What can an airport tell us about a city? Quite a bit, according to UC-Santa Cruz history professor Eric Porter in A People's History of SFO: The Making of the Bay Area and an Airport (University of California Press, 2023). San Francisco's SFO airport has been reshaping the Bay Area's politics and reflecting the region's inequalities since its founding in 1927, Porter argues. From the dispossessed Native land on which it was built, to the class dynamics shaping airport noise and amenities, to the airport's mid-century racist hiring practices, the facility served as a microcosm of Bay Area problems, promise, and growth. Even in recent years, with the airport serving as a site for pro-immigrant activism during the Trump era, SFO continues to be a symbol for the city s a whole. As sea level rises threaten to swamp the runways, the airport's future is uncertain, but its past is a useful lens for viewing western urban history in the twentieth century.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
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