California’s plan to shoehorn its swelling ranks of urban residents into “densely populated, multistory living [areas] near transportation centers” is now seriously threatened by the Coronavirus. Urban centers have been among the worst global pandemic hot spots, and the health crisis is causing civic planners in the Golden State to fear a backlash against their ambitious housing program, the Los Angeles Times reports. It turns out that packing people into big cities like sardines may not be such a great idea after all.
In his inauguration speech upon assuming the governorship of California in January 2019, Gavin Newsom pledged “sanctuary to all who seek it.” One effect of rolling out the welcome mat for massive legal and illegal immigration is greatly increased strain on cities. The Orange County Register reported in December 2017 that 85,339 foreigners had moved into the four-county region of Southern California area “in the past year.” The paper noted that the region has four of the five most heavily populated counties in all of California.
Pack ‘Em In
Rather than put a brake on the immigration influx to help reduce the squeeze on urban housing, California’s Democratic leaders have instead sought to boost the construction of large housing units easily accessible to public transportation. State Representative Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, proposed a bill in December 2018, one month before Newsom took office, that was designed to allow developers “to build four- to five-story apartment complexes in neighborhoods surrounding Los Angeles Metro stations, Bay Area Rapid Transit and other rail stops around the state,” The Times reported at the time.
“We have a 3.5-million-home deficit in California,” Wiener said of his bill. “It’s undermining our economy. It’s undermining our climate goals. We have to be bold in solving this problem.”
As Liberty Nation noted in March 2019, “[t]his ‘solution,’ of course, will do nothing to alleviate the negative impact overcrowding has on communities. “ Increased urbanization, according to the World Health Organization, can be devastating to human health:
“Health challenges particularly evident in cities relate to water, environment, violence and injury, noncommunicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases), unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol as well as the risks associated with disease outbreaks.”
One year later, the Coronavirus hit America. Suddenly living in an overcrowded city could be fatal. Yet California’s blue urban planners, while admittedly jolted by the crisis, are still determined to press ahead.
“Skeptics of greater urbanization say the pandemic has proved that they were right all along,” The Times noted in an April 26 article. “Even some ardent urbanists worry that the speed with which the virus devastated packed neighborhoods could lead to a backlash against cities.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, blamed urban density for the heightened impact of COVID-19 in New York City. “Why are we seeing this level of infection? Why cities across the country? It’s very simple. It’s about density,” Cuomo said in a recent briefing. State officials in New York estimate that one in five Big Apple residents have contracted the virus.
In Defense of Density
This is not what California Democrats want to hear. They believe their urban housing blitz would prove an effective way to fight climate change and do not want to let go of that dream. A 2017 report produced by Next 10, a California organization dedicated to the climate cause, encouraged the state to give “cities that meet high-density housing goals more tax dollars.”
Wiener has shrugged off Cuomo’s words about the health effects of density and vowed to submit a fourth bill to encourage more urban housing. His previous three efforts have yet to pass in the state legislature. “It’s not environmentally sustainable to keep sprawling out further and further,” said Wiener, as The Times reports.
While fighting sprawl is certainly a salutary goal, building up instead is not the answer. Yet at the same time that urban progressives implore Americans around the nation to practice rigid social-distancing protocols, they adamantly defend jam-packed cities.
“It’s easy, superficially, to blame the city’s density, and many have: Surely, so many people living, working, and traveling in close quarters caused Covid-19 to spread more easily. We don’t know that yet,” writes Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute in an April 24 piece for CityLab, an urbanite website owned by former New York City Mayor and failed 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s media company. The article was titled “In New York City, Density Saves Lives, Too.”
Gelinas goes on to detail government initiatives and facets of life in the city that she says have increased residents’ health over the years, including access to public transportation, anti-smoking ventures, and the chance for a higher number of “daily in-person interactions” that soothe feelings of loneliness. It may sound awkward, but it is all meant to herald the merits of large, overcrowded urban living.
“What is factually incontrovertible is that record density — and reasonably good, if always imperfect, management of that density — made New York safer and healthier than it ever had been before the coronavirus spread,” Gelinas concludes.
It makes for an interesting dynamic, and one bound to cause tension in an already divided nation. Regular Americans are locked in their homes due to the Coronavirus pandemic but urban Democrats are determined to keep their packed cities come hell or high water.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.
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