The Future of California’s Suburbs

In today’s WSJ, Wendell Cox argues that California’s housing regulation for limiting suburban growth will have the unintended consequence of making California housing less affordable and causing out-migration.   He dishes out some punishment for the urban planners as he implies that powerful government officials are pursuing their own “smart growth” agenda and ignoring the desires of the California middle class who want to live in the suburbs at affordable prices.

Cox doesn’t discuss the state’s demographics.  In the year 2050, what percent of the state’s population will be over age 50?  Do such individuals want to live in the suburbs?  As center city quality of life improves,  I predict that the demand to live at higher density will rise.  This trend creates a domino effect.  As the non-poor live closer to the city center, this creates a dense cluster of purchasing power that attracts new restaurants and stores to open and the process feeds on itself.    While I agree with Cox that it is important for urban planners to not superimpose their tastes on the residents of the cities, he over-states his case that the suburbs are an “endangered species”.   In the greater Los Angeles area, there are millions of suburban homes. If in 2050, these homes are valued then investors will invest to repair these homes.  Some of these homes are on big lots. If home owners are allowed to subdivide their lots then some home owners may sell part of their backyard to another home developer who will build a new home there. In this sense, density could increase in those suburbs where future suburbanites want to live.    Urban planners must be consistent in allowing increases in density in both the suburbs and the center city.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

11 thoughts on “The Future of California’s Suburbs”

  1. I want to live in the suburbs; I also want regular transit so I don’t have to chauffeur kids everywhere, and I want my friends within walking distance, on an interesting street with shop windows and foot traffic, and I also want a three-car garage and a big backyard with a pool. The foot traffic, by the way, should be people exactly like me, and not confront me with brown people coming to clean the pool or someone’s house, or anyone else that scares me.
    I am a Californian, and I not only have a right to all these things, but also without paying for them, or at most paying my prop 13 two-decade old taxes. City planners pointing out that some combinations of lifestyle qualities are simply impossible are unAmerican and depressing and more important, they are putting some of my basic rights at risk for big-government commie principles like 2+2 being 4 and not what I want 2+2 to be. Who the hell is some Berkeley-educated collectivist planner to tell me I have to do arithmetic the way unelected pointyheads think I should?

    1. I want these things that Michael wants too, including most importantly because I am a gardener, having them on a large lot with an inexpensive house near a new school with motivated staff. Gosh, why can’t I have these things in a dense city?! Huh? Why do I have to move to some McSuburb with boring white people coating the roads to get these things?!?! Its an outrage! Outrage I say!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. You should really start thinking that listening to those people, in the long run, might be a good idea.
      Durable developpement is important, maybe not for you, but without a doubt for your children and their
      children. Subways, clean energy, strong economics based on progressive thinking rather than growth. You
      don’t matter, I don’t matter, the futur is what is important. Plus racism as no place in a progressive
      community. Thats not communism, thats just common sense. Uninformed people are easy to manipulate…
      get informed NOW!

  2. Cox’s piece occupies the fact free zone so well known to WSJ editorial page readers.

    Cox claims 1.6 million Californians have “fled” the state since 2000. Of course, he ignores the Census Bureau figures showing that California’s population has gone up from around 34 to 38 million since 2000. Apparently, according to Cox, anyone moving out of California is fleeing; even if going to New York, Chicago or London for a better job.

    Are the folks who move into California from Manhattan “fleeing” the desperate situation on the island which could be alleviated by building some freeways?

    Meanwhile, take a ride on the new, very successful, Orange line dedicated busway though the San Fernando Valley and wonder just where on the 101 all those folks would fit if they were in cars.

    While there is always room for improvement (get rid of the odious TV commercials on the Orange line buses!) there are 27000 people a day riding the Orange line, most of whom would otherwise likely be on the 101.

  3. […]
    How bad are things in California? California’s domestic migration has been negative every year since at least 1990. In fact, since 1990, according to the U.S. Census, 3,642,490 people, net, have left California. If they were in one city, it would be the third largest city in America, with a population 800,000 more than Chicago and within 200,000 of Los Angeles’ population.

    We’re seeing a reversal of the depression-era migration from the Dust Bowl to California. While California has seen 3.6 million people leave, Texas has received over 1.4 million domestic migrants. Even Oklahoma and Arkansas have had net-positive domestic migration trends from California.

    If California Is Doing So Great, Why Are So Many Leaving?

  4. Shame on you for linking to Mr. Cox. He is a pernicious troll. He used to scrum Ygelsias’ blog under the name Mixner for a while. His arguments are mendacious and always in favor of sprawl no matter what the facts say. He is also a paid lobbyist for the bus industry.

    1. He used to scrum Ygelsias’ blog under the name Mixner for a while.


      I thought those types ceased the sockpuppetry.

  5. Wendell Cox!?! He is a well-known shill for the sprawl industry. Not worth bothering about.

  6. So when house prices are going up, we need more sprawl so that speculators can build more houses and profit from the fact that house prices will keep going up. When house prices are going down, we need more sprawl so that house prices won’t keep going up. Uh.

  7. I have to second the critics; at this point most of the WSJ is Murdoch until proven innocent.

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