The Consequences of Sprawl: Overcrowded Housing and Covid Deaths

Los Angeles is the nation's capital of both crowding and sprawl. A feature published by the Los Angeles Times provides the history of how the metropolis achieved this contradiction.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 20, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


The Interstate 10 freeway cuts through residential neighborhoods in the city of Alhambra. Downtown Los Angeles is visible in the background,

Matt Gush / Shutterstock

Whether it's fair nor not, Los Angeles is a symbol of the unfettered expansion of sprawl in the United States. So that should mean backyards and large, spacious homes for everyone, right?

Look beneath the surface, however, and the reality of the Los Angeles region is revealed as an overcrowded housing market—multiple families and households shoehorning into a housing supply not built to handle the demand of the nation's most populous county. 

A feature article by Brittny Mejia, Liam Dillon, and Gabrielle Lamar Lemee, and Sandy Kambhampati for the Los Angeles Times looks past the symbolic region to reveal the consequences of the reality of Los Angeles, focusing on the consequences of overcrowded housing during the pandemic. 

"At the heart of the storied metropolis of single-family-home sprawl, L.A. leaders created a cruel paradox: It is also the country’s most crowded place to live," According to the analysis reported here by the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles County has more overcrowded housing than any other large county in the United States—a fact that has remained true for three decades. 

During the pandemic, the region's hidden overcrowding in single-family homes had tragic consequences. The article places the blame for high covid death rates in low-income communities on the historic decisions made by planners and politicians: "This public health disaster was the inevitable consequence of more than a century of decisions that resulted in L.A. growing more like an endless suburb than a towering city."

To explain how Los Angeles achieved its paradox, the team of journalists "reviewed historical archives, oral histories and newspaper accounts, analyzed decades of U.S. census data and conducted dozens of interviews with academic experts, public officials, residents of cramped apartments and people whose family legacies in the region date back more than a century." They found a singular thread:

L.A.’s leaders could have addressed deplorable living conditions for the region’s poorest residents with more apartments, taller buildings and public housing. But they saw those ideas as anathema to the Southern California lifestyle they were creating. So in working-class neighborhoods, more and more people crammed into the existing housing stock, particularly as new streams of immigrants came from Mexico and Central America.

The entire history, along with damning judgments for 20th century planning and a warning for 21st century planning, can be read in the source article.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 in Los Angeles Times

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