Two months ago, I traveled to San Diego County with a companion. Our only goal was tourism. But there’s no off-switch for the urbanism chip in my brain, so I collected and have already shared thoughts about a shipping container waffle shop in Carlsbad that might have application to Petaluma, the seaside district of San Clemente, and the wide residential streets of San Diego. Today, I’ll empty my mental notebook with final thoughts about Carlsbad.
We visited Carlsbad because it’s where my parents were living when I was born. Their home was on Elm Street, only a few short blocks from the downtown shopping district. It makes me happy to think that I was brought first brought home to a house on the comfortably-named Elm Street, within a short walk of retail. It’s a “Leave It to Beaver” moment for me.
As we learned during our trip, the home is long gone. As my mother remembers its structural condition, the home was ready for demolition in 1953. So I can’t mourn its loss. However, I can bemoan what happened to its setting. Much of the lot was claimed for the widening of Elm Street from two lanes to four lanes plus median. The remainder is now covered by a gas station.
There is something symbolically disturbing about having one’s first home converted to an extra-wide street and a gas station. That history adds more meaning to my writing on urbanism.
Even worse, Elm Street has been renamed to Carlsbad Village Drive. Note to City Councils everywhere: If you include “Village” in the name of a newly-widened four-lane street in the hope that your residents will still think of their community as a village, it’s too late. The battle has already been lost. And the street name looks silly.
The downtown district shopping remains active and prosperous, which was fine to see. And having a working commuter rail station in the downtown area was also good.
But it’s ominous that downtown has expanded only slightly since 1953, when it served perhaps 3,000 people. With Carlsbad now nearing 110,000 people, it’s obvious that most folks are shopping elsewhere, likely in drivable suburban retail stores.
But the real insight about San Diego County came one afternoon. We took a detour to a historic park named after a Southern California singing star of the 1950s. The drive took nearly twenty minutes, all of it on four-lane divided arterials. Other than a woman walking to her car, I don’t think we saw a single pedestrian.
Instead, we saw street after street of recently-built single-family homes on large lots. The only relief was a couple of golf courses, the loading docks of two pedestrian-unfriendly shopping centers, and a few barrancas that were too steep to be developed.
When I’m out and about in the North Bay, I often ponder how communities would respond if gas prices were to skyrocket to $10 per gallon or more. There are neighborhoods for which adjustments would be difficult. But in many places, people have possible walks to transit stops or retail opportunities. Perhaps not walks which they currently make, but walks to which they could adjust.
When I ask the same question about the suburban sprawl of southern Carlsbad, I don’t have an answer. I assume that bus routes could be added, but there is little infrastructure in place to support transit and the routes would be long, winding, and time-consuming, with many folks needing to take multiple buses.
I’m convinced that people find a way to believe what they need to believe. Sometimes because it is convenient or saves the effort of looking for alternatives. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many people retain the religion in which they were raised or drink the brand of beer that their peer group drinks. If they’re comfortable in those continuations, good for them.
But sometimes folks hold their beliefs because the alternative is unacceptable. Northern San Diego County is known as a center of climate change denial. When I look at the Carlsbad sprawl, the reason seems obvious. If climate change is happening and lifestyle changes must be made, then living in Carlsbad will become far less comfortable. And property values will fall because buyers wouldn’t want the new lifetstyle either.
We’ve built a world in which people must deny an overwhelming scientific consensus to protect their investments and to justify their lifestyle choices. That’s both unfortunate and scary.
San Diego County is a lovely place, but it’s underlain with troubling realities. I doubt I’ll soon visit again.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)