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The Homeowner Revolution: Democracy, Land Use and the Los Angeles Slow-Growth Movement, 1965-1992


Using mixed-methods - spatial analysis, regression modeling, and historical evidence - this dissertation explains the origins and impact of Los Angeles's slow-growth movement between the Watts (1965) and Rodney King (1992) civil unrests. Part planning history and part land use analysis, the dissertation explores how land use policy both impacts, and is impacted by, social, economic, and environmental forces through the machinations of local politics. As such, it provides a detailed empirical case study of the relationship between democracy, social capital, and urban planning.

The dissertation explains how the slow-growth movement was facilitated by the shift from top-down planning during the pro-growth, post-war period to a bottom-up community planning process post-Watts. The project illustrates the land use changes adopted after Watts, changes that were correlated with socio-economic characteristics and homeowner activity. Areas with well-organized homeowner groups dramatically decreased density as a means of controlling population growth, thus directing the future growth of L.A. to predominately low-income, minority communities - communities least able to accommodate that growth due to overcrowded housing, under-performing schools, limited park space and, in many cases, poor transit access. In short, density was directed to the path of least political resistance, a social injustice that exacerbated spatial disparities between communities.

In addition to mapping and regression analysis, the findings are illustrated by three historical group case studies (L.A. Urban League, L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations) and two place case studies (Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw and Woodland Hills/Canoga Park). The cases illustrate the motivations and impact of civil rights, business, and homeowner groups, and how land use changes transformed two areas of the city in very different ways.

The homeowner revolution in Los Angeles -- and its damaging impacts on the City's social, economic, and environmental sustainability -- demonstrates the need for the re-assertion of a professional role for planners, a better balance between local and regional concerns, and the critical importance of implementing a planning process that reflects the will of the majority of a City's residents, rather than empower only its most strident voices.

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