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Winner of the Western History Association's 2009 Hal K. Rothman Award Finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the Western Nonfiction Contemporary category (2008). The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Despite a population of 7 million people, it is more greensward than asphalt jungle, more open space than hardscape. A vast Winner of the Western History Association's 2009 Hal K. Rothman Award Finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the Western Nonfiction Contemporary category (2008). The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Despite a population of 7 million people, it is more greensward than asphalt jungle, more open space than hardscape. A vast quilt of countryside is tucked into the folds of the metropolis, stitched from fields, farms and woodlands, mines, creeks, and wetlands. In "The Country in the City," Richard Walker tells the story of how the jigsaw geography of this greenbelt has been set into place. The Bay Area's civic landscape has been fought over acre by acre, an arduous process requiring popular mobilization, political will, and hard work. Its most cherished environments--Mount Tamalpais, Napa Valley, San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes, Mount Diablo, the Pacific coast--have engendered some of the fiercest environmental battles in the country and have made the region a leader in green ideas and organizations. This book tells how the Bay Area got its green grove: from the stirrings of conservation in the time of John Muir to origins of the recreational parks and coastal preserves in the early twentieth century, from the fight to stop bay fill and control suburban growth after the Second World War to securing conservation easements and stopping toxic pollution in our times. Here, modern environmentalism first became a mass political movement in the 1960s, with the sudden blooming of the Sierra Club and Save the Bay, and it remains a global center of environmentalism to this day. Green values have been a pillar of Bay Area life and politics for more than a century. It is an environmentalism grounded in local places and personal concerns, close to the heart of the city. Yet this vision of what a city should be has always been informed by liberal, even utopian, ideas of nature, planning, government, and democracy. In the end, green is one of the primary colors in the flag of the Left Coast, where green enthusiasms, like open space, are built into the fabric of urban life. Written in a lively and accessible style, "The Country in the City" will be of interest to general readers and environmental activists. At the same time, it speaks to fundamental debates in environmental history, urban planning, and geography.


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Winner of the Western History Association's 2009 Hal K. Rothman Award Finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the Western Nonfiction Contemporary category (2008). The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Despite a population of 7 million people, it is more greensward than asphalt jungle, more open space than hardscape. A vast Winner of the Western History Association's 2009 Hal K. Rothman Award Finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the Western Nonfiction Contemporary category (2008). The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Despite a population of 7 million people, it is more greensward than asphalt jungle, more open space than hardscape. A vast quilt of countryside is tucked into the folds of the metropolis, stitched from fields, farms and woodlands, mines, creeks, and wetlands. In "The Country in the City," Richard Walker tells the story of how the jigsaw geography of this greenbelt has been set into place. The Bay Area's civic landscape has been fought over acre by acre, an arduous process requiring popular mobilization, political will, and hard work. Its most cherished environments--Mount Tamalpais, Napa Valley, San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes, Mount Diablo, the Pacific coast--have engendered some of the fiercest environmental battles in the country and have made the region a leader in green ideas and organizations. This book tells how the Bay Area got its green grove: from the stirrings of conservation in the time of John Muir to origins of the recreational parks and coastal preserves in the early twentieth century, from the fight to stop bay fill and control suburban growth after the Second World War to securing conservation easements and stopping toxic pollution in our times. Here, modern environmentalism first became a mass political movement in the 1960s, with the sudden blooming of the Sierra Club and Save the Bay, and it remains a global center of environmentalism to this day. Green values have been a pillar of Bay Area life and politics for more than a century. It is an environmentalism grounded in local places and personal concerns, close to the heart of the city. Yet this vision of what a city should be has always been informed by liberal, even utopian, ideas of nature, planning, government, and democracy. In the end, green is one of the primary colors in the flag of the Left Coast, where green enthusiasms, like open space, are built into the fabric of urban life. Written in a lively and accessible style, "The Country in the City" will be of interest to general readers and environmental activists. At the same time, it speaks to fundamental debates in environmental history, urban planning, and geography.

