• U.S.

The City: Next: the Slurb

3 minute read

Growth is an article of faith with Californians. They can scarcely wait for the promised day—perhaps no more than a year off—when California will overtake New York as the most populous state in the Union. (The 1960 census gave New York 16,782,304 to California’s 15,717,204.) To keep up with the state’s fabulous growth and get ready for still more, California’s builders have energetically churned out new subdivisions, new highways, new schools, new water projects&#new; everything. But last week, over the din of bulldozers and carpenters’ hammers, a citizens’ committee sounded a note of alarm and warning. In the heedless rush to keep up with the demand for more and more, warned the committee, the builders are transforming California into a mass of “slurbs—sloppy, sleazy, slovenly, slipshod semi-cities.”

The warning came in a 63-page study made by Samuel E. Wood and Alfred E. Heller for a group of leading Californians who last year formed a non-profit organization called California Tomorrow. Their report concedes that various communities are trying to plan intelligently, but says that the planners are defeating themselves because of the lack of a master plan. “Although the dough looks good,” say Wood and Heller, “the cake is not rising and the reason is simple: nobody wrote out a recipe.”

A Bloody Nose. California has “a serious, progressively disastrous lack of coordinated land planning and development. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, California’s unique bright land is increasingly defiled by badly located freeways and housing subdivisions and industries which needlessly destroy beautiful scenery and entomb agricultural land; by reservoirs and watercourses which unwittingly encourage the growth of mislocated communities; by waste products; by cars and jeeps and cycles which pre-empt our very living and breathing space. Already, the state’s nose is bloody. How long before its whole magnificent body is beaten to deformity? How long before the bright lands are dead lands?” Every Californian can cite his own pet example of the slurban blight. In San Francisco, the famed waterfront was threatened by a new elevated ramp until a group of aroused citizens forced the state to sus pend construction. In Sacramento, highway builders propose to split the city in two with a throughway that will require the demolition of several of the city’s most cherished historical buildings, which happen to stand in the way.

Grizzly’s Paws. California has a state office of planning, which is supposed to coordinate the efforts of the local and state groups that now blissfully ignore one another. But the office of planning lacks policy and money (it operates on $90,000 a year). This is “almost incomprehensible in the light of the fact that California will spend some $55 billion on public-works programs in the next 20 years. Can anyone imagine a private corporation spending that sum without the guidance of a comprehensive plan to make every dollar count?”

Unless the planners coordinate their planning and quickly, the report warns, California will be headed for harder times. “For we continue to have 1,500 new neighbors a day, a half a million a year; monstrous misplaced freeways; salty ground water supplies; park land scuffed and trampled like a pitcher’s mound; a grey stink in the air. And like the great California grizzly, the slurb paws its way across that land of gold.”

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