Richard A. Walker

Chair, California Studies Center
Ph.D. The Johns Hopkins University, 1977

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Complete CV
Announcing a new book:

The Country in the City:
The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area

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The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area

By Richard Walker, Professor of Geography
University of California, Berkeley 94720-4740

University of Washington Press
Weyerhauser Series in Environmental History
William Cronon, Ed.

The San Francisco Bay Area is more greensward than asphalt jungle, more open space than hardscape. In the nine-county San Francisco region, 3.75 of 4.5 million acres are greenbelt and open water, and less than 750,000 acres lie beneath buildings and pavements. Almost 900,000 acres are in publicly owned open space, an area larger than Yosemite National Park. The Bay Area has the most extensive such greensward in the country. This book tells the story of how the Bay Area got its green groove.

This open space is sometimes called the urban greenbelt, but it is really a coat of many colors besides green – yellow, brown, blue and gold -- and less a belt than a quilt of countryside tucked into the folds of the metropolis. This is the country in the city. It is not something apart from the city, something left over from nature’s beneficence. It is part and parcel of the city – that most profoundly unnatural of human artifacts. The greenbelt, the open bay and the clear breezes are the products of intense human activity.

The making of the civic greensward – building parks, saving the bay, protecting the coast, setting aside wildlife reserves, purchasing development rights, drawing green lines, and the rest -- has been a long and arduous process. The greenbelt is not a natural product of social progress and dawning enlightenment, but something that has been won through decades of effort, fought over acre by acre. The greensward is this city's saving grace. But not because open space naturalizes the metropolis; rather, it humanizes the city.

The greening of the Bay Area is political, through and through. It is tied up with the political traditions of San Francisco, where a strain of rebelliousness against the mainstream runs high and low in civic culture. While conservation has been mostly a preoccupation of the upper classes, and served their purposes, it meant bucking the fast buck developers, criticizing the purveyors of growth at all costs, and taking up the public interest in public space. Not surprisingly, it has been mostly the work of women. But the working class and middle class professionals have joined the crusades for recreational parks, open vistas, and clean air with gusto, especially since the environmental awakening of the 1960s. Most of all, green concerns have become deeply rooted in everyone’s thinking over time.

American environmental history is remarkably placeless -- a fatal inattention to geography. Yet the San Francisco Bay Area deserves special credit in the story of conservation and the environmentalism. It was the birthplace wild lands preservation behind Muir and the Sierra Club in the 1890s. It gestated the National Park Service and the recreational parks under Stephen Mather and Horace Albright in the 1910s. It became the first place to organize mass movements for environmental protection under the Sierra Club and Save the Bay Association in the 1960s. And it led the way in the fight for clean air, clean water and a non-toxic environment in the 1980s.

Interests: Economic geography, regional development, capitalism and politics, cities and urbanism, resources and environment, California, class and race.

Professor Walker’s best known work is in economic geography, especially The Capitalist Imperative: Territory, Technology and Industrial Growth (Blackwell, 1989), with Michael Storper - one of the most cited books in the field. Other writing in this vein includes, "The geography of production" In Sheppard & Barnes, eds. Companion to Economic Geography (2000) and "Putting Capital in its Place: Globalization and the Prospects for Labor" Geo-forum (1999).

Since 1990, Professor Walker’s focus has been on California, a major economic, political and cultural hearth of world capitalism. This theme is explored in such articles as "California's golden road to riches: natural resources and regional capitalism, 1848-1940" Annals of the AAG (2001) and “California rages against the dying of the light” New Left Review (1995).

He recently published a book on the history of the state’s astonishing agricultural system, The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California (New Press, 2004). This tells the story of how capitalism developed the California countryside into the leading agrarian production complex in the United States.

Professor Walker's most recent book concerns the creation of the San Francisco Bay Area greenbelt and the local environmental movement. The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Washington Press, 2007) narrates the many stories of land preservation, saving the bay, and fighting toxics that have made this a global bastion of environmentalism.

