More Th an Shelter: Activism and Community in San Francisco Public Housing. By Amy L.
Howard. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. xx, 308 pp. Cloth, $82.50.
Amy L. Howard retells a depressingly familiar story about the decline of public housing in the United States. But her focus on the West in this well-written and detailed exploration of public housing in San Francisco is a welcome contribution to a literature that too often remains grounded in studies of the East and Midwest. Even more important, Howard joins the small but growing list of historians who pay attention to the role of tenants in the public housing story, treating them as actors rather than simply victims of forces beyond their control. Questioning the notion that the pathology of public housing was so strong by the 1970s that nothing good came of the program, Howard documents the eff orts of a select group of tenants in three of the city’s public housing projects, Valencia Gardens, Ping
Yuen, and North Beach Place. Relying on a plethora of oral interviews as well as Housing
Commission minutes and newspaper articles, the author traces the eff orts of public housing tenants to improve their homes through organization and advocacy.
Howard eff ectively challenges the notion that post-1960s public housing morphed from being places that promoted community to simply becoming reservations for the very poor. Indeed, she argues that public housing by the late 1960s and 1970s, despite a declining reputation, fostered a new type of community building that brought diverse populations together with shared goals. Unlike in earlier projects that admitted only the so-called deserving poor and maintained a homogenous population, Howard contends that unhappy tenants in this later era, often from different backgrounds, rallied together in what she terms “aff ective activism,” forcing the San
Francisco Housing Authority to address their needs.
After tracing how public housing in San
Francisco deteriorated thanks to poor local management, a changing clientele, transforming federal regulations, and declining revenue, she explores how tenants responded to the growing problems with public housing. By providing a close examination of the experiences of tenants in these very diff erent projects, her study explores issues related to race, ethnicity, activism, and community formation.
Much of the book, then, documents how tenants, often with little in common, organized and helped improve their housing. Sometimes they accomplished this through rent strikes or by forming coalitions with outside groups, and other times by protests and forceful negotiations with the Housing Authority. But in each case, the shared commitment to improve their project led to a sense of community among diverse people.
One of many strengths of this book is its chronological breadth, which spans from 1940 to the very recent past. Even more important,
Howard successfully challenges the idea that the history of public housing after the 1960s is a story of complete failure, and she provides a convincing case that tenants played a signifi cant role in promoting improvements and benefi tted from their civic engagement. Th is fi ne piece of scholarship deserves the attention of both historians and policy makers.
Robert B. Fairbanks
University of Texas at Arlington
Arlington, Texas doi: 10.1093/jahist/jav041
Whales and Nations: Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas. By Kurkpatrick Dorsey. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. xxii, 365 pp. $34.95.)
W. Jeff rey Bolster argued in 2006 that the oceans would be the next frontier for environmental historians and many have since plunged into salt water, producing a wide range of new materials about the interactions between humans and the sea. Most of the work is still anchored in regional or national explorations, but Kurkpatrick Dorsey has moved into far deeper and more diffi cult territory, exploring the international regulatory framework for whaling management. It is a daunting set of complex political, scientifi c, social, and cultural relationships, and Dorsey negotiates it with enough detail to sustain his 1340 Th e Journal of American History March 2015 points yet still have the narrative move along without too many distractions.
Dorsey places the expansion of whaling within a wider context: the imperial claims of nations in the early twentieth century to
Antarctica, and the industrialization of natural resources through the development of new technologies. Th e League of Nations made an eff ort to set up regulations in the 1930s, but it was diffi cult for the states to agree on much, since there were often diff erent factions, such as pelagic versus land-based whaling. Early attempts to regulate whaling to prevent the dumping of whale oil on the world market ended when Japan and Germany joined the league of pelagic whalers in the 1930s.
Th e Americans attempted to organize whale conservation at the end of World War
II, leading to the creation of the International
Whaling Commission (iwc) in 1946. It was a novel approach; the framers tried to balance the needs of the industry with the need to conserve resources by using scientifi c expertise to frame regulations. But concerns over national sovereignty on the high seas confl icted with eff orts to protect species. And the world was hungry for edible fats, creating lucrative opportunities for men such as Aristotle Onassis, who challenged attempts at regulating his illegal fl eet.
Th e Americans led the eff ort to conserve whales, but they also facilitated Japan’s resumption of whaling in 1945. Th e Soviet Union launched its own massive whaling fl eet and falsifi ed the data it sent to the iwc. Th ings became more complicated in the 1970s, with the establishment of the Save the Whales movement, the creation of Greenpeace, and the end of commercial whaling. But it was not the end of controversy or the killing; aboriginal whaling continued, and so did pirate whaling, and the expansion of Japan’s scientifi c whaling program.