Thesis: Walker posits that the San Francisco Bay Area is exceptionally “green,” which traces itself to groups of (mostly white) middle-class professional elites that took an interest in preserving the Bay Area’s landscape. He is interested in telling the story of how the Bay Area “got its green groove,” arguing that the “greenbelt is not a natural product of social progress and dawning enlightenment, but something that has been won through decades of effort.”1 At the core of the story is a “green political culture” that forms a key characteristic of the Bay Area’s identity.

Walker also explicitly writes for the San Francisco Bay: The book is “meant to help those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area appreciate what they have and what they have done.”2

General Scope: Walker focuses his attention on the broad history of the Bay Area’s environment, beginning with John Muir and the Sempervirens Club, then exploring mining, agriculture, the origins of the recreational park system, the anti-growth suburbanites in the postwar era, the Save the Bay movement, and the Napa and Sonoma wine country, and ends with the battles against pollution and toxics “in the neighborhoods of the working class and the dark-hued poor.”3

Methodology: Walker uses oral history interviews (conducted by him and others, now deposited at the University of Berkeley), newspapers, organizational newsletters, and governmental documents to support his claims.

Walker uses the idea of urbanized countryside and ruralized city in his analysis.

Critique: Walker does little to talk beyond these white elites that formed the core of what he views as environmentalism. There are times when the book reads more like a laundry list of environmental organizations and does little to really dive into their intellectual, political, or social underpinnings that explain how these organizations came to be interested in particular issues or what attracted members to specific organizations. Nor do we hear much from suburbanites—both those included and excluded—and their experiences. How does race factor into these issues? Do environmental organizations consider race much? Are there class differences between these environmental elites and others concerned about environmental issues that Walker fails to address? Why is the story exclusive to elites? What about the role of Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and African Americans in attempting to resolve environmental issues and promote environmental justice?

I am also unclear on how exactly these popular movements worked together to foster the Bay Area’s green groove. Walker, for example, notes the importance of women in the movements but only hints at the personal networking that went on.

Nor does Walker fully explain why the region became a green capital. He says that it was not because of preexisting beauty, but the story often reads that way. Nor does Walker explore something that seems very core to their successes: often, these battles were won because voters elected green-minded officials. Why do Bay Area voters become more prone to elect these voters? Put another way, does the “green political culture” promote voting for green-minded public officials, or does the presence of green-minded public officials help generate a “green political culture”? Walker has an chicken-or-egg problem.

The book is also heavily celebratory. Walker is a native of the Santa Clara Valley, and remembers growing up “with the Santa Cruz Mountains as a backdrop, the open foothills behind Stanford as a playground” He recalls “the orchards of Santa Clara Valley were still in bloom, the redwoods of Big Basin and Memorial Park beckoned, and the beaches of Pescadero, San Gregorio, and Capitola were practically empty.”4 I can’t help but wonder how his experiences colored his view of the Bay Area’s environmentalism.

To Walker’s credit, he lays out his politics clearly. “The tale I have to tell is by no means dispassionate, but it is no less objective and worth reading for that. I have tried to tell it as honestly and thoroughly as possible. My red side tells me I should have been more critical of everything and everyone, but my green side wants this to be an upbeat lesson in the art of the possible.”5

Walker is very open about his politics: he says his political education began as a New Deal Democrat, but also appreciates the old liberal Republicans “lurking in the greenbelt story, because I still remember a day when Republican did not equate to George W. Bush and his Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”6 He says he still lives by the “good old-time religion of the New Deal” despite reading Karl Marx at John Hopkins and still doing Marxist economics in his day job.

Walker also says he was “awakened to environmental politics by the Save the Bay movement and the Sierra Club’s campaign to protect the Grand Canyon. Close to home, I heard of strange conflict over Stanford University’s land-use plans—conflicts in which my dad played a big part—while I was still young. Naturally, I ended up on the side opposite my father and the university administration he loved.”7

Context: Walker is arguing against the prevailing interpretation that as the city grows it obliterates nature. He points to Adam Rome and Edward Soja who see history erased from landscapes and who view cities as separate from nature—the city is built-up, while the countryside is where nature reigns. Instead, Walker sees the city and country evolving together, citing George Henderson’s claim that in California the “city and countryside developed in tandem.” Walker says we cannot continue to perceive cities as “latecomers invading pristine rural landscapes” and argues that “we are complicit with the profound American amnesia regarding history and geography.” In the end, he claims, “the countryside has always depended on the city, coexisted within the urban realm, and left its mark on urban forms.”8

