William Pereira (center), architect of the Irvine Master Plan, with UCI Chancellor Daniel Aldrich Jr. (left) and Irvine Company President Charles Thomas in 1964.

How Irvine became America’s best planned city

by TOM BERG

In 1960, Irvine Company planners and architects began creating a vision for the City of Irvine.

“What we unfold here are plans, carefully and expensively wrought plans, for a totally new city,” they wrote. “We call it the City of Irvine.”

They called this document the Irvine Master Plan, and today it still guides the city’s progress.

It helped preserve one-third of Irvine’s land as open space.

 It created modern business centers to ensure high employment with high-wage jobs.

 And it designed an entire city of villages — each with parks, schools and shopping — connected with walking and bike paths, and leading to natural wildlands.

As a result, Irvine ranks among America’s most successful, safest and greenest cities.

WHAT COULD’VE BEEN

In the late 1950s, LA County’s unbridled growth began to spread south like “oozing molasses,” as the late Ray Watson, Irvine Company’s first architect, called it. 

In its path lay the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch, which stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Cleveland National Forest, encompassing one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. 

Irvine Company faced overwhelming pressure to subdivide — to satisfy demand for new homes. But famed architect William Pereira had a better idea. 

What if we master-planned the entire Irvine Ranch?

No one had ever dared such an experiment, but he proposed giving 1,000 acres to the University of California, and designing a “city of intellect” around it. 

In September 1960, Irvine Company transferred the land to UC and the Irvine Master Plan was born. 

Pereira’s vision for Irvine caught the attention of TIME magazine, which profiled him in its Sept. 6, 1963 cover story.

Today, Irvine remains that city of intellect where 90 percent of high school graduates attend college; where UC Irvine ranks as the 7th best public university in America; and where you’ll find one-third of all STEM jobs in the county.

A LIVING DOCUMENT

Pereira stressed that the Master Plan should serve as a road map, capable of adapting to ensure Irvine grew and matured as the times dictated.

And it has.

The vision begun in 1960 has grown into one of America’s most desirable cities.