Serious About Fixing Housing Crisis

This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.

California’s political leaders, having ignored and even abetted our housing shortage, now pretend that they will “solve it.” Don’t bet on it.

Their big ideas include a $4 billion housing subsidy bond and the stripping away of local control over zoning, and mandating densification of already developed areas. None of these steps addresses the fundamental causes for California’s housing crisis. Today, barely 29 percent of California households, notes the California Association of Realtors, can afford a median-priced house; in 2012, it was 56 percent.

At the heart of the problem lie “urban containment” policies that impose “urban growth boundaries” to restrict — or even prohibit — new suburban detached housing tracts from being built on greenfield land. Given the strong demand for single-family homes, it is no surprise that prices have soared.

Before these policies were widely adopted, housing prices in California had about the same relationship to incomes as in other parts of the country. Today, prices in places like Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Orange County are two to three times as high, adjusted for incomes, as in less-regulated states. Even in the once affordable Inland Empire, housing prices are nearing double that of most other areas, closing off one of the last remaining alternatives for middle- and working-class families.

How did we get here?

Largely in response to regulatory constraints, the state has been underproducing housing since the 1970s. So far this year, Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest metropolitan region, has produced fewer homes than much smaller areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Atlanta.

The California Environmental Quality Act and other laws and restrictions have helped to make building the number of houses needed by California’s middle-income families unattainable. The state’s more recent draconian climate change policies are also making the building of more affordable homes, usually on the fringe of urban areas, almost impossible.

Some developers and planners blame much of the problem on NIMBYs, or “not in my backyard” activists, who oppose high-density development in their communities. NIMBYism, often aligned with green policies, is part of the problem, but high-density housing is expensive, and there are not enough people looking for “micro-apartments” to solve the affordability crisis.

Indeed, housing in buildings of more than five stories requires rents approximately two-and-a-half times those from the development of garden apartments, notes Gerard Mildner, academic director of the Center for Real Estate at Portland State University. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the cost of townhouse development per square foot can double that of detached houses (excluding land costs), and units in high-rise condominium buildings can cost up to seven-and-a-half times as much.

Policies based on planning fantasies, not reality

The state of California calls for high-density development near transit stops, while requiring a certain percentage of lower-income units. Yet, the experience with this kind of “inclusionary zoning” is not a happy one. Such laws tend to increase the prices for market-rate housing, raising the prices for everyone else, including the more numerous poor who do not win the “affordable housing” lottery….

Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.

Photo credit: Great Valley Center, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.