Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Cosmopolitan Suburbs: Race, Immigration, and the Politics of Development in the Silicon Valley
by Lung Amam, Willow S., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2012, 169; 3640552
Abstract (Summary)

Within the last half century, the geography of race and immigration in the U.S. has shifted. While many white middle class residents are moving into revitalized central cities, the suburbs have become home to the majority of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the U.S. Fremont, California, which only 30 years ago was a prototypical white, middle class suburb, is now home to an Asian American majority, including many of Silicon Valley's highly educated and high-income engineers from China, Taiwan, and India.

In a case study of Fremont, my dissertation looks at the changing material forms and uses of the built environment, and politics of space in suburbia amidst its rapid demographic changes. Using GIS mapping, archival analysis, participant observations, and in-depth interviews with 74 residents, city officials, planners, designers, and developers, my analysis centers on three spaces common to many high tech suburbs—McMansions, high-performing schools, and Asian malls. I look at the meaning of community and home as expressed by Asian immigrants in debates over residential teardowns and McMansions and the cultural politics of design guidelines and development standards used to regulate them. In a case study of Mission San Jose High, I then look at the value of high performing school districts to Asian immigrant families and how their educational priorities are reshaping neighborhood geographies of race and battles over school boundaries. And finally, I explore Asian malls' form, geography, and uses, and the politics of their regulation in Fremont.

Together these investigations show that Asian immigrants have introduced new spatial imaginaries and practices, values, meanings, and sources of economic capital that are reshaping suburban form and use in the Silicon Valley. But I also show that suburbia's increasing diversity has upset its presumed social and spatial order, leading to a politics of backlash that is producing new spaces and modes of marginality, even among immigrants of means. Both city officials and established residents have consistently portrayed landscapes built by or for Asian immigrants as non-normative and subjected them to critique and new forms of regulation, while simultaneously reinforcing white middle class norms, meanings, and values through planning, design, and public policy. These spaces, however, have also served as sites of cultural contest and collective resistance that threaten to undermine the dominance of suburbia's assumed spatial norms. I argue that Asian immigrants' assertions for more inclusive, open, and diverse suburban spaces represents an emergent suburban spatial politics of difference aimed at bringing about new forms and norms of belonging, as well as new platforms for social and spatial justice.

The dissertation contributes to the existing scholarship in suburban studies, urban planning, design, and cosmopolitan theory. It extends the suburban studies literature on the contributions of minorities and immigrants to making a diverse suburban landscape by looking at understudied place and groups—Asian Americans in high tech suburbs—and at the spatial landscape of suburbs as an important object of study. In a new American century defined by suburbanization and diversity, this case study also speaks to the ways that cities manage vast demographic changes, and the role of design, planning, development, and public policy in supporting social differences and justice, as well as reinforcing existing social hierarchies and inequalities. And finally, this study grounds discourses on emergent forms of cosmopolitanism citizenship within the everyday struggles of immigrants to make home in the Silicon Valley suburbs.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hester, Randolph T.
Commitee: Crawford, Margaret, Mozingo, Louise
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 76/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Landscape architecture, Ethnic studies, Urban planning
Keywords: Cosmpolitan suburbs, Fremont, Immigration, Race, Silicon valley, Suburb
Publication Number: 3640552
ISBN: 978-1-321-26016-8
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