Mayberry vs. Chelsea is not a Supreme Court decision or a UK sports rivalry. It’s my shorthand for two competing visions of Culver City’s identity and future. This month I’ll talk about Mayberry.
Mayberry was the fictional North Carolina town where The Andy Griffith Show and its sequels took place, a fantasy of small-town life. It was a set on Culver City’s legendary Forty Acres backlot, with sequences also shot in El Segundo and on location. The recently released film Black in Mayberry looks at how the myth of Mayberry has affected people of color in El Segundo. Meanwhile, Culver City residents unselfconsciously describe our community as “Mayberry” and unironically call it an “enclave.” Mayberry even made it into the Request For Proposals sent to potential General Plan Update consultants, with a Norman Rockwell reference and the phrase “traditional small town atmosphere” also included.
Culver City Crossroads editor/publisher Judith Martin Straw recently wrote that anyone who refers to Culver City as “Mayberry” at a public meeting should have the mic cut and lose their remaining time, because Mayberry is not real: “You do not live in Mayberry anymore than you live in Grover’s Corners, or Narnia.” I am happy to join her in calling for the end of this misleading and harmful cliché, but I want to discard the myths it represents along with the signifier.
Mount Airy, Andy Griffith’s North Carolina hometown and the inspiration for Mayberry, has made itself over in the image of its fictional representation to attract tourists. Its population is a quarter of Culver City’s and the median household income is one third, putting 20% of their population below the Federal poverty line. Seventy-seven percent of Mount Airy residents have finished high school, compared to 93% in Culver City, and 26% have a Bachelor’s degree or better, compared to 58% here. In November 2020 Culver City cast 82% of our votes for Biden, while Mount Airy went 75% for Trump.
Culver City is not a small town. It is a self-governing region of Los Angeles. Mayberry is not surrounded on all sides by the world’s most diverse and creative metropolis. There are no major corporations in Mayberry. Mayberry is not part of a global labor market. People from all over the world do not come to Mayberry to work, and the children of Mayberry have relatively few options. Mayberry is not a quick train or bus ride from three great universities. There are no Michelin-starred restaurants or theaters run by Oscar-winning actors in Mayberry. Mayberry is not the Heart of Screenland. No MacArthur fellows or Grammy winners live in Mayberry. Mayberry has no connection to Nirvana, Prince, Darby Crash, Throbbing Gristle, or other musical icons. Floyd the Barber will not give you an androgynous multicolored high-fashion mullet.
Mayberry is not a suburb. The residents of Mayberry do not commute to a nearby city to work in offices or factories. Mayberry is not a bedroom community; it’s the whole house. Everyone who lives in Mayberry works in Mayberry, and vice versa.
Culver City is the polar opposite. Almost 90 percent of residents with jobs work outside the city, and only three percent of the jobs here are held by residents. Keep this in mind when the Chamber of Commerce attempts to speak for the community: their member businesses employ no more than ten percent of residents.
Culver City is economically and architecturally suburban, but geographically and culturally urban. This is the source of the major conflicts currently facing the community. The detached single-family home is the icon of suburban living, which is physically and economically viable when suburbs are on the periphery of cities, if we set aside the human and environmental cost of commuting by car. However, maintaining a suburban configuration on the scarce land in the middle of a major city has led to housing demand vastly exceeding supply. The increase in prices has been so severe that many who bought here just a couple of years ago could not afford their homes at current prices. I hear people talk about their children not being able to afford to live in Culver City at the start of their careers, but how many of us who are mid-to-late career could buy our homes now, and how many of us could afford to pay property taxes on the current market value instead of relying on the despicable Prop. 13? RHNA calls for deflating this bubble by gradually urbanizing our housing, as suits the city’s location, economy, and demographics.
The public safety crisis is also linked to Culver City’s attempt to be a suburb in the heart of the metropolis. Jackie Wang, paraphrasing Ann Markusen, writes: “municipalities on the periphery of a city have a parasitic relationship to the city, whereby the suburban municipalities can evade having to shoulder a portion of the social cost of low wages and unemployment, ensuring that their tax dollars go toward reproducing their social class (through well-funded schools and a clean and safe living environment) rather than toward ‘unproductive’ expenditures such as welfare programs, public housing, and policing.”
A traditional suburb is geographically outside its urban host, but Culver City’s prime westside location exposes it to the urban on all sides. While we have been able to focus our resources on class reproduction rather than restorative programs, as Wang and Markusen describe, because of its location our City also spends the greatest portion of its budget on police who primarily target outsiders to protect the “enclave” from its surroundings. The cost of this suburban Dream in money and blood is no longer tenable. People are dying in the streets and money which might have helped save them was instead spent on using force to keep them away.
That’s enough about Mayberry. Next month I’ll talk about Chelsea.