City of Quartz - Book Review
Davis traces LA history back to the turn of the century exploring some of its socialist roots that were later driven out by real estate/development/booster interests such as Colonel Otis and the burgeoning institutional media such as the Los Angeles Times. Unions fought a “forty-year war” against business owners essentially losing though the small bungalow type housing that was established provided a veneer of labor content that in actuality was not evident. Much of L.A.’s early development resulted from capital and population flows from the Midwest …. “the very structure of the long Southern California boom – fueled by middle-class savings and channeled into real estate and oil speculations – ensured a vicious circle of crisis and bankruptcy for the mass of retired farmers, small businessmen, and petty developers..” With no heavy industry and the repatriation of LA’s Mexican population led to a foregrounding and amplification “in the middle classes, producing a political fermentation that was at times bizarre.” (37)
Creating an image of Los Angeles
Davis focuses specifically on cultural production in much of the first chapter illustrating its power to establish an image of LA that newer arrivals continued to promote. Noir, like the recent article by Eric Avila, serves as particular focus … Noir presented the new urban metropolises awash in racial and class supervision … Angelenos came to define their history through the imagery of noir “Los Angeles understands its past … through a robust fiction known as noir.” (36). Noir of this period emphasized economic self-interest not deep psychology.(40) This meant the city could be divided between the “productive middle classes” and the lazy or “idle” rich. As Avila pointed out more recently gender roles were also subverted or altered in noir presenting women as scheming, dangerous, and sexually promiscuous. Later, LA imported intellectuals from Europe who often felt ill at ease in its decentralized non-urban setting.
Moreover, L.A.creative industries subsumed such intellectuals, leaving some bitter about the degradation of their work. Los Angeles’ image depended mightily on cultural reproduction. One of the most significant of these was Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles The Architecture of the Four Ecologies which “found virtue in almost everything disdained by traditional critics, including the automobile, surfboards, hillside homes, and something called ‘Los Angeles architecture’.”( 73). Banham argued the LA’s freeway grid gave its “polymorphous landscapes and architectures” a coherent unity based on the “language of movement, not a monument.” (73). This vision of Los Angeles gained cultural credence among critics influencing later discourse and ideas “it established standards – vernacular, decentralist and promiscuous – that continue to frame art world views of what is happening in California south fo the Tehachapis.” (74).
Development of Unique Neighborhoods in LA
Population flows led to the dominance of certain neighborhoods and populations. The city’s Westside Jewish population secured early economic and political power through its successes in suburban real estate, entertainment, and business. Thus, as the city attempted to expand its cultural prestige, the Westside and Downton areas garnered larger projects and more funding. The development of “corporate multiculturalism” and “municipal culture policy” created private-public artistic institutions but ignored community-based art centers and ethnic artists. Though the dominant classes identified such cultural institutions as valuable in terms of real estate ventures, their scope remains tied to specific sections of the city like the Westside. Davis laments the lack of an oppositional voice briefly pointing to rap and hip hop but acknowledging that aspects of itself remain problematic. He asks the question is any movement capable of avoiding assimilation by the dominant entertainment industry generally.
Davis divides Los Angeles history into Three Distinct Eras
Dividing Los Angeles history into a tripartite periodization that organizes its past into 3 epochs 1) 1880-1940s 2) post- WWII, 3) 1970’s - present, Davis illustrates that the city’s power structure was increasingly fragmented. In contrast to other metropolitan areas, LA’s Jewish population secured power early in its history, eventually sharing it with new Irish arrivals until pushed out by the movement of WASPs from various parts of the country but especially the Midwest. Davis notes four thematic characteristics of the LA power structure. First, the elite system illustrated a porousness absent in many other city’s.
For much of its history, newcomers often found ways to embed themselves into the political structure. Second, the decentralization of political power, in turn, encouraged a sprawling decentralized idea of development, though Downtown and Westside interests exerted more influence than others in specific periods. Relatedly, “changing modes of land speculation” often determined who held political power. Third, the “internationalization of class formation” led to an influx of wealthy Asian businessmen (many Japanese) along with large scale migrations of other middle-class Asian peoples. Finally, patronage costs in Los Angeles remained surprisingly low, instead “elite interest brokerage is transacted invisibly with minimum patronage costs or ‘trickle down’ to inner-city or labor constituencies.” (104)
Real Estate speculation long proved the biggest profit-making industry in Los Angeles. However, its profits remained unsustainable without continuing outside investment by other regions of the nation (i.e. Midwest ). “New structures of accumulation” greatly impacted political and economic development. The militarization of Southern California and the establishment of the FHA and Fannie Mae brought federal monies and influence into the region altering political dynamics. As Savings and Loans institutions proliferated post-WWII, previously excluded ethnicities and others found ways to gain access to the political system. This resulted in a divided dominance over development as savings and loans “empires” competed with “merchant builders”.
By the late 1960s and 1970s, a reorganization of elites occurred as Bradley captured the mayoralty. A pro-growth and foreign investment mayor, Bradley encouraged development and Pacific Rim, investors. Thus, real estate interests gained a powerful foothold among democrats and republicans providing campaign monies for each. A new “octopus” emerged consisting of land bankers, Orange County and Westside Los Angles community builders, and corporate raiders have reshaped political “power lines”. Finally, Jewish entertainment interests continue to hold sway over the Democratic party, supplying significant financial support for candidates. Though the formerly protestant elite has grown wealthier in this period, its political power has slipped.
