The images below are aerial shots of a development in California City, a city about 100 miles northeast of L.A. The development was abandoned before being built, leaving a grid of empty streets now visible on Google maps:



California City was planned in the late 1950s and early 1960s when L.A. was experiencing a major boom and houses were increasingly being built in large, pre-planned developments by a single construction firm. Instead of building houses as people requested them, the new business model was to buy a large section of property, build a lot of houses in more of an assembly-line fashion, and then find buyers for them and, with the post-World War II economic boom and subsequent suburban flight, it worked.

But as these maps testify, sometimes things go awry; a particular city doesn’t grow as much as the developers thought (California City was supposed to rival L.A. in size), or an economic downturn affects the real estate market in a more widespread manner (see the comments for several readers’ summaries of the many factors that have at times played into real estate booms and busts, including policy decisions in both the public and private sectors). And with the planned development housing model, we may be left not with a few unsold houses, but with bizarre ghost towns in varying stages of completion as evidence.

Related posts: the dilemma of the duplex, Michigan and the recession, and economic change hits the mall.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.