City of Segregation: One Hundred Years of Struggle for Housing in Los Angeles, by Andrea Gibbons (Brooklyn, NY, Verso, 2018)
Reviewed by: Tyler Haupert, Columbia University
In City of Segregation Andrea Gibbons traces the roles of racial discrimination and white supremacy in producing and maintaining the residential segregation of African Americans in Los Angeles from the early twentieth century to the present. The book relies on an impressive collection of historical newspaper coverage, meeting minutes, and promotional materials from groups such as neighborhood associations and business improvement districts to craft its narrative. Gibbons, a geographer by training, makes a valuable theoretical contribution to the literature on residential segregation by emphasizing how discrimination in Los Angeles involves a complex interplay between race, space, and capital flows. These factors are shown to create enduring physical barriers that impact both the use and exchange values of residential land. Los Angeles’ African American community’s struggle against residential exclusion is also skillfully placed in both a broad national context and a more intimate, nuanced local setting. The book could be strengthened by providing complementary details on the experiences of Los Angeles’ Latino and Asian communities. The near complete absence of information regarding other racial groups is conspicuous in a work focused on an exceptionally diverse city. Additionally, Gibbons’ decision to jump from describing 1960s residential exclusion to providing an account of homeless individuals’ displacement from contemporary Skid Row leaves the topic of residential segregation in the late twentieth century unaddressed. Despite these limitations, the book will be of great interest to academic audiences, especially in geography, urban planning, and urban sociology, and casual readers interested in the history of housing development, racial discrimination, and homelessness in Los Angeles. Gibbons’ account of struggles against segregation and exclusion in Los Angeles combines a unique ground-level perspective with an ambitious theoretical frame to provide a compelling illustration of how the tools of racial supremacy were and continue to be wielded in the United States.