For some, the results of this state-funded study will be depressing. The Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley did find there are about 500,000 potential infill sites. These are locations that have already been developed once … and they should be developed again. For example, an old strip center is bulldozed, and up goes a three-story apartment complex.
City leaders, environmentalists, unions and community activists often favor such reuse of land. It reduces sprawl and highway congestion. It revitalizes decaying neighborhoods.
But the study finds that infill redevelopment could only provide a quarter of the added housing California needs by the year 2020. For one thing, the majority of the sites suitable for infill development already have housing on them. It’s not the strip mall being replaced. It’s an old block of townhomes, or row housing. And if those people are out, and their current affordable if undesirable housing isn’t available, where do they live?
Three quarters of the added housing needed in California, therefore, will have to be built on the farms, forests and rolling pastures that typically lie on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. And that means the often fierce politics of land development are with us to stay.