“the nation’s most open and empty region is also its most heavily urbanized.” (xi)

Making two arguments:

  1. Western cities organize the region’s vast spaces and connect them to the world economy
  2. urban growth since 1940 is a distinct era where Western cities have become national and international pacesetters. (xii)

By 1990, 80 percent of Westerners lived in metropolitan areas ranging in size from Enid, Oklahoma (with 60,000 people), Casper, Wyoming (66,000), and Grand Forks, North Dakota (71,000), to the Los-Angeles-Anaheim-Riverside complex, with its 14,532,000 people. Roughly half of the rest lived in smaller towns and cities of 2,500 or more, leaving only one Westerner in ten for the “real West” of farms, ranches, lonely desert gas stations, and railroad hamlets clustered around the gray columns of grain elevators. (p. xii)

Urbanization is “a dual process” (p xii-xiii)

  1. involves “the creation of new points of population concentration”
  2. and the “growth of existing points”

Between 1815 and 1930, urbanization transformed the US from “a collection of rural societies to a metropolitan nation.” The process has most clearly and completely occurred in the West. (xiii)

The West has seen metropolitan growth faster than the nation on a whole. The half dozen largest metropolitan areas in the West in 1940 grew by 380 percent over fifty years, compared to the six largest in the East that grew only 64 percent. (xiii)

Western cities hold “a special relationship with wide open spaces.” Industries in “defense, aerospace, and leisure have flourished in the wEst because of the elbow room available in the region’s metropolitan areas.” (xiii)

“Cities have made the American West a major participant in the ongoing restructuring of the world system.” (xv)

“World War II changed the growth curve for every Western subregion, reversing decline or stagnation in much of the West and accelerating growth in a few favored areas. The war and its aftermath mark the takeoff when Western cities as a group changed from followers to trendsetters.” (xviii)

The total metropolitan population in the Western states surged from 11.8 million in 1940 to 28.7 million in 1960, 50.9 million in 1980, and 63 million in 1990. Los Angeles-Anaheim formed the nation’s second largest urban complex by 1980, the Bay Area conurbation ranked fourth, Dallas-Fort Worth ninth, and Houston-Galveston tenth. During the 1980s, nineteen of the nation’s thirty-nine biggest metro areas (with populations of a million or more) grew faster than the country as a whole (11 percent or more for the decade). Twelve of these boom cities were located in the West, with an aggregate population increase of 8.4 million residents for the decade. One out of every four Americans now lives in a Western metropolitan area, up from one out of eleven in 1940 (xviii-xix)

Population growth in the West has been a long cycle of economic growth concentrated in the Southwest and Far West. Economic development began in 1930, surged through the 1940s and 1950s, crested in the 1970s and receded somewhat in the 1980s. Abbott uses the idea of “long waves or fifty-year cycles in the global economy” (see Chapter 1) to discuss the periods of “creative destruction” where “new industries shoulder aside older industries and open opportunities for new regions to come to the fore.” (xix). The long-wave theory, Abbott argues, “describes the context within which Western cities have experienced and responded to the conflicting demands of the continental resource frontier and global networks.” (xxi).

Western cities became pacesetters, they “have defined new directions for American economic growth that we have tried to capture with coinages like ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Sunbelt.’” (xxi)

Abbott describes his central goal in the book is to “recognize and describe common patterns in Western urban development and to stimulate further investigation of suggested regularities and patterns.” (xxii) In the second half of the twentieth century, Abbott maintains that “Western cities have most often expressed the American democratic tradition of open communities designed to accommodate new industries, new immigrants, and new ideas.” (xxiii)

Chapter 2: The Politics of Growth

Noting the formation of the Progress Committee in 1944 San Jose, which wanted to build “a new metropolis in the place of sleepy San Jose.” (quoted; 39). Standing up to labor unions and large landowners, the Progress Committee swept into the city council. The Council was heavily focused on business and comprised mostly of merchants, lawyers, and industrialists. The Committee disappeared as a formal organization soon after its 1944 victory but its business agenda continued to dominate San Jose politics. Under the leadership of city manager Dutch Hamann who was hired in 1950 with the goal to make San Jose “the Los Angeles of the North,” the city embarked on recruiting industry, building new streets, sewers, and an airport. The city grew quickly, from 11 square miles in 1940 to 137 square miles in 1970, and extended “shoestring” annexations along highways “to reach attractive outlying districts.” Just as Los Angeles had used its water supply to force annexations, San Jose used its sewer system as the price of annexation. City officials justifed expansion on the basis of efficiency — a larger tax base for public service, coordinating capital improvements, and acquiring necessary land for parks and facilities. (pp. 39-40).

Cites trounstine1982movers in noting that San Jose boosters sought to maintain a separate identity, resisting inclusion with the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area in 1950 and rejecting their participation in Bay Area Rapid Transit in 1957. The main beneficiaries, however, were real estate developers and the San Jose Mercury. Under the leadership of Joe Ridder, the newspaper became a booster for growth and grew wealthy with advertising revenue. Ridder claimed that he and the newspaper were being “a constructive force in the development of San Jose and its territory.” (quoted; 40)

Chapter 3: From Regional Cities to National Cities

p. 61: “During the 1970s, Arizona, California, Washington, Kansas, Utah, and Colorado ranked among the top ten states for high-tech jobs as a proportion of total employment. All six states also made the list of defense-dependent states in the 1950s.”

