Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pasadena: "Smart Growth" or "Character"?

   Pasadena, Cal., used to be a paradise.  One can get wistful about life in the old L.A. suburb in the 1920s, when one could quickly drive one’s Model T up to the nearby wilderness of the San Gabriel mountains on a Saturday morning, marvel at the view (and even see snow in winter), drive back through uncrowded roads to one’s attractive little bungalow for lunch (finished with home-grown oranges), then take the electric rail line over to Santa Monica for a walk along the warm beach at sunset, returning home by the same transit for dinner.  Pasadena20s_2

   Today, of course, times have changed.  There are ten times as many people in the Los Angeles area as there were back then, the drive up to the mountains (with less snow in this age of global warming) may get you stuck in traffic and smog, and you’ll have a very long wait for the electric streetcar, which even if it did come would probably take a couple of days to work its way across the Los Angeles streets to the packed beach.   

   The housing boom has been further changing Pasadena, and long-time residents are complaining about the loss of the old suburb’s famous “character,” according to the L.A. Times.  [And see a similar complaint about changes in Madison, Wis., in the reader comment to this Tuesday’s entry about tear-downs.]  Pasadena (now a close-in suburb) is trying to do its part for “smart growth” by allowing infill of high-density construction. The city is permitting the construction of many new multi-family housing units, often in mixed-use complexes with stores.  This is the kind of dense development that new urbanists argue for.  It preserves land at the outskirts and allows for trips to the dry cleaner or grocery store without a car.  But the new urbanization of Pasadena means that some renters and some established retailers –- including some local semi-landmarks –- are being pushed out.   


  Governments of established localities across the nation are facing this difficult question:  Allow for denser development, or preserve old character?  Years ago, nearly all suburban communities with powerful residential lobbies chose the latter.  With today’s concerns about sprawl and the emphasis on “smart growth,” some suburban communities are choosing the former.  The effects on established residents may be somewhat adverse, but the benefits accrue to the entire region.

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