30 review for The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area

  1. 4 out of 5

    John C. Baker

    There is sometimes a perception that two things must be polar opposites: the poor preservationist and the well-off landowner; the city and the country; the rural and the urban. Richard Walker’s The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Washington Press, 2007), however, makes it a point to demonstrate that the presence of one of the above is not mutually exclusive to the other. In fact, Walker notes, the preservation of so much green space in the Bay Area There is sometimes a perception that two things must be polar opposites: the poor preservationist and the well-off landowner; the city and the country; the rural and the urban. Richard Walker’s The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Washington Press, 2007), however, makes it a point to demonstrate that the presence of one of the above is not mutually exclusive to the other. In fact, Walker notes, the preservation of so much green space in the Bay Area was reliant upon an interweaving of factors that might otherwise seem oppositional. As examples, the efforts of well-to-do landowners trying to preserve the uniqueness of their exurban land were just as critical to keeping the Bay Area green as were the protests of poor urban minority families suffering the ill effects of pollution. For another, having so much “country in the city” — parks, beaches and open space in the immediate urban area — was critical in keeping the Bay Area from overflowing its current spatial limits. According to Walker, a juxtaposition of idealists and money, the country and the city, and accidents of geography all helped preserve some sense of nature in the Bay Area. The Country in the City provides a detailed historical overview of more than 100 years of development in the Bay Area and the corresponding efforts to keep it in check. With more than a million protected acres of state parks, wilderness areas and other green space, compared with “only” about 750,000 acres developed, the Bay Area is unique in its mixing of the city and country. While some more-ardent preservationists may decry having a public seashore next to an airport, a mountaintop preserved but ringed by subdivisions, or a reservoir serving as an urban recreation area, the countryside woven into San Francisco’s urban landscaping may well be a model for the foundation of any future conservation movement (Kareiva, 2008). Walker’s premise from his own introduction — that as the Bay Area goes in terms of conservation, so eventually goes the nation — is dependent on establishing that local preservation projects have had national implications. For the most part, Walker succeeds. But while trying to put to rest the “myth of Bay Area exceptionalism” in terms of conservation, Walker also leads one to believe that the Bay Area is indeed unique thanks to its special geographical and social makeup. Early on, Walker points out that Olmstead’s goal of having the “country in the city” meant much human intervention. Golden Gate Park (created by flattening of sand dunes and planting of tall non-native tree around the periphery), numerous recreational lakes (created artificially with dams), the pastoral hillsides (once covered with harvested redwoods) — all are taken for granted as “natural” by much of the population, yet are each as artificial as a freeway interchange. But this nearness of “nature” to the city helped inspire many environmental idealists. In some places, this might have led to a struggle between idealistic lower-income city dwellers and the moneyed classes on the outskirts. Yet, “all is not class harmony when the forces of capital storm the gates of landscape consumption. Many times the redoubts of the rich have been threatened by urban expansion, and many times the privileged have had to take on developers head to head,” (page 11). Walker calls the mixed-social standings of the moneyed and the idealists who led calls to preserve open space “the two-headed nature of greening” (page 131). While each may have different inspirations on the surface for their work, deep down both the rich and the idealists have self-interest at heart — the rich want to preserve their property values and the idealists their principles. In reading Walker’s work, it is apparent that the author believes that the San Francisco Bay Area has a neo-liberal bent — the private sector is leading the charge, both in favor and against development. For every Maxxam (page 33) or similar company seeking to maximize profits for its shareholders, there is a well-off Samuel May (page 132) who helped a group of like-minded citizens found the East Bat Regional Parks District while a professor at UC Berkeley. The book abounds with such examples. Such thoroughness in collecting the history of the Bay Area’s environmental movement sometimes works against The Country in the City. While Walker tries to avoid relying on “great man theory” in his history, sometimes he goes a little too much Howard Zinn-like in his talking about the “ordinary people” who contributed to the cause of preservation. “A critique of growth arose spontaneously from a thousand voices and a broad mobilization to protect the land and waters bubbled up from below,” he writes (page 83) before seemingly naming each voice. The author tends to occasionally get hung up on including names or organizations, many of which are only mentioned once in passing. This tendency to overly detail complicates the narrative. A list of the giants of the conservation movement has always had a California lean: John Muir, Ansel Adams, and the like. Walker seems to suggest the names of such local environmentalists as Caroline Livermore, Dorothy Ward Erskine and Ralph Nobles (among many others) should be added to the list. While those names might lack the cachet of their predecessors, their efforts in promoting smaller projects (Livermore helped prevent Angel Island being bulldozed for a new transbay bridge, Erskine was instrumental in creating People for Open Space and Nobles preserved Bair Island from becoming a new Foster City) helped create a quilt of a green and nearly sustainable Bay Area from the patchwork of conservation efforts that have historically shaped the region. Walker’s text is authoritative, but also opinionated and sometimes snarky. The death of a protester whose tree is cut down beneath him brings a comment of, “apparently, saving Redwoods is more fraught than the old conservationists ever imagined.” Calling the clear-cutting of the Bay Area’s redwood trees a “slaughter” is just one example of loaded language that Walker frequently uses, along with numerous unveiled slams at the planning process in the Los Angeles area. The text also occasionally suffers from inconsistencies in Walker’s message. For example, on page 142 he writes that peripheral suburbs “are generally ruled by a class alliance … looking to profit from growth and the machinery of government rests in the hands of city managers looking to expand their domains.” Not only is the latter part of the quote an insult to Wilsonian-inspired public administrators, but on the very next page, Walker cites the examples of Petaluma and Livermore as enacting early and influential anti-growth measures. In another passage he praises the planning that kept Walnut Creek’s downtown “thriving,” yet calls the same downtown “banal” on page 153. While a thriving downtown could still theoretically be banal, it is one of a number of mixed messages in the book. On the positive side, the attention to detail in The Country and the City, while sometimes harming the book, is generally effective in showing how ideals developed over time. Walker succeeds in describing how “urban environmentalism,” usually recalled as a Bay Area invention associated with 1960s efforts to save the Bay (Davis, 1990), has spread nationally. There have been more failures in preserving the natural state of the Bay Area as there have been triumphs. To his credit, Walker is not afraid to address them. In fact, he does a good job at showing how cyclical the environmental process sometimes seems to be. Indeed, the Bay Area seems to have reversed a national trend: as land use restrictions or environmental opposition in outlying cities make new housing construction difficult (for example, the current disputes over redevelopment of former Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City), residents are returning to redeveloped residential areas in the urban core. Observers note that San Francisco and Oakland seem to be fast becoming “bedroom communities” for Silicon Valley workers (Solnit, 2000). People are returning to the central city — and, as Walker would note, the interwoven country close at hand. References Davis, M. (1990). City of Quartz. New York: Verso. Kareiva, P. (2008, February 26). Ominous trends in nature recreation. Procedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, 2757-2758. Solnit, R. (2000). Hollow City: Gentrification and the Eviction of Urban Culture. New York: Verso. Walker, R. (2007). The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Vela

