The Sun Belt in my Alternate History

Well, I went to Los Angeles and it turns out I love it; I’d move there in a heartbeat if I could afford to, and that’s the only place I’ve been able to say that for. Anyway, my latest escapade to the Southwest stimulates and crystallizes some more of my worldbuilding for my science-fictional alternate history. I’ll start with the location for Silicon Valley. After all, with a point of divergence in 1900, and computer technology being 50 years ahead of real life, it could end up being located almost anywhere, and for alternate-historical flavor I want it to be located somewhere different than the Bay Area.

Originally I was thinking Nikola Tesla, who pioneers the whole industry in this timeline, would base himself in the Front Range of Colorado, forming the nucleus of the “tech industry” there, but having been to the area a few times I kinda hate Denver and that whole state of Colorado, and the Front Range isn’t even as pretty as the Sierra Nevada anyway, so really, what’s the point of the place? A Silicon Valley in Alaska or some such, even further west and more remote than in real life, has long interested me, but it seems a real stretch even with the drastically accelerated development of my timeline for a fully mature high-tech industry to be based anywhere in Alaska by the 1930s, which is the timeframe we’re talking about.

Instead, why not my favorite American city, Los Angeles? As it is Caltech might easily have emerged as the pre-eminent computer hub instead of Stanford, and right now the west side of Los Angeles is called “Silicon Beach”, and not without good reason; by some metrics it’s the #2 or #3 tech-industry hub in the world. It wouldn’t have taken that much for Los Angeles to supplant San Francisco; alternate Nikola Tesla associating with the area after he invents computer chips may well have tipped things over.

A Silicon Valley in Los Angeles might have been much better for everybody anyway. Having been there recently, it’s a really swanky artsy stylish area full of attractive fun people, with nary a hint of the anthill of bugmen that the rather dusty and ugly Santa Clara Valley turned into. Austin, despite all the hype, is an even worse and more downscale counterpart to Santa Clara. The movie industry being based in Los Angeles, which it surely would be in my timeline as well as in real life since it’s geographically the obvious place to put it, exerts a good influence over everybody in the region. If LA is the hub of the tech industry in addition to the entertainment industry, that might be enough for it to supplant New York as the most important city in the United States.

In general, I’ve penciled in for my timeline a scenario where the Sun Belt population explosion passes the South and Texas by. Some of this energy goes into developing the Northwest, including Alaska, to its full potential as an industrial and population center. We’re nowhere near that level now; we’ve got multiple huge deepwater ports on the Pacific Coast that we don’t even use! But undoubtedly a huge portion of the migration southward would be shunted into the Southwest, which disproportionately benefits places like California. So in my timeline Los Angeles grabs a bigger piece of a much bigger pie.

Might Miami do likewise, with South Florida grabbing a bigger piece of Florida’s pie? After all, it’s the best part of Florida, and as it is it’s rather odd that central Florida is as built up as it is; this was pretty much caused by Disney World being located there.

Interestingly, there were plans to locate Disney World near Palm Beachinstead. Let’s say that goes through, with comparable amounts of land being secured, including beach access. Ooh…

Let’s also say EPCOT was built in its original form, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a full-fledged high-tech city all owned and run by Disney, and it proved to be very successful. Interestingly, this could make South Florida into a tech hub similar to this timeline’s Southern California. On the other hand, who’s to say something similar to EPCOT isn’t instead built in southern California, perhaps in the high desert? Or a more remote section of Pacific coast? Who knows? Or perhaps both California and Florida get EPCOTs.

Anyway, the movement out of the cities and into the countryside in this timeline after the mid 20th century, driven by improvements in transportation technology and infrastructure, should accrete enormous exurbs consisting of acreages covering the Sierra Nevada and up the coast, especially considering the greater natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada as compared to the Front Range. Seriously, the Tahoe-Reno-Carson City area is similar to Denver in many ways but for whatever reason never made into the big leagues. An additional front of exurbia could cover the high desert, encompassing southern Utah, which even now is within the SoCal sphere of influence. The Hurricane Valley into Zion Canyon would be a fantastic site for a satellite city.

That’s about all of my specific ideas, aside from any number of mountain ranges in the interior West becoming far more developed than they were in real life; even Nevada, arid as it is, has plenty of wooded mountains just lying in wait for the future. That future may well be the present in my timeline.

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