The Irvine (Stepford) Wives

John Boyer (
Mon, 20 Jul 1998 17:44:07 -0500

[Irvine is growing, but The Economist is not impressed with "The Master

Firms are lured to Irvine, California, because it is an immaculately
controlled environment. It is also a little bit sinister .
The 5,000-acre Spectrum, which sits in the heart of Orange County, at
the intersection of two freeways, is one of America=92s most successful
business parks, outdoing such rivals as North Carolina=92s
Research Triangle in everything from office space to
In the Irvine Spectrum the planning is so meticulous that it conjours up
images of the =93Stepford Wives=94, a film about suburban America in the
1980s. The business park is but a small part of a gigantic =93Master Plan=
that was drawn up in 1966 by the Irvine company, a private developer
that owns a fifth of Orange County. The company could have made a
killing when LA began to sprawl southwards into its land. But instead it
decided to create something as different from LA as possible. It studied
urban developments around the world=97particularly Britain=92s garden
cities=97and came up with a detailed plan for what it calls =93orderly
growth=94. Donald Bren, a billionaire who took control of the Irvine
company in 1983, is second to none in his enthusiasm for the Master
The local houses are built around village greens; there are shops within
walking distance. In LA Tudor manor houses jostle with mock Byzantine
temples; in Irvine you can find yourself in the wrong house unless you
check the number first. The Spectrum=92s streets (which rejoice in names
such as =93Enterprise=94, =93Fortune=94 and =93Technology=94) are lined w=
ith mature
palm trees that Mr Bren personally selected. Anyone who puts up a
neon-sign bearing his company=92s name, or paints his building anything
other than white, is reminded of the Irvine company=92s =93rules and
The company=92s biggest public-relations problem is that people are
forever bringing up George Orwell=92s =931984=94. =93The Truman Show=94a =
film that
features a squeaky clean town that turns out to be the plaything of a
megalomaniacal television producer, has not helped.