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Up Above: The Geography of Suburban Sprawl
in Southern California’s Antelope Valley

Matthew Jalbert


“You can’t expect them to live in the hell of Los Angeles.”

—Antelope Valley resident, 1995



Discuss Antelope Valley

You are invited to participate in a public discussion about the Antelope Valley at our Antelope Valley discussion board

» Antelope Valley on Le Blog Exuberance


FEW METROPOLITAN AREAS IN THE WORLD sprawl as notoriously as Los Angeles, a city whose population mushroomed in the post-World War II era. In those decades, residential development transformed the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys from agricultural land to seas of single-family homes. Frequently, these homes collected around the burgeoning aerospace industry’s new factories. The “baby boom” generation’s newly-migrated parents [note 1] settled all across Southern California, lured by the region’s abounding single-family homes. By the time that population surge abated somewhat in the 1970s, the urbanized Los Angeles region was well-known for its huge area. Southern California experienced another prodigious burst of population in the 1980s. Under the pressure of millions of new inhabitants, the limits of the metropolis were pushed—and once again they gave way. One of the most geographically isolated boom communities to arise on the Los Angeles metropolitan fringe in the 1980s is the Antelope Valley.

Situated in northern Los Angeles County in the western Mojave Desert, the Antelope Valley experienced phenomenal growth in the past decade as it assumed the role of a Los Angeles Basin commuter suburb. Once a rural farming community, then a military aerospace hub, the Antelope Valley was radically transformed in the 1980s by its newly-struck relation to Los Angeles. In acquiring thousands of new residents, the Antelope Valley found its economy tethered to distant income sources. At the same time, the Valley’s suburban development, so distant from an urban center, generated a plethora of unforeseen—and unwanted—aftermaths. With this transformation came shifts in the physical environment, the economic base, and the regional character of the Antelope Valley. In many ways, these shifts brought about a greater likeness to Los Angeles’ urban milieu—that space and condition which the Valley’s residents call “down below.” Not surprisingly, few inhabitants welcome the resemblance to the Los Angeles metropolis.

Through a considered study of civic and historic documents, demographic data, reportage, and personal interviews and observations, I will assess the Antelope Valley’s recent transformation. I will begin with the Valley’s physical setting and note the environmental hazards faced by people in Southern California’s high Mojave desert. I will trace the Valley’s Anglo-American occupation from the 19th century to the present, and consider how unbridled promotion of the region created an expectation of—and thus unquestioning receptivity to—rapid growth. I will give particular emphasis to the boom of the 1980s, and will detail the myriad impacts the last decade’s growth had on rearranging the region’s geography and its relation to Los Angeles.

Furthermore, I will attempt to place the Antelope Valley into a broader societal context. Since the region boomed most recently as a commuter suburb to the Los Angeles Basin, it is reasonable to ask what lessons can be gleaned, and what lessons are still unlearned, from this newest layer of suburban sprawl. Finally, I wish to consider what some of the alternatives to suburban sprawl might be, and what structures need to change to bring alternate forms of growth into being. From the position of an expatriate nativized Los Angeleno, I hope to shed light on these and other issues as they pertain to that place “up above”—the Antelope Valley of Southern California.

NEXT | Antelope Valley: the Earth-made place

Antelope Valley, 2005

Antelope Valley orange seller
My photos of the Antelope Valley

(Antelope Valley photos from Flickr)

© Matthew Jalbert 1995–2007. Written to fulfill the senior thesis requirement, University of California at Berkeley Department of Geography. Thesis advisor: Michael Johns, Associate Professor. | Contact

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