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Housing, Profit, and Justice in California


California is among the best cities in the United States and the world at large, leading in movie production and property development. As such, San Francisco has experienced the effects of mass house and industrial growth. In addition, the activities resulting from its expansion have not only led to the segregation of people but also, it has caused hazards. Therefore, they pose danger to the populations, especially the blacks. As a result, writers have voiced their concern over the alarming consequences of housing by private developers and the governments that pose injustice both to the inhabitants and the environment. Consequently, Los Angeles is among the cities in California which experience ecological disasters such as urban sprawl, droughts, floods, tornadoes, and fires (Davis 16). Further, the above issues are exacerbated through human activities and they lead to many losses. Through a movie, Talbot highlights how housing and industrial development have led to divisions and the contamination of water in San Francisco. Besides, Robert (4) expounds on how urbanization has become an evil in California. This paper evaluates how the aforementioned writers and artists tackle the issues using different perspectives through their works.

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The Last Man in San Francisco

This is a movie by Joe Talbot highlighting the plight of people faced with environmental challenges posed by industrial developments amidst human settlement. Using two main characters, Jimmie and Mont the director shows the plight of a young man who is in dilemma by dreaming of owning a modern house built by the grandfather but now it is beyond his reach. In the begging, a black man is preaching at the roadside near a river while the protagonist looks on wondering how jail has changed the guy’s head though they agree he is speaking the truth. He complains that the place used to be the best with clean air but lately people walk with masks due to pollution (Talbot). As the sermon continues, people are seen collecting rubbish while covered in polythene bags from toe to the head indicating that the environment is toxic.

The movie revolves around Jimmie and his love for the Victorian house built in 1946 which is currently in another part of town, the Fillmore district consisting of only whites. This is a place where he grew up to the age of 6 with his father but the parent lost the house. However, it remained inhabited until recently when an elderly couple occupied it (Talbot). Although he knows it is illegal to access the place, Jimmie seeks the help of Mont and together they trespass and access the property from time to time. He is not vengeful but rather, fond of the house and repairs it to the dismay of the occupants especially the wife who angrily and throws croissants at him while repainting. Conversely, the situation changes due to tragic events that lead to the house being unoccupied and as a result, he gets his chance and realizes his dream. Together with Mont, they reclaim the house where his friend uses it for the production of his play. The director uses narration through his characters to show the environment that exists in San Francisco.

Where I was From

In her work, Didion writes entirely about the enchanting and a glamorous California when she was growing up. Her memoir defines the writer’s early home turf in the state where the history of her family journey is told with a nostalgic memory (Didion 1). Further she highlights that California is among the states in the US which depend on federal resources from the beginning and much of its development stems from such backup. However, after the death of her mother, the writers note many differences in the city where she grew up. The wealth white men and property owners dominate the place with the mega projects that have environmental impacts. Besides, the Native American and blacks have not been focused to highlight the contributions they have made over the years.

Disasters in California

Through his scholarly works, the author explores various human-made hazards that make the city vulnerable. For instance, he highlights ecological variations such as topography and hydrology combined with government policy and human settlements which worsen the situation. Also, the state does not seek practical solutions even after disaster recovery (Davis 16). Further, he describes how people’s actions interlink with the environment and the resultant effects. For instance, the Southern California policy on fire enhances fire disasters instead of curbing or preventing such occurrences. He expounds that stockpiles of fuel are placed near settlements in a landscape characterized by dry and hot winds which ignite fires that destroy homes (Davis 101). While on one hand money is provided to rebuild, on the other hand, the new structures are constructed in more vulnerable and susceptible areas consisting of more fuels and winds.

Further, Davis describes the ecology of fear in a diagram showing different zones of the Chicago city. In his illustration, housing types are highlighted starting from the center, residential and commercial buildings, homes, apartments, bungalows, and family dwellings on the outskirts. Also, social life is indicated in the inner city where zones of fear such as drugs, prostitution, and homelessness are surrounded by suburbs and gated buildings walled off from the prevalent evil in the inner city (Davis 365). As a result, he asserts that fear, misconception and misplaced priorities in public policy have led to the destruction of urbanization while favoring suburban development.

The American Babylon

While writing to correct the misconception of some scholars on urban development during the postwar period in Oakland, Self believes that suburban overdevelopment indicated the most partial change to be witnessed in American history. He argues that conservatives and home owner’s politics led to tension with the African Americans’ politics of community entitlement, thus, resulting in competition over space highlighting inequalities in towns and suburban regions (Self 2). He notes that Detroit experienced a decline in the Post-war period. Further, Broadway, Washington, and Broadway which were the main commercial channels for Oakland experienced a decline in property value. As a result, the Chamber of Commerce resorted to applying decentralization by facilitating homeownership in the city and the suburbs.

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Conversely, this did not help the black community since new businesses in San Leandro, Walnut Creek, and Hayward prevented the development of downtown centers. The disparities led to conflicts in the 1970s where African Americans advocated for community empowerment as they expressed their anger on exploitation by the white minority. It formed a political party, the Black Panther which saw the control of federal projects and the liberation of blacks (Self). The study offers an examination of the role of blacks in the improvement of a decaying surrounding characterized by development.

Western American Literature and the City of Quartz

Through the contemporary anthology containing the works of more than 65 writers, Self, shows different aspects of life while highlighting how California has evolved and, in the process, lost its originality. Further, the book explores the mixture of landscapes both rural and urban with its wilderness and city life. Also, it includes places such as the heartland, north, south, and Disneyland world, exposing the multicultural practices with labor and classes in society (Self 262). Besides, the writings are directed to the general audience with their recurring landscapes exposing diversity among California writers.

The City of quartz paints a poignant image on the minds of the readers showing the deplorable state California finds itself in as a result of development that does not consider the natural environment. Although written figuratively for a future city, urbanization has become the main object bedeviling the beautiful city. For instance, the Antelope Valley in Southern California has been invaded by an influx of new immigrants with more expectations. Besides, developers have destroyed the desert trees with their mega-building projects. There are 10 to 12 big firms with their headquarters in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach who perceive the desert as a source of money without regarding the environment (Davis 4). They use bulldozers to uproot and destroy forest trees that have been there since time immemorial. This has led to more hazards than benefits to the surrounding populations.


In conclusion, the writers have written convincingly about the adverse effects of development in various cities in California. On the one hand, developers are concerned with profits at the expense of environmental degradation, while on the other hand, African Americans are sidelined especially in Oakland leading to the formation of political movements. In addition, blacks in San Francisco cannot afford modern houses as they have been segregated and the waters are contaminated. Further, government policies are misplaced in Southern California and Los Angeles leading to the recurrence of disasters like fire and tornadoes. Lastly, the perspective that shows the correlation between profit-making by developers and inadequate state legislation forms the background to all the challenges experienced in California.

Works Cited

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. Vintage, 1999.

Didion, Joan. Where I Was From. Vintage, 2012.

Haslam, Gerald W. Many Californias: Literature from the Golden State. University of Nevada Press, 1992.

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Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Politics and Society in Modern America). Princeton University Press, 2003.

Talbot, Joe. The Last Black Man in San Francisco. “University Libraries”. 2019. Web.

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