Why doesn’t every suburb look like Irvine?

Alan Hess, an Irvine resident, architect, community planner and author of more than 20 books, looks at how Irvine became a model city.

Like many of you, I moved to Irvine precisely because it was not a conventional suburb. I’m an architect, so I noticed details that made the difference. But anyone can sense – and enjoy – that it is different on purpose.

The broad greenbelts make it a garden city, unlike typical suburban housing tracts. Pines and flowering trees line Culver Drive and University Drive, not random gas stations, used car lots and strip malls.

As a historian, I was fascinated: Why didn’t every suburb look like this? Why was Irvine an exception?

The answer, of course, is Irvine’s Master Plan.

A master plan collects data on what’s needed before the first foundation is poured. You use it to determine how many schools, parks, shops and workplaces the community will need to be livable. Then, like an artist, you determine where each piece logically fits.

I discovered that architect William Pereira, Irvine’s original master planner, presented a vision to two major clients ready for fresh answers, the University of California and Irvine Company.

The Irvine Ranch was Pereira’s opportunity to carefully design an entirely new city with a new university at its heart. It would correct the problems of conventional suburbs and reimagine everything from its architecture to the pathways children walk and bike to school.

Back then, experimenting with the building industry’s conventional rules seemed risky to many.

Despite those risks, the bold experiment succeeded – and continues to guide the city today.

From small details to broad strokes, there’s much more to the Master Plan. In this monthly column, we’ll visit all corners of the city to explore those features.

Understanding those features may determine how well Irvine keeps its character in the future.

Introducing Alan Hess

Our newest columnist, Irvine resident Alan Hess, has authored 20 books on architecture and community planning and is currently researching another on the Irvine Master Plan. He is an architect, a commissioner on the California State Historical Resources Commission, and was a National Arts Journalism Program Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Each month, he will answer reader questions about Irvine’s unique planning history.

Have questions about particular aspects of Irvine’s Master Plan? Please write to AskAlan@IrvineStandard.com and I’ll try to answer them in future columns.