Unincorporated: California’s Forgotten Communities, Once Magazine: Issue 7
Nearly every day, Modesto Junior College student Arleen Hernandez battles an aging septic tank that backs up into her toilet and shower, bringing with it “bits of paper and chunks of mold.”
When Hernandez’s parents moved to Parklawn in 1986, they didn’t realize the extent to which their new neighborhood, an unincorporated area adjacent to the city of Modesto, lacks basic public services.
Parklawn is not connected to nearby city sewer lines, so Hernandez and her neighbors flush their sewage into overloaded septic tanks. There are almost no sidewalks and not enough storm drains. During heavy rains, children dodge traffic in flooded streets in the neighborhood locals call “No Man’s Land” on their way to school.
Across California there are hundreds of neighborhoods like Parklawn. These poor, dense, and unincorporated communities on county land—which uniformly lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and gutters—have been the victim of years of governmental neglect.
Video produced by Carrie Ching. Courtesy of California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, and part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. To see more visit cironline.org or http://californiawatch.org/californialost.
California runs on water. In The Golden State’s Central Valley, farmers compete with major cities for irrigation rights to grow the produce that the rest of the country eats, while cities struggle to quench the demands of 37 million people. In their new book, Valley of Shadows and Dreams (May 2012), Ken and Melanie Light reveal that there is simply not enough to go around.
The result has been long-time abuse of the interconnected water, land, and human labor that drive the state’s agriculture. With stirring images and text that is both honest and heartbreaking, Ken and Melanie portray the disparity of the Central Valley. Here, modern developments are replacing rural farmlands, aggravating the already over-worked land and forcing families into poverty.
Stark areal views of the California Aqueduct and man-made farm systems, as well as panoramas of open cropland reveal a destroyed landscape. The images are juxtaposed with what Melanie describes as the country’s “final crop: ticky-tacky cookie cutter houses and gated communities with waterfront homes on man-made lakes.” Ken’s images depict the people who are left with (or the product of) this “final crop” with a sensitive yet incisive lens: Exhausted farmers, immigrants, and families who have been reduced to mobile homes or homelessness. There are traces of an American dream here, but it is cracked and quickly drying up.
Melanie’s text follows the roots of the current predicament to early California settlement and its geographical evolution. She argues that social and environmental justice are intertwined, and perhaps the only means to restore what is left of the Central Valley. The book exposes and explains the often-overlooked weight of limited resources on a state too often regarded as the limitless fruit-basket of the world.
– Jenn Florin