Tag Archives: california

New Athens? The Bay Area as city-state

Continuing economic woes in California… which puts the state on a par with the rest of the world, if nothing else, but hey-ho. So, what to do? Futurist Paul Saffo steps up to the punditry plate to suggest hiving off the Bay Area as an independent city-state [via Bruce Sterling]:

In an age when nations have become so large that their citizens no longer identify with distant governments, city-states are political units large enough to have a global economic impact but small enough for even the most casual citizen to understand the relationships that make their city-state work. Politicians are local and thus more inclined to pragmatism and constructive action. Businesses understand that their fortunes are tied to the success of the local community. This balance between effect and size and the tendency toward social cohesion make contemporary city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong bright spots in an uncertain global economy.


City-states have pragmatic governments. Pragmatism grows up from the local level, where decisionmakers witness the consequences of their decisions in their own backyards. Bay Area cities may be in considerable pain, but cities like San Jose started facing up to their problems years before Sacramento got serious, and towns like San Carlos have been proactive in attempts to re-engineer services (the city recently outsourced its police department). The Bay Area might not resemble Singapore with its highly disciplined government ministries, but our local governmental bodies have shown remarkable foresight in creating regional bodies like BART, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to achieve pragmatic long-term goals. City-states also have awkward relationships with their neighbors. Malaysia still resents Singapore’s independence and success, and Hong Kong citizens regularly oppose policies imposed on it by Beijing’s central government. The Bay Area hasn’t experienced this sort of tension with Sacramento, or other California regions, but it is time to do so. Tension would signal that the Bay Area is finally acting as a single body when it comes to looking out for its vital interests.

I’ve been waffling about the return to the city-state model for years now… whether that makes me smarter than I thought (or makes Saffo an uniformed loon, or both) is an open question. The real obvious downside of a shift in that direction would be the increase of nationalist rhetoric that the new identity would bring with it… but seeing as how economic hardship tends to boost nationalism anyway, you might as well take the economic benefits as well, right?

[ Addendum – The name and ideas rang a Pavlovian bell, and a quick search revealed that Saffo has previous: he’s the guy who gave the American economic model “five decades to live” back in 2007. I wonder if he’s shortened that expected life-span by now? I’m a lot less skeptical of it this time round. ]

California proposes car license plates with electronic ads

Well, things are pretty tight in California, money-wise, so you can’t fault them for looking to cut that deficit. But this proposal is bad news for anyone frustrated by the ubiquity of advertising on every surface of the world: electronic license plates which show the vehicle’s code number while in motion, but which switch to (presumably network-served) adverts after a few seconds of coming to a halt [via SlashDot].

Regular readers (and, indeed, anyone with the remotest knowledge of how electronic technology actually works, if only in the abstract) will doubtless have spotted more fundamental problem, but just in case, I’ll remind you that Everything Can And Will Be Hacked. Hell, there’s already a proof-of-concept for electronic billboard exploits. So the no-mercy breed of road-warrior may want to avoid cutting in front of more geeky communters should these things go into production…

California’s marijuana problem

… is that a lot of the people growing weed are suddenly finding they can’t sell it, even at bargain-basement bulk rates, thanks to the easing of access provided by medical marijuana laws in the state [via MetaFilter].

“Outdoor growers are having a hard time unloading their fall harvest,” Custer says. “And this is six months later and when some people do move it, they don’t get nearly the price they were hoping for.”

That goes for both legal growers who cultivate limited quantities of pot under the medical marijuana laws and illegal operators who often grow larger amounts.

Prices are now much less than $2,000 a pound, according to interviews with more than a dozen growers and dealers. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman says some growers can’t get rid of their processed pot at any price.

“We arrested a man who had … 800 pounds of processed,” Allman says. “Eight hundred pounds of processed. And we asked him: ‘What are you going to do with 800 pounds of processed?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.'”

Who’d have imagined that opening up a quasi-legal channel for supply would have driven prices down hugely, eh? I wonder what on earth they’ll manage to spend all the drug war money on if the state votes to legalise… there’s plenty to choose from, after all.

Southern Californian water cut by 30% next year

The Hoover Dam is a key part of the water ristribution of the southwest USThe South of California is a very precarious economy. California boasts between the fifth and tenth biggest economy in the world if viewed as a separate entity, with Los Angeles alone being an economy comparable to all of Russia. One of the main things that makes California so competitive is its agriculture, which makes it the fifth biggest provider of food in the world.

The farms, vineyards and homes of Southern California depend on a great complex construction of dams reaching out to the surrounding states. Drought in the Colorado River is causing huge problems downstream as more people move to the west coast. The supplier, Metripolitan Water District, predicts a dry spell cutting up to 30% of supply to farmers next year, the biggest set of drought conditions since 1991. California is a paradise but the climate and supply lines it is founded on are in a delicate balance that climate change may tip into unsustainability.

[photo by Steven Pagel]