Reflection on “The Emergence of Silicon Valley: High Tech Development and Ecocide 1950-2001” by Pellow & Park

What seems to be the underlying theme of Pellow and Park’s work can be easily found in their reaction to Stanford University’s statement regarding local development. Referring to Stanford’s use of the terms “desirable” and “better class” they state that those “are code words that denote Stanford’s wish to attract white, middle-class workers and repel undesirables, the multiracial blue-collar “riffraff” generally associated with manufacturing industries” ( Boehm 299). Again, as in many other histories of urban economic developments ( see Houston and Pittsburgh), the story here is one of classism and pollution resulting from unabated capitalist venturing. Urban renewal in the area can be defined simply as “razing degraded and blighted housing” and replacing it with business or single family homes (Boehm 300). The story in Silicon Valley follows racist alarmism with illusionary clean industry. Leaders in the political arena, such as Pat Buchanan and Harold Ezell, pushed for the expulsion of immigrant work forces even though they supplied the labor that kept much of the white collar jobs in this country. The immigrants are only one half of dark side of the microchip however. On the other side of the coin lies a rampant pollution of soil and groundwater that serves most of the metropolitan and suburban ares of the Valley. In 1981, TCA, a toxic chemical used in microchip cleaning, was found to be leaking into the ground under a Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation building. They found that, including other toxic chemicals, a total of 58,000 gallons of poisonous material was leeched into the surrounding area. But this didn’t stop those conducting the investigation to hesitate to attribute the severe increase in miscarriages, birth defects, and congenital heart defects to the toxins. Though the community organized backlash was successful in ultimately having the chemical phased out from the production facilities they new chemical replacement was equally hazardous. Another fun fact presented in the work notes that as of 1992 “66 plots of land have been declared too toxic for human beings to walk on” (Boehm 303). Obviously, the clean industry is a matter of disguise and distraction rather than production. Though EPA studies have been skewed by lobbyist money and politicians who receive campaign contributions remain silent in the local community, community organizers have made great strides to reduce the impact. Through activism and ordinance, more affluent communities outraged by the new details, have pushed the manufacturing and distribution centers out of their communities. While this is a great accomplishment for upper crust white communities, the sobering facts are that less fortunate communities in the surrounding areas are bearing the brunt. The businesses have moved into communities of the working class where capital is scarce and jobs are needed. As education and resource availability decreases, statistically we can see that voting and political activism decrease. The likelihood of being zoned out of those communities is low due to both opportunity and knowledge deficiencies. Once again, the urban landscape shifts according to the flow of capital and the refusal of those with the most of it to bear responsibility for where they deposit their waste after they consume the landscape. As business booms, droves flock to the market. When the money is made, those with it reverse their migration to “safe zones” with “better class” leaving a scar on the landscape. And so the greatest concentrations of people follow the greatest concentrations of capital opportunity leaving behind the largest concentrations pollutions. To quote the great band AC/DC, these are the oligarchical elite’s “dirty deeds done dirt cheap”. Though, of course, the oligarchy would never acknowledge their existence.


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