Growth in California has thus far largely meant sprawl: low density development that is rapidly extending the boundaries of our metropolitan regions. Public concern with growth and sprawl has also been spreading, with complaints about more congestion; longer commutes; more pollution; disappearing wilderness, open space and farmland; visual blight; a loss of a sense of community and a lowered quality of life.
California’s population -- 34 million in 1999 -- is projected to reach 45.4 million by 2020 and 58.7 million by 2040. This represents an increase of almost 75% over the next 40 years. So long as current land use patterns continue, these new Californians will find themselves continuing to sprawl. As Californians debate how to accommodate this growth, they will make choices that will affect the shape of the state's cities, towns, and regions and their environmental economic health. These choices will also determine if we continue to let sprawl exact its heavy social cost in inequality and lost opportunity. But there is as yet no consensus on what to do about sprawl, what policies to adopt, or what changes to make.
Alternative visions to the current pattern are being more widely discussed, and citizens and governments are increasingly calling for "smart growth" and sustainable development. This approach is often summarized as the "Three Es": Economy, Environment and Equity. The goal is to balance, and whenever possible to reconcile, the competing demands of these three areas: job growth and a healthy economic sector; environmental quality and protection of wilderness and open space; and economic opportunity, social justice and reduced inequality. But just as most of the public and media attention to the problems of growth and sprawl largely neglects the social costs of sprawl, so do most of the state and local efforts to plan for growth. The primary focus of smart growth is on only two of the three Es: economy and environment. Yet successfully planning for California’s future will require that we consider the equity impacts of our land use choices.