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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Long Road from Babylon to Brentwood: Crisis and Restructuring in the San Francisco Bay Area


Communities on the fringes of the American metropolis – exurbs, or exurbia – have recently garnered attention as the centers of the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath. On the one hand, this attention to the urban nature of the crisis is welcome, as the metamorphosis of the mortgage fiasco into a financial crisis cum global economic meltdown turned popular attention away from the urban roots of this calamity. But this emphasis on the exurbs as the site of crisis lends itself to the misconception that they are the sole source of crisis, rather than the restructuring of the metropolis as a whole. Using a mixture of ethnography, history and journalism, this paper weaves together the story of how the San Francisco Bay Area was restructured over the course of the past thirty years in a way that produced not only a new map of urban and exurban segregation, but the roots of the crisis itself. Working across multiple scales, it examines how three interwoven factors – demographics, policy and capital – each reacted to the landscape inherited at the end of the 1970’s, moving about the region in new ways, leaving some places thriving and others struggling with foreclosure, plummeting property values and the deep uncertainty of the current American metropolis.

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