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On April 18, 1906, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco region. The earthquake ignited a series of fires that burned half of the city. The disaster in all its elements – earthquake, fires, and recovery – profoundly disrupted the urban order and challenged the perceived permanence of the city.
The crisis temporarily broke down spatial divisions of class and race, and highlighted the contested terrain of urban nature in an era of widespread class conflict, simmering ethnic tensions, and controversial reform efforts. From a proposal to expel Chinatown from the city center to a vision of San Francisco paved with concrete in the name of sanitation, the process of reconstructing the city involved re-envisioning the places of both people and nature in the city. In their zeal to restore their city, San Franciscans downplayed the role of the earthquake and persisted in choosing patterns of development that exacerbated risk.
In this close study of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Joanna L. Dyl examines the decades leading up to the disaster and the city's recovery from it. Combining urban environmental history and disaster studies, Seismic City demonstrates how disaster and recovery became integrated into the history of San Francisco.
Foreword / Paul S. Sutter
1. Making Land, Making a City
2. Catastrophe and Its Interpretations
3. Bread Lines and Earthquake Cottages
4. Rebuilding and the Politics of Place
5. Disaster Capitalism in the Streets
6. Plague, Rats, and Undesirable Nature
7. Symbolic Recovery and the Legacies of Disaster
Joanna L. Dyl is visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands.
"Dyl's analysis reveals the ways in which cultural, political, and economic pressures influence the nature of the built environment, even in the context of environmental hazards [...] These narratives of survival and resistance complicate tidy Progressive-era stories of urban reform and revitalization, revealing heterogeneous experiences of disaster and remaking within the city [...] Dyl's work enlivens historical actors typically removed from narratives of this urban revitalization [and] asks provocative questions about how we retell narratives of past disasters, account for natural processes in our present lives, and plan for our futures in these sites."
– Shari Wilcox, Edge Effects
"An original work about the 1906 disaster and its causes, context, and consequences."
– Matthew Morse Booker, author of Down by the Bay: San Francisco's History between the Tides
"This thoroughly readable and solidly documented book goes well beyond the mayhem of the quake and fire to include complex stories of labor struggles, sanitation reforms, and race and environmental justice during the long recovery process."
– Craig E. Colton, author of An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature