Help me look a step ahead
January 3, 2013 2:16 PM   Subscribe

What will the next type of major land conversion in California be?

California has a short, but tumultuous history of land use. First, California's native grassland/wildflower fields were converted to annual grassland by seeds introduced by Spanish ranchers. Then, valley-bottom wetlands and grasslands were converted to field crops by draining and/or irrigating. Those same field crops were converted to orchard crops and urban development . Baylands were converted to urban development by dredging and filling. More recently, foothill grasslands and oak woodlands are being converted to suburban housing and vineyards.

These are all fairly large-scale habitat conversion trends in California. So, what's next? If someone wanted to predict the next conservation crisis in California, what emerging economic influence, technologic development, or social trend, should they have their eye on?

Is it deserts being levelled for solar farms? Or will vineyards and suburbs continue to be the biggest habitat destroyers for the coming 50 years? Or something else?
posted by agentofselection to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Water shortages, particularly in Southern California, would be my guess, with the land use tied to that (i.e. suburbanites freaking out because they can't water their pristine green lawns of non-native grasses).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2013

In that time horizon, I wouldn't be surprised if water shortages make farming uneconomical in parts of the Central Valley. What does unused Californian farmland become? Grassland again?

The eventual introduction of high-speed rail may also lead to a widened commuter-shed for California's cities, leading to urban development in current desert or farmland.
posted by fitnr at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2013

My bets are on solar farms - which aren't/won't be limited to deserts (see Panoche Valley) and fracking.
posted by rtha at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2013

Lots of magnet-essential Rare Earth Elements in and around Lake Mono and the other alkaline lakes of the Great Basin-- and the Chinese have already made one attempt to hijack the market.
posted by jamjam at 2:39 PM on January 3, 2013

i drive all the time between orange county and central california. I think about this a lot as the miles tick on by....most of the state is pretty empty, especially further north, and in the many rugged mountainous coastal and desert areas. The easy spots are taken.

i think a lot about industrial decay--lots of semi abandoned, paved over areas, full of crumbling buildings, pollutants, etc, left behind as the sprawl moves newer commercial space out. Not all of them can be converted to artsy co-ops or office space, and the information economy (or whatever this is) doesn't need it, or needs more modern facilities.

shopping malls, old Mervyn's centers, space all over that is under used or filled by a string of cheap big box stores that come and go. They barely even paint the inside of the old (insert store name here) before they move in. I've seen first hand, an old manufacturing facility demolished one pick-up truck load at a time by metal scavengers while the community tried to figure out who actually owned the land. Nothing happened until they started taking the Rail Road tracks next to it. No one wanted the liability of ownership, the responsibility to clean it up.

what happens if X% of the commercial landscape is ditched through shell companies and bad paperwork trails to avoid taxes, toxic chemical cleanup, etc?

perhaps eventually parts of the sprawling suburban organism will curve back in, demolish the empty supermalls and turn them into green belts, but they would have to truck in organic soil if they wanted tomatoes. Old farmland is full of chemicals. Old farmland that had industrial space built on it is probably worse.

Sometimes i fantasize about getting a couple of hundred people with sledge hammers together to see what the main drag in my hometown would look like with one less giant, empty parking lot.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2013

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