Most people equate Los Angeles with smog, sprawl, forty suburbs in search of a city-the great “what-not-to-do” of twentieth-century city building. But there's much more to LA's story than this shallow stereotype. History shows that Los Angeles was intensely, ubiquitously planned. The consequences of that planning-the environmental history of urbanism–is one place to turn for the more complex lessons LA has to offer.
Working forward from ancient times and ancient ecologies to the very recent past, Land of Sunshine is a fascinating exploration of the environmental history of greater Los Angeles. Rather than rehearsing a litany of errors or insults against nature, rather than decrying the lost opportunities of “roads not taken,” these essays, by nineteen leading geologists, ecologists, and historians, instead consider the changing dynamics both of the city and of nature.
In the nineteenth century, for example, “density” was considered an evil, and reformers struggled mightily to move the working poor out to areas where better sanitation and flowers and parks “made life seem worth the living.”
We now call that vision “sprawl,” and we struggle just as much to bring middle-class people back into the core of American cities. There's nothing natural, or inevitable, about such turns of events. It's only by paying very close attention to the ways metropolitan nature has been constructed and construed that meaningful lessons can be drawn. History matters.
So here are the plants and animals of the Los Angeles basin, its rivers and watersheds. Here are the landscapes of fact and fantasy, the historical actors, events, and circumstances that have proved transformative over and over again. The result is a nuanced and rich portrait of Los Angeles that will serve planners, communities, and environmentalists as they look to the past for clues, if not blueprints, for enhancing the quality and viability of cities.
A powerful and compelling insight into how the greater Los Angeles area from prehistory to the present has succeeded, failed, and compromised at environmental sustainability. The book's great strength is the depth and diversity of perspectives and the resulting rich blend of viewpoints.
Covers the subject with absolute thoroughness, capturing the full extent of LA's physical sprawl and cultural diversity. The book also offers insight into the ongoing debate about LA's current and evolving relationship with nature.
This incisive, diverse, and illuminating collection . . . sheds new light on Los Angeles' relationship with its natural landscape as it has evolved over time. The book's great strength is the depth and diversity of perspectives and the resulting rich blend of viewpoints.
Much to their credit, Deverell and Hise have compiled a collection of essays that . . . refutes the stereotype of Los Angeles as starkly separate from nature, without place, and hell-bent on environmental despoliation. Rather than a case of failed urbanism . . . Los Angeles is a truly significant proving ground for the nation's environmental innovations in the twenty-first century.
'Land of Sunshine' is highly recommended to readers interested in Los Angeles or California history, urban and environmental history, and urban planning. It is a fine and eminently readable addition to the growing collection of anthologies on the environmental history of American cities.
An enlightening mix of research and writing . . . marked by significant differences in voice, research philosophies, topical interests, and writing styles, the result could not be better suited to a vibrant region that steadfastly defies centralized themes and obedient categories. What emerges is a thoughtful, nuanced consideration of the relationship between people and the natural environment in Los Angeles as it has evolved over time.
Offers a strong argument for the continued relevance and vitality of serious writing about Los Angeles, and of promise for the editors' enterprise in urban environmental history.
William DeGenaro is assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.learn more
Greg Hise is an urban historian in the School of Policy, Planning, Development at the University of Southern California where he holds joint appointments in the departments of history and geography. He is the author of Magnetic Los Angeles: Planning the Twentieth-Century Metropolis (awarded the Spiro Kostof Prize and Pflueger Award) and a coeditor of Rethinking Los Angeles.learn more