California’s Inland Empire, a sprawling region just east of Los Angeles that was once known for its orange and grape vineyards, is now the zero point of America’s warehouse boom. The rise of online shopping has dramatically changed the landscape here and across the country – every $1 billion in online sales drives greater demand for 1.25 million square feet of warehouse space.
According to a new analysis from the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College, there are an estimated 1 billion square feet of warehouse space in the Inland Empire alone. That’s nearly 37 square miles of warehouses.
The tight concrete boxes are relatively new transplants to the region, as an animated map released by Pitzer shows. As you look at the map, which was created with provincial-level data, you can see the warehouses popping up between 1975 and 2021, although the development really took off in the 1990s with the onset of e-commerce.
E-commerce giants, including Amazon, continue to eat up space in the area. “Over the past 20 years, I’ve watched open land and farmland in the Inland Empire turn into a bogged down sea of warehouses,” writes Susan Phillips, director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer, in a statement. May 1 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.
“The Inland Empire is at a breaking point,” she writes.
The region is a kind of canary in the coal mine for the rise of warehouses in America. It has become one of the largest warehouse hubs in the country, thanks in large part to cheap land near highways, rail yards and the busiest port in the western hemisphere (the Port of Los Angeles).
What you can’t see on the map is what life is like if your neighbor is a warehouse that ships and receives truckloads of gadgets and other goods every day. Look for that The edge‘s photo essay about life in Bloomington, California. In Bloomington, some residents are fighting to stop warehouse developers from bulldozing farms, gardens and a unique rural culture shaped by immigrant families who moved to the area because of the open space.
But the proliferation of warehouses doesn’t stop there. Warehouses are now the most common type of commercial building in the US, faster than offices. So how communities in the Inland Empire deal with the influx of warehouses could be lessons for others. For example, local activists have pushed regulators to crack down on the pollution warehouses attracted by diesel trucks. The Inland Empire is the region with the worst smog in the United States, with some residents fighting over warehouses to electrify their truck fleet.
“The battle is seemingly being waged in a hundred places at once,” Phillips writes in her op-ed. To really see the full extent of the social and environmental costs that can come with even more warehouses, those local battles have to be stitched together, like the researchers at Pitzer do with their mapto tell a bigger story.