The Perception and Reality of California


California has many wonderful cities with exciting leisure activities ranging from film studios, museums, and the famous Hollywood in Los Angeles. In addition, San Diego is found in the southern region, popular with entertainment and beautiful beaches where many visitors relax during their holidays. Furthermore, while writing on its magnificence, Haslam explores the rural and the urban physical landscapes, wildness, heartland, and the hallmark of fantasy Disneyland, thus, defining the perception of many about California (Graulich 262).

However, the reality on the ground shows a different picture which consists of mass developments by property companies that have led to floods, fires, and droughts. This has resulted in the vulnerability and susceptibility of the region, which has worsened due to housing constructions engineered by the government and individuals (Davis). As such, many losses have been incurred due to the recurrence of disasters. Furthermore, urbanization in most parts of California has been viewed as the cause of segregation and inadequate jobs, especially for African -Americans (Self 4). This paper explores different works by various authors on the city, which have common themes and ideas with a universal ideology.

The Perceptions

There are two viewpoints when people look at the city of California as highlighted through different songs that are compounded on perceptions as opposed to the reality of the current status expressed by various writers. The state anthem “I love You California” describes the undoubted beauty of a wonderful city with its summer breezes and rainy winter. Similarly, the land is described in a reminiscent nature where it contains honey, wine, and flowers (States Anthem).

As a result, it conjures an image of a place with an extraordinary ambiance that is every person’s desire for a holiday destination. Further, the lyrics “California Here I come” sets a nostalgic mood among listeners where the singers talk about going back to the land of sugar and beauty with singing birds, flowers, and welcoming sun (Desylva and Meyer). The combination of the two aforementioned songs reinstates the common belief that this is a place where everything is perfect without any challenges or a crisis.

The Reality about California

Various writers have not been left behind in praising the magnificence of the golden city in the United States. Through a collection of more than sixty-five short stories and poems, Haslam highlights the landscape features of wild California. He recounts that the west had lost its innocence, but they are stuck there in the desert for a long time, perhaps to recall their childhood memories (Graulich 262).

Through Many Californios, he explores rural and urban cities, wilderness, the heartlands, north and south, and the ultimate theatre world of Holly wood and fantasy Disney land. In trying to paint a picture in the readers’ minds, the author recalls that before the invasion by Europeans, the state had a diverse native population of around 300,000 Indians in the 1500 A.D. This population which was concentrated in the Central Valley, by 1910, calamities such as massacres, diseases, and environmental destruction led to their reduction to sixteen thousand in 1960 (Haslam 24). As a result, he stresses that the current landscape is a shadow of what it used to be in the beginning and has lost its glory.

American Babylon

These sentiments have been echoed by another author whose work covered postwar Oakland. In his book, American Babylon Self uses the biblical city of Babylon symbolically to represent the present Californian town. During the ancient period as written in the Bible, Babylon degraded due to corruption, immorality, and idolatry, thus, becoming a ruin. Years later, the author depicts the name to bring to attention the likeness of Oakland city to the past. He metaphorically views the present as a turbulent and affluent-filled environment full of prejudice from the politicians (Self 2).

While pointing at the wrong impression some scholars have about modern development, especially in urban areas, he stresses how overdevelopment in the suburbs has led to partial change across American cities. Furthermore, he raises his concerns about the homeowners and conservative politics, which have led to wrangles with African-Americans over community entitlement. This has highlighted the devastating difference between the development of towns and the outskirts. For example, after WW2, Detroit saw a tremendous decline as well as Broadway and Washington, which experienced property decline although they were the major commercial hubs for Oakland.

Consequently, the chamber of commerce encouraged homeownership in the city and its outskirts through decentralization. On the contrary, all the measures that were implemented did not benefit the blacks, as the new businesses that were started in Walnut Creek, Hayward, and San Leandro inhibited the growth of other centers. Therefore, the inherent physical differences resulting from the new developments led to conflicts between the African Americans and the whites in 1970 (Self 256).

