Hansen: The walls of Irvine grow taller


When you enter any one of Irvine’s new apartment communities, the walls are so high that on bright days you can lose the sun, which is hard to do in Southern California.

These gleaming, high-density projects built by the Irvine Co. are so large that you can see them from space. On Google Earth they appear like an urban version of Tetris, filling empty fields with the relentless intensity of manifest destiny.

They are fortresses of life, both ominous and impressive, with innocuous sounding names like Centerpointe, The Village and Park Place.


Manufactured to satisfy every possible need, they are turnkey microcosms of our priorities. They offer hyper-speed Internet, residents-only cafes, saltwater pools and guaranteed play dates.

At The Park is a huge center lawn where concerts are held, and to fill in the musical gap between shows, polite, smooth jazz is piped in throughout the complex.

The stores are private labeled. In other words, the signs are not branded, making the whole thing appear almost exactly like a movie set.

And people love it. Business is brisk with little to no inventory.

And people like the amenities.

It’s this familiarity and ease of use that draw people to the complexes, which are not cheap. A 1,421-square-foot two-bedroom at The Park starts at $3,660 a month, according to the website, and only one unit is left.

The demand for apartments throughout the county has been exceptionally high. According to housing data, more than 4,500 apartments were built in 2015, a nearly 60% increase from 2014, and most of them are in Irvine.

According to the city, it’s ready for the increase. Irvine now has nearly 260,000 people, but long-range estimates top 300,000. This type of staggering pace is not new. From 2000 to 2012, Irvine’s population grew at 56%, far outpacing nearby communities. Lake Forest was the only city to come close at about 33%.

In its 2013-2021 housing element, the city of Irvine expects about 13,000 new residential units, with more than 5,000 in high-density zones that have more than 30 dwelling units per acre.

Most of that development will happen at the Orange County Great Park, Irvine Center, Irvine Business Complex and Los Olivos Village.

By way of scale, the Los Olivos site, encompassing the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre location, will be very large. In February, the Irvine Planning Commission approved the second phase of the project, which consists of 1,950 apartments, a community park, neighborhood parks and a school site near Bake Parkway and Irvine Center Drive.

When you drive by these emerging areas, they all look alike — multiple stories, muted colors and rows and rows of palm trees.

Because most are built by the Irvine Co. — the developer of the Irvine Spectrum — it’s as if the mall has become the hub and its spokes have reached out into the housing developments like a cultural ferris wheel.

Indeed, back at The Park, the steel benches near its village center resemble those at the mall, sturdy and industrial green.

A small, ready-made dog park is covered with practical fake grass. The dogs don’t seem to mind.

Irvine Co. PR types are proud of the outcome. They point to unprecedented demand, best-in-class amenities and the promotion of real community living.

Some of the communities also have unique, leading-edge rules. At Centerpointe, the entire property is smoke- and vapor-free. No one can smoke at any time. The site also boasts Cox’s Gigablast service, which allegedly is 100 times faster than DSL.

If you are interested in getting one of these apartments, you will have to wait for some time in a very busy leasing office. While you wait, you can view aerial videos and apartment tours on large interactive touch screen TVs.

When you do get the brochure, you’ll notice that the slogan for the Irvine Co. apartments is “love where you live.”

Judging from all the U-hauls, crowded pools and buzz in the air, it may just be a marketing slogan that for once is understated.


DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at