Creating a virtual issue based on San Francisco is a challenge, for despite its international fame, increasing economic centrality and now waning political importance, it has been mostly absent from the pages of IJURR. Thus this virtual issue tries something a bit different, building a thematic and at times comparative understanding of key aspects of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area by weaving together different histories which have from time to time come together over the past four decades. The first is that of the region itself and California in general. The second is that of this journal. The third is my own.
IJURR was born three years after I was, during a critical time of transformation for California in general. The first issue was published in 1977, a little more than a year before the revanchist tax revolt of Proposition 13 which would so indelibly alter California. I wanted to reach back to that time, to get a sense of the first days of the journal, to understand to what extent urban scholarship from that time had anything to tell us about how Northern California has and has not changed. This special issue is thus heavy on older pieces, pieces which are almost historical documents, and which can help us reflect on change and the lack thereof, on the ghosts in the proverbial machine that is the greater Bay Area.
It is almost terrifying to read Richard Child Hill’s (1977) ‘State capitalism and the urban fiscal crisis in the United States’, a piece published in the first issue, as the path towards Proposition 13 was being laid. When read together with Lucas Kirkpatrick and Michael Peter Smith’s (2011) work on the limits to California’s growth during a time of fiscal crisis, it drives home the intensity with which the basic reproduction of core urban systems in California has teetered on the brink of disaster for my entire lifetime. Californians of my generation have never known fiscal stability, despite our almost obscene wealth and incredible growth.
Our constant fiscal crisis amidst great plenty impacts the very ability of Californians to move and survive. Tom Angotti’s (1977) piece on earthquake recovery in Italy (an inherently Californian tale) entitled ‘Playing politics with disaster‘ and Glenn Yago’s (1978) ‘Current issues in US transportation politics’ brought home the dueling dangers of both political intransigence and capitalist profiteering when it comes to foundational infrastructure. Angotti’s pithy and exquisitely straightforward piece was equally also a reminder of how academic writing has changed, not always for the better. While some of the early IJURR writing feels dated, the accessibility (and bilinguality—some of the first year is in French) of the early journal poses an opportunity for IJURR to play a wider role in a multilingual intellectual conversation about cities that isn’t necessarily academic.
The San Francisco Bay Area as an object of research does begin to appear in the early 1980s in a series of classic pieces. Barry Checkoway’s (1980) ‘Large builders, federal housing programmes, and postwar suburbanization’ was one of the most important early pieces which attempted to debunk the myth of suburbia as simply a product of choice, while simultaneously highlighting the Bay Area’s central role in the formative political economy of suburbanization. The 1980s would be a critical decade for scholars unpacking the role of both large developers and the federal state in the production of the American suburbs, and thus it is fitting to bookend Checkoway with Richard Florida and the underappreciated Marshall Feldman’s (1988) ‘Housing in US Fordism’.
In a nation and a state whose economy has always been deeply tied to the production of space and the land economy, housing as an economic issue never goes away. As Fordism and the Keynesian era morphed into neoliberal deregulation, housing became just another post-industrial widget in a sub-prime regime. As Jesus Hernandez, Kathe Newman and Wyly, Moos, Hammel and Kabahizi’s classic 2009 pieces show, this financialization of housing and urban space in general isn’t just a product of the neoliberal era, but is deeply rooted in the racialized American and Californian metropolis, including Hernandez’s Sacramento, which, by the time of his writing, was firmly embedded in the megaregion of Northern California.
The question of housing, development and growth would underlie much of the history of my region and its coverage in the journal. In 1981, the journal published the journal article version of what would become John Mollenkopf’s classic book on the contested politics of neighborhood growth in San Francisco and Boston. It forms an interesting foil to Castells’ San Francisco of the 1970s, during which aspects of neighborhood politics seemed to offer hope. This is perhaps best captured in Robert Lake’s (2006) ‘Recentering the city’, part of a great collection revisiting City and the Grassroots.
Like most cities and towns in the region, San Francisco growth politics has cycled deeper into dysfunctionality, fundamentally impacting the basic ability of the city and region to reproduce itself. This are arguably even worse at the regional scale, where Stephanie Pincetl’s (1994) ‘The regional management of growth in California: a history of failure’ pulls no punches. In a city and a region and a state which is so wealthy and supposedly so progressive, we have consistently let localism, elitism, corporate greed, racism and (at times) misguided environmentalism impede our ability to produce a sustainable and equitable urban environment that meets the basic needs for all residents in a fiscally sound manner.
But neither political dysfunctionality nor the suburban growth machine can operate on their own. In a beautifully written tale which helped establish her as the scholar of Silicon Valley’s development, AnnaLee Saxenian’s (1983: 238) ‘The urban contradictions of Silicon Valley’ includes a haunting line (p. 238) which has never felt more true:
I argue here that the urban problems which emerged in the region during the 1970s—breakdowns of the housing market and transportation systems, along with environmental degradation and the no-growth movement—all are direct outcomes of the evolution of this industrially determined spatial structure.
