Elsa Devienne, Assistant Professor of Humanities at Northumbria University (UK), will present her book Sand Rush: The Revival of the Beach in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles (Oxford University Press, 2024) in the Greenhouse environmental humanities book talk series on Monday, 2 September 2024, at 16:00 in Norway (3pm in UK).

Zoom link: https://us05web.zoom.us/j/81377431921?pwd=DuIwqFhWNyKmI2ovk2zlUXqUbMmj0I.1

The Los Angeles shoreline is one of the most iconic natural landscapes in the United States, if not the world. The vast shores of Santa Monica, Venice, and Malibu are familiar sights to film and television audiences, conveying images of pristine sand, carefree fun, and glamorous physiques. Yet, in the early twentieth century Angelenos routinely lamented the city’s crowded, polluted, and eroded sands, many of which were private and thus inaccessible to the public.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, LA’s engineers, city officials, urban planners, and business elite worked together to transform the relatively untouched beaches into modern playgrounds for the white middle class. They cleaned up and enlarged the beaches–up to three times their original size–and destroyed old piers and barracks to make room for brand-new accommodations, parking lots, and freeways. The members of this powerful “beach lobby” reinvented the beach experience for the suburban age, effectively preventing a much-feared “white flight” from the coast. In doing so, they established Southern California as the national reference point for shoreline planning and coastal access. As they opened up vast public spaces for many Angelenos to express themselves, show off their bodies, and forge alternative communities, they made clear that certain groups of beachgoers, including African Americans, gay men and women, and bodybuilders, were no longer welcome. Despite their artificial origins, LA’s beaches have proved remarkably resilient. The drastic human interventions into nature brought social and economic benefits to the region without long-term detrimental consequences on the environment. Yet the ongoing climate crisis and rapid sea level rise will eventually force the city to reckon with its past building.

Sand Rush not only uncovers how the Los Angeles coastline was constructed but also how this major planning and engineering project affected the lives of ordinary city-dwellers and attracted many Americans to move to Southern California. Featuring a foreword by Jenny Price, it recounts the formidable beach modernization campaign that transformed Los Angeles into one of the world’s greatest coastal metropolises.

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