OPINION: Stop resisting industrial gentrification and rebuild cities instead

A truck silhouette with gray smoke leaving the tailpipe. A person's silhouette stands amidst the smoke
Graphic by Natalie Bauer

This is not going to be an article similar to the thousands you’ve read about gentrification and housing. There are solutions, and although the transition is painful, to say the least, we can overcome this. There is a way to accept growth and development without letting it completely take over. 

Claremont is situated on the western edge of the Inland Empire, according to Maps of World. Several decades ago, the Inland Empire was a community of farm workers, according to Inside the Inland Empire, a site all about the IE. 

The Empire was an oasis of neighborhoods free from the depression and health hazards of industrialization. Then, as stories of farm worker communities so often go, the big looming giants of industrialization and gentrification came down upon the Empire. 

In the past several decades, Amazon, UPS and other major companies have bought up huge chunks of farm workers communities in the Empire, especially Fontana, Riverside and Moreno Valley, to build huge distribution warehouses, according to the Los Angeles Times. The area has become so densely packed with trucking warehouses that building codes and health regulations are being completely neglected. 

The Air Resources Board states that there must be a buffer of at least 1,000 feet between homes (sensitive land uses) and warehouses (distribution centers), based on estimates that pollution concentrations drop by 80 percent at that distance. It’s no surprise that many cities take this fact as a recommendation, according to the Los Angeles Times, and ignore it in order to economically benefit from the development of more warehouses. 

Because of this negligence, many people in the area are suffering from severe health issues. Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA atmospheric chemistry professor, has spent most of her career studying how freeway and trucking pollution increases residents’ risk of cancer, asthma and heart disease. 

Paulson says the most at-risk areas are those surrounded by warehouses where diesel trucks are idle, like the distribution warehouses in the Inland Empire. She calls these areas “diesel death zones” and states that “diesel particulate matter, carcinogen-laden soot that deposits deep in the lungs, is responsible for the bulk of the cancer risk from air pollution and more than 1,000 early deaths a year in California.”

If this doesn’t convince you of the dire necessity to get our neighbors and friends the heck out of there, note that when air-monitoring stations were set up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency around the area, they recorded the highest levels of fine-particulate matter nationwide. 

Not only are these residents at risk, they’re at more risk than anyone else in the nation. There needs to be a solution; lives are at stake.

The push to boycott Amazon and kick major corporations out of areas like the Empire is far-fetched and unproductive. There are never going to be enough people abandoning Amazon to make a real difference; what we need to do is accept the change and change with it. 

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Staying true to my opening statement, I want to emphasize that this is not going to be an easy transition. Uprooting families and communities will always be painful, but the warehouses aren’t going to disappear, and if we don’t want them taking over communities, they’re going to take over natural space. 

With the increasing climate disaster, we can’t afford that. I propose instead that we relocate people to cities near the coast and build up.

Immediately, several reasons why this wouldn’t work come to mind, like building codes, rich snobs, housing prices and more. But think about the upside. 

If we had denser housing concentrated in cities, there would be fewer people commuting long distances, leading to less air pollution. There would be room for the unavoidable, continuing growth of companies shipping products. There would be an increase in job supply and demand. 

The economy would strengthen. Urban sprawl would be limited. We might even end up needing fewer shipping warehouses because trucks could travel much shorter routes and reach the same amount of people.

Building taller buildings in cities could even solve some of the serious health hazards warehouse-dense areas create. The physical barriers created from growing up in cities would protect citizens from pollution drift. Research studies show that living in areas with varying building heights helps disperse unhealthy air particles and prevent “diesel traps.”

The only way we’re going to be able to make these changes is if we elect the right people — people who are willing to rebuild cities and alter building codes so we can prepare for the future. 

Perhaps this rhetoric feels familiar and unsatisfying; people are sick of being told the only way to make change is to vote for the “right” people.

I’ll admit due process is slow, and results aren’t always seen immediately. But this is the only option for creating large-scale change. It’s a matter of policy. 

The coast needs to be given up to housing, and skylines are going to be ruined. But in the end, it’s a small sacrifice compared to the alternative: doing nothing. Our society is rapidly changing, becoming more robotic, if you will, and sacrifices need to be made, mostly on behalf of the rich. 

If we do nothing, people’s health will remain at risk. Amazon, UPS and others will keep buying houses and displacing people. 

Those things simply aren’t going to change, so we might as well suck it up and be proactive. There’s no reason to make people suffer more than they already are. 

Georgia Scott PZ ’23 is from Marin County, California. She’s a very good hugger.

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