Santa Clara was the setting for a defense-science-industry alliance emphasizing electronics and aerospace. (61)

When Frederick Terman returned to Stanford after World War II, he was determined to build industry-university alliances in basic research. Stanford was a perfect site for these changes, being cash poor but land rich and determined to become an educational elite. (61)

The founding of the Stanford research park in 1951 began the move into the computer economy:

Stanford Industrial Park began to fulfill its promise in the mid-1950s, attracting a new company started by two of Terman’s students, William Hewitt and David Packard, as well as research and development facilities for Xerox and Lockheed. ITT, IBM, Sylvania, Admiral, and similar companies established research facilities elsewhere in the county. The other key event was William Shockley’s 1955 move from Bell Labs in New Jersey to Palo Alto to develop commercial applications of the transistor, which he had invented with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. Within a year, a group of his own employees had moved to establish Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, the county’s first major semiconductor company. Easy access to San Francisco’s venture-capital market facilitated electronics start-ups. Fairchild itself would spin off fifty other firms by 1979. (p. 62)

By the mid-1960s, the military markets in Silicon Valley were supplemented by civilian markets. The Valley cut a ten-by-thirty mile swathe through Santa Clara County. In 1950, Santa Clara County had 800 manufacturing workers, primarily employed in food processing. In 1980, it had roughly 3,000 electronics firms, 264,000 manufacturing workers, and annual sales of $40 billion. Executives and engineers built their homes to the north and in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, while skilled workers with Filipino, Vietnamese, and Mexican backgrounds moved to San Jose. (p 62)

Several “silicon clones” sprang up around the West after the success of Silicon Valley. HP and Ampex both opened plants in Colorado Springs in the late 1960s, and by the mid-1980s the “Silicon Mountain” was creating semiconductors, aerospace systems, and communications equipment. Similar spinoffs in the “Silicon Prairie” and “Silicon Desert” – Austin, for example, mimicked Stanford’s Industrial Park when it converted a magnesium plant from World War II into the Balcones Research Center to focus on defense work. In 1966 IBM became the first large electronics corporation to move into the city, followed by Advanced Micro Devices, Intel, Motorola, and other companies moved in over the next fifteen years. Likewise, Phoenix benefited from Motorola’s 1948 decision to open a facility focusing on defense electronics, which paved the way for Sperry Rand, General Electric, AirResearch, and Kaiser Aircraft and Electronics. In the 1970s, Honeywell, IBM, DEC, Intel, and National Semiconductor established corporate facilities in Phoenix. Portland and Dallas incubated Tektronics and Texas Instruments in the 1970s. (p. 64)

Chapter 5: The Politics of Diversity

Looking at the “rise of neighborhood liberals” in cities like Austin and Portland, which came with the increasing importance of women in politics. Between 1970 and 1990, places like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Austin, Portland, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Corpus Cristi, El Paso, Phoenix, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, Modesto, Stockton, and Spokane saw a rise in women politicians. In 1987, women served as mayor in twenty-six Western cities of at least 50,000 residents. (111)

Abbott argues the rise of new leadership reflected “the same institutional openness that assisted neoprogressive reform after World War II.” The political empowerment comes from “the special character of Western cities”

  • “The cities of the postwar West were communities filled with newcomers who lacked ties and oblications to extended families, churches, and other community institutions.” (111)
  • “The spreading suburbs of Western cities were ‘frontiers’ that required concerted action to solve immediate functional and service needs, like adequate schools and decent parks.” Since these were often viewed as “woman’s work” suburbs “offered numerous opportunities for women to engage in volunteer civic work, to sharpen their skills as political activists, and finally to run for local office.” (111)
  • “Western cities had fewer established political institutions such as political machines and strong parties. In the same way that it helped the neoprogressives, a system of personal, nonparty politics was open to the influence of energetic women.” (111)

He points to San Jose and Santa Clara County as a “specific impact” in what some call the “feminist capital of the nation.” In 1980 voters made women a three-to-one majority on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and a seven-to-four majority on the San Jose City Council. Notes that Janet Gray Hayes, elected in 1974 under the slogan “Let’s make San Jose better before we make it bigger.”

“Quality-of-Life” Politics

Abbott points to his previous The New Urban America (1981), in which he noted the mobilization of activists he called “quality-of-life liberals.” This liberalism manifested itself through the growth of the environmental movement, and often were middle-class city people “worried that breakneck development was fouling the air, eating up open space, sacrificing neighborhoods to the automobile, and deferring the huge costs of remediation to future decades.” (103) The agenda included “environmental clean-up, the promotion of public transportation, and the renewal rather than abandonment of older neighborhoods.” (103)

p. 103: “Neighborhood liberals sometimes found that the neoprogressive coalitions of the 1950s had already been weakened by the rise of new suburban industries whose owners and managers thought very little about the needs of central-city businesses. New aerospace, defense, and electronics companies cared far more about suburban highways and world markets than about fading downtowns, older neighborhoods, and public transportation.”

Cites trounstine1982movers: “downtown San Jose has simply not been a serious concern for the major corporate interests who have built their low-rise headquarters in Silicon Valley cities to the north.” (quoted; 103)

Some historians take issue with the reasoning that quality-of-life politics was decidedly liberal. See childers2012ski, scott2008hipcapitalism.


Mapping Santa Clara Valley

Mapping Santa Clara Valley