Reassessing Urbanization in an Agricultural Town

Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago)
Carol Lynn McKibben, Stanford University
This paper examines how and why Salinas (along with other cities in California based on agricultural production) challenges traditional labels and assessments. In California, and nationally, our ideas about what constitutes an urban versus suburban versus a rural place must be complicated by new immigrant flows and new economic realities that reflect a multiculturalism in everything from city politics to street life to schools to shopping centers.

The urban transformations that were created both by immigration policy changes and economic development beginning in the 1990s are measured by matrixes such as median income levels and levels of educational attainment. By those measures, places like Salinas, which depend on large numbers of newly arrived unskilled and poorly educated immigrants (mostly from Mexico) to support the agricultural industry fall short, while cities in Silicon Valley that depend on the technology revolution are seen as thriving. Yet, in so-called successful cities class, ethnicity or stage of migration divides residents. Conflicts arise from cultural misunderstandings, especially over use of both public and private space. Moreover, the population of native-born whites has all but disappeared from many such places. Not so for Salinas and other towns based on agriculture. Here residents are drawn together in bonds of community that includes long time white residents and cuts across both ethnic and class lines. These agriculturally based towns and cities require that we rethink how we determine success in urban development and reconsider our definitions of these places. The persistence of white settlement might be an important measure of community health and wellbeing. Cohesive community identity might be as important as median income. Support for those at the lower end socioeconomically might be as important as educational levels.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>