Walker’s launching point is Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City, who showed the intertwined nature of urban and rural social orders in England. Walker sees the same thing in America, where views about conservation were “born out of the encounter of the city and the country.” Moreover, conservationists and environmentalists were motivated by struggle “over the nearby countryside, where the city gave way to the suburbs.”9

Walker also suggests that the environment urbanites care most about is not far-off wilderness areas, but the nature that is nearby. The “wilderness obsession was made the mantra of environmental history” with Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind, and Walker suggests starting instead with Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden and Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land where Americans attempt to confront modernity in the countryside and the loss of a rural past from the perspective of the city. Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier and Peter Schmitt’s Back to Nature are further examples of how the country intermingled with the city, but Walker claims environmental historians are only just beginning to break with “the wilderness tradition and get back to the cities.”10

Quote Bank:

“In the nine-county San Francisco region, 3.75 million of 4.5 million acres are greenbelt and open water, and less than 750,000 acres lie beneath buildings and pavements. More than 1 million acres of open space are protected, or are what advocates call secure greenbelt. The Bay Areas has the most extensive such greensward in the country. It includes a patchwork of more than 200 publicly owned parks and reserves within 40 miles of San Francisco covering an area larger than Yosemite National Park. At the heart of the metropolitan region is the bay itself, another 725,000 acres of water and wetlands guarded by government regulation. Agriculture occupies the largest swath of unpaved surface, 1.8 million acres, and woodlands the rest, about a half-million acres.”11

Says Stanford “played midwife to the birth of microelectronics and the digital age in the postwar era” but that the university also “has been a prime target for environmental rebellion.”12

Says the Committee for Green Foothills has been the “leading force for open land on the peninsula for almost 50 years.”13

Among the founding members of CGF14:

  • Lois and George Hogle
  • Martin Litton
  • Jack and Eleanor Fowle
  • Morgan and Katy Stedman
  • Richard Cutter
  • Wallace Stegner

Notes the Battle of the Hills, gives credit to the Committee for Green Foothills for the referendum?15

  • The history isn’t quite right here. People in the Committee were likely involved, but not central.

A proposal resurfaces in 1969 known as the Coyote Hill Plan; the CGF sues. The university wins.16

Stanford also developed an office park along Sand Hill Road to the north of campus. But the developer, Tom Ford, becomes a friend of the Committee (Walker calls this “delicious irony”).17

Pete McCloskey — look into him

The Committee had strong ties to various other conservation groups

  • Wallace Stegner and Martin Litton were Sierra Club directors in the 1960s (p. 102)
  • Stegner heavily influenced by Bernard DeVoto and David Brower (p. 102)
  • Litton was a defender of redwoods, the Grand Canyon, and Mineral King (p. 102)
  • Morgan Stedman was on the Santa Clara County Planning Commission and resisted sprawl (p. 102)
  • Barbara Eastman was a key organizer in Save Our Seashore (p. 102)
  • Dorothy Varian was a member of the Conservation Associates and a friend (p. 102)
  • Bill and Mel Lane, owners of Sunset, were longtime allies. Mel directed the Bay and Coastal commissions. (p. 102)
  • Eleanor Fowle was the sister of Alan Cranston, a former real estate broker in Los Angeles and a Democratic Senator. (p. 102)
  • Lewis Mumford wrote Ruth Spangenberg at the founding that “since Dr. Tresidder’s death the university has gone more more ‘fashionable’ and more expensive advice, promising immediate profits and ultimate debacle. Keep up the fight. The weight of good sense and public decency is on your side!” (p. 102)

Between 1960 to 1985, Stanford University doubled its building space from four million to eight million square feet; a fight broke out in 1985 over a proposal for the Reagan Library to exist in the foothills.18

  1. @walker2007countrycity, 4.

  2. @walker, xvii.

  3. @walker2007countrycity, 5.

  4. @walker2007countrycity, xv.

  5. @walker2007countrycity, xviii.

  6. @walker2007countrycity, xviii.

  7. @walker2007countrycity, xv.

  8. @walker2007countrycity, 5–6.

  9. @walker2007countrycity, 6.

  10. @walker2007countrycity, 6.

  11. @walker2007countrycity, 3.

  12. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 100.

  13. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 100.

  14. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 101.

  15. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 101.

  16. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 101.

  17. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 101.

  18. Richard Walker, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 103.