Tuesday October 04, 2022

Imagine a billion square feet worth of warehouses

California’s Inland Empire is a sprawling area just east of Los Angeles, once home to grape vines and orange groves. It is now the ground zero for America’s warehouse boom. Online shopping has caused a dramatic shift in the landscape in California and across the country. Every $1 billion in online sales drives up demand for 1.25million square feet of warehouse space. According to a new analysis done by the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability (Pitzer College), there are now 1 billion square feet worth of warehouses in the Inland Empire. This is almost 37 square miles worth of warehouses.
Pitzer released an animated map showing how the austere concrete boxes have only recently arrived in the region. The map was created using county-level data. You’ll see warehouses appear between 1975 and 2021. However, e-commerce really made development possible in the 1990s.

Based on county data, a map showing the growth of warehouses in San Bernardino County and Riverside counties between 1975-2021. All figures should be considered estimates. GIF: Graham Brady/Robert Redford Conservancy of Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College (with gratitude to Lani Fox).

Amazon and other e-commerce giants continue to occupy the area. “Over the past 20 years, I have seen open land and farmland within the Inland Empire transform into a gridlocked sea full of warehouses,” Susan Phillips (director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer) writes in a May 1st Op-Ed in The Los Angeles Times.
She writes, “The Inland Empire has reached its breaking point.”
This region is a key to the growth of warehouses in America. It has become one of the largest warehouse hubs in America thanks to cheap land near freeways and railyards.
The map doesn’t show you what it looks like when your neighbor is a warehouse that sends and receives truckloads of gadgets every day. The Verge’s photo essay about life in Bloomington, California, shows this. Some residents in Bloomington are trying to stop warehouse developers bulldozing over gardens, ranches, and a unique rural culture that was shaped by immigrants who came to the area to enjoy its open spaces.
Warehouse sprawl isn’t stopping there. Warehouses are now more common than offices in the US. The Inland Empire’s experience with warehouses may be an example of how others can learn from it. Local activists have pushed regulators for stricter regulations to curb the pollution that warehouses are attracting via diesel trucks. The Inland Empire has the worst smog in the United States. Some residents are fighting to have their trucks powered by electric trucks.
Phillips wrote in her op-ed that “the battle is seemingly waged at a hundred places simultaneously.” To truly understand the social and environmental consequences of even more warehouses, these local battles must be woven together, as Pitzer’s researchers did with their map.

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