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It’s too easy to use and abuse the language of urban development

Urban or suburban? The future of the SCV

Posted: July 13, 2008 12:59 a.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.

This model from the 1960s shows one concept for the proposed civic center in Valencia, to be located at McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard. Valencia Boulevard hadn't yet been constructed, and the roads shown don't correspond to those at the location now.

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Politics fills itself with code language. We see it and will continue to see it in the current presidential campaign.

Obama proxies state that McCain seems "confused" (code for old and senile) regarding his change of heart on offshore drilling. McCain's campaign states that Obama sports a "Sept. 10 mentality" (code for weak on national defense, pacifist, and basically inviting another major terrorist attack on American soil).

Unfortunately, Santa Clarita politics leans toward modern presidential politics. Folks, perhaps out of an overly developed sensitivity or sense of shame, or a homespun public relations sensibility, utilize code words to hide and soften what they really mean.

Opponents of the Vallarta store in Newhall, truly fearing that brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people would overrun their neighborhoods and kill all the Caucausian folk, wrote complex letters to the editor likening Vallarta to the evil Wal-Mart and the end of the world through a big box store.

More recently, over the last several years, Santa Claritans decided to assault and abuse the term "smart growth."

One organization even attached itself to this term, and many people began to use it in the following manner: Smart growth must constitute the opposite of what the city and county are doing currently: Dumb growth.

Unfortunately for truth and clarity, unsuccessful city council candidate Diane Trautman was the only local political person who ever accurately described the term, which possesses a specific meaning among urban planning professionals.

Smart growth requires DENSER housing and commercial projects so the municipality can preserve more open land; it requires FEWER roads so that people MUST walk or use mass transit. Hardly something that would endear the smart-growth advocate to many of those who fell in love with the term.

Most recently, a war of words erupted concerning the usage and meaning of two terms: "urban center" and "bedroom community."

Now these two terms possess a similar factual construct, but one's feelings about them depend on one's point of view. To an erudite "elitist" (code for someone not afraid of brown people), urban center means a place with housing, jobs, and high-end cultural and sporting amenities. In other words, an elitist would equate urban center to the revitalized island of Manhattan.

To the majority of suburban citizens (code for someone deathly afraid of brown people) urban center means high crime and decay. In other words, they believe urban center means Skid Row or Newark, N.J.

Now let us turn to "bedroom community," a termed used both derisively and with love. To both sides it means that the vast majority of residents only sleep there. To the derider, this means that nothing much happens after bedtime. To the proponent, this means that nothing much happens after bedtime.

Why such disparate views? To the erudite derider, "bedroom community" means a cultural wasteland from which one must travel far away to find a cultural event or a decent sushi bar.

I spent significant time in Manhattan in the past, and no one even THINKS about having dinner until 8:30 p.m. Most Santa Clarita venues start filling up at 5 p.m.

But the proponent loves the image of everything quieting down at 10 p.m. They know, just like the overprotective parent, that only ax murderers and maniacs (and maybe some of those brown folk) stay up past the end of Fox prime time programming.

Unfortunately, both may stand disappointed with the actuality presented by an objective third party. In the last two months the Economist ran a story concerning American suburbia, and it showcased Valencia.

The writer asserted that Valencia stood different from other sprawling American suburbs in that planners actually brought in industry that did provide some jobs for the local population. Also, the writer noted that Valencia and other California suburbs, though primarily made up of single-family homes, constructed them on very small lots, making them much more dense than their Eastern cousins and thus preserving open land.

Did city planners put Santa Clarita on a road to a good mix of both? Did they construct, accidentally or on purpose, a burban community or an urroom center?

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development, Inc. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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