Unequal Suburban Development


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Unequal Suburban Development

Starting in the 1940s, urban housing communities began construction in a new fashion, dubbed the modern urban and suburban model. The communities were farther away from downtowns, including older and centralized business districts. With time, these communities also created their districts to serve the needs of these auxiliary communities, resulting in new needs and investment in distant communities.

Bakersfield was a small but rapidly urbanizing city during this time. Between 1930s and 1950, Bakersfield had seen expansion to East Bakersfield, and expansion South-west Bakersfield (Ming and Stine). Bakersfield remains unique to western suburban history. While other older downtowns faced decline and lacked transformation, Bakersfield took the opportunity to rebuild and reimage it’s city scape after the 1952 earthquake. By the late 1950s, the city had a new court building, library, remodeled administrative buildings, an uplift to downtown, Bakersfield College was moved to its present day location (Panorama Drive), and all the elementary and intermediate schools were rebuilt. Click to view the E.E. Wonderly photographs of the damage cause to downtown Bakersfield.


Cruz, Donato. “‘America’s Newest City’: 1950s Bakersfield and the Making of the Modern Suburban Segregated Landscape.” ProQuest Thesis Publishing, 2020.


Federal Housing Administration, Principles of Planning Small Houses

1952 Earthquake: “Touring Downtown; pictures of Bakersfield immediately after earthquake”



After the 1952 Earthquake, America’s Newest City Bakersfield

For Bakersfield, the turning point was the 1952 earthquake, as the post-earthquake changes shaped housing and urban development in urban infrastructure. On August 22, 1952, an earthquake struck Kern County for the second time in a series. It was in closer proximity to the city of Bakersfield than the previous two that happened a month earlier. As the days went on, engineers and contractors were hired by the City Inspector and instructed to survey and declare buildings unsafe. The City of Bakersfield took the opportunity to rebuild in the image of suburbanization. In the following years of rebuilding, Bakersfield’s slogan was changed to “America’s Newest City,” and Kern County was, “Land of Magic.” 1952 was the same year that the Bakersfield City Council rescinded cooperation with the Housing Authority of Kern County, in an effort to stop the building of public housing in East Bakersfield. Only two years after the earthquake hit, the housing community opened in February 1954. The Oro Vista community housing was built to address housing shortages and low income residents. The rebuilding of Bakersfield had a selective investment. The “War on Poverty,” Programs started in 1965. See Johnie Mae Parker, How Long? Not Long!: The Battle to end Poverty in Bakersfield, (Bakersfield: Johnie Mae Parker, 1987) for history on anti-poverty efforts in Bakersfield.