Garden Grove: The Other Kind of Incremental Urbanism

35 thoughts on “Garden Grove: The Other Kind of Incremental Urbanism”

  1. Is there really no plan to turn those parking lots around the main street into something better? In places like Denver and Houston I’ve seen so many empty lots in older, grid-layout parts of town get turned into apartments or mixed-use buildings.

    1. The Wilshire Boulevard and Lake Avenue model, in which the parking lots were in the back of the businesses, worked well and should have been conserved.

  2. If you are curious as to what main street looked like before, here’s a photo. Sorry kind of small. As far as I can tell, the parking lots came in the mid-1950s.

    And if you want to know why it is the way it is today, read some of this insanity:

    Short story: those parking lots are the most important thing in town, and there was a multi-year lawsuit to build 100 units on part of one of them. Check the 1st paragraph: “Main street, once a historic, tranquil,….now faces the possibility of becoming urbanized”. Like the irony of calling it a CBD is totally lost. It’s a mall now, not a CBD.

    1. Yes, by 1953, Garden Grove Blvd to the south had expanded and destroyed buildings to create a grid block pattern, whereas before a rail line (ran NW/SE) not a road, was the primary E/W traverse through downtown, and there was no grid. Rail was also gone by 1953. Main street still extended south beyond the CBD area until 1994, when it became the entry to Costco. The houses E/W of main were bulldozed in the 1970s.

    2. One of the bizarre things about this is that a lot of housing next to the downtown would help business, not hurt it. The Orange downtown has a lot less parking and a lot more housing – and it’s a pretty lively place. It’s just idiotic of those business owners to oppose housing development.

  3. Yep. Here’s the San Francisco version: $1800/mo. 8 “bedrooms.” Completely legal. After all, they’re just “roommates” for the on premise owner who mortgaged this place to the moon (1.5 mil) for the express purpose of setting up this space.

  4. Similar situation in the UK, big cities are becoming unaffordable and large houses subdivided, economically active people leaving for parts of the country that have been very run down, now benefitting from the influx of talent and energy. Eventually the housing market in the bigger cities like London will implode and the cycle start all over again. Been happening for hundreds of years and no political approach seems to be able to manage it.

  5. I live in a regional city in Tasmania, Australia, which has its Norman Rockwell city infrastructure still intact because Tasmania was never wealthy enough to upgrade.. my millennial kids are in Melbourne for university. If they stay there they will be in share houses well into their thirties I’m guessing. The pattern that is emerging in Tasmania is that its younger generation is moving back here to bring up kids. They can’t afford house prices in the big cities so they down shift back to where they grew up, and do a lot of FIFO or working from home in the digital economy. Or else they start hipster breweries or alpaca farms. This is of course the middle class, who can afford such fripperies. But my point is, the younger generation of the middle class cannot afford a house of their own in any of the capital cities.. even on professional incomes. Share houses are the new normal.

  6. The building codes allowed for the additions to that 1950’s house, but what about it’s function as an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) building? Seems like local ordinances probably don’t allow that. Any knowledge about if/what the penalty is for such a living arrangement?

    1. If an owner occupant wants to take on room mates (as in this case) I don’t see how that qualifies as an SRO. Mostly it comes down to cosmetic appearances. If the grass out front was green and the building wasn’t so damned gray and drab it might not be a problem. The people I interacted with inside were very tidy and respectable. They just couldn’t afford a better living arrangement.

      I suspect your larger point is that this kind of thing is culturally repugnant in suburbia and needs to be stopped somehow. Fine with me. I don’t care how the good citizens of Orange County organize their own affairs. But…

      The original stock of pre WWII affordable housing has been eliminated in favor of things that are more desirable and no new accommodations are being built. A zero tolerance policy that flushes out these informal arrangements just creates bigger problems that the authorities have no idea how to deal with.

      Orange County needs tens of thousands of cleaning ladies, dish washers, shuttle bus drivers, low end desk clerks, and gardeners to keep its economy functioning. The Mouse must be serviced daily.

      Public transport to bring low wage workers in from far away – or dealing with the endless commuter traffic – is also troublesome to upstanding middle class residents.

      There is no “solution” to this set of problems. Eventually people settle for a half assed compromise. The people who can afford to self segregate and choose a home in a gated community with an HOA. Others self select in an older subdivision and manage with what they can pay for.