As a result, they resorted to community empowerment as a consolation from the exploitation they were experiencing from the minority European groups. This led to the formation of the Black Panther, a political platform meant for their liberation and the management of federal programs or projects. Similarly, the blacks had entered politics which resulted in the election of Lionel Wilson as mayor in 1977, but the city had become depleted, and decay just like Babylon was before its fall (Self). With his theme of the emancipation of blacks and the political movements, the author shows how Oakland is a shell of the former city.

Ecology of Fear

Preferring to tackle the topic from the environmental perspective, the author highlights various challenges that California faces as a result of ecological disasters. Further, he asserts that different weather variations, human activities, inadequate state legislations, and policies exacerbate the vulnerability of people to hazards (Davis16). Similarly, the inability of the government to learn and improve its emergency response and seek practical solutions has led to its inability to develop a permanent disaster recovery strategy. Besides, the southern California fire policy does not curb their occurrences but rather enhances them. As such, there are stockpiles of fuel kept in a hot and windy landscape near settlements that destroy homes due to fire ignition (Davis). Although there are provisions for the rebuilding and rehabilitation of structures, they end up being constructed in a more disaster-prone area than before.

In the Ecology of Fear, Davis goes into great detail to describe through diagrams the meaning of the title. He focuses on Chicago City by showing different zones of housing. Starting from the innermost part of the city where the building of commercial and residential houses is allowed, the next level is allocated for homes and apartments and other family dwellings to the outermost part, respectively. Moreover, the core part of town is demarcated with social life, which is characterized by prostitution, drugs, and the homeless (Davis). These are surrounded by gated communities and suburbs that are walled and fenced off to prevent the disintegration of the vices from the city center to the residents. As a result, the reign of misconceptions, fear, inadequate public policies with misplaced priorities have led to the disintegration of urbanization at the expense of the few suburban developers.

The Universal Ideology on California

While various songs and lyrics have been composed in praise of the city about its enchanting beauty, the authors air their views on two fronts. From the perceptions angle, they recount the past where California was a wonderful city, agreeing to the message by the “Here I come” song (Desylva and Meyer).

On the contrary, Haslem reveals how the city has lost its wild nature and deteriorated presently. Furthermore, by depicting the past, he gives examples of cities such as Detroit and Oakland as being in a continuous retrogression. In addition, Davis focuses on southern California and Chicago city, in particular, where there are ecological disasters. He expounds that the recent constructions by private developers in risk-prone areas and lack of government policies have led to the susceptibility and vulnerability of the populations. Similarly, the use of present features of the various regions within California portrays a different image from the perceptions.

Further, Davis highlights how overdevelopment in the city has led to prostitution, drugs, and inadequate housing, which have led to the demarcation of areas through zoning (Davis 365). Consequently, factors such as misconceptions and inappropriate and inadequate government policies have led to favoritism among suburban developers while eroding urbanization. As a result, all the aforementioned works have a common ideology of a stagnated and retrogressing city that is under pressure from mass development, losing its natural beauty and leading to unpredictable recurrent disasters.


In summation, all over the world, California is seen as a wonderful city with modern technology where rich and successful people live. Different songs have been sung in praise of the magnificence. However, this view has been long overdue, and the reality of the present state depicts a disaster-prone city with a bleak future where modern development has led to hazards. As a result, various authors have voiced their concerns about the uncertainty on the future of the once golden city.

Works Cited

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. Vintage, 1999.

Desylva, Bobby, and Joseph Meyer. “California Here I come.YouTube. 2012. Web.

Graulich, Melody. “Many Californias: Literature from the Golden State ed. by Gerald W. Haslam.” Western American Literature, vol. 28, no. 3, 1993, pp. 262-262.

Haslam, Gerald W. Many Californias: Literature from the Golden State. 2nd ed. U of Nevada P, 1999.

Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Politics and Society in Modern America). Princeton UP, 2003.

States Anthem. “”I love You California”.” YouTube. 2016. Web.

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