Ethnic geographies: the case of Los Angeles from Soja’s perspective


(Images of Los Angeles: Courtesy of Daily Mail and Google Maps)

Among the various discussions Soja (2000) suggests in his book Postmetropolis is his notion of an Exopolis (p250). He highlights the relevance of processes which de-centers cities, expands them, and provides a new reality to so many of the city dwellers. Soja’s analysis begins with Los Angeles, which is represented in the above images. Recently a publication of the Daily Mail (2010) evidences some of his views of cities as assemblages of enclaves (Soja, 2000:252). The newspaper published a series of maps which evidenced the divisive pattern of cities from an ethnic perspective. The revealing geographies of ethnic enclaves reinforce the importance of Soja’s question: what processes are involved in this form of city making?

After a description of a city which emerges as a consequence of racial, class and gender divisions, Soja also provides details of various mechanisms through which democratic citizenship and the right to the city is possible to obtain.  Among the selected examples is the BRU/NAACP lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The BRU and NAACP, by using the civil rights legislation, argued that “particular populations if transit dependent bus drivers were being discriminated against by the policies and investment patterns of the MTA” (p257). From this brief description of the lawsuit, three elements arise as relevant to allow a closer to democratic outcome of L.A.’s urban development. First, it is the capacity to organize (in this case Unions). Secondly, the capacity to form agreements and coalitions, or forms of sharing knowledge and resources. This allows to access higher levels of knowledge, technology and form part of expensive processes which otherwise are not obtainable by poorer sectors of society.  Thirdly, institutional mechanisms which allow a relatively adequate environment for transparency and accountability.


Soja applies a critical appraisal of the expansion of the city. He leaves aside the successful discourses of real estate developers, and looks into the evolution of places beyond the “edge city”. this means areas sprawled or build considerably far from the traditional L.A. inner city. The map provides a general view of those places suggested as running down middle class areas. he uses four aspects to evaluate and build his arguments: housing (the cost of them and who can access them), jobs (their amount, cuality and distance), transport (commuting time and effects over people and neighborhood sustainability) and environment (lost grassland and wetlands prior to developments, loss of connectivity among central and distant urban areas).  Indeed, much of the issues which might have characterized inner city (poverty, lack of individual investment on property, public fiscal deficit, scarcity of economic initiatives, loss of job concentration, far from jobs, exodus of residents, increasing sense of insecurity, etc) are also present in areas such as Lancaster, Palmdale, Moreno Valley and Antelope Valley in general.

Far from a positive outcome, thee places suggest a difficult outcome to the form of urban expansion, which may well be applied to many cities around the world. this expansionist model is reflected in the urbanization of the world. The fact is that most people live in cities today. just recently we tilted over the 50% of the world’s population living in urban environments. with this fact in mind, Soja’s perspective raises the question how are we living in cities today? Although the diversity of cities may shade the possible applications of Soja’s L.A. picture, the Exopolis effect can be identified in most countries which have restructuring processes. urbanization is after all a phenomena which is closely linked to economic growth. Indeed, and places such as those mentioned as conflict previously, also indicate the fragility of urban economic development.



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