12.03.10 | Trip to San Deigo: Part 1


On Dec 3-5 I took a bit of time off from Arcosanti headed towards San Diego. The reason for the trip was to me a women I had met on LinkedIn who was organizing a fundraiser for her project Ghana Africa International Operations (GAIO). The focus of her effort in Ghana to build an Cultural Center and Library in the town of Akwatia, Ghana. This post documents some of the aesthetic and architectural insights of the trip to San Diego.

Do we have too many Choices and are we  Empowered to Make Authentic Choices?

Traveling through the SW, I had the chance to gain a perspective that was new particularly in relation to dramatic changes we have made to the landscape in just the last 100 years. Its seems even that we are in some kind of a race to alter the landscape as much as rapidly as possible. I saw this when I went to Wellton. It was my second stop. The oasis of Gila Bend was my first where I was gripped with a struggle to decide at the Shell Truckstop as to whether it would be Charro Mexican Grille or Subway. I decided after much indecision that I would go with a familiar favorite Subway. The people here is that we as modern consumers are faced with an overwhelming array of choices. Is there a point when we have too many choices and what are the implications of these choices on our lives at the larger level – psychologically, socially, ecologically and economically, especially in relation to the built environment?

As we enjoy the “freedom” of traveling on the open road of the American Dream, we do appear to have many choices. However what is significance of those choices in relation to building and living a high quality life? What’s striking is the number of choices that we as consumers have to deal with on an everyday basis. One wonders whether as Erich Fromm said in his classic writing The Sane Society – that the society’s designers are really not encouraging people to make sane, informed decisions. Being forced to make too many of the wrong choices or spending too much time on inconsequential ones may lead to disorders revolving around information overload, mismanagement of data and related time stress and fatigue aliments.

The key to successful deceptive mainstream marketing practices is to give people the idea that they had a choice without really giving them a real choice of a process to choose. It’s not to say we have no choices, but rather to question the quality of the choices that we make on a daily basis in relation to the empowerment that we are seeking as human beings. So what is it: Coke or Pepsi, Democrat or Republican, Communism or Capitalism?

The Concept of Agricultural  Sprawl

I went through Wellton, a sprawling agricultural community just outside of Yuma and pasts of its metro area. Sprawling and yet something seemed decidedly not well there. While the dictionary definition of sprawl is not necessary positive, it seems we are almost trained to associate something that is sprawling as somehow impressive and worth marveling about in that the more space and volume it takes up and in, the better and more significant it must be. When I refer to sprawling here, I am talking about agricultural sprawl which is in evidence in much of Yuma, Phoenix and Imperial Country in California. Seeing the evidence of agribusiness was overwhelming, as it sought to turn the desert into prime and productive agricultural land. The most obivous externality though was not the pollution from the chemicals used or the general alternation of the landscape but the obviously poor quality of the workforce toiling in the fields. Just a quick in and out passing through Wellton it seems there are problems and high poverty. What was striking was the relative “third world” feel of the community in terms of its aesthetic.

Yuma seems to be growing by leaps and bounds (this is conformed by the census data for the Yuma Metro Area), even though I wonder why anyone would want to live in one of the hottest, driest and most desolate parts of the country.

The massive and beautiful sand dunes on I-8 in CA in the Mojave Desert were a highlight of the trip.

The country seat of Imperial County is El Centro, where I read later that they pitting their hopes of an economic resurgence on renewables energy development. This in a county where double digit unemployment is now the norm. Of course there’s plenty of big boxes and strip malls that give us that false sense of prosperity just like anywhere else. What’s shocking is the sweeping increasing sense of sameness like when one travels from city to city – all the retail is repetitively similar.

Arriving in San Diego

Going up into the coastal range surrounding San Diego and then going down into the metropolis I had a comforting feeling seeing some beginnings of densification, esp along the La Jolla Dr in North San Diego which borders UCSD. However, I began to realize that despite some progress on densification  in the downtown, midtown and UCSD areas; what constitutes the North County region is an incredible case of sprawl on steroids. This region extends out  into the desert hinterlands and all the way over to the LA metro areas.

Experiencing the Proliferation of the Exurban Phenomena

What was interesting was during my drive through this over spilling of sprawl which is formally called  the exurban zone, I realized I was seeing and experiencing something that was not completely new, but that it was something still at the tip of our national consciousness. Its the result of this idea of a massive and rapid investment in creating a suburban mess that we have created that extends so far, has consumed so many resources and disrupted normal daily human life so much so that it entails the greatest national security threat to our nation now and possibly in its entire history. It is a Clear and Present Danger to our national progress as a nation.

The Wikipedia definition definition of Exhurbia links to Commuter Towns, but they are not necessarily the same thing. Indeed the definition of an exurban region put forward by the Ohio State University Extension Service is more accurate and relevant to the term.

Increased out-migration from urban and suburban areas, more land consumption per capita, and edge city formation around the periphery of central cities have led to more complicated patterns of settlement in which the distinction between suburban and rural has become increasingly blurred. A new type of development that is neither fully suburban nor fully rural has emerged, sometimes referred to as the “exurbs.”

Exurbia or the “exurbs” are a type of spatial pattern of settlement that differ from their suburban counterparts. Exurbs are located at greater distances from urban centers than suburban developments and are comprised of a different mix of land uses and population.  Active farms are interspersed with different ages and types of very low density residential development, including roadside houses, new housing subdivisions, exclusive estates, and mobile homes.  In addition, exurbia contains small, rural towns as well as newer edge-of-town retail, commercial, and industrial development.  Exurbs are areas that are in transition from their traditional rural setting to something more urban.  They are often transformed into suburbs or edge cities within a 20-30 year period.

So Exurban is when sprawls extends out so far that it in a sense becomes like an overextended appendage that begins to break up and disassociate from the urban core.  This phenomena is the result of spatial and distance irregularities that have before been present in human built environments. What struck me is the sheer magnitude of this murky exurban space as it mixed and intersperced with the more recent suburban developments of San Diego’s North County in connecting with the southern border of LA Metro to become a huge chuck of SOCAL metastatised into massive 20 million person megalopolis.

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2 thoughts on “12.03.10 | Trip to San Deigo: Part 1

  1. Thank you so much for the commentary on Exurbia. I had an intuition to go around LA on my way from So Cal to No Cal, as well as the false-choice-distraction phenomenon. I attest to the importance of both.

    • Saralin, it is not the ideal but CA is a very interesting place even the parts of it that have been a glaring reflection of our imperfect society. Same goes to Exurbia while I speak from my own feelings about how it is part of a ominous trend in our society’s development or lack thereof, I still see that it is something that is an organic process of suburbia’s evolution into something that reflects the excesses of our obsession with material affluence over social and ecological integrity.

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