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Mapping LA Sprawl

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If you like cool visualizations of how sprawl in Los Angeles occurred by noting the age of every building in the city, then this is for you.

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  • cleek

    it’s also a good way to see how fast FireFox can gobble-up all available RAM!

  • KmCO

    It’s interesting, and it also confirms for me how L.A. Is the kind of city that I really don’t care for. Is L.A. perhaps the ur-example of a western Sunbelt car-dependent city that has sprawled beyond all proportions, or are there other cities that are a better representation (one I am thinking off the top of my head is Oklahoma City, or perhaps Houston)? Sincere question for all you other city aficionados.

    • Linnaeus

      I’m not at all an urban historian, but I think you could argue that LA was the prototype for the other cities you mention.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Yeah. DFW struck me as a terrible example of it, but I think L.A. predates it in that fashion

      • The Dark Avenger

        Yeah, it really started happening in the 1930s:

        Traffic engineers tried to break the impasse by introducing a radical new concept: roads that existed only for automobiles. With grade-separated intersections, limited access to adjacent properties, and no interference from pedestrians, trolleys, horses, or bicyclists, freeways promised to speed automotive traffic through the city for the decades to come. Engineer Lloyd Aldrich became a forceful advocate for the concept soon after he took over the reigns of the city’s Bureau of Engineering in 1933.

        • Brett

          I guess they had no way of knowing about cars and “induced traffic” yet, but still . . .

      • SatanicPanic

        A lot of LA was built before automobiles were dominant and had pretty good public transit. It wasn’t built to be car dependent, that came later.

        • Linnaeus

          That’s true, but it seems to me that although car-centricity came later, LA urban planning set the tone for other Sunbelt cities whose periods of greatest growth came later – they expanded on LA’s example. I could be wrong, though.

          • SatanicPanic

            No I think you’re right. Detroit seems like the other good example

            ETA- whoa, mind meld going on here re Detroit

            • Linnaeus

              Great minds think alike, y’know.

        • heckblazer

          It was still sprawling though, you just had tracks where now thee are freeways. The famous Red Car was actually designed to link the urban core to new suburban developments it owned the land to; the Red Car’s financial decline started when all of that was sold and it was stuck with the loss-leader trains.

          Another factor in the sprawl was the old building height restriction from 1904. That was passed with the intention of forcing sprawl, and was justified as a way of allowing everyone to benefit from real estate development and not just the downtown.

      • KmCO

        That was sort of my hunch.

    • SatanicPanic

      LA is far more complex than that. It’s more like a big blob of small cities that are varying degrees of car-dependent.

      I nominate the manicured suburban nightmare otherwise known as Irvine, California, as the worst that planners hell-bent on making residents drive cars can do.

      • The Dark Avenger

        There are parts of Studio Cit that are residential and have no sidewalks, just a small cement curb bt

        • heckblazer

          OTOH, if you live in the right spot of Studio City and work downtown you can function without a car. I did that for awhile there after my car was stolen.

      • KmCO

        That’s a good point. The worst that L.A. has to offer, design-wise, is perhaps more in its suburban hinterlands that have basically become contiguous with the city itself.

        • SatanicPanic

          yeah, I think I misunderstood your question. A lot of what came to be common in sunbelt cities probably started in LA, but didn’t really reach their full potential (such as it is) until it was put into place in cities that were still small enough that planners could really run wild. Places like Las Vegas or San Jose that were really tiny before the 50s.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Yeah, when my mother moved to San Jose in the mid-40s, it was the regional center of an agricultural community, and the house my grandparents had in the Naglee Park area was close to SJSU and about a 15 minute walk from the downtown area. I have seen it greatly changed in my own lifetime, from the 60s onward.

            • SatanicPanic

              It’s kind of a shame that more of that farmland wasn’t preserved. They could have built up instead of out.

          • heckblazer

            Most LA residential neighborhoods have sidewalks and through streets, unlike the worst of other sunbelt cities (God, I hate Phoenix). While the city doesn’t get as dense as Manhattan, it’s average density is actually pretty high, sort of like a Staten Island and Brooklyn that just goes on forever.

      • Linnaeus

        I nominate the manicured suburban nightmare otherwise known as Irvine, California, as the worst that planners hell-bent on making residents drive cars can do.

        Many of Detroit’s ‘burbs, including the one I grew up in, are similar. You can really see the difference between the older suburbs that still have discernible downtowns and some walkable areas and the ones that did most of their growing in the late 60s, the 70s, and 80s.

      • TribalistMeathead

        I’ve been to places much less walkable than Irvine. My hotel was about a mile or 1.5 miles from my company’s office out there, and I could have walked there on sidewalks the entire route.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I could have walked there on sidewalks the entire route.

          Without being stopped by the police?

          • TribalistMeathead

            Hypothetically speaking, anyway – it was hot as hell, I didn’t have shoes that were good for walking, the company was providing a free rental car, etc., etc.

            The point was to contrast this with many, many parts of the country where I couldn’t do this.

      • heckblazer

        Not “like”, that’s literally what it is. Los Angeles county has 88 incorporated cities, and most of them are jammed right up next to each other. When driving on the freeway from LAX to downtown you’d pass through five cities that aren’t the City of Los Angeles proper.

        • SatanicPanic

          This is true. I was thinking though of how even within LA proper, it’s pretty diverse

      • heckblazer

        Oh, and I second your nomination of Irvine. Ugh.

  • Thom

    It looks like from the 1930s on, it was just filling in.

  • Emmeline Grangerford

    This map is fabulous, but it’s just repeating inaccurate stereotypes to characterize Los Angeles as sprawling. By at least one measure it’s marginally more dense than New York City, admittedly without the great public transportation (although at least ours is fairly functional by now, finally).

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