California Is the Poorest State in the Country

I was born and bred in California, and I absolutely love it here. It is home, and there is nowhere else I’d rather be.

But California has its problems, and when I read articles full of breathless hubris like this one in Politico, I get concerned. The article states:

But while California has plenty of problems, from worsening wildfires to overpriced housing to that troubled bullet-train project that became the latest target of presidential mockery, there’s one serious hitch in the GOP plan to make California a symbol of Democratic dysfunction and socialistic stagnation: It’s basically thriving.

“California is doing awesome,” says Congressman Ted Lieu, an immigrant from Taiwan who co-chairs the policy and communications committee for the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s a beautiful, welcoming, environmentally friendly place that proves government can work. Who wants to run against that?”

California is now the world’s fifth-largest economy, up from eighth a decade ago. If it’s a socialist hellhole, it’s a socialist hellhole that somehow nurtured Apple, Google, Facebook, Tesla, Uber, Netflix, Oracle and Intel, not to mention old-economy stalwarts like Chevron, Disney, Wells Fargo and the Hollywood film industry. California firms still attract more venture capital than the rest of the country combined, while its farms produce more fruits, nuts and wine than the rest of the country combined. During the Great Recession, when the state was mired in a budget crisis so brutal its bond rating approached junk and it gave IOUs to government workers, mainstream media outlets were proclaiming the death of the California dream. But after a decade of steady growth that has consistently outpaced the nation’s, plus a significant tax hike on the wealthy, California is in much sounder fiscal shape; while federal deficits are soaring again, the state has erased its red ink and even stashed $13 billion in a rainy day fund.

Yes, California is a beautiful place, and we do a good job of trying to protect it. Yes, we are lucky to be the bread basket of the country, a function of our fertile land and climate, as well as the water we take from other places. Yes, we seemed to have recovered from our budget crisis… for now.

And yet, California continues to be the poorest state in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account cost of living. Yes, that’s right. When I first read this, it surprised me too. And then it didn’t.

The Politico article cited above mentioned the housing problems here, but it doesn’t cite the poverty metrics. Most articles don’t. No one challenges the numbers, they just choose to ignore them. But being the poorest state in the country does not align with our values, and we need to reconcile this with all of the stuff that is great about this state.

The best explanation of the root causes responsible for many of our problems is California Crackup, by Joe Mathews and Mark Paul. I highly recommend it.

Seasons

It was almost 80 degrees and humid when I arrived in Minneapolis earlier this week. Two days later, summer had taken an about face. This morning was in the mid-40s, sunny, and clear. As I left my hotel, I felt the brisk air wash over me, and I was reminded of something I hadn’t felt in a long time — the changing of the seasons.

As a lifelong Californian who had spent four difficult years in Boston, I used to scoff at my friends who would pine over seasons. “We have seasons too,” I would argue. “It just doesn’t get miserably cold.” I understood what they meant, but I could never relate.

Until this morning.

I’m not sure why this feeling of transition felt so pronounced this morning, and why I felt so nostalgic over it. Maybe it was the cab ride to the airport, whizzing by and gazing as long as I could at the Mississippi River and the beautiful buildings along its bank, which a friend had guided me through the night before.

Maybe it was the sensation of starting something new, of planting a seed, then immediately leaving. I’ve traveled so much over the years and I’m connected to so many people and places through the magic of technology, I’ve become practiced at ignoring how disorienting it feels. I love that my relationships can transcend place, but I also value place more than I ever have.

Maybe it’s where I am in life, the ongoing uncertainty of a career change that’s still in progress and the recognition that I’m not as driven as I used to be. I still love to learn, to create, to do, but I also value the pause more than I ever have.

Maybe it’s because I’m flying on September 11, and I can’t help but to reflect on the past 13 years and how much everything has changed in the world.

I don’t know why I’m feeling the way I am. All I know is that the moment is here, and that I’m just about ready to seize it — to acknowledge where I am, to mourn and celebrate what’s passed, to look forward to something new. Maybe that’s why my friends are so willing to endure miserable winters and blazing summers — for those four brief moments every 12 months when we’re gently, but firmly reminded to breathe.

I think I get it now.

