Making the San Fernando Valley
Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege

Laura R. Barraclough

Environment and race at the intersection of city, suburb, and country


"A fine addition to the growing literature on Los Angeles and suburbia, as well as whiteness and the complicated history of landscape preservation. . . . [I]t connects the San Fernando Valley to regional, national, and global history. In telling the making of the distinctive landscape of the San Fernando Valley, Barraclough has written a book relevant to any reader interested in modern U.S. cities, suburbs, and society."
—Lawrence Culver, Environmental History

“Extraordinarily good . . . An important contribution to studies of the Los Angeles basin, the book ought to have wider appeal among scholars of racial formation, suburbanization, and the development of the American West.”
—Don Mitchell, author of The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape

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In the first book-length scholarly study of the San Fernando Valley—home to one-third of the population of Los Angeles—Laura R. Barraclough combines ambitious historical sweep with an on-the-ground investigation of contemporary life in this iconic western suburb. She is particularly intrigued by the Valley’s many rural elements, such as dirt roads, tack-and-feed stores, horse-keeping districts, citrus groves, and movie ranches. Far from natural or undeveloped spaces, these rural characteristics are, she shows, the result of deliberate urban planning decisions that have shaped the Valley over the course of more than a hundred years.

The Valley’s entwined history of urban development and rural preservation has real ramifications today for patterns of racial and class inequality and especially for the evolving meaning of whiteness. Immersing herself in meetings of homeowners’ associations, equestrian organizations, and redistricting committees, Barraclough uncovers the racial biases embedded in rhetoric about “open space” and “western heritage.” The Valley’s urban cowboys enjoy exclusive, semirural landscapes alongside the opportunities afforded by one of the world’s largest cities. Despite this enviable position, they have at their disposal powerful articulations of both white victimization and, with little contradiction, color-blind politics.

Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation

Page count: 316 pp.
10 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Laura R. Barraclough is an assistant professor of sociology at Kalamazoo College. She is a native of the San Fernando Valley and received degrees from the University of Southern California and the University of California San Diego.