Out of the endless suburban sprawl that once characterized much of Orange County, several new “edge cities” have emerged, combining the lush green lawns of suburbia with “downtown” office buildings, jobs, shopping and cultural activities, a new book concludes.
These new urban centers that are popping up all over the country--like Irvine, the Schaumburg area west of O’Hare Airport in Chicago, the Perimeter Center to the north of Atlanta’s Beltway and the Route 128 area of Boston--number more than 200 on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, says author Joel Garreau.
The phenomenon developed long after Americans suburbanized in the 1950s by moving their homes out of the traditional cities, Garreau says. Tired of commuting, the public began relocating to jobs nearer their homes. Shopping, churches, schools and other services followed.
The result? Edge cities, which have become, in Garreau’s words, “not ‘sub’ anything anymore. They are not suburbs. They are their own urbs. They are now complicated places that have it all, out there on the edge of the traditional urban landscape.”
Garreau’s book, “Edge City: Life on the New Frontier,” seeks to identify these areas across the nation and discuss life there. To be considered an edge city, he says, an area must have at least 5 million square feet of leasable office space and 600,000 square feet of retail space; a population that increases at 9 a.m. on workdays--"marking the location as primarily a work center, not a residential suburb”; a local perception that the area is “a single-end definition for mixed use--jobs, shopping, and entertainment; and a history in which, 30 years ago, “the site was by no means urban.”
The book selects these four areas as edge cities in Orange County:
* Central Orange County (Diseyland-Anaheim Stadium-the Santa Ana Freeway-Santa Ana-Anaheim-Garden Grove)
* Western Orange County (Westminster-Huntington Beach)
* The John Wayne Airport area (including South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, as well as most of Irvine)
* Irvine Spectrum
Three other spots are called “emerging edge cities.” They are:
* North Orange County (Fullerton-LaHabra-Brea)
* Newport Beach-Fashion Island
* South Orange County (San Clemente-Laguna Niguel).
In Orange County to promote his book, Garreau said the four local edge cities transformed open land into self-sufficient urban zones in just a few decades, an astonishingly short time in urban-planning terms.
They have become major hubs for working, living and playing, out at the tip of traditional urban zones such as downtown Los Angeles. And as such, Orange County’s are “classic examples, paradigms” of edge cities.
A senior writer at the Washington Post, Garreau said most Americans now live in the 200 areas he defines as edge cities. He sees this new urban mutation in historic terms--as a still-unfinished quest for the perfect lifestyle, the ultimate combination of nature and the city.
These edge cities have established a new urban style for America, Garreau said in a recent interview. “The old cities--with a center, followed by suburbs and then rural land--isn’t the pattern anymore,” he said.
So far, edge cities such as those in the county have succeeded at some things and failed at others, Garreau said. People are driving less because they work closer to home, and their neighborhoods are greener than those of traditional cities. And edge cities offer many urban amenities, such as shopping and entertainment.
Contrary to the popular snicker that these new urbanized suburbs are neither fish nor fowl, a rambling mess of buildings, Garreau said they are the product of “millions of American value decisions” about how to incorporate the most important aspects of life into one livable lifestyle.
But they have not entirely succeeded yet. Edge cities still suffer from a lack of “squishy things” like “soul,” a distinct identity and a sense of home, of belonging, he said.
The communities that can find a way to provide those things will win the survival battle of the future, he said.
Garreau cited Irvine, the country’s biggest master-planned community, as an example of a great economic success that he said is hollow at the core. Governing the colors that residents can paint their homes and forbidding individualization such as skylights is “a very dangerous way to build,” he said.
Irvine “is extremely successful at anything you can measure in terms of dollars or numbers,” Garreau said. “It produces shopping, jobs, skyrocketing property values . . . but it comes up short in a lot of ways you can’t measure with numbers, like community, soul.”
He hastened to add, however, that the county and its edge cities--like edge cities across the country--represent just one phase in human evolution, better than what went before in some ways, worse in others and--he hopes--not as good as what lies ahead.