The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Richard A. Walker, University of Washington Press, 2007, 404 pages, $35
In his new history of Bay Area conservation and environmentalism, Richard Walker repopulates familiar landscapes—from Point Reyes to Big Basin—with both their citizen champions and the various forces at work in the other direction: logging, mining, orchards and their attendant canneries, housing developments and their attendant freeways and fill projects. This book delves far deeper than the stories of John Muir or David Brower fighting for wilderness protections in the Sierra or on the Colorado River. Instead, Walker gives us a nuanced vision of the Bay Area as a nexus of citizen activism undertaken by women and men of many social and economic classes, well before the 1960s.
Walker offers an enlightening review of local greenbelt movements and city planning, reminding us that such things had to be actively invented—sometimes against serious resistance. The book also covers efforts in industrial areas to halt, contain, or at least mitigate pollution, whether from Chevron’s refinery or from Silicon Valley’s chip makers.
Different images from the narrative will stay with each reader: Oakland’s Fruitvale district full of orchards and canneries, or Petaluma, famous for eggs, enacting the region’s first serious limits on new housing in 1972. Walker makes our landscape come alive as the arena of an ongoing struggle to figure out how to live lightly and well in this remarkable corner of the planet.[Dan Rademacher]