    Richard A. Walker’s The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area explores the ways in which Grassroots organizations fought for the protection of an environment within an urban space. He argues that the San Francisco Bay Area’s unique blend of natural and urban spaces was fought for by grassroots and inherently local organizations that have largely been overshadowed by their creation. His historic intervention focuses in large part on the limited geographical scope, as Wal Richard A. Walker’s The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area explores the ways in which Grassroots organizations fought for the protection of an environment within an urban space. He argues that the San Francisco Bay Area’s unique blend of natural and urban spaces was fought for by grassroots and inherently local organizations that have largely been overshadowed by their creation. His historic intervention focuses in large part on the limited geographical scope, as Walker focuses on the Bay Area. In doing so, he allows for a study of how local politics can bring the ideas of environmental conservation to a local level, allowing for a fusion of nature and urban areas. He also allows for a political look at the work that grassroots organizations, led largely by women who have since been overshadowed, were responsible for the preservation of land and halt of urban renewal; while also showing a narrative of shifting tactics that followed the liberal policies of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the neoliberal eras of 1980s and 1990s. His focus on these local groups and nongovernmental organizations shifts the focus from more well known groups such as the Sierra Club to a distinctly local focus. Finally, Walker engages the effects this had on the environment and the people of the Bay area by providing lists of parks and natural space within the Bay Area. He also allows us a glimpse into what these successes meant after the fact, with soaring prices for land and one of the most expensive areas for real estate within the world; allowing us to see how history can be used to showcase the effects on a modern environment. This book would be well placed in a graduate course on environmental history as well as the effects of urban and natural spaces on the local environment. It would also work well in a course geared towards womens history, as women play a large, if at times understated, role within this book. It would also serve as supplemental reading in an undergraduate course on environmental history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carl R.

