The Dichotomy of California's Frontier Myth: 'Hell-A' and Utopian San Francisco

“[There] is something about the frequency with which California and 'the future' are used synonymously,’ writes Kristin Miller. But the future looks much different when set in Southern California as compared to Northern California.

Read Time: 2 minutes

March 6, 2014, 1:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Does this story line sound familiar? “10 to 150 years from the present, California has succumbed to natural disaster/economic and governmental collapse/a pandemic, which leaves Southern California a corporate-fascist-military state with gross financial and racial inequality and urban squalor—while Northern California rips up its pavement, learns permaculture, gets spiritual, and models better living through technology and communitarian diversity,” writes Kristin Miller in a recent article for BOOM: A Journal of California.

In Los Angeles, a dystopian future has pervaded even policy circles. Miller cites Mike Davis, who in Ecology of Fear noted that the LA 2000: A City for the Future redevelopment plan mentioned one famous example, Blade Runner, in “warning of what could happen were the plan not adopted.” The plan called it “the Blade Runner scenario: the fusion of individual cultures into a demotic polyglotism ominous with unresolved hostilities.”

To the north, however, “Northern California-as-utopia...is strongly linked to the countercultural movement of the sixties, with its guides for technologically advanced back-to-the-land living.”

Texts like Ecotopia, Always Coming Home, and The Fifth Sacred Thing “depict Northern California as central to both speculative and practical visions of sustainable survival.”

A final, powerful point from Miller: “In the frontier myth of American history, California represents the completion of a manifestly destined expansion across the continent. It’s easy to see Utopian San Francisco and 'Hell A' as twin land’s-ends for idealists and cynics.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014 in BOOM: A Journal of California

Congestion

Redesigning Streets for Livability: A Global View

An excerpt from the introduction of the recent book, “Streets For All: 50 Strategies for Shaping Resilient Cities,” edited by Vinayak Bharne and Shyam Khandekar.

January 18, 2023 - Vinayak Bharne

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of Bend, Oregon with river and old mill district

Bend Eliminates Parking Minimums

The city is complying with an Oregon state mandate that some cities have challenged in court.

January 20, 2023 - KTVZ

Pedestrians and people on bikes on Atlanta BeltLine multiuse trail

How To Prevent ‘Green Gentrification:’ Lessons from the BeltLine

For one author, the key is focusing on affordable housing from the start.

January 27 - The Conversation

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27 - Smart Cities Dive

Rendering of freeway deck over Interstate 10 in El Paso

El Paso Freeway Cap Linked to Road Expansion

A deck reconnecting neighborhoods divided by the interstate is part of a controversial freeway expansion proposal.

January 27 - Smart Cities Dive