Gone Awry is a study of the politics of growth in San Diego, California, looking at the parallel updates of the City and the County general plans (legally binding documents that, in theory, guide development can go and what it can look like). The core of the book was the research I did for my dissertation, which I completed in 2004. A decade later, I took the stories of the plans, updated them, and then reanalyzed their significance, as age has given me a new perspective on what I observed and how we think about American cities has changed significantly since the collapse of the housing bubble in 2006. (I have to admit that I wish I had published my analysis before that, as a key chapter was originally written as an argument about why the bubble had to burst, despite what so many people were saying at the time.)
I was very much trying to capture the human element, the technical dimensions and the grand historical processes, so the stories blend, for instance, flippant comments, the details of how zoning codes work and the role of British colonialism in how we think about property rights.
As the title suggests, what happened wasn’t a pretty picture, but it should interest people who care about city planning or San Diego. As my dissertation committee chair put it at my defense, this would be an important book for anyone wanting to become an urban planner. . . but they probably wouldn’t want to be one after reading it.
With hindsight, the book captured the issues and challenges facing California land use right before Assembly Bill 32 in 2006 put the state on a path towards directly confronting climate change.
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