Pro-Growth vs. Slow Growth
Despite the increased financial power of pro-growth forces, they failed to wield unlimited power as a complex and confusing array of “slow growth” homeowners organized in a decentralized fashion to oppose Mayor Bradley’s development regime. Angered over the increasing presence of apartments and other housing that many in Orange County and LA suburbs viewed as a threat to their own interests, the slow growth movement emerged in opposition. Connected to the passage of Prop 13, the Southern California movement consisted of homeowners, some environmentalists, and virtually no renters or tenants. Land use politics in Southern California “tended to generate sharper contradictions and entrenched opposition than in the North.” (159) Unlike the North, which illustrated marked attention to environmental factors, Southern California rested on “an exceptionalistic local history of middle-class interest formation around homeownership.” (159)
For many, it remained about “homestead exclusivism”, though as the movement developed, the language of environmentalism was marshaled to soften its image and expand its support, “slow growth … is about homeowner control of land use and much more.” (159) Political attempts to mollify dissent such as the “Lakewood Plan” only furthered white flight and suburbanization while robbing LA city coffers of revenue. Homeowner associations surfaced exerting a quasi-legal power. If such associations originated with the idea of middle-class class consciousness, eventually many were subsumed into an upwardly “redistributive” pro-business ideology, perhaps most effectively represented by the powerful Sherman Oaks Association. Fluctuating cycles of revolt and compromise culminated in the 1980s when the city was finally forced to implement slow-growth measures.
Minority populations often faced with a false choice between environmentalism and employment, chose to side with pro-growth forces on some occasions and with slow growth on others. The implicit exclusionary rhetoric of many homeowner’s associations complicated choices for minority communities who had been increasingly squeezed out of other neighborhoods by government development schemes that wanted to avoid crossing middle and upper-class white communities. The eventual emergence of NIMBYism serves as Davis concluding observation. The complexity of the issues means that determining specific class polarization around land use has proven nearly impossible. The appropriation of anti-elitist populist rhetoric by developers in opposition to NIMBYism further complicates the historical picture. Though the slow-growth movement proliferated, it did so in individualistic ways, each focusing on their own parochial interests. Ultimately, with the increased immigration of overseas peoples and capital, the struggle over land control became as much about determining what communities qualified as American as about actual political power over land development.
In the chapter entitled Fortress LA, Davis explores the construction of modern Los Angeles as an architectural prison. The destruction of “real” public space through nuanced planning and architectural schemes have established a “neo military” style that foregrounds surveillance efforts. Anti-pedestrian this new “suburban-like city” construction deviates from other metropolises, “In other cities, developers might have attempted to articulate the new skyscape and the old, exploiting the latter’s extraordinary inventory of theaters and historic buildings to create a gentrified history – a gaslight district, Faneuil Market … — as support to middle-class colonization. But Los Angeles’s developers viewed property values in the old Broadway core as irreversibly eroded by the area’s very centrality to public transport, and especially by its heavy use by Black and Mexican poor.” (230).
Ultimately, this has created a racialized spatialization of the city. Davis even takes Frank Gehry to task arguing his work “clarifies the underlying relations of repression, surveillance, and exclusion that characterize the fragmented, paranoid spatiality towards which Los Angeles seems to aspire.” (238) The LAPD’s work with the local military aerospace industry has contributed to this siege mentality. The emergence of the Emergency Command Control Communications Systems (ECCCS) along with the LAPD’s own information gathering “has become the central neural system for he vast and separate, public and private, security operations taking place in Los Angeles.” (253) The pervasive effect of such developments has been the collapse of public space.
The Collapse of Public Space in LA
The collapse of public space has been greatly facilitated by the increasingly draconian efforts of the LAPD. Decrying the Commissioner Daryl Gates as racist, Davis argues that the “the super sweeps called the HAMMER” gained the support of some black leaders since the rise of the crack industry created swaths of violence and crime. However, HAMMER embedded itself as a permanent program that “mercilessly pounded away at Southcentral’s mean streets” but seemed to only capture, “drunks, delinquent motorists, and teenage curfew violators.” (277)
The discourse coming out of LA municipal leaders such as James Hahn (son of legendary LA politician Kenneth Hahn) conflated gangs with terrorists while simultaneously casting suspicion on most non-white youth, associating them unfairly with gang activity. Davis suggests the initial reason for gang formation was for protection from rival white gangs, but with the collapse of more socially aware civil rights and black power movements, later descended into criminality. Furthermore, the police presentation of a large, massive, coherent crack infrastructure failed to reflect reality. Instead, the crack industry consisted of numerous small operators in competition with one another. Finally, Davis wonders aloud whether Chief Gates or Mayor Bradley controls aspects of the municipal government.
The Catholic Church and Latinos
The last two chapters deal with the Catholic Church and its Latino population … contains a history of its leadership, and the various positions took … in general Davis takes the Church to task for not devolving more power to its Latino clergy and congregations. Davis sees church attempts as cynical ploys that give the appearance of power-sharing without actually doing so. He also explores the growth of UNO and IAF in Latino and Black communities and their eventual shift to more conservative positions “It is unclear whether this transformation of UNO and its sisters into more conservative, law and order movements is attributable to pressures from the chancery, or, alternatively, the reflectin of a tendential polarization within the Latino community itself, between the new immigrants and the older, homeowning Chicanos and middle classes.”
The last chapter explores the history of Fontana, CA a community near LA … Fontana established steel factories to complete with Eastern mills … became union oriented town government but also anti-black (O’day Short example – 399-402) … Kaiser industries responsible for successes but by end of 20th century 1980s, Kaiser goes under but the town explodes as it transforms into a middle-class commuter community… however, problems arise when it becomes clear that the loss of factories reduced tax revenue crippling the municipal government. Too many tax incentives had been given out to developers and others, thus resulting in an underfunded city. Racial antagonism emerged once again. Media had promoted an image of Fontana’s success but never bothered to delve deeper.