The Paradigm Shift • Long Beach Post

Over the past forty years Long Beach has had to grow and mature as a city in an unfamiliar way.  In 1968 the last of the city’s borders were cut off from expansion as the City of Carson incorporated.  Outside of a few small islands of unincorporated Los Angeles County islands the city had become land-locked.  A decade early saw the last major expansion of residential neighborhoods in Long Beach as the post-war housing boom created the Eastside in large part to serve the needs of the adjacent Douglas Aircraft manufacturing complex.  Since then, the city’s residential population has continued to expand through planned and unplanned urban infill development.  Today nearly a half million people live in Long Beach in residences of all types, from single-family Craftsman homes to penthouses in thirty-story towers, all in nearly fifty square miles. 


Long Beach is a built-out city with little simple options for improving itself, few easy solutions for finding new park space on the Westside, easing air pollution from the port complex or responding to noise pollution from the municipal airport.  The City of Austin decided Mueller Airport was no longer adequate for modern air travel, but it had reached the property’s extents.  Austin was able to acquire a large plot of farmland to build the new Bergstrom International Airport, while using the land of the former airport to create new homes, schools and jobs.  Long Beach has been struggling with the future of its airport since people started realizing the convenience of flying out of the LBG.  The current economic recession has further exacerbated the latest plans for an expansion and modernization of its current terminal facilities.  For Long Beach to continue to grow and adapt to future conditions the city must experience a paradigm shift in how it thinks about city building.


According to the 2000 census, Long Beach is the sixth most-dense city with a population of over four hundred thousand people in the nation.  This is only behind New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the nation’s capital; Washington D.C.  All are internationally recognizable cities with long illustrious histories, at least long for those of North America.  Unlike Long Beach who lives in the shadow of its bigger brother Los Angeles, each of those cities forms the core of their own respective metropolitan region.  They are typically confined by a combination of water bodies, topography, infrastructure and other municipalities, which has led to their growing up versus out.


From their origins as trading outposts, manufacturing towns and mining camps these cities reinvented themselves, transforming their very fabric to adapt to modern conditions; becoming international cities.  In recent decades they have evolved into complete cities, becoming more livable for residents while expanding their respective job bases.  By expanding park space, public transportation and other municipal infrastructure these cities have disinvested themselves of their often harsh industrial pasts while becoming healthier for local inhabitants.  Much of these improvements have been the result of creative thinking; through design and partnerships, cooperation between the public, private and nonprofit sectors.


No two cities are alike, but the common thread between them all is their necessity to work within the confines of their municipal boundaries to alter their urban genetics.   Despite being the densest city in the nation, New York maintains over a quarter of its land area for open space, further expanding to envelop former industrial lands.  San Francisco continues rediscovering more of their waterfront as recreational amenities for residents and visitors to enjoy.  Chicago and Boston have created incredible new parks by building them over major transportation infrastructure.  Philadelphia and Washington D.C. maintain thousands of acres of urban forest land adjacent to some of the densest neighborhoods in the nation. 


These cities were founded during a different era from Long Beach, most being established centuries prior to the founding of Wilmore City, which is reflected in the varied transportation infrastructure and development patterns.  Their port facilities were built at a time before the organization of regional port hubs and the global standardization of shipping containers.  Many of these smaller port complexes have shrank or disappeared entirely and have since been largely repurposed for other uses.  The Chicago’s once heavily industrialized rivers are less so today; now waterways for both recreation and commerce.  Philadelphia and San Francisco have reused decommissioned military facilities for private industry, cultural facilities, recreational amenities and residential neighborhoods.


Managing the growth of transportation infrastructure as well as its negative impacts has been a constant struggle for cities too dense to isolate their impacts.  All of the five most-dense U.S. cities are adjacent to large water bodies or major tributaries, all save Chicago managed the growth of air travel by developing waterfront airports.  From Dulles to Logan the origins of public airports came after much of the cities had been developed, so like Long Beach’s port complex they expanded the city borders in the only direction available.  There are environmental ramifications to land reclamation, but often the cost of acquiring comparable amounts of land necessary for such public infrastructure combined with the impacts to local residents preclude any other option for these built-out cities.  Not to be lost is that the alternative of developing new airports beyond the urban extents typically consumes green fields; either agricultural or natural land.


In order to maintain economic vitality and improve the quality of life in Long Beach we must be looking to these dense cities as how to evolve within its current borders.  Different cities are presented unique opportunities based on a multitude of factor; from physical location to existing built fabric.  Long Beach itself is rich with prospects based on its geography, location and climate.  It only requires the creativity of a half-million people and leadership that maintains the fortitude to take the road less traveled. 


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