Why doesn’t every suburb look like Irvine?

Like many of you, I moved to Irvine precisely because it wasn’t a conventional suburb. I’m an architect and I’ve noticed details that make the difference. But everyone can feel – and enjoy – that it is intentionally different.

The wide green belts make it a garden city, in contrast to typical suburban residential areas. Pine and flowering trees line Culver Drive and University Drive, no random gas stations, used car parking lots, and shopping malls.

As a historian, I was fascinated: why didn’t every suburb look like this? Why was Irvine an exception?

The answer, of course, is Irvine’s master plan.

A master plan collects data on what is needed before the first foundation is poured. They determine how many schools, parks, shops, and jobs the community needs to be worth living in. Then, like an artist, you determine where each piece logically fits.

I discovered that the architect William Pereira, Irvine’s original master planner, presented a vision to two major clients, the University of California and the Irvine Company, that was ready for new answers.

The Irvine Ranch was Pereira’s opportunity to carefully design an entirely new city with a new university at its heart. It would fix the problems of traditional suburbs and reinterpret everything from the architecture to the ways children walk and bike to school.

At the time, it seemed risky to many to experiment with the traditional rules of the construction industry.

Despite these risks, the courageous experiment was successful – and still runs the city today.

From small details to large lines, the master plan offers a lot more. In this monthly column, we visit every corner of the city to explore these features.

Understanding these features can determine how well Irvine will maintain its character going forward.

We introduce: Alan Hess

Our newest columnist, Irvine-based Alan Hess, has authored 20 books on architecture and community planning and is currently researching another on the Irvine Master Plan. He is an architect, commissioner for the California State Historical Resources Commission, and a fellow of the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Every month he answers readers’ questions about Irvine’s unique planning history.

Do you have any questions about specific aspects of Irvine’s Master Plan? Please write to [email protected] and I will try to answer them in future columns.

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