Slab City

Charlie Hailey, Donovan Wylie

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This collaborative project (Wylie/Hailey Slab City/MIT Press 2018) researches the significance of Slab City's adaptive environments for contemporary informal settlements. Located in southern California's desert landscape, Slab City is an ad hoc community that hosts squatters, artists, homeless persons, Canadian "snowbirds," and retirees who live full-time in their recreational vehicles. Left over from a decommissioned military training camp from the 1940’s (Camp Dunlop), slabs and storage tanks provide the only infrastructure. Slab City is an exercise in adapting this residual landscape for habitation as it is also a process of adapting to the harsh desert environment and the emergent social network. Slab City provides an original opportunity to study the relation of adaptation to control in built environments and to understand the relation of resistance to landscape. At one level, this research probes legacies of Jeffersonian policies granting land for public use amidst contemporary pressures for control and codification. At another level, Slab City occupies a landscape ostensibly controlled by U.S. military infrastructure and Corps of Engineers' projects to move water, while the desert's environment exerts its own controlling forces. Through photographs, drawings, and writing, this collaborative project continues on going research into how informal settlements relate to autonomy, necessity, and control in the 21st Century.

Choice, need, and power influence how this place has been made and how it continues to adapt to changing conditions. For almost six decades, Slab City has remained a community that is lodged between the control of nature and the nature of control. Previous studies have focused on the freedoms that Slab City engenders, but its significance--for rethinking informal settlements--lies in its responses--and in some cases, its resistance--to controlling factors of environmental extremes, limited resources, socio-economic difference among its residents, and intermittent but potent governmental oversight.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMassachusetts
PublisherMIT Press
Commissioning bodyGraham Foundation
Number of pages192
ISBN (Print)9780262038355
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Oct 2018


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