Up Against the Sprawl

Public Policy and the Making of Southern California


Jennifer Wolch, Manuel Pastor Jr., and Peter Dreier, editors
Foreword by Michael Dear

Los Angeles's experience in managing urban growth and change

A major contribution to our understanding of urban processes, and lessons for policy makers and activists in Los Angeles and beyond.

Contributors: Carolyn B. Aldana, Carol S. Armstrong, Michael Dear, Gary Dymski, Steven P. Erie, Gregory Freeman, William Fulton, Elizabeth Gearin, Genevieve Giuliano, Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, Enrico A. Marcelli, Myra A. Marks, Juliet Musso, Stephanie Pincetl, Laura Pulido, Christine M. Ryan, John P. Wilson.

Up Against the Sprawl is a valuable contribution to planning and public policy planning literature. Although focused on the Los Angeles area, this book offers lessons for every U.S. metropolitan area.

Economic Development Quarterly

America's first truly twenty-first-century metropolis, Los Angeles is often depicted as diverse, fragmented, polarized, and ungovernable, a city without a unifying geographic center or civic culture. The sprawling evolution of the city and its infamous problems—traffic, pollution, growing inequality—are usually attributed to a Wild West version of capitalism—the triumph of an unregulated free market over comprehensive urban planning. But market choices and lack of planning did not set the terrain of Southern California: Los Angeles has been profoundly shaped by a wide range of local, state, and federal public policies and programs.

Up Against the Sprawl details how governmental policies and public agencies have dictated many aspects of the region’s growth: infrastructure, transportation, housing, immigration, finances, civic and regional administration, the environment. The authors also argue that since public policy set the landscape, it can help forge the future. They explore countermovements by progressive activists to use innovative policies—from smart growth initiatives to the actions of living wage advocates—for greater social, economic, and environmental justice.

This book is a major contribution to our understanding of past and present urban processes and policy, and highlights practical lessons for urban and regional policy makers and activists in Los Angeles and beyond.

Contributors: Carolyn B. Aldana, California State U, San Bernadino; Carol S. Armstrong; Michael Dear, U of Southern California; Gary Dymski, U of California Riverside; Steven P. Erie, USC; Gregory Freeman; William Fulton; Elizabeth Gearin, USC; Genevieve Giuliano, USC; Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, U of Massachusetts, Boston; Enrico A. Marcelli; Myra A. Marks, Loyola Marymount U; Juliet Musso, USC; Stephanie Pincetl, USC; Laura Pulido; Christine M. Ryan; John P. Wilson.

Jennifer Wolch is professor of geography and director of the Center for Sustainable Cities at the University of Southern California.

Manuel Pastor Jr. is professor of Latino and Latin American studies and director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Peter Dreier is Clapp Distinguished Professor and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College.

Up Against the Sprawl is a valuable contribution to planning and public policy planning literature. Although focused on the Los Angeles area, this book offers lessons for every U.S. metropolitan area.

Economic Development Quarterly

The individual chapters complement each other well because each one deals with a different aspect of the same study area, and the exposition, including the level of technical detail and graphics, is consistent throughout. Its consistency, readability, and minimal technical detail make it a good candidate for a case study in an upper undergraduate or master level planning or public policy course.

Journal of Regional Science

Although Up Against the Sprawl may be focused on the five-county Los Angeles metropolis that anchors the Southern California region, the development and public policy issues it confronts readily apply to the rest of urban America as well. By skillfully integrating an array of cutting-edge social and policy science along with perspectives on planning, the editors have given us a splendid overview of the processes, patterns, and issues that mark metropolitan Los Angeles’s growth at the dawn of a new era. Its analyses of sprawl-related issues constitute a major addition to the academic literature of urban studies and cognate social sciences. The book also represents a solid contribution to the public debate about the future of metropolitan growth.


This book contains a detailed account of the historical and current forces driving urban sprawl in southern California. This is an excellent book. It is relatively easy to criticize capitalism from a high abstract vantage point, without engaging with the specifics and actors of the everyday that allow for strategic moves that engage and sometimes change urban policy. This is the strength and model provided by this book.

Environment and Planning A

The editors of this book have assembled a welcome addition to the literature on the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Not just another edited collection, this book represents the outcome of two years of collaborative research among the authors. It is an excellent volume that combines strong empirical analysis with a normative commitment to equitable and environmentally sustainable development.

Economic Geography

This book is a must-read for those scholars who study the trends and implications of urban, suburban, and metropolitan development. The powerful message from each of the authors that public policy matters in shaping the patterns of sprawl and its consequences—as well as for seeking ways to reinvent the metropolitan region—is a welcome addition to long-standing intellectual debates on the evolution of urban form.

Annals of the Association of American Geographers


Foreword | Michael Dear


Introduction. Making Southern California: Public Policy, Markets, and the Dynamics of Growth | Jennifer Wolch, Manuel Pastor Jr., and Peter Dreier

Part I. Policy Pathways

1. W(h)ither Sprawl? Have Regional Water Policies Subsidized Suburban Development? | Steven P. Erie, Gregory Freeman, and Pascale Joassart-Marcelli
2. Environmental Racism and Urban Development | Laura Pulido
3. Urban Sprawl, Racial Separation, and Federal Housing Policy Carolyn B. Aldana and Gary A. Dymski

Part II. Up against the Sprawl

4. From the Barrio to the ’Burbs? Immigration and the Dynamics of Suburbanization | Enrico A. Marcelli
5. Where Is the “Region” in Regional Transportation Planning? Genevieve Giuliano
6. Metropolitan Fiscal Structure: Coping with Growth and Fiscal Constraint | Juliet Musso
7. Federal Expenditures, Intrametropolitan Poverty, and Fiscal Disparities between Cities | Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, Juliet Musso, and Jennifer Wolch
8. The Preservation of Nature at the Urban Fringe | Stephanie Pincetl

Part III. Which Way L.A.?

9.Can Growth Control Escape Fiscal and Economic Pressures? City Policy before and after the 1990s Recession Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, William Fulton, and Juliet Musso
10. Smart Growth or Smart Growth Machine? The Smart Growth Movement and Its Implications | Elizabeth Gearin
11. Living on the Edge: Growth Policy Choices for Ventura County Christine M. Ryan, John P. Wilson, and William Fulton
12. The Experimental Metropolis: Political Impediments and Opportunities for Innovation | Mara A. Marks, Elizabeth Gearin, and Carol S. Armstrong