Friday, September 28, 2007

The Country in the City

I just finished reading Richard Walker's The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. It really helped me understand the world I was born into--Berkeley in the late 1950s. As Dick points out, that world reflected the work of countless Bay Area activists reaching back to John Muir. Many were civic-minded and dedicated women, and some started or built environmental organizations with national impact. This book describes it all: the people, the organizations, the issues, the victories (always temporary), the challenges, and the movement's shortcomings and unintended consequences.

Always attuned to class issues, Dick acknowledges that these movements were mostly led by upper class folks and ultimately turned parts of the Bay Area (e.g., Marin and Napa) into lightly populated enclaves for the well off. Working families in the Bay Area have had great access to public parks and the coast, but activists so far have done little to impede the siting of toxic nastiness in low-income neighborhoods. Dick questions the link between efforts to slow or stop growth and the region's high housing prices, but he notes that the growth that has occurred--in the eastern part of Contra Costa County and the San Joaquin Valley, for example--isn't very smart and may be linked to the inner Bay Area's aversion to virtually any growth at all. At the end of the day, though, it's hard to resist Dick's conclusion that Bay Area residents have plenty to be thankful for.

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