      1. I was talking once with the former owner of our circa 1905, ~2400sf house-office in a Midwestern city. In the aftermath of WW2 and during the (white) suburban expansion, he said one family lived in the basement, one on the first floor, and one on the second, with a roomer in the attic gable. They were working class people, and they didn’t have a lot of options.

      2. Hi Johnny,
        It is entirely not my point to say anyone should be flushed out. It is my point to say local ordinances don’t allow it because the “respectable” suburban dwellers find this to be “culturally repugnant”. In my hometown of Toledo, OH this has been made illegal by a law that states no more than 3 unrelated people can live together in a single unit. I and many other college students did not follow this.

        This example seems to fit well with your ideas of small-scale & low-budget solutions. I agree there are too many unnecessary regulations. Often laws are trying to address problems by way of moving them somewhere else. Actually, somewhere else is in a way the solution I’m hoping for; “Ohio is the solution to California’s affordable housing crisis.”

        1. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know I’ve said many times that Ohio is the solution to the California affordable housing situation.

          1. Indeed you have said that many times! You also answered my original question, which is that this is an owner taking on roommates, not an SRO. Really it functions as a half assed compromise needed to fill a gap. Why do you think upstanding middle class citizens seem to prefer this over a genuine 2-4 family building? Is it all about status and class differentiation? Do you ever see change their mind?

            1. When you put it in your own back yard and your grandma lives in it. However, if your neighbor does exactly the same thing they’re low class and will actively reduce your property values and attract the wrong element. (Everyone knows grandma is a junkie whore.)

              1. Reminds me of the local opposition to converting a former neighborhood school building to 60 affordable senior apartments…in a declining suburban single-family area wedged between industrial uses, highway-strip development, and railroad tracks. The developer was getting midnight drunk-called, by a guy who illegally operated a business out of his home/garage. (Everyone knows those poor seniors are drug dealers.)

                1. We were told that a project that converting a five-years vacant mini-big-box to mixed use with apartments would allow pedophiles to move in next to a daycare center.

                  And that the project was too new and different than the “prestigious” stucco 1970s houses. The neighborhood must remain rigidly the same and can never change.

                  1. Change is coming. One funeral at a time. In some cases the buildings and businesses in them will die. In some cases the municipal governments will become insolvent and choke on their own debt and obligations. In others the NIMBYs will pass on to that great cul-de-sac in the sky. I say step aside and wait. Why push on a string if people don’t want change?

        2. My county in Virginia has done the same thing: limited group housing to no more than 3 unrelated persons in a single family home – though in not those exact words. It’s amazing how complicated zoming laws and legal definitions can get when you’re trying to selectively decide who gets to live where.

          1. Creating a law that limits the number of occupants in a specified structure for health and safety reasons can be justified. Defining precisely who those people can and can not be is an entirely different thing. I call this the Ozzie and Harriet prerequisite.

            Officials and concerned citizens will say these laws are necessary to prevent their neighborhoods from becoming over run by slum lords and destructive tenants.

            When one or two neighboring towns or counties use these tactics to squeeze out poor people (which is the one and only goal here) then some other location tends to absorb them in a concentrated form. When every town and county uses the same strategies the poor can’t all just evacuate because society can’t function without them. So we get other problems that no one wants to deal with either.

            The one thing no one anywhere wants to do is address the underlying structural problems. Shrug. Whatever.

          2. California bans this due to the state constitution privacy provision – City of Santa Barbara vs. Adamson. As long as you function as a “family unit” you can create your own family.

        3. That is certainly the law in many suburban cities. Mine, for instance.

          Johnny always makes me ask “What the heck am I doing with my life” (city planner).

          Ach. retirement looms, as long as Trump doesn’t crash the stock market too soon and the funny money vampire squids don’t suck PERS dry too quickly.

          1. You can always retire to the sprawling Midwest and work as a suburban subdivision consultant/permit hustler. At least until the next Great Recession. 🙂

  7. That picture of the Garden Grove downtown surrounded by vast parking lots is hilarious and an instant classic. BTW, although I live in an adjacent city, I didn’t even know it was there. Orange has a similar problem although it’s not nearly as bad.

    The single-family houses I’ve seen converted to multi-family have been pretty awful. Maybe you find better ones. I agree it’s the least bad solution (the alternative is more homelessness since there is really no place to go) but it’s still pretty bad.

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