My long-standing interest in the symbiotic relationship between power and the built environment has guided my current and future research projects, which examine the complexities of corporate power, industrial planning, and urban (re)development in metropolitan America.
I am currently revising my book manuscript. It is an interdisciplinary history, combining planning, urban, business, film, and real estate history, to understand how Los Angeles’s signature industry’s practice of mass producing films in sprawling manufacturing plants helped shape the metropolis. Building Hollywood: The Film Industry and Urban Development in Metropolitan Los Angeles, 1920-1975 expands my dissertation as a study of how two dramatic shifts in the business model of the film industry determined the land-use decisions of the five vertically-integrated, major film studios. The focus of the book details how each firm reacted differently to the same set of economic circumstances that transformed the film business from a fordist to a postfordist industry beginning in the 1950s.
The industry’s shift from fordism to postfordism exposed a tension between production space as exchange value and the method of production. During this transition in the film industry, the balance between the use value of production facilities and their exchange value fluctuated. Meanwhile, the film industry’s restructuring coincided with Los Angeles’s urban restructuring following a period of extensive postwar growth. The practical decision for film studios to locate on cheaper, plentiful land on Los Angeles’s urban fringe during the early development of both the industry and the metropolis in the 1920s provided opportunities for both to restructure in the 1960s and 1970s.
As the shift from fordism to postfordism is widely recognized as one of the most significant characteristics of the political economy of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the book illuminates the transition for one of the earliest industries to undergo the transformation in the metropolis that is also widely recognized as the prototypical postindustrial metropolis. Examining such a tension and urban development consequences enriches our understanding of large industrial landowners, private-sector planning, and the interdependence of public and private actors in shaping metropolitan America and economic development.
I have published two articles from this project, which explore the film industry’s impact on Los Angeles’s economic and urban development. The first article, which recounts the conflict between the Hollywood and Culver City Chambers of Commerce over the name “Hollywood” and its associated prestige, was covered by CityLab.
The Film Industry and Urban Development in Kansas City
I have recently begun a new, two-part grant-funded project entitled “The Film Industry and Urban Development in Kansas City,” which should produce multiple articles. This work endeavors to understand the influence of business and industrial networks and their innovations on localized urban and economic development.
The first part explores Kansas City’s role as a node in the national film distribution network, which relied on the cross-country railroad system; Kansas City is centrally located within these networks. This investigation focuses on the creation, maintenance, and abandonment of Kansas City’s film row to understand the influence of business and industrial networks on localized urban and economic development. This city’s film row is one of 32 warehouse and commercial districts where film company exchanges and ancillary services clustered to serve a nationwide network to distribute films to local theaters. The preservation of Kansas City’s film row is currently threatened by the rapid revitalization of the larger former warehouse district in which it sits, now branded the Crossroads Arts District.
The second part uncovers how AMC Theatres, headquartered in Kansas City, invented and evolved the now ubiquitous suburban staple: the multiplex cinema. This examination includes founder and CEO Stanley Durwood’s envisioning multiplexes as anchors for urban revitalization projects in the late twentieth century.