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California - Cities

California Despite California's agricultural importance nationally, its population is overwhelmingly urban and still increasing. Most of the state's population lives in one of its two major urban regions, one centered on Los Angeles, the other on San Francisco. The land boom of the 1880s led to the establishment of several score of cities scattered across the Los Angeles Basin and the southern California coastlands. As their populations increased, these communities squeezed out the intervening rural lands that formerly separated them spatially.

Most of the 300-kilometer stretch of coastline from Santa Barbara to San Diego is now occupied by one long megalopolis, the home of about 15 million Californians. The entire complex is basically a creation of the 20th century. Thus, many of the elements of eastern cities placed on the landscape during the 19th century and the early 20th century are not present in Los Angeles. Among these missing features: four- or five-story walk-up apartment buildings, warehouses of about the same elevation, fixed-rail elevated or underground public transportation lines.

The most important stimulus in the southern metropolis has been the family automobile. Fully half of the central portion of Los Angeles has been surrendered to the automobile, either for roadways or parking. The urban area's dense system of freeways makes possible fairly high-speed movement across much of the metropolitan region. The Los Angeles area has more cars per capita than any other part of the United States and only a minimal public transportation system.

Finally, Los Angeles is a city without a center. The traditional single central business district as a focus of urban activity barely exists here. Los Angeles is really many cities that have grown together as they increased in size; 14 of these cities currently have populations of more than 100,000. The absence of a dominant central business district results in part from the continued existence of independent centers for each of these communities.

Although the area is not without resources, their overall importance is not overwhelming. In addition to agriculture, petroleum production is important; three of the country's major fields are in southern California. Offshore development began in 1965. The heavy demand for petroleum products, especially gasoline, results in the local consumption of virtually all of southern California's production.

Southern California is known worldwide as the location of Hollywood, long the center of America's motion picture industry. In the early days of filmmaking, outdoor settings and natural light were the norm. The area's cloudless skies and short cold-temperature periods made its streets and fields a fine home for countless motion pictures. Los Angeles remains one of the centers of American filmmaking and television, but today the motion picture industry plays only a small role in the metropolitan area's economy, employing less than 2 percent of its workers.

Its climate and its varied scenery, especially along the coast, early made southern California one of the country's centers of outdoor recreation. Today, these natural advantages have been supplemented by some of the country's largest and best-developed recreation facilities. Balboa Park in San Diego, with its excellent zoo, Knott's Berry Farm, and Marineland are major attractions. Disneyland has become an American phenomenon and the main destination of countless tourists.

Southern California is also the major destination for Latin American and Asian migrants entering the United States. More than one schoolchild in four in the Los Angeles school district speaks one of 104 different languages better than English.

Recent migrants especially often settle in ethnic neighborhoods. Little Tokyo, long a part of the city, has a renewed vibrancy. Monterey Park in the San Gabriel Valley is 50 percent Asian, making it the most heavily Asian city in the mainland United States. A rich diversity of ethnic restaurants, many found within ethnic enclaves, dot the city.

Still, all of this does not add up to resource support for 15 million people. Heavy resources, such as coal or iron ore, are virtually nonexistent. San Diego has a good harbor, but Los Angeles's harbor, entirely artificial, is only average.

However, southern California has profited from government spending far more than most other areas of the country. California receives about 20 percent of all Department of Defense spending and nearly half of that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. San Diego is the West Coast home of the U.S. Navy, and the navy is easily the city's principal employer. San Diego has relatively little manufacturing employment for an urbanized area of over 2 million, surely an important part of its claim to be one of America's most livable cities. Also, electronics--where the value added by manufacture is high and worker skills particularly important--has been a major contributor to the southern California economy.

Los Angeles has a higher dollar volume of retail sales than the New York metropolitan area, and the value of its manufactured goods is also higher. A decade ago, the city passed San Francisco as the West Coast's financial center; it ranks second nationally to New York City in banking deposits. The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together form the fastest growing major cargo center in the world. The dollar value of their import-export ocean-borne cargo now easily surpasses that of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

By comparison with their upstart competitors in the south, San Franciscans choose to view their city as old and cosmopolitan. The city was the northern core of Spanish and Mexican interest in California. It served as the supply center for the California gold rush. By 1850, it was the largest city on the Pacific Coast, a ranking it maintained until 1920. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, coupled with the city's size and its excellent harbor, made it not only the focus of western U.S. growth but also the key location for U.S. commerce with the Pacific. Into the city came large numbers of immigrants from Asia, especially Chinese, plus substantial numbers of other foreigners. They created a cosmopolitan ethnic mixture that remains a readily apparent aspect of the city's character.

The romantic flair of its early history is one piece of the mosaic that makes San Francisco among the most popular of American cities. Its physical geography provides a splendid setting for a city: steep slopes that offer dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean or of San Francisco Bay, coupled with a mild climate that escapes the occasional staggering summer heat of southern California.

The city of San Francisco is currently home to fewer than one-eighth of the San Francisco Bay region's 5.4 million people. Hemmed into its small peninsula, the city is actually losing population while the entire urban area grows.

The Bay Area today is really composed of several different areas, each with its own character. The East Bay is the most varied, with a mix of college students, large tracts occupied by middle-class residents, and most of the port facilities and heavy industry of the region. The San Jose-South Bay area is upper middle class, with new houses, fine yards, and major regional shopping centers. Along the Bay north of San Jose is Silicon Valley, so named because of its concentration of businesses engaged in chemical and electronics research associated with production of computer components. North of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cities are smaller, there is little manufacturing, and the conflict between agricultural and urban land use is sometimes obvious. Here are found the well-to-do urbanites searching for a place in the country. The city of San Francisco itself, with its grid pattern of streets incongruously placed on a hilly terrain, its closely spaced late 19th- and early 20-century housing, and its ethnic diversity, maintains a special appeal.

Unlike Los Angeles, the existence of a major urban center in the Bay Area is not surprising. Its excellent harbor and good climate are important site factors. By volume, it is the major Pacific port in North America. Its rail and highway ties to the East at least equal those for any other West Coast city. Just as Megalopolis is America's hinge with Europe, San Francisco is its hinge with Asia.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:01 ZULU