Future Geographies of the Suburban Metropolis in California’s Deserts

Authors: Mike Kohout*, California State University, San Bernardino
Topics: Cultural Geography, Urban Geography, Regional Geography
Keywords: cultural geography, suburban metropolis, deserts, California
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Living in nature, having unlimited resources, upward economic mobility, strong individual and community autonomy, and a bond forged from common values are the mythical characteristics of the suburban metropolis of Southern California. Many geographers have written critically about these characteristics and have shown the myth falling mostly short of reality yet remaining stubbornly persistent. My goal is to focus on the future geographies of the metropolis by analyzing the suburban dream in California’s deserts. To me contemporary desert place-making and resulting landscapes provide a glimpse into possible future suburban geographies. The deserts are a frontier where suburban norms are being tested. The question is whether or not the suburban metropolis is adapting to the deserts, and why. Using mostly secondary data I present case studies of conservation, resource use, economic opportunity, and urbanization in the context of the persistently powerful cultural imaginary of suburban life. The case studies are the starting point for a glimpse into the future geographies of the suburban metropolis not just in the deserts but everywhere in Southern California and perhaps beyond. I find that as the metropolis sprawls into California’s deserts it encounters its future geographies shaped by the adverse impacts of climate change, resource scarcity, economic segregation, and social alienation leading to political conflict over resources, and migration. However, the suburban ideal emerges relatively unscathed in the short term because of its broad popularity, and the power of outside interests who will likely reshape the region into a mirror image of coastal suburbs.

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