In response to the latest Southern California wildfires, site locations and climate must be more carefully considered by the people who build and approve subdivisions, writes Christopher Hawthorne.
"Since the middle of the 20th century, this is how we have developed much of our new housing in the U.S., and particularly in Southern California: by pushing deep into canyons and deserts and onto flood plains. We build reassuringly familiar-looking subdivisions, decorated with vaguely Spanish or Mediterranean accents, in locations that by land-use standards -- and by common-sense standards -- are truly exotic. We build with the unstinting belief that growth is good and that progress in the form of various kinds of technology -- new building materials, military-style firefighting, a vast system of pumps and levees -- will continue to make it possible to construct new pockets of nostalgic architecture virtually anywhere."
"But maybe our nostalgia should extend beyond red-tile roofs to include earlier lessons about how and where it is safe to build. This country's culture as a whole is in the midst of a profound shift from the unshakable confidence that marked the so-called American Century to a new recognition of risk, conservation, even fragility. Green architecture, with its rather old-fashioned emphasis on paying attention to site and climate, is part of that shift. But those who build and approve new hillside developments -- 'the lords of subdivision,' as nature writer Richard Lillard called them, the 'replanners of the Earth's surface' -- have barely acknowledged it."