    This is history with a purpose and point of view. Walker is pro-environment, anti-expansion to a fault, and if you remain a bit detached, The Country In the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area is a fascinating and instructive guide to how we treat our space. It’s well known, I think, that the pollution of the bay and its surrounding waters began with the gold rush and the use of mercury, the remains of which still litter the bottom of the bay and infect fish and wildlife. It’s also This is history with a purpose and point of view. Walker is pro-environment, anti-expansion to a fault, and if you remain a bit detached, The Country In the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area is a fascinating and instructive guide to how we treat our space. It’s well known, I think, that the pollution of the bay and its surrounding waters began with the gold rush and the use of mercury, the remains of which still litter the bottom of the bay and infect fish and wildlife. It’s also fairly well known that a great deal of the bay has already been filled in. Again, starting in the mid-nineteenth century, the most common approach to bay wetlands was to toss stuff into it till it disappeared, then build roads and towns on top. Walker provides some other stories, however, that add dimension to the more common knowledge. Oyster point (you see the signs beside highway 101 on the way to and from SFO) really was a profitable oyster bed until pollution killed the shellfish in the 1920’s and it was sold to a cement company. I believe that was where much of Jack London’s famous oyster piracy took place, though Walker doesn’t mention it. Until some kickback began in the 1950’s, about 90% of the bay was inaccessible to the public. Today, the proportion has been reversed. Remarkable. Walker doesn’t confine himself to the immediate shores of the bay, of course. He ranges all the way up through Marin and Sonoma and Solano counties for tales of the founding of Muir Woods, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the struggles over San Pablo Bay. He takes a close look not only at important figures in the struggle (David Brower, Jack Kent, et al) but traces changes in the demographics of the groups that were formed. In the beginning, it was pretty much the privileged buying and saving green space out of noblesse oblige, and it was often dominated by women. As the years went by, the movement has become much more democratized, though still dominated by the educated and the relatively privileged. Which brings up the problem of how low-income folks fared in all of this. Walker is unabashedly in favor of every blade of grass, unabashedly opposed to every square inch of concrete. He never met a housing project or a dam for which he has a good word (no matter who needs the water how much.) He sings the praises of such worthy projects as the East Bay Municipal Parks and other tracts which have been set aside and saved forever from developers. And, of course, I am more than happy to have these lands next door, use them often and gleefully. Less convincing are his arguments that these set-asides have had little or no effect on the housing market. I find it hard to refute the developers’ argument that stonewalling development in tens of thousands of acres must inevitably have had something to do with driving up housing prices and helped made affordable housing as scarce in the bay area as it has become. Thus, have the greens not had something to do with the mass movements to Tracey and Oakley and Discovery Bay and do they not have some responsibility for the piles of pollutants that central valley commuters daily spew on their way past and through the greenbelts and on into jobs in the crowded cities? Walker argues that the real problem is cities’ refusal to plan for density and to make the scarce land that is available more habitable and conducive to good living. Perhaps. And certainly if Tilden Park were entirely devoted to dwellings, it’s arguable that we still wouldn’t have affordable housing or fewer commuters. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Walker tosses off these arguments rather blithely. This is still a universe where, despite the discoveries of quantum physics, some of Newton’s laws hold sway. So, if for actions there are reactions, doesn’t it make sense that, at least in some measure, that if buildings can’t be built in one place they will be built in another? And yet, don’t I still love the trails through the hills and love walking over the concrete remains of old Nike Missile compounds? Guilt and pleasure exquisitely mixed. And at least we’re not still dumping our garbage into the bay. Thanks to the likes of Richard A. Walker. So, in the end, I thank the man. Unobjective though he and his ilk may be, green earth is not a bad thing, and the end may justify the means. KEEPING IT GREEN--THE COUNTRY IN THE CITY BY RICHARD A. WAKER Friday, September 26

