Let’s Build Pacific Coast City!

Saudi Arabia has its vision for Neom, The Line, a futuristic linear city, but I think we can do far better right here in America: why not a Pacific Coast City, a contiguous urban corridor on the immediate coast of California? Coastal California is one of the best places to live in the world, let alone America, but has been stunted by high regulations, high taxes, high living costs, low infrastructure, and low levels of building.

Everyone really wants California; let them have it!

Let’s be realistic: people might try to cope with the likes of Texas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, or Tennessee, but half of all the people who move to such places just go there because they can’t afford California, even if they’re often loathe to admit it. What if they could afford California? What if California was a low regulation, low tax, low living cost, high infrastructure, high level of building sort of state? A place with all the same advantages as Texas but compounded with California’s natural and human bounties, such as the clement beaches, the snowy mountains, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley? Texas wouldn’t stand a chance next to a juggernaut like that.

How many more people could California attract? My guess would be California, currently sporting 39 million people, could easily reach the 100 million mark, maybe even 150 million. Let’s take half the combined population of Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Idaho, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and the Carolinas; that’s another 46 million right there, making for 85 million total; add up the influx from the rest of the country and you’re already into triple-digit millions.

A Pacific Coast City: actually Realistic!?

It’s worth noting that California’s current population density is 251 per square mile. The density of Japan, a well-functioning and much more urbanized place with somewhat comparable geography, is 899 per square mile, so to equal Japan’s density California would need 140 million people.

Fundamentally it should be possible to accommodate all this population on the immediate Pacific coast! Yes, really. California’s length of coastline from the Oregon border to the Mexico border is 840 miles. Helpfully, this entire coastline has a very marine type of climate, mild year-round, ranging from warmer and more arid at the southern end to cooler and more rainy at the northern end.

The mild climate doesn’t extend very far inland, but it need not for our purposes. For example, Santa Monica is on the immediate coast; its monthly averages range from 62/52 in winter to 71/63 in summer. 5 miles inland, Culver City ranges from 66/47 to 79/64. Grading hotter in summer, but still clement enough. Los Angeles, 14 miles inland, ranges from 68/49 to 84/65. Hotter still. Sure, it’s a dry heat, but you just don’t get that marine climate as much that far from the coast, and 14 miles is a bit of a ways to the beach anyway. No, let’s take Miami as an example and constrain the development of Pacific Coast City to extend no more than 5 miles from the beach.

How much area does that leave us? 840 miles of coast length multiplied by 5 miles of width equals 4200 square miles. That’s small next to California’s total area, but it’s comparable to the land area of Connecticut; three times the size of Long Island!

As I pointed out in a previous post, you can get to respectably urban population density even with single-family homes; 1/8 acre lots with 2.5 people per household equals 10,000 to 15,000 per square mile, not too different from many of today’s California suburbs. Assuming 10,000 per square mile, Pacific Coast City could accommodate 42 million people. Most of this area is only very lightly developed now, so just this modest level of urbanity on the coast could vault California’s population past 70 million or so.

It’s clear, however, that more truly urban housing will be needed to go any further. 20-story apartment buildings can achieve 20 times the population density as single-family homes per acre even if each household gets as much living space (yard included!) in the apartment as they do in the detached houses. If you cover the beach back to 5 miles inland with 20-story apartment buildings of this type you could accommodate as many as 840 million people. In this case you could contract the width to 1 mile and still be able to accommodate 168 million people.

Realistically the width of Pacific Coast City would vary somewhat, following the terrain (think: extensions into near-coastal valleys and toward resorts on the coastal mountain ranges, contractions around truly hostile or undesirable land) and the existing settlements (historic downtowns would be preserved), with contiguous leafy suburban development linking nodes of far higher density, which is good design since it breaks up monotony and gives each area in Pacific Coast City a sense of place.

All told I think such a city, once fully built out, would have a population of 150 million, averaging 36,000 per square mile, comparable to many of western Europe’s urban centers.

