Cupertino is at one edge of the Santa Clara Valley, one of the best places on the continent to grow fruit.

This display is in our Whole Foods, one of the (if not the) largest stores they have. All of the brands are local and don’t exist any more, because we paved them over in favor of single-family homes and office parks and fucking *lawns*.

It’s really sad, and would have been easy to avoid, too, by building **up** instead of **out**. Instead, there are always new ballot measures in Cupertino to try to limit the “scale” of building – in other words, to prevent building up – and ensure the sprawl stays. And I expect that applies to the rest of the Santa Clara Valley as well, and a huge percentage of the United States as a whole, everywhere a “subdivision” has replaced farmland.

Even if we could build high-rise apartments and offices, it’s not certain that the land we’ve covered with little shitbox houses, chemically-maintained lawns, and asphalt could even be used for agriculture again. The land may well be “used up” and require extensive rehabilitation to even support parkland, much less farming.

Someday people will look back on this as a monumental disaster, an utter failure of urban planning ands demonstration of our society’s lack of any capacity for forethought. Probably once all of humanity is facing permanent food and water shortages, later this century.


  1. Sean M
    January 17, 2010

    Amen brother! Grab a copy of The Geography of Nowhere by Kunstler, sounds like you might like it.

  2. mandaris
    January 17, 2010

    It is really sad. We are using up all of our resources and no one is thinking “Where are we going to get our food?” “Where are we going to get our clean water?”

    Progress, progress, progress…

  3. Jens Ayton
    January 18, 2010

    Quite a big chunk of California is already regarded as a monumental disaster, an utter failure of urban planning ands demonstration of our society’s lack of any capacity for forethought. Of course, it’s far from the only one. Monumental disasters seem to be our civilization’s forte; it’s really quite amazing we’re still around. :-/

  4. Llama
    February 13, 2010

    Hi Chris,

    Are you the same Chris Hansen who designed the “Living Hell” font? I’ve been trying to track down the designer to get permission to use it for a film website and have met a lot of dead ends so far… If that’s you, could you please send me an email to discuss it?

    Sorry, I can’t see any contact information so I’m leaving a comment on here instead!



  5. eschaton
    February 13, 2010

    No, I’m not Chris Hansen the font designer. If you ever do get in touch with him, please let me know how to do so because I’m constantly getting inquiries about his fonts.

  6. Llama
    February 17, 2010

    Sorry to bother you, then! I will be sure to check back if I ever get hold of him, but he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth…

    Thanks for letting me know.

  7. warmi
    May 7, 2010

    Who is “we” ?

    I couldn’t care less about living in an apartment and I prefer my “shitty” house any day .. apparently so do millions of others …

    You are not me and no, we are not a collective … so lose that “we” …

    Plan your own life for yourself.

  8. haikuty
    May 7, 2010

    So True! I know guys whose family back a generation or two owned acres and acres of orchards there, but are now living off the leases on the office parks and shopping centers.

    In Oregon an “urban growth boundary” was implemented (at least around the Portland Metro area) and it seems to have worked quite well; center of city hasn’t fallen into burned out ignored buildings while urban sprawl happened. Instead, due to lack of build-able land, they tear down the old unwanted buildings and build newer taller ones (or restore them and add more stories on top).

    We are also seeing an increase in residential density in a big way; many post world war II single story small homes on 4,000 – 5,000 sq ft lots getting torn down and replaced with three 2 or 3 story row-houses (3x density increase).

    The one aspect of it that didn’t quite keep up was the need for really good mass transit to handle the higher density of people – that many cars just doesn’t work (!). We do have quite good mass transit, but they are rushing to catch up with the density growth – more light-rail lines, and streetcars going back in. It’s funny (and sad) that you can see the old (early 1900s?) street car rails under the asphalt they are digging up to put in the new street car rails.

    Of course the developers seem to generally hate this urban growth boundary because it costs them more to tear down and rebuild.

    I don’t know if it’s too late for Santa Clara, but maybe there is still the opportunity to establish a boundary like this there? Any small city with farmland/forest around it that can should implement one while that land is still unpaved/unlawnified.

    I once wanted to go after a job at Apple, but my wife said something like, “I’m not moving to the State they PAVED” (obviously not the whole state, but as you note, much of the Cupertino/Santa Clara valley seems to have been paved).

    Sad indeed.

    Nothing a billionaire and a bulldozer couldn’t take care of I suppose…:-)

  9. John C. Randolph
    June 29, 2010

    What? Government interference in the real estate market has negative consequences? Say it ain’t so!


  10. honus
    September 13, 2010

    Not that simple, though. Even if we could build up, would we? Back in PA I watched many farms become houses but this wasn’t because they had no where else to build the houses, it was because the farmers wanted to retire and their kids had no interest in taking over the farm that had previously been handed down in the family. So it came time to sell. The farmer could have sold to other farmers but the other farmers couldn’t afford to pay as much as the housing developers, who stood to make much more money selling subdivisions than any farmer would make off the land.
    This is a much bigger problem than wanting to build out and not up.

  11. Alexis Goldstein
    December 11, 2010

    You know, this is so funny, because at the Whole Foods in NYC on the Bowery, they also have a weirdly depressing display.

    It is meant to show off the history of the Bowery. On one side, it has quotes from Walt Whitman and pictures of what is used to look like during Whitman’s time.

    But on the other side? It has pictures of this gorgeous old theater, one that tried to survive the new development but couldn’t. And what is so strange is, it doesn’t really specify what was put in its place, which leaves you to believe that this gorgeous old theater that probably deserved landmark status was torn down to build the Whole Foods. It doesn’t say so either way, but the fact that they highlight it is strange.

    I remember leaving the display feeling unsettled.

    It seems like they are trying to at least honor the history, but instead are building strange proof of what they are part of destroying…

  12. Dav
    March 28, 2012

    I’d be happier with the short building if they all had living roofs: grass, veggies or whatever.

  13. hmijail
    August 21, 2016

    6 years later, but… this has been a really interesting glimpse of USA culture. Thank you.


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