Findlay states in the introductions that this study relies heavily on a micro view of the western city in an attempt to understand how average people created and were affected by mid 20th century urban culture. It relies on two types of information: 1. It seeks to understand how specific controlled environments were planned, built, managed, and used, and 2. An examination of how inhabitants may have made sense of the cities in their minds.[1] While this is true for the majority of his argument, the most compelling aspect of the book is the way in which Findlay is trying very specifically to contrast the western United States with the rest of the world during the postwar period, including in particular the eastern United States. Each of the magic kingdoms, or lands (since Findlay uses both terms almost interchangeably) in contrasted in some way to what is going on in the East. Disneyland stands in contrast to Coney Island, Stanford Industrial Park stands in contrast to other (failed) attempts at industries and universities working in tandem, Sun City works against typical urban retirement in the East, and Century 21 is a direct example of showing American excellence in science, engineering, and the space race during the Cold War. I think that the argument of the book, that the fragmentation of the urban West was something which others tried to emulate, works best not when Findlay is doing a microhistory, but rather when he is discussing each of the magic lands in conjunction with other places. Especially since this is a discussion of western expansion, with all of its connotations of manifest destiny and the taming of “virgin” land which Findlay plays on with remarkable frequency, the comparison of the growth of the West in the postwar period to other places in space and time becomes even more important as a contrast because it creates a picture that there is something special and unique about these magic lands and the West more generally as a cultural fixture.[2]

There are many aspects of this book which I think are relevant to my particular areas of research for my thesis. The discussion of mass production of materials for housing, as well as houses themselves, which made the chaotic sprawl of Phoenix, and ultimate the planned nature of Sun City, possible, speaks directly to the ways which automation really directly changed what it is to be human in the 1950s and 1960s. Cookie-cutter houses in planned neighborhoods is a very different cultural identity than homes before this time, not to mention how aging changes the identity of a culture. But specifically the loss of individuality and meaning that comes from building one’s home one their own is a very poignant image of suburbia and planned developments.

Chapter five, on Seattle and Century 21, from the space age theme of the fair, to the mini Cold War and ideology war fought on sight, was probably the chapter which was most relevant to the subject matter of this course, but maybe not the most useful for me moving forward. While I appreciated the discussion of Glenn as a figure of American excellence, and the fair as a ground American science and technology to usher forth a bright future, I failed to see how Century 21 really fit into the rest of Findlay’s argument. It is the only magic city which did not really leave a lasting impact on the urban landscape, apart from some infrastructure and the Space Needle, and as a city itself it felt out of place in the rest of the book. Findlay seemed to be reaching for another example in order to add a chapter, rather than a substantial discussion of an urban area which ultimately changed the face of the West as well as the culture. Where Disneyland ushered in a new type of amusement park, Stanford Industrial Park created a new relationship between university and industry as well as being the precursor to Silicon Valley, and Sun City set up an example of the retirement communities which are so pervasive today, I really struggled to follow Findlay in his argument for the importance of Century 21 after the height of the Space Race and Cold War. The argument fell through for me there.

Finally, the discussion of industrial parks as an invention stemming from two things which seem to be opposites, and the connections which this social construction ultimately made was very interesting. Findlay’s discussions of the connections between industry and these social urban areas seems to be important. At Disneyland we see corporations working hard to get their hand in the pot of this new amusement park world, because it is a lucrative economic enterprise, with GE proposing and Edison Park and much of the technological innovation in these parks eventually leaking out into the rest of the country, almost as a trial ground. The relationship between the university and industry in the constructed “natural” space, as a way of making industry more welcoming, and university more practical, in a world that sees both of them heavily influenced by defense spending and the government, was such a odd yet compelling image. I found this book fascinating.

[1] John M. Findlay. Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture After 1940. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993): 8

[2] Ibid., 15