Origins of an Urban Crisis: The Restructuring of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Geography of Foreclosure


Communities on the fringes of the American metropolis have recently garnered attention as the centers of the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath. On the one hand, this attention to the urban nature of the crisis is welcome, as the metamorphosis of the mortgage fiasco into a financial crisis‐cum‐global economic meltdown turned popular attention away from the urban roots of this calamity. But this emphasis on the exurbs as the site of crisis lends itself to the misconception that they, rather than the restructuring of the metropolis as a whole, are the sole source of the crisis. This article works across multiple scales to examine how three interwoven factors — demographics, policy and capital — each reacted to the San Francisco Bay Area landscape inherited at the end of the 1970s, affecting the region in new ways, leaving some places thriving and others struggling with foreclosure, which leads to plummeting property values and the deep uncertainty of the current American metropolis. This restructuring can be seen as the convergence between the unresolved urban crisis of the postwar era and the various reactions in the neoliberal era. It demands a reimagining of both planning and geography, especially from the left.