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The Problems Of Southern California

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From reading the author's book "Ecology of Fear," Mike Davis' main thesis for writing this book was to make readers become aware of the underlying problems and threats which have existed or currently exist in Southern California and how these problems shape the way we live today and in the imminent future as well. Although Davis did not really provide us with any remedies for the problems facing Southern California, this book made it very clear to the readers that problems do still exist, although at times they may sound subtle in nature. Of the numerous problems which do exist in Southern California, I will discuss only a handful of the problems that Davis provided us insight to. In the following paragraphs, the main problems of Southern California that I will discuss about are suburbanization and how it made Southern California lose its natural beauty and the effects of overdevelopment, the wild fires which occur and similarities and differences the rich and poor communities faced in terms of adversity, how suburbanization brought people closer to the wildlife, and how numerous books and movies portrayed Los Angeles as the center for calamities. The culmination of all these problems clearly shows that there are many glaring weaknesses of Southern California that need to be closely examined.

One of the main issues that the book, "Ecology of Fear," discussed about were the inherent dangers and problems that suburbanization imposed upon the landscape of Southern California. Although suburbanization in theory and in reality did create abundant benefits to a great mass of people, especially to those who wanted to avoid the daily nuisances of urban city life, its negative consequences were quite grave indeed. Suburbanization led to a complete eradication to the natural landscape of many areas in California. The book's vivid accounts of how the lush, green landscape was bulldozed just to build tracts of homes were a painful reminder of the beauty that was lost due to suburbanization. "In 1958 sociologist William Whyte Ð'- author of The Organization Man Ð'- had a disturbing vision as he was leaving Southern California. Ð''Flying from Los Angeles to San Bernardino Ð'- an unnerving lesson in man's infinite capacity to mess up his environment Ð'- the traveler can see a legion of bulldozers gnawing into the last remaining tract of green between the two cities'." (Davis, p. 77). So, in essence, man's desire of suburbanization was achieved at the expense of the destruction of a beautiful landscape that would never again return to its natural state.

Another problem of suburbanization was that the rampant private development led to the overdevelopment of the landscape. This overdevelopment was due in large part to the fact that the private developers were manipulating the city council. The author states, "[a]t the end of the war, greenbelt zoning for the Valley was actually passed into law by the city council, but it lacked the broad political support to survive the relentless counterattack of developers and landowners." (Davis, p. 76). Due to the fact that the city council was so small in size, developers were able to greatly gain influence in demanding for policies that would enhance their desire for even more private development. But, lost in this mix was the fact that overdevelopment led to a decreased amount of public space and the loss of natural beauty to the landscape. "By 1928 parks comprised a miserable 0.6 percent of the surface of the metropolisÐ'...No large city in the United States was so stingy with public space." (Davis, p. 65). This statistic gives us clear indication of who the culprit was for the overdevelopment which occurred in Southern California in the 1920s and beyond: the developers.

The second main issue that "Ecology of Fear" raised was regarding the wild fires that have ravaged Southern California for years. Although this situation arises virtually every time the Santa Ana winds kick in or due to the presence of chaparral that have dried up, it is an issue that is in the back of the minds of innumerable residents living in Southern California. But, for some reason, Davis felt that developers seemingly were "blind-sided" by the fact that they kept building property in places where fires have previously destroyed houses many times over. See Malibu for case in point. Davis writes, "MalibuÐ' the wildfire capital of North America and, possibly, the world. Fire here has a relentless staccato rhythm, syncopated by landslides and floods. The rugged 22-mile-long coastline is scourged, on the average, by a large fireÐ'...every two and a half years." (Davis, p. 97). Although the threat of wildfires erupting in Malibu again was highly probable, it did not prevent developers from their impulses of subdivision. "Meanwhile," Davis writes, "developers Ð'- racing to stay ahead of proposed Ð''slow growth' coastal legislation Ð'- redoubled their subdivision efforts. The subsequent boom only provided more fuel for the three consecutive Ð''Halloween' firesÐ' October 1978, 1982, and 1985." (Davis, p. 111).

Another aspect regarding the issue of wild fires was how the richest and poorest communities of Southern California were the most susceptible to these hazards. Although these wild fires occurred in communities of totally different "tax-brackets" and circumstances, the devastation was one and the same thing for these communities. Davis writes, "Ironically, the richest and poorest landscapes in Southern California are comparable in the frequency with which they experience incendiary disaster." (Davis, p. 98). For the rich communities, the wild fires occurred as an indirect result of the subdivision that occurred in the exclusive hilltop and mountainside palaces that developers built for their wealthy home owners, where the existence of highly-flammable chaparral and the Santa Ana winds could combine for potentially disastrous results. On the other hand, for the poorest communities, the wild fires typically occurred in tiny apartment and building complexes which did not even meet the minimum of fire safety standards due to negligent slumlords and the presence of open stairwells. These instances clearly show the ever-present dangers these communities have always faced for years.

The final issue regarding the destruction and devastation that these wild fires caused was the huge discrepancy in the level of compensation that the rich communities received in comparison to the poorer, less fortunate ones. Although the level of the disaster these wild fires unleashed in the poor communities was undoubtedly the



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