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    This is pretty much an issue-by-issue history of environmentalism in the Bay Area, starting with John Muir and Olmsted. If you're like me and you find the amazing abundance of nearby open space one of the many blessings of living here, this is an interesting read. Pretty much every park, every hillside, every tree not growing in someone's yard that you enjoy around here exists because someone decided it should. And not only that, but they decided it should be open to everyone, which is a pretty This is pretty much an issue-by-issue history of environmentalism in the Bay Area, starting with John Muir and Olmsted. If you're like me and you find the amazing abundance of nearby open space one of the many blessings of living here, this is an interesting read. Pretty much every park, every hillside, every tree not growing in someone's yard that you enjoy around here exists because someone decided it should. And not only that, but they decided it should be open to everyone, which is a pretty amazing thing. My main caveat with the book is that Walker is unable to repress his political leanings (way left), and often makes incredibly charged claims without presenting evidence. He does, of course, cite thoroughly, but if this is a book for laypeople, I think he should back such claims up with evidence in the text. For example, on p. 240 he writes, "The richer and whiter people are, the better able they are to insulate themselves from factories, pollution, and toxics." Few would dispute the correlation, but the implied causation between race and geographic power demands proof, at least for people like me who aren't social geographers or political economists. That said, I found many of his comments about class to be enlightening. I hadn't realized that much of the open space preservation in the Bay Area begins with the wealthy, who like their views and have the political might to preserve them AND keep them open for the general public. The differences between wealthy and working class uses of open space is also interesting, and the conflicts between wealthy and working class environmental movements. I was also really intrigued by his early point that simply the topography of the Bay Area does not explain the widespread conservation that has happened here. I have always wondered whether being able to actually see mountains and forests in the distance influences the local land ethic, but Walker rightly points out that LA has, if anything, more natural beauty, and yet it doesn't have nearly the same kind of open space. I wish he'd gone into that more. A historical comparison of environmentalism in the two regions would be fascinating.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This is a political history of the 'green' movement ( in a very broad definition). Even if you are a strong green advocate, you will probably find the writing annoying. I do like it when authors openly declare their beliefs, but I don't like preaching. I especially don't like it when they assume that not only are they right, everyone should agree with them. There are several places where environmentalists/greens rationally disagree. Also as knowledge has increased, the ideas of what is good or b This is a political history of the 'green' movement ( in a very broad definition). Even if you are a strong green advocate, you will probably find the writing annoying. I do like it when authors openly declare their beliefs, but I don't like preaching. I especially don't like it when they assume that not only are they right, everyone should agree with them. There are several places where environmentalists/greens rationally disagree. Also as knowledge has increased, the ideas of what is good or bad for the environment have changed. Walker does not talk about this at all. However if you are interested in Bay Area environmental history, there is a lot of information.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    This book could have been so good. The subject matter, the chapter headings ("The Upper West Side" for peninsula open space efforts), the photo insets pointed toward a very important, fascinating book on the social history of Bay Area open space and environmental movements. However, in the end, it read like yet another bland environmental history book, with a few exceptions. It's too bad, because it's clear that Watkins could have written something much more interesting. The final chapters on in This book could have been so good. The subject matter, the chapter headings ("The Upper West Side" for peninsula open space efforts), the photo insets pointed toward a very important, fascinating book on the social history of Bay Area open space and environmental movements. However, in the end, it read like yet another bland environmental history book, with a few exceptions. It's too bad, because it's clear that Watkins could have written something much more interesting. The final chapters on inner city environmental justice campaigns and their relationship with the more genteel green movements were more interesting, though.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Fresno Bob

    excellent account of the changes in the bay area, and the power that enviromental groups like "Save the Bay" had on keeping the Bay Area from turning into Los Angeles. If you grew up here, you should read this book excellent account of the changes in the bay area, and the power that enviromental groups like "Save the Bay" had on keeping the Bay Area from turning into Los Angeles. If you grew up here, you should read this book

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lopa

    Great history of the Bay's Are's environmental politics. Great history of the Bay's Are's environmental politics.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Written by one of my advisors :)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    Very interesting read - recommended for those interested in environmental activism, the SF Bay Area, and inspiring stories of positive social change.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Stricker

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  14. 4 out of 5

    G

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas De

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Chalmers

  18. 4 out of 5

    JW

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robb

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Miller

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aaronwilcher

    Breaks new ground in studies of the Bay Area. Walker is at Cal Geography.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Erin Keaton

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Noel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alex Roa

  30. 5 out of 5

    Finn Jørgensen

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