Professor Walker is also known as an urban geographer, and his next book recounts the making of urban landscape of the Bay Area. It will be titled City at Bay: The Making of the San Francisco-Oakland Metropolis. In this work, Walker picks up on themes he explored in early writings on suburbanization and in articles such as “Landscape and city life: four ecologies of residence in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Ecumene (1995).

A follow-up book will deal with the urbanization of Silicon Valley. Books have been written about electronics in that storied place, but none about the shape of the city that has grown up around the industry. No longer the poster child for sprawl, San Jose and Silicon Valley have become one of the densest and most racially mixed cities in the U.S. This volume is tentatively titled, Silicon City: The Urbanization of the Electronics Mecca.

An enduring thread of Professor Walker’s thought is the logic of capitalism as an economic, political and social system, and its geographical evolution. It comes out in orthodox forms, as in "Capitalism's recurrent self-criticism: an evaluation of Bob Brenner's Origins of Global Turbulence" Historical Materialism (2000) and unorthodox ones, as in The New Social Economy: Reworking the Division of Labor (Blackwell, 1992), with Andrew Sayer.

Walker loves the life of teacher and advisor, and is proud of the many former students teaching around the country. He served five years as Department Chair, 1994-99, helping to re-shape Berkeley Geography. He edited the journal Antipode throughout the 1990s and has been Chair of a statewide California Studies Association and of a California Studies Center at UC Berkeley since 2000.

He has also been an activist in public affairs and on campus, fighting against such monstrosities as the Peripheral Canal, the Gulf War, and the Patriot Act. He takes great joy in the arts of gardening, singing and parenting, among virtues not listed on the official CV.
Listen to Richard Walker's interview with KPFA's Against the Grain on The Conquest of Bread (downloads as mp3 file)
The Conquest of Bread

California agriculture has been described as ‘one of the wonders of the world,” an ever-evolving cornucopia, supplying one-third of the table food consumed by Americans. The earth’s most intensely farmed non-tropical landscape, California exemplifies capitalist agriculture in its purest and most advanced form. Indeed, many of the defining characteristics of 21st century world agriculture – such as irrigation districts, subcontracting, petro-farming, feedlots, biotechnology and concrete dams – were pioneered in California.

Nevertheless, as geographer Richard A. Walker argues in this pathbreaking and comprehensive account, California’s practically miraculous manipulation of nature has been purchased at the price of epic environmental degradation and ferocious exploitation of labor. Unlike the Midwest, California’s history of ‘manufacturing green gold’ has been built upon an entirely and purely capitalist model from its origins and without precedent, setting a historical vanguard. Ironically agribusiness has drained and poisoned the waters, reengineered plant and animal species, created toxic and saline wastelands, and forever transformed the iconic landscape of the Golden State.

California’s ‘factories in the fields’ (in the famous phrase of Carey McWilliams), have defeated every attempt by land reformers, family farmers and farm laborers to improve an exploitative social system. Three generations after Steinbeck, and despite the heroic struggles of Cesar Chavez, the overwhelming majority of California’s farmworkers are still trapped in seemingly continual poverty, subject to the unchecked power of the growers and prey to racism and discrimination. The squalid housing and unsafe working conditions in the fields that shocked the country in the 1930s persist in California’s rural valleys in the early 21st century.

As Walker points out, it is ironic that this paradigmatic socio-economic system – California’s state-of-the-art corporate agribusiness – has been relatively neglected in modern agrarian studies. THE CONQUEST OF BREAD redresses the balance from a unique viewpoint that focuses on both history and geography, and on the evolution of agribusiness and on its organization.

Walker thus provides the reader with an overview of the crop specialties and commodity networks that make California such an unparalleled green machine. Simultaneously he exposes the evolutionary links in the food change, showing how a continuous emphasis on productivity and high-speed growth have allowed the state to outpace agriculture elsewhere.

Full of thunder, paradox and surprise, THE CONQUEST OF BREAD offers general readers and specialists alike an unprecedented wide-angle view of California agriculture. Walker deftly decodes an agro-industrial landscape that even most Californians sometimes find inexplicable and mysterious.

$27.95 CLOTH, 382 PAGES
OCTOBER 14, 2004

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