The best laid schemes gang aft agley: the saga of Salton City
Posted December 4, 2009
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.
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.“
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.
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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