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Phoenix  

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer

Phoenix, the capital of the state of Arizona, exemplifies the ways Sun Belt cities dramatically grew after World War II. Phoenix was best described as a small trading town in 1912, when Arizona became the last territory to achieve statehood in the continental United States. Although Phoenix was a capital city located in an area with little rainfall and high summer temperatures, its economy depended heavily on the sale of cotton and copper as well as tourists attracted to the Salt River valley’s warm winters. But members of the local Chamber of Commerce, like many small-town boosters across the US South and West, wanted to attract manufacturers by the 1930s, when the Great Depression upended the agricultural, mining, and tourism markets. The Chamber’s White male leaders (including future Senator Barry Goldwater) succeeded during World War II. They lobbied for wartime investment that transformed Phoenix into one of the many boom towns that dotted the South and West. That success fueled postwar efforts to attract industry by building a favorable “business climate.” Local leaders, business executives, and industry experts used that seemingly benign phrase to describe cities that guaranteed investors low taxes, weak unions, few government regulations, and other policies that maximized profits and undermined 1930s reforms. Phoenix stood out in what reporters called the “Second War between the States” for industry. General Electric, Motorola, and Sperry Rand had all opened branch plants by 1960, when Phoenix was already one of the largest US cities. It also stood out in 1969, when Republican strategist Kevin Phillips drew attention to the “Sun Belt phenomenon” that seemed to be the metropolitan core of a new conservative politics dedicated to free enterprise and poised to spread across the rapidly deindustrializing Northeast and Midwest. But growth undermined the Chamber’s power. By the 1970s, citizens questioned putting business first, and investors began shifting manufacturing overseas, which left residents to deal with the environmental, fiscal, and political damage the business climate ideal had wrought.

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Agriculture and the Environment  

Steven Stoll

During the Holocene, the present geological epoch, an increasing portion of humans began to manipulate the reproduction of plants and animals in a series of environmental practices known as agriculture. No other ecological relationship sustains as many humans as farming; no other has transformed the landscape to the same extent. The domestication of plants by American Indians followed the end of the last glacial maximum (the Ice Age). About eight thousand years ago, the first domesticated maize and squash arrived from central Mexico, spreading to every region and as far north as the subarctic boreal forest. The incursion of Europeans into North America set off widespread deforestation, soil depletion, and the spread of settlement, followed by the introduction of industrial machines and chemicals. A series of institutions sponsored publically funded research into fertilizers and insecticides. By the late 19th century, writers and activists criticized the technological transformation of farming as destructive to the environment and rural society. During the 20th century, wind erosion contributed to the depopulation of much of the Great Plains. Vast projects in environmental engineering transformed deserts into highly productive regions of intensive fruit and vegetable production. Throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, access to land remained limited to whites, with American Indians, African Americans, Latinas/os, Chinese, and peoples of other ethnicities attempting to gain farms or hold on to the land they owned. Two broad periods describe the history of agriculture and the environment in that portion of North America that became the United States. In the first, the environment dominated, forcing humans to adapt during the end of thousands of years of extreme climate variability. In the second, institutional and technological change became more significant, though the environment remained a constant factor against which American agriculture took shape. A related historical pattern within this shift was the capitalist transformation of the United States. For thousands of years, households sustained themselves and exchanged some of what they produced for money. But during the 19th century among a majority of American farmers, commodities took over the entire purpose of agriculture, transforming environments to reflect commercial opportunity.