Student Sponsorship: Terence Zhao (’19, MA ’19) - Race, housing and belonging in the San Gabriel Valley

SPIRE was proud to support Stanford Urban Studies student Terence Zhao (’19, MA ’19), sponsoring his research on housing and place in the San Gabriel Valley (east of Downtown Los Angeles) that is one of the largest and most populous majority-Asian American enclaves in the continental United States. As recently as four decades ago, the region consisted of a string of overwhelmingly white suburbs. Terence researched how the demographic transition has been rapid and profound, as were the resulting political, economic, and cultural shifts that have occurred. He researched the role of realtors and other professionals in housing and real estate play in this transformation and in shaping the everyday lives of Americans and communities. Terence looked at how the subtle but definite ways in which the new Asian American residents have changed architecture and the built form in these communities. He noted that this example serves as a model for the future of the American suburb as more and more of America is becoming racially and ethnically diverse, which has important ramifications on the real estate industry.

Read Terence’s account of the project below:


This research project explores the physical and social changes caused by demographic transition in western San Gabriel Valley - a suburban region east of Downtown Los Angeles - since the late 1970’s. During that time, what was once a string of overwhelmingly white suburbs transformed into one of the largest Asian American enclaves in the continental US. This dramatic transformation has had profound effects on the area’s built environment, including significant increases in residential density and reconstruction of the housing stock and the proliferation of Asian American businesses and a similar increase in density of commercial areas. Much of the existing literature on the area has focused on the racial aspect of the San Gabriel Valley’s transformation and used racial conflict as the lens of understanding the tensions between existing and new residents during this period. Using a combination of census and deeds data, archival research of local newspapers, and examination of the built environment, I seek to augment that narrative with a focus on issues of development. Much of the changes that occurred in the region - and consequent backlash - often mirrored patterns of increasing density and tear-downs of single-family homes found in other urban areas in America that have experienced influxes of new residents in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which include other western cities like Denver and Seattle. To this end, I posit that conflicts around the built environment is the true root cause of tensions in the area, and that racial tensions can be better seen as a byproduct of conflicts.

This virtual tour will showcase some of the places that exemplify the changes the San Gabriel Valley has experienced and use these places to illustrate some of the current findings of this project.

Terence Zhao