The only major difference between yesterday and today is that the intensity of these contradictions seem even more focused on San Francisco and Oakland, and not just in Silicon Valley.
Finally, there is the question of race and immigration, foundational components of California and Bay Area history. This golden and progressive region that I love so dearly has always been at the forefront of racial animosity and racialized city building, from inventing zoning to exclude the Chinese in the nineteenth century, to internment and urban renewal. The region which launched the Black Panthers, was foundational to gay rights and the environmental movement, and fashioned itself into an international icon of the radical and the progressive also saw the invention of so much worse. It is no coincidence then that we as a state became the vanguard of yet another wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, in California’s infamous 1994 ballot measure, Proposition 187. This revanchist measure, part of the same racial nationalism which produced Prop 13, is chronicled in two IJURR pieces from 1995, Armbruster, Geron and Bonacich’s look inside California politics, and Smith and Tarallo’s comparative analysis.
Prop 187 was both the beginning and the end and the beginning of the end for different things. For me personally, it was a foundational political moment during a middle-class university life, when protests around a frankly evil piece of populist law making woke me up to the story of race and place and planted the seeds for a career. For the Bay Area, it seemed the final straw in the long march rightward which was driven from the south. And for California, it was fortunately the beginning of the end, as a generation of Latino and Asian activists born in the fight for the most basic of human rights would eventually grow into a hyper-diverse populace in which a future Prop 187 has become increasingly impossible. Even 10 years later, Ayse Pamuk’s (2004) case study of immigrant clusters in San Francisco shows the growing wealth of immigrant communities, and the undoing of certain forms of marginalization that had long plagued San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Yet growing political power for some immigrant communities and communities of color has not altered the fundamental reality of the San Francisco Bay Area and the grand urban project that is California as a racialized and unequal space. In this it has much in common with other parts of the world, but none as potent as two other suburbanized and racialized former British colonies: Australia and South Africa. From mining and metallurgy to colonial and postcolonial bloodshed to the domination of suburban form, the line between California and its southern hemisphere cousins needs further exploration. IJURR has published much over the years on both places, but two pieces have recently grabbed me—M.J. Murray’s (2009) ‘Fire and Ice: unnatural disasters and the disposable urban poor in post‐apartheid Johannesburg’ and Berry and Rees’s (1994) introduction to a fantastic special issue on Australian urban development.
I know too little about the urban development of either nation, and as a student of Californian urbanization, it is time to rectify this situation. We seem to share questions of deeply historical racialization and tensions over immigration, suburbanization and infrastructure development and fiscal challenges, political intransigence and gentrified or gated exclusion, industrial transformation and globalization—all of which factored in some way into my own contribution to this journal. Perhaps in San Francisco, I can buy some enterprising Aussies and South Africans an overpriced beer, and we can talk about a book which needs to be written.
For those of you reading this essay as part of your preparation for the AAG in San Francisco, know that you are in a city that has always been a region, even if the City often forgets this fact. Few people have understood the transformation of regions as well or as creatively as Ed Soja, even if he famously loved a certain Southern California city so deeply that it blinded him to the centrality of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area to the transformations he charted. His final contribution to IJURR, ‘Accentuate the regional’, briefly touches on a dream of ‘regional democracy’ as a path to spatial justice. Never has this been more necessary, either in Ed’s region or my own. This virtual issue is dedicated to his memory, for all that he did to help myself and the rest of the urban world understand how it all comes together.
University of Leeds, UK
SAN FRANCISCO: Politics, Intransigence and Profiteering in Northern California
State Capitalism and the Urban Fiscal Crisis in the United States
Richard Child Hill
The Infrastructural Limits to Growth: Rethinking the Urban Growth Machine in Times of Fiscal Crisis
Lucas Kirkpatrick and Michael Peter Smith
Current Issues in US Transportation Politics
Housing in US Fordism*
Richard L. Florida, Marshall M.A. Feldman
Cartographies of Race and Class: Mapping the Class‐Monopoly Rents of American Subprime Mortgage Capital
Elvin Wyly, Markus Moos, Daniel Hammel, Emanuel Kabahizi
Recentering the City
Robert W. Lake
The Regional Management of Growth in California: A History of Failure
The Assault on California’s Latino Immigrants: The Politics of Proposition 187
Ralph Armbruster, Kim Geron, Edna Bonacich
Proposition 187: Global Trend or Local Narrative? Explaining Anti‐Immigrant Politics in California, Arizona and Texas
Michael Peter Smith, Bernadette Tarallo
Australian Urban and Regional Research: An Introduction
Mike Berry, Gareth Rees
Accentuate The Regional