Upzoned

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November 22, 2019  

Can we make California wildfires less destructive by changing the way we build?

November 22, 2019

For months now, wildfires have been raging across the state of California—and along the way, they’ve sparked some heated conversations about whether our own building choices are to blame for the destruction and tragedy that have followed nearly every blaze.

It’s not hard to see why. California is pretty much the poster child for the #Suburban Experiment, and they’ve never quite stopped building further and further out from their coastal cores, growing at a robust post-war pace long after the rest of the country saw fringe development slow. In California, though, those fringes are located deep into fire-prone forests that are increasingly beset by drought—and building infrastructure way out into those edges doesn’t do much for their cities’ finances, either.

So California should just say an unequivocal “no” to new development in the wilderness-urban interface and start densifying its core neighborhoods, right? And we definitely shouldn’t be running power lines out into the middle of those tinderbox landscapes, yeah?

Well…it’s not quite that simple.

Today on Upzoned, we bring in a special guest: Brian Isom, wildfire management expert, researcher, and author of a great recent article over on the Orange County Register. In his article, Brian argued that negligent power companies actually aren’t the bogeyman of the wildfire crisis that many would have you believe—and that keeping Californians and their homes safe will take a lot more than the efforts of you, me, your local zoning commission, and Smokey the Bear. And in this conversation with Kea, he discusses all of this along with his work at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, as well as how a Strong Towns approach can help align market incentives to make even the driest, most overbuilt corners of the US fire-safe and financially prosperous.