Poised for the future

by TOM BERG

The decisions that shaped Irvine are studied around the world for their importance to master planning and town-making.

Irvine has become a global model, a place in balance that values parks and open space as much as the built environment.

Perhaps no one has studied this closer than Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and an author of several books on the history of cities.

“The things that were pioneered in Irvine are being copied, not just here in America, but around the world,” he says. “What I see increasingly are places like Irvine, but none are quite as evolved.”

The Irvine difference

“Irvine’s great advantage has been the Master Plan,” he says. “It’s provided what people want. Too often, planners have little appreciation for what customers want. Irvine focused on its customers.”

That includes safety: Irvine has been named America’s safest city 14 years in a row.

It includes education — Irvine has the nation’s top-ranked public university and nationally recognized K-12 schools.

And it includes open space — Irvine Company’s commitment to preserve 60% of The Irvine Ranch has created the largest urban open space network in the nation.

“I think planners around the world today look at Irvine and see it as the ultimate role model,” he says.

What could have been

Kotkin believes Irvine could have been like Los Angeles, but its single ownership protected it from haphazard growth and allowed it to preserve open space.

“People want to hike,” Kotkin says. “They want to bike ride. They want to see nature. Irvine was farsighted enough to provide all of this.”

In contrast, he cites what Los Angeles could have been if it had preserved open space as advised in the 1920s and ’30s.

“It would be the greatest city in the world,” he says. Instead, L.A.’s uncontrolled sprawl spread south, spurring Irvine’s Master Plan, which created more than 260 parks and tens of thousands of acres of preserved open space.

Prepared for the future

Kotkin is very bullish on Irvine’s future.

“The economic diversity of Irvine is impressive,” Kotkin says. “It has become clear that Irvine is easily the most globally competitive part of Orange County.”

He believes the city’s thriving health technology and life science industries create stability and strength.

“Around the world, university cities have thrived,” he says. “In the current crisis, cities with strong medical research — like that of UC Irvine and Chapman’s Health Sciences campus in Irvine — hold great advantages. It’s absolutely a big win for the future, and places Irvine in an ideal position.”

For Kotkin, this all comes together to make Irvine one of America’s finest, most attractive cities.

“If you look at what young, upwardly mobile families want — safety, good schools, job opportunities, first-rate health care — Irvine will seem ideal, good times or bad.”