Year-in-Review 2023

I wrote this retrospective a little later than usual, and with more urgency than usual. If California gets any more rain, we might all wash into the ocean.

So, while we’re still on solid ground, please enjoy these articles, and please enjoy whichever cities you find yourself in this year. I thank all of my readers for their support. 

Planners Across America (Planetizen Press), which came out in late 2022, has been going strong. I was delighted to join longtime colleague Anthony Flint, of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, to discuss it on his Land Matters podcast. (Here’s a discount code for 50% off: PAA-JSTEPHENS-20.)

I also revisited The Urban Mystique (Solimar Books) in an appearance with L.A.’s favorite observer of design, Frances Anderton, at the Westside Urban Forum. (Frances recently released her own excellent book, Common Ground: Multi-Family Housing in Los Angeles.)

I once again contributed to Planetizen’s top books of the year, and I wrote a standalone book review on How Big Things Get Done, a sobering look at cost overruns in infrastructure development (it’s much more fun to read than it sounds).

Talking books with Frances Anderton.

The echoes of the pandemic reverberated through some of my news coverage for the California Planning

& Development Report. I explored how downtowns were faring (San Diego: swimmingly; San Francisco: not so much) and how the dip in transit ridership might affect transit oriented development. Meanwhile, many cities — especially in the Bay Area — are going out of their way to resist densityNote: Some articles are paywalled.

One transit line that promises to do robust business — up to an estimated 11 million passengers per year — is Brightline West, the high speed rail line between the Inland Empire and Las Vegas. I wrote about it for my quasi-annual contribution to InTransition Magazine. My favorite article of the year covered the town of Bishop’s new downtown plan (left). I’ve been visiting Bishop, en route to Mammoth, since I was a kid. It’s one of my favorite small towns in California, and it’s going to get even better. 

I might be the only statewide journalist to cover Bishop, but I was one of legions to opine on California

Forever, the new city proposed in the northeast corner of the Bay Area (right). It’s the biggest planning-related story of at least a generation. After giving a talk to the Orange County Realtors, I also wondered whether Orange County ought to embrace a little of the California Forever spirit. I’ve lost patience with some cities, particularly Santa Clara. I also gave a bit of credence to the question of whether density in expensive cities leads to affordability — or just to a greater number of expensive homes.

APA California Conference
I was honored, and just a bit daunted, to deliver the Betty Croly Memorial Lecture at September’s conference of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association in Fresno. The trick is, I was asked to speak about Fresno and the Central Valley.

It’s a place about which I have very little firsthand knowledge. Fortunately, it’s also a fascinating place, full of controversy and promise (especially if high-speed rail ever arrives). And, it embodies California’s housing crisis: the Valley’s many cities have continued to build while the coastal areas have stagnated. More than one Fresno-based planner told me that I nailed it — which was a delight and a relief to me. And, most importantly, I hope it was an encouragement to all the planners who are dedicated to the Valley.