Written by Mike Davis
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City of Quartz, 1990
The pattern of urbanization here is what design critic Peter Plagens once called the "ecology of evil." (1) Developers don’t grow homes in the desert — this isn’t Marrakesh or even Tucson — they just clear, grade and pave, hook up some pipes to the local artificial river (the federally subsidized California Aqueduct), build a security wall and plug in the "product." With generations of experience in uprooting the citrus gardens of Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, the developers — ten or twelve major firms, headquartered in places like Newport Beach and Beverly Hills —regard the desert as simply another abstraction of dirt and dollar signs. The region’s major natural wonder, a Joshua tree forest containing individual specimens often thirty feet high and older than the Domesday Book, is being bulldozed into oblivion. Developers regard the magnificent Joshuas, unique to this desert, as large noxious weeds unsuited to the illusion of verdant homesteads. As the head of Harris Homes explained: "It is a very bizarre tree. It is not a beautiful tree like the pine or something. Most people don’t care about the Joshuas." (2)
1. "Los Angeles: The Ecology of Evil," Artforum, December 1972
2. Los Angeles Times, 3 January 1988; Antelope Valley Press, 29 October 1989
© 1990 Mike Davis; London: Verso Press