Most people equate Los Angeles with smog, sprawl, forty suburbs in search of a city - the great ""what not to do"" of twentieth-century city building. But there's much more to LA's story than this shallow stereotype. History shows that Los Angeles was intensely, ubiquitously planned. The consequences of that planning - the environmental history of urbanism - is one place to turn for the more complex lessons LA has to offer. Working forward from ancient times and ancient ecologies to the very recent past, ""Land of Sunshine"" is a fascinating exploration of the environmental history of greater Los Angeles. The essays, by nineteen leading geologists, ecologists, and historians consider the changing dynamics both of the city and of nature. In the nineteenth century, for example, ""density"" was considered an evil, and reformers struggled mightily to move the working poor out to areas where better sanitation and flowers and parks ""made life seem worth the living."" We now call that vision ""sprawl,"" and we struggle just as much to bring middle-class people back into the core of American cities. There's nothing natural, or inevitable, about such turns of events. It's only by paying very close attention to the ways metropolitan nature has been constructed and construed that meaningful lessons can be drawn. The result is a rich portrait of Los Angeles that will serve planners, communities, and environmentalists as they look to the past for clues, if not blueprints, for enhancing the quality and viability of cities.
William Deverell, professor of history at the University of Southern California and director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, is the author of Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past and editor of A Companion to the American West. With Greg Hise, he coauthored Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region. Greg Hise is an urban historian in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California.