Bright and early this morning we set off south of LA to Orange County and spent the whole day in the city of Rancho Santa Margarita (RSM). RSM is a young city and the first incorporated city of the millennium in the USA. Orange County has benefited from significant economic growth since the mid-1960s in part driven by defence spending that in turn funded a burgeoning IT sector. More recently biotechnology and finance corporations have also begun to make significant contributions to the local economy. RSM is a product of this economic growth but also of the wider trend of peripheral urbanisation that is occurring throughout the region. Some geographers call these types of settlement ‘edge cities’ and they are often, like RSM, contract cities which tender for most of their services and have a very small permanent administrative staff.
Our first stop was at Melissa Data a software engineering company focused on address verification that was amongst the first to set up in RSM 27 years ago. We were welcomed by the founder and CEO Ray Melissa and Human Resources Manager Bette Hagerty before Lauren Sveen, Admound Chou and Michael Johnson took over. Lauren took the students through the dynamics of how the company works and then Michael talked more broadly about working and living in RSM, ending with a really entertaining game of Jeopardy the questions for which were based on the presentations that we’d just heard. Most of the students acquitted themselves well although the winning team could do with a lesson in humility.
The people of RSM always give us a warm welcome and Melissa Data are no exception as they laid on a great Panera lunch for all of the students and lots of chocolate eggs throughout our stay.
We then had a free hour in which to explore the Town Center where the students enjoyed the shops (mostly Target).
Our afternoon was spent in City Hall. Once again, we received a fantastic welcome and a number of people who were immensely generous with their time.
We began with a great talk by the Mayor of RSM Carol Gamble. She was one of the main movers in establishing RSM as a city some 17 years ago and has since worked for the council running the place. She and her colleagues are all part-time politicians working full-time in other professions – Carol for instance is helping to manage the construction of the new LA Rams stadium – and give up their spare time to administer the city. They all work to uphold the original vision which Wendy Starks, Principle Planner and Laura Lopez, PIO/Management Analyst, then discussed with us. This vision at its core celebrates the values of small town American life but designed to counter the problems of urbanity – over-reliance on the car, lack of recreational space, lack of social mixing and so on. There’s an interesting video on YouTube that we were shown that helps elaborate.
In both visits today the students asked some excellent, engaged questions. I was immensely proud of the way they represented our department today.
The quality of navigation was not so consistently excellent however. First navigator in the lead van was Joey. His map reading was slightly out of synch with the road we were on, usually by about one junction. In the second van Ghaleb was navigating and was more able to work out where he was. The Ferdinand Magellan prize for navigation however goes to Matt L who managed to get Martin out of a pickle when he managed to follow the wrong van out of the car park – not for the first time.