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California is not so much a state of the Union

as it is an imagination that seceded from our reality a long time ago.

California was the first to discover that it was fantasy that led to reality,

not the other way around.

William Irwin Thompson


At a planning retreat with a client this Spring, several of us reflected that we could capture the value and motivation behind our work in a t-shirt in a simple phrase: “I love California”

I moved to this state twenty-two years ago without any experience of being here, with only the knowledge or a dream that I wanted to be here…as I’m sure many who relocate to California hold.

I’ve heard it said that in California, the world sees everything that it hopes to be and everything that it fears. As the quote above captures, California is not so much a state as a state of mind.

I love the diversity of people and places across this state, from coastal communities to the farm fields of the Central Valley, to some of the highest peaks in the country. I love living in a place where I can meet people whose families have been here for several generations and those who have just arrived. It’s this diversity in part that creates a place that has a special energy and spirit.

That’s not to say that there aren’t very real places and people to protect and very real problems to address, as there are anywhere. Yet there is a mythology—largely borne out I have seen, despite some of our more intractable challenges—that the creativity, innovation, and sense of possibility held by those in California can not only begin to solve the problems we face, but can inspire others to think and act in similarly inventive ways.

A very Californian attitude, I know.

However, this approach can not only support California communities, but can support community sustainability and positive change anywhere. In the work I’ve done around the country and around the world, I’ve seen both the potential that exists when people think positively and creatively and the self-fulfilling prophesy that comes to pass when we think that the problems we face have no solution.

At this time, California faces record drought, a growing population and associated development pressure, and questions around treating our most vulnerable residents fairly. These challenges won’t be solved by ingenuity and creativity alone—they’ll require commitments (and some sacrifices) from policymakers and the public—yet it will make it easier to address these and other issues over the long-term from a backdrop of possibility that is both part of the mythology and reality of this extraordinary place.


June 2014