#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #2: Daphne Spain

Daphne Spain is the James M. Page Professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia, so it’s fair to say that, as this week’s entry into #ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014, Dr. Spain has a big audience already. She is, in general, an urban historian of considerable renown. How Women Saved the City, from 2001, is a major work that highlights how women have contributed to urban development and politics from just after the onset of industrialization to the Progressive Era. It’s been awhile since I read that book (egads, it’s been close to 12 years), but I remember when I finished it, I said: I want to write a book this good someday.

I haven’t but, well, I’m trying.

She has contributed research on segregation, gentrification, and many other urban topics, and she’s a fine writer. But just about every major scholar has a piece of work that really didn’t get the attention it deserves, and for Dr. Spain, she’s got a sleeper of an article named:

Spain, D. “What Happened to Gender Relations on the Way from Chicago to Los Angeles?” City and Community 1 (June 2002):155-167.

It isn’t cited nearly as much as it should be, and the reason is perhaps that all these attempts to name different urban theory into place-based schools has gone out of fashion a bit, which is unfortunate, because it was all jolly fun with the Chicago School social ecology folks and some of the best minds in Los Angeles squaring off. City & Community published Michael Dear’s original essay , which contrasted the concentric, center-oriented model of the city, where, as Dear put it, the center arranges the hinterlands, with the postmodernists in LA who noted that in the polycentric modes of urban development in regions like Los Angeles, the periphery organized the center.

This is a delightful essay which generated a number of wonderful responses from the thinkers like Harvey Molotch (whose response is a like, boom!). The fact that Spain stepped straight into the “my-school-rules-ur-school-drools” academic boys town of urban theory here makes me smile, and her contribution to the discussion deserves to be read. The Chicago School helped us understand the walking city of early industrial American cities; the Los Angeles School epitomized the post-WWII metropolis of cars and urbanizing jobs. Spain notes that the idealized version of white womanhood within the domestic sphere isolated many women; while the constrained status of immigrant and African American women isolated them within the larger workforces. The stand-outs among higher status women in the settlement house movement, Spain notes, get pretty short shrift from Park and Burgess, an influence that they were wrong to overlook. Immigrant women working from Hull House demanded (successfully) better urban services for impoverished communities, organized ethnic festivals, and helped immigrants find housing and educational opportunities. That’s the real work of city making, and it’s not less real just because it falls beneath notice.

As urban models changed, Steven Flusty, Michael Dear, Ed Soja, Manuel Castells, and David Harvey developed their own models and metaphors for urbanism while still overlooking the influence on the city that women had during those decades. In particular, the Los Angeles school ignored the work undertaken by women in Los Angeles, such as Dolores Hayden’s work with HOMES–Homemakers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society–reorganizing single-family spaces in to much more flexible, shared housing and mixed uses. And she also highlights the work of Jacqueline Leavitt at UCLA in examining how women in public housing in LA–some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the US–altered their home places to protect their families.

Daphne’s major contribution notes that Chicago and Los Angeles have more in common than just urban theorists who fail to notice that women affect the city and that women also produce urban scholarship. The cities, though at different time periods, were major destinations for immigrants and for African American migration. They were the locales of violent social protests from African Americans furious at poor treatment of urban institutions, and that those popular protests have become ingrained in the popular imaginary about race and violence. One key difference, however, concerns the status of women at the different times, and that difference is important.

Two key differences led to changing the domestic sphere and dispersing its responsibilities across wider parts of metro regions: widely available birth control and entering the workforce. Here is missed opportunity in the manuscript. Spain notes the effect that domestic labor changes had on households, but as higher status, white and middle-class women left home to find work–changing the geographic logic of where residential households should locate–they also changed the geography for household service work that supported white women’s entry into the workforce, pulling and dispersing their jobs in ways that were likely farther from their own homes and families. Spain doesn’t bring this up, and I wish she would because I think she’d have some insights. As it is, sociologists like Pierrette Hongagnue-Soleto have filled in where Spain didn’t.

In any case, Spain reconstructs some possibilities for urban theory in the last part of her manuscript. First, safety and security–from Mike Davis’s “fortress” metaphor onward–are not gender-neutral ideas in the city. And second, caregiving and family life, though changing, still calls on women’s time and work more heavily than for their male counterparts. Understanding that gender factors in strongly in both the shaping and navigation of urban form leads to better theory.

One thought on “#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #2: Daphne Spain

  1. Thanks for a refreshing review of women’s contributions to this field. All such news is good news to me, an octogenarian.

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