Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Chile, Earthquakes and Los Angeles

An explanation (and probably a correct explanation) for why the earthquake in Chile did not produce even more fatalities is that it is a relatively rich country with decent building codes.

This prompts a few thoughts about Los Angeles. First, many of us who worry about the cost of housing worry that land use regulations and building codes drive up the price of houses to a point where low-to-moderate income households can't afford them.

But clearly making housing seismically appropriate is important in LA, and this will drive up the cost of housing for good reason, and in particular will drive up the cost of high rise buildings, which in turn means that unit density in Southern California will be low relative to population density (and so it is). To some extent, then, our sprawl reflects an appropriate allocation of resources. It also explains (among other reasons) why housing will also be somewhat more expensive here than other places.

According to my colleague Lisa Schweitzer, our sprawl might do even more good. Specifically, a spread-out city such as ours is more "diversified" with respect to natural disasters, because no more part of the metropolitan area dominates economically, There is no one central job center here--there are many: downtown, Century City, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Burbank, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Long Beach etc.

Finally, the need to prepare against earthquakes has strong implications for the ability to redevelop downtown. Broadway has magnificent buildings that are empty above street level. One of the most important reasons for this is that seismic retrofitting is so expensive, redeveloped old buildings are not competitive with new buildings. This is sad, but likely appropriate.


Jazzam said...

Seismic Safety provides retrofit earthquake, retrofit seismic, and foundation bolting.

blueberry said...

It's better to prepare the old structures with safety measures. That will prevent accidents in earthquakes.