Mike Davis

City of Quartz

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City of Quartz Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “City of Quartz” by Mike Davis includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 7 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Los Angeles, Capitalist Land of Dreams and No One Walks in LA: Surveillance City.

Plot Summary

Mike Davis’ City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, won the 1990 Social Science Association Best Book Award. Davis is a Marxist urban theorist, historian, and political commentator who, following the success of City of Quartz, has written monographs on other American cities, including San Diego and Las Vegas. In his writing for The New Left Review journal, he continues to be a prominent voice in Marxist politics and environmentalism. His acclaims include MacArthur and Getty fellowships.

Davis, who hails from derelict, former steel-town Fontana, the subject of his book’s final chapter, has an unconventional experience for an academic. Born in 1946, he has working-class origins and subsidized his studies by working as a meat-cutter and truck driver. Both at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC) where he studied and researched, Davis was controversial as well as respected; university elites found his relentless social activism intimidating.

City of Quartz opens with Davis’ speculation regarding Los Angeles’ potential to be a radical, left-wing city, as he sets the scene for the now defunct socialist utopia of Llano del Rio. His book then goes on to show how Los Angeles did not live up to its radical potential. It explores the legacy of the Boosters, East Coast WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), who emigrated to the town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and promoted Los Angeles as a Mediterraneanized paradise for “fortune and health-seekers” (25).

Since the Boosterism era, real estate speculation and empty space has been Southern California’s most profitable export. However, in Los Angeles, a city ruled by market forces, the hands of power have changed numerous times. At the time of writing, much of Downtown Los Angeles’ power, and even Hollywood’s, is outsourced to wealthy Japanese businessmen.

Although the market determines Los Angeles’ immigration and urban design, the wealthy elites and middle classes who live in the more affluent parts of town have sought to remain faithful to the Boosters’ dream by campaigning to incorporate their neighborhoods and pass laws that make them inaccessible to the less affluent and nonwhite. This move to keep different classes of people separate is echoed in what Davis terms Los Angeles’ move toward becoming a “fortress city,” beholden to a climate of fear and surveillance (224). As the wealthy are isolated in their luxurious silos, the inner-city poor are increasingly ghettoized by the often racist Los Angeles Police Department. Rather than dismissing gang members, such as the Crips and the Bloods, as senseless criminals, Davis examines the reasons for their violence and shows how prejudice and a lack of employment opportunities available to black men means that a drug-dealing gang is often their only means of gaining money and respect. Continuing with the theme of racial tension, Davis then goes on to examine power dynamics in Los Angeles’ Catholic Church, where the Latino majority congregation’s representation and social advancement conflicts with the interests of powerful, white Catholics.

Davis concludes his book with a study of the town of his birth, Fontana, which lies 60 miles east of the Metropolis. Fontana, which was once a largely self-sufficient farming town, had its destiny determined by the market force that was Kaiser’s Steelworks, which flourished in the town in the years of the Depression before polluting and decimating it when it went bankrupt. Davis shows how Fontana has become a “junkyard of dreams,” where symbols of Southern Californian promise and prosperity have decayed irreparably (434).

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