Stockton’s self-induced sprawl

For my first post, I think it is very appropriate to start at the core of Stockton’s main problem: excessive growth. Everyone in the city knows that in the 90s and 00s, the booming housing industry pushed the boundaries of the city’s limits. What most people did not see was the effect this growth had on the rest of the city. By expanding outwards, affluent residents abandoned Stockton’s older neighborhoods. The New York Times has a great tool (which can be found here) which shows population changes between 2000 and 2010. Here is what has happened to Stockton during that time (Note: click on the image to zoom in and read).

As you can see, Stockton’s older, more central neighborhoods have suffered population loss over the last ten years, while growth on the outskirts of the city has boomed. This type of population fluctuation is typical of most major cities in the country: In a nutshell, as “nicer” homes become available away from the city’s core, the population leaves the city, leaving behind those who cannot afford to move, bringing down older neighborhoods. This phenomenon was known as “flight” in the 70s and 80s, as affluent residents would leave the city for the suburbs, spurring massive population loss in some of the country’s greatest cities: Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington. The list could go on. What is unique about Stockton, however, is that it appears that Stocktonians have not left the city itself, as residents in old Rust and Frost Belt cities did. Stockton generally does not face competition from suburban communities drawing residents and tax dollars away. If this were the case, the overall population of Stockton would decline, but actually rose sharply over the last 20 years. Instead, Stockton in effect has created its own suburbs. By sprawling further and further away from the center, Stockton still creates a corrosive atmosphere for the city’s older neighborhoods and residents who cannot afford to leave those areas, however, unlike the great Rust Belt cities, Stockton can still dictate where growth can take place, giving hope that policies can be enacted to help shift development back into the city’s boundaries, and not out on to farmland.


Categories: Smart Growth

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

6 Comments on “Stockton’s self-induced sprawl”

  1. July 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    What is the status of Grupe’s Sanctuary project?

  2. August 11, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    As you noticed from the tool provided, the predominant demographic in the new neighborhoods is Asian and Hispanic. It would be very hard to convince such groups to support older neighborhoods because the prevailing (and perhaps wrong idea) is that they are trying to escape from such neighborhoods. In other words the stigma for such groups if they end up in an older neighborhood is that they couldn’t afford something better. A label which they fiercely resist.

    We talked about this issue before. The so called Stocktonians(abandoning older neighborhoods for new) don’t really exist(they exist of course but they don’t count). Rather it’s a Bay Area imported demographic which would only land in areas and neighborhoods they choose best(and the choice is all theirs). There is nothing Stocktonian about such new demographic. It’s all non-Stocktonian.

    So if you want to attract such demographic to downtown, you need to begin from a perfect understanding of such new groups preferences. And then design and deliver something that pleases the customer. Because the current idea that some locals have, summed up in the “build it and they will come” mantra, it’s from a product design idea one of the dumbest things I have ever heard.

    And that’s the most infuriating thing about the local mentality. From master developers, to local builders no one is asking the newcomers what they really want. They find it much easier to ram down the new comers’ throats whatever version of local mediocrity they think themselves best. And that’s a “No, No” in the world of business. Absolutely the wrong way. Not understanding your customer and failing to deliver what the customer wants is beyond ruinous. It’s just simply idiotic.

    That’s Stockton’s problem in a nutshell: an environment designed in absentia and with total and contemptuous un-representation of the end user.


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