Monday, September 17, 2018

Should Scenario Planning for Bay Area Prosperity and Social Inclusion Include the Mega-Region?

The Bay Area urbanist think tank SPUR recently released a provocative report that lays out 4 future scenarios of the Bay Area in 2070.

Inland areas in Northern California only appear in 1 of the 4 scenarios, "Gated Utopia: Economic prosperity + Social Exclusion."  This is the first of 4 scenarios presented, and it SPUR seems to be suggesting that it is where current trends are taking us.  After a mostly positive description of life in the Bay Area in 2070, it turns to the North San Joaquin Valley.
"Outside the core of the region, it’s a different story. Service workers endure long, crowded commutes from a sprawling supercity in the northern San Joaquin Valley that encompasses the formerly separate cities of Tracy, Stockton, Manteca and Modesto. Among its neighborhoods of inexpensive single-family homes, the supercity includes a number of shantytowns and tent cities"
The most positive scenario that SPUR creates is called "A New Social Compact Economic Prosperity + Social Inclusion."  In it, Bay Area communities allow much greater housing densities, adapt to smaller living spaces, but enjoy broadly shared economic growth as the population grows beyond what anyone thought imaginable for the region.  Inland areas of Northern California are left out of this vision.

This is surprising to me, since SPUR was one of the first to write about the Northern California Megaregion concept in a 2007 report that influenced my thinking about Northern California not long after I moved to the region from the East Coast in 2008.
"Our perspective is that the megaregion approach will help create new middle-income opportunities that spread the prosperity of California to a broader range of households and communities. While the competitiveness of the coastal regions in the Northern California megaregion depends on our leading edge universities, entrepreneurs and an abundance of risk capital, the economic opportunities for the inland regions of the state will depend on building bridges to these innovative industries, particularly in manufacturing and other industries."
The 4 scenarios in the new SPUR report are designed to provoke discussion and debate, and it has. 

It's unfortunate that this new SPUR report suggests that the outcome of "economic prosperity + social inclusion" can only occur through a super-high density, urban vision with very high local taxes funding a local social inclusion agenda.  I believe there are alternative paths to the goal of economic prosperity and social inclusion that could be pursued at a larger mega-regional spatial scale, along the lines of SPUR's 2007 report. 

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