Leon Worden

What happens after Newhall Ranch?

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 26, 1998

n the premier issue of "Business 2.0," a hot new magazine for the new economy, Michael Tschong reports that 34 million people sign on to the Internet every day. Forty-five thousand go online for the first time, and in the United States, the Internet is reaching 23 percent of all households.

Two summers ago I wrote that 1,000 new users were signing on every day and that the Internet reached 9 percent of American households. Two summers ago there were 300,000 individual Web sites. Today there are 2.5 million.

The Internet has gone from zero to 60 in the three years since its commercialization. It is the fastest growing and most quickly accepted medium in the history of the planet. Color TV took a lot longer to invade the living rooms of America.

What does that have to do with the tea in China or, for that matter, Newhall Ranch? Quite a bit. Chinese tea and just about everything else is being sold over the Internet. E-commerce is exploding. The Internet is changing everything, even the way development will occur in the future.

It's interesting to see how different educational philosophies have affected school construction over the last three decades. Old Orchard Elementary School in the Newhall School District is a prime example of a building constructed with the notion that children could learn in an environment where classrooms weren't really classrooms, but rather groupings arranged pod-like around a central study area. When that late '60s thinking didn't pan out — later philosophies dictated that children need a more structured environment — schools went back to having more traditional classrooms.

Nobody would seriously consider building a school today that didn't have Internet connectivity. Canyon was finally retrofitted over the weekend in a district-wide game of catch-up with Valencia High School.

I'd be shocked if the first homes in Newhall Ranch weren't wired with fiber-optic cable (or whatever is current in 2001) to support Internet connectivity.

But don't miss the point. I'm not talking about another fancy gadget like a digital microwave or VCR. The Internet is changing the way we live, work, shop and play. Just as the television led to the decline of print, the Internet is leading to a decline in mobility. Why go to a book store when you can go to Amazon.com a lot quicker and find 2.5 million titles when you arrive?

Certainly there is a novelty to a newspaper or book or magazine, but most people turn on the tube for their nightly news and entertainment. The upcoming generation has never known life without a computer. There may always be a desire to go to a specific physical location to shop, but it will be the exception, not the norm. People will go for the experience, not convenience. Convenience comes with a mouse click.

Dick Darling, developer of the new Soledad Entertainment Center, isn't building an Edwards cineplex in Canyon Country because he thinks it would be nice for people in Canyon Country to have a movie theater. He's building one because, as he told The Signal, "people come to an entertainment center to do something, not to buy something." It's a lure. Darling sees the handwriting on the wall. So does Newhall Land.

They're building Town Center Drive as an old-fashioned Main Street because Main Streets are in right now. If strip malls were in they'd be building a strip mall. If box stores were in they'd be building box stores. They aren't.

But they used to be. Look around and you'll see the evolution of shopping habits and how developers have strived to meet them. The strip malls of the 1970s gave way to enclosed malls. The 1992 opening of the Valencia Town Center coincided with the transition from indoor malls to box stores; thus the Valencia Marketplace came on its heels. Now that Main Streets are in, Newhall Land is developing Town Center Drive that way. Tomorrow's city is a conglomeration of homes around a centralized neighborhood shopping center. You can see it in the plans for the five "villages" of Newhall Ranch.

But what comes after tomorrow? Nobody really knows. What kind of city do you build for people who work, shop and learn online?

The projections of traffic into the city of Santa Clarita from Newhall Ranch seem silly. You might as well throw a dart at a Ouija board. The shopping, playing and working trends of five, 10, 20 years from now haven't been written yet. The one certainty is that people will get in their cars less than they do today.

I'd love to be there if Victor Gruen could come back to see Valencia. Gruen, Valencia's original 1950s architect, envisioned a city where people lived in skyscrapers perched on ridgelines while the valleys below were left untouched.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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