Something Special in St. Louis

There’s something special brewing in St. Louis, and it ain’t Budweiser. My side of the story begins in the Bay Area. We’ve got this special culture here in California. It’s a culture of openness, of collaboration, of entrepreneurship, and of tolerance. Combine that with a wonderfully diverse and intellectual community, and you get a tremendous amount of good vibes and innovation. The Bay Area is so wonderful, most of us don’t see any need to go anywhere else, and those who do often experience severe culture shock. Yes, Virginia, not everyone is like us Californians.    (LBJ)

In some ways, that’s a good thing, but in many ways, it’s sad. True, California is beautiful. True, the people here are brilliant and wonderful. But, there are brilliant and wonderful people who live outside of California, and there’s no reason why those folks can’t enjoy the same community vibe that we do out here. The Internet allows us to transcend geographical boundaries and form a virtual community with a similar vibe, but it still pales in comparison to the experience of being physical immersed in this type of environment. The barrier to this sort of vibe emerging in a geographical community is usually culture.    (LBK)

Is it possible to shift the culture of a community (or an organization) to be more collaborative, more tolerant, more innovative? Absolutely. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and like all great things, it starts with great people, and it has to start small.    (LBL)

St. Louis has these ingredients as well as a growing consciousness about what is possible. The right people are there, and they are starting to discover each other. If this growing community fosters these opportunities, a wonderful prairie will emerge.    (LBM)

This past Wednesday, I did my part by co-facilitating the first gathering of the St. Louis Collaboratory, which was formed by Kellee Sikes and three of her colleagues (Mark Richman, Donna Mickens, and Valerie Hartman). (Pictures from the event.) The gathering was modeled after the “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” (TCC) workshops I co-organized with Jeff Shults earlier this year in San Francisco. Kellee attended our second workshop, and enjoyed it so much, she decided to try and bring a similar experience to her community in St. Louis.    (LBN)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/92/273875599_bd3b84ff7d_m.jpg?w=700    (LBO)

Kellee, Mark, Donna, and Valerie recruited a fantastic and diverse group of participants. We had folks from both non- and for-profits, from large and small companies, from technology, health care, and organized labor. These people were thoughtful and open-minded. They came into the workshop with a healthy dose of skepticism, but also a willingness to play. What surprised me the most was that several of them had thought as deeply about collaboration as anyone else I’ve ever met.    (LBP)

I learned a tremendous amount listening to this group and watching them work. I could write 50 blog entries about the things I learned, stories I heard, and insights I gained. (I’ll be happy if I manage three.)    (LBQ)

At dinner later in the evening, I told several people that it would be a travesty if they did not continue engage with each other. You can do amazing things in a day. My goals were to expand their consciousness, to make them aware of each other, to start seeding Shared Language, and to give them an opportunity to experience a different kind of collaboration. We met these goals, but they barely scratch the surface of what’s possible.    (LBR)

The opportunity is there. Kellee and company are planning another workshop in January, and hopefully some of the participants from this week will play a more active role in designing the next event. Moreover, there are complementary events cropping up in St. Louis.    (LBS)

Through a serendipitous conversation with Jay Cross last month, I discovered Dave Gray, the founder of St. Louis-based XPLANE, which does visual modeling and facilitation. Dave introduced me to Matt Homann, a lawyer by trade who recently formed a company, LexThink, to organize more collaborative gatherings. Matt has been experimenting with a different kind of networking event in St. Louis known as Idea Markets, and the second one just happened to be this past Tuesday. It was an excellent event, and I’d encourage people from the area to go. This style of event is a dime a dozen in the Bay Area, but we rarely see the mix of people that Matt managed to draw.    (LBT)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/91/273871891_6afb850afc_m.jpg?w=700    (LBU)

What’s different about St. Louis Collaboratory and events like Idea Markets is that they’re not about Drive-By Networking. They’re not about, “What can you do for me?” They’re about, “What can we do with each other?” That, my friends, is what collaboration is about. I’ll be watching these developments closely to see what emerges.    (LBV)

Aandehul

About a month ago, I mentioned to my friend, Betty Toole, that I was going to Copenhagen, and she suggested that I touch base with her friend, Soren Riis, a lifetime resident of the area. Soren and I met up on Saturday, August 19, and he gave me an amazing walking tour of Copenhagen. He’s a teacher by trade, he’s very well traveled, and he is completely in love with his native land. The way he talked about Copenhagen reminded me very much of how I feel about California.    (L4G)

We walked for about five hours with Soren feeding me detailed accounts of the history and architecture of the city intermixed with personal anecdotes. For those of you who know nothing of Danish history, let me just say this: Christian IV is very important in Denmark.    (L4H)

The highlight of our tour was the Royal Library Garden, which is nestled between the Royal Library and the Parliament building. Copenhagen is a bustling town, full of pedestrians, bikers, and even the occasional car. It is physically small, easily walkable, and while it’s not hectic, it’s not quiet either. We had already walked for several hours, and as we neared the Parliament building, Soren proposed that we visit his namesake, Mr. Kierkegaard.    (L4I)

Parliament is currently out of session, and there was loud construction going on behind the building. We walked past the noise, slipped into a courtyard, and suