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Urban centers should first do no harm

Posted: July 13, 2008 1:21 a.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.
The first rule of "urban centers" should be a line from the Hippocratic Oath: "First of all, do no harm."

An urban center where residents can live, work and play in a single area sounds wonderful - almost utopian! But, like many earlier-proposed utopias, the plans can contain fatal flaws.

When Valencia was first conceived, it was proposed in an area that had previously been agricultural. There was little population base, few roads and fewer amenities. The Santa Clarita Valley was essentially a clean slate on which urban planners could work their wonders.

That is not the case today. We have a much larger population base, more roads (though still too few), and more amenities. Additional growth is proposed on the little available land remaining in the city limits.
This creates at least two major conflicts:

n The very thing which drew so many of us to the Santa Clarita Valley, its topography, creates a nightmare for urban planners. Because of our mountains, our city cannot be laid out in a grid as are so many Eastern and Midwestern cities; this hampers traffic circulation.

The areas left bare often have serious flaws, presenting additional challenges for development. Very often, the land is in steep terrain or areas subject to flooding. Mitigation is costly; dense development makes sense to the developer as it will offset the mitigation costs.

But dense development often exacerbates the very problem which made the land undevelopable prior to now.

n Existing neighborhoods were established in areas zoned to accommodate their lifestyle. Any of the urban center proposals rely on drastic changes to the codes that presently apply to the land in question.

While it may sound appealing to have a live-work area contiguous to a neighborhood, these more-densely-populated areas will create greater congestion: traffic, school attendance, safety.

While we know change will come, for neighborhoods next to these proposed urban centers, that change will be catastrophic.

Just as the water purveyors provide for their existing customers first, so should our city planners provide for protecting existing neighborhoods before they accommodate new urban centers.


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