This would make the Saudis’ line look like peanuts, but I call it Pacific Coast City and not California Coast City for a reason: considering the similar climate and geography, it makes eminent sense to extend the corridor past the Oregon border, encompassing the Oregon coast as well, and from there up Washington’s coast to the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. This adds another 813 miles of length. Taking the 36,000 per square mile from California as a baseline, an additional 146 million could be accommodated here.

The same coast of the open Pacific extends smoothly southward into Mexico, where it becomes a considerably warmer desert, but mild to warm climate still prevails as far as the southern tip of Baja California at Los Cabos. This adds a whopping 1100 miles of coastline, which taking the 5 mile swath and the 36,000 per square mile baseline, an additional 198 million could be housed here.

From Cape Flattery to Los Cabos there’s a grand total of 2753 miles of coastline; from the beach to 5 miles inland, populated at an average of 36,000 per square mile, up to 494 million people could be accommodated, which is basically the entirety of North America’s population! Realistically it’s never going to get quite that big, but I could certainly envision an absolute majority of the United States’s population residing in the American portion. After all, the West Coast is the best coast, and we should give our people the chance to live there and enjoy its myriad benefits.

Transportation in Pacific Coast City

Such a population arrayed linearly would put enormous demand on the transportation and other infrastructure corridors, since there’s basically just one corridor everyone is using, but said corridor could be made enormous from the get-go so as to accommodate all the demand.

It could also be made very sophisticated. The population of this monster city is very distended, so long linear distances will need to be traversed (not the entire length end-to-end usually, but perhaps large fractions of it might be common). I’m thinking this would be an ideal scenario for a high-speed maglev train. The current world record is 375 miles per hour, so at that speed an express train from Cape Flattery could reach Los Cabos in 7 hours. We could do considerably better, of course; the biggest showstopper to ever-faster maglev trains is the sound barrier (it’s very tricky to manage a sonic boom at ground level), so eventually speeds of up to 600 mph should be feasible. At that velocity Pacific Coast City could be traversed end-to-end in 4.6 hours.

Trains running in tubes evacuated of air don’t have the sonic boom problem, making comfortable acceleration their limiting factor; when driving a car 0.1g is the rule of thumb for comfort, so at that acceleration an end-to-end express traverse would take 1 hour 11 minutes (topping out at a whopping 4,662 mph midway through the trip!). Compares favorably to driving through the Metroplex today. Hmm.

A full suite of walking, bicycling, and driving facilities could be provided, the latter perhaps underground (40-lane freeway tunnels or some such?) in the form of Underways, which is also the realm where these maglevs will be speeding through. With all this underground infrastructure, the whole surface level could be given over to pedestrian malls, calm, quiet, and unpolluted. Industrial infrastructure could also be burrowed underground, such as the massive nuclear reactors studded along the coast like pearls, providing electric power as well as water via nuclear desalination.

Satellites of Pacific Coast City

Underground aqueducts from these facilities could refill the Salton Sea and Lake Tulare, restore all the rivers of the western United States to full power (and obviate the need for dams, by the way, so we can demolish them and do environmental reclamation for all these reservoirs), and provide abundant water for satellite hubs of Pacific Coast City located further inland, such as Las Vegas and the Lake Tahoe region.

Speaking of which, just imagine what 100 million or more people located within easy driving and train-riding distance would do for the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ski resort industry; there would almost certainly be a parallel corridor stretching across the peaks of the Cascades and the Sierras of intensive recreational development, perhaps forming another population center unto itself! Yikes.

Have Vision!

This is an America whose center of population is not in the Ozarks but rather deep in the Great Basin, maybe even westward of that! After all, the spine of the Rockies could become an even bigger recreational corridor than the Sierras and the Cascades, attracting even more people into the West, and Alaska calls, a mountainous state with more coastline than the entire rest of the country put together.

Admittedly this is as much a thought experiment as a serious proposal, but the sheer vision of it all boggles the mind, as does the realization that, while not the path of least resistance by any stretch of the imagination, such a future for America’s human geography is possible, even feasible. Am I saying we should actually go build Pacific Coast City? Not necessarily. But I do say, without hesitation, that when it comes to building the future, let’s not settle for less; let’s dream big.

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