Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is Belmont Shore "Good Suburbia"?

Source: Google Maps

There is a neighborhood in Long Beach called Belmont Shore that I would say is suburban (predominantly detached houses, economy not based primarily on agriculture) that doesn't draw my ire the way that most of suburbia does. But let's see if I can really embrace it . . .

Source: cdmcyclist

The neighborhood revolves around 2nd St., which is exclusively commercial, mostly single-story retail. The parking is mostly in the back or on the side of buildings making for a pleasant walking experience (good), and you have to pay a bit for it, providing an incentive to leave the car at home (good). The street also has Long Beach's famous green stripe sharrow marking for bikes, and it actually means something because there are so many signalized intersections that cars drive through pretty slowly (good).

Source: Google Maps

Belmont Shore is close to the beach and it's houses are on small lots, smaller than the lots in my suburban neighborhood (i.e. less than 15% of an acre each). These small-lot houses allow for a higher theoretical residential density, which theoretically supports transit better and opens up opportunities for more nearby stores (good). It also consumes less natural habitat per capita assuming equal household size (good). The houses are cute, two story affairs, and there are some small-scale apartment buildings mixed in (good). Off-street parking is off of rear alleys, so the sidewalk isn't cut to pieces by driveways, and the visual landscape isn't dominated by garages (good). The residential parts are in close proximity to 2nd St., making walking to stores easy (good).

2nd St. is served by three Long Beach Transit lines and at least one of them has good service frequency, even on Sunday (good). These lines connect to interesting places like Downtown Long Beach.

So far so good right?

In Census Tract 5773, which basically encompasses the entire place I'm talking about, some interesting things come to light from Census 2000 data (had to use old data because I'm dealing with a Census Tract). 85.7% of Belmont Shore was white, compared to just 45.2% for Long Beach as a whole. Nothing against white people, but this shows that the Shore isn't reflecting the ethnic diversity of the City (bad). Let's look at poverty: Belmont Shore had a 6.8% poverty rate, whereas the Long Beach rate for individuals was 22.8%. This tells me the Shore isn't reflecting the income diversity of the City (bad). How about commuting? Were the Shore's residents with jobs getting to work in atypical ways? Sadly, the answer is "not really". Only 3.1% took transit to work (6.6% citywide) and there was also a lower rate in the category that includes cycling (although the sharrows have gone in since). On the positive side more Shore workers walked to work (4.2%) than the City average (2.5%).

In sum then, Belmont Shore really is good suburbia in a lot of ways, if you can afford to access it. But if it isn't accessible to a wide range of people, can it really be called good?


  1. "But if it isn't accessible to a wide range of people, can it really be called good?"

    I'm gonna go with "yes, but..."

    Obviously, Belmont Shore is a type of "suburbia" that's highly in demand. (It looks like a whole lot of beach villages in SoCal.) While in its current form it excludes a lot of people, it can be useful to the livable streets movement as a model- something in between the current sprawlburbia and the urban density that many streetsbloggers would like to see. To leverage this neighbourhood into something good AND accessible for everyone, we need to use its model to inform new building practises- increase supply, lower the price, and maybe provide regulations and incentives to improve both income and racial diversity.

  2. "In sum then, Belmont Shore really is good suburbia in a lot of ways, if you can afford to access it."

    Yeah, and isn't this the case with so many neighborhoods? The ones in the best locations, with the land use most conducive to multiple uses/benefits-of-density, are more expensive. A big part of that is market forces, as JN notes. Increasing supply seems like a no-brainer--private developers and investors will sign on to projects where demand is demonstrated, and better suburbs make the environment, and the lives of its residents, better.

    Enjoyed this post, thinking of doing some suburban surveys myself!