Research Reports

Our Future Neighborhoods: Housing and Urban Villages in the San Fernando Valley

Joel Kotkin, Michael Shires, and Karen Speicher


How we house our people will tell much about the future of the San Fernando Valley. Housing should not be viewed simply as places of residence, but as places people live within the context of a broader community. When we talk about housing, we are also talking about the placement of future transportation and infrastructure, as well as retail, commercial and industrial spaces.

This study looks at the evolution of housing in the Valley—from the origins of small towns and developments to the massive tract-expansion of the post-World War II era and the development of a large multi-family housing stock. Housing has never been more of a critical issue than it is today. Steep appreciation in values has priced many families out of home ownership, causing severe overcrowding in some areas and deterioration of quality of life in others.

Our recommendations focus on the most practical ways to address these issues. At the center lies concern for fostering communities. One critical aspect, we believe, will be the creation of urban villages that can combine retail and commercial uses with a reasonable mix of higher density housing. City officials can help this by changing many of the zoning restraints on mixed-used housing, carrying a message to Sacramento to remove unreasonable barriers to condominium and multi-family developments. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on currently underutilized natural assets, such as the Los Angeles River, to create thoroughfares for walking and biking, in addition to greenbelts and green spaces that span the San Fernando Valley.

In our efforts, we retain our focus on maintaining the best aspects of the Valley—the large tracts of single-family homes, the decentralized districts and an increasingly diverse, and primarily middle-income, population. To preserve these characteristics, and prevent the twin perils of barrioization and an increasingly bifurcated community, we believe that Valley residents must work together for effective change. The alternative will not be the status quo, but steady decline. Doing nothing is not a viable option—doing the right thing is the imperative.