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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The best laid schemes gang aft agley: the saga of Salton City

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 4, 2009

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  Salton City (by: Anthony Citrano, creative commons license)

  Salton City on Google Earth

Yesterday I attended a great presentation on smart growth research by my colleague and outgoing NRDC science fellow Nathan Sandwick.  This post isn’t about the presentation, but during the discussion another of my colleagues offered his opinion that planned “new towns” frequently do not live up to their idealistic aspirations.  That’s been my observation as well, and it is borne out as dramatically in the desert (and mostly deserted) “census-designated place” of Salton City, California as in anyplace I can imagine in the US.

  abandoned apartment building in Salton City (by: slworking2, creative commons license)  abandoned apartment building in Salton City (by: slworking2, creative commons license)

We tend to think of abandoned properties in this country as being an urban Rust Belt phenomenon (discounting wild-west ghost towns from frontier days), but that’s not always the case.  Salton City was intended to be a resort on the west side of the Salton Sea (a somewhat accidental water body that has its own saga) that never quite panned out.  Wikipedia notes that, although maps may show Salton City to be a sizable community, “in fact very few of the surveyed streets and roads were ever developed. The town was developed in the 1950s but, as the salinity of the already highly polluted Sea rose, very little development took place and much of what was built — including the city's marina — was abandoned.“

  note the spelling (by: Don Barrett, creative commons license)

With apologies to the great Robert Burns for riffing on his iconic poem for this post’s title, I’ll mostly let these amazing photos and Google Earth images speak for themselves.  As always, move your pointer over the images to identify the scene and some very talented photographers.

  note the swimming pool (by: slworking2, creative commons license) 

  abandoned motel in Salton City (by: John Brownlow, creative commons license)  a room in Salton City (by: slworking2, creative commons license)

  a trailer in Salton City (by: Jeremy Engleman, creative commons license)

  Howdy Neighbor (by: Anthony Citrano, creative commons license)

  apartment building (by: slworking2, creative commons license)  the airport (by: Jeremy Engleman, creative commons license)

There have been various efforts, including recent ones, to repopulate Salton City, and it does have some well-tended properties scattered about, along with a current population reportedly between 1000 and 1500 people.  But the community’s real estate boosters obviously have a long way to go.  For more history and perspective, see this ominously titled (“Salton City: A land of dreams and dead fish”) but informative 2007 story in the Los Angeles Times.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.


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Rob SteutevilleDec 6 2009 10:27 AM

This was laid out in the 1950s, in the decade of Levittown, an era when suburbia retained some vestiges of a block and street pattern. That was to completely disappear by the 1970s. With modifications, you could get a good street grid. And the streets are narrow. If it wasn't in such a ridiculous location, it could be retrofitted as a decent neighborhood.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 6 2009 12:35 PM

I noticed that - pretty good street connectivity, if only the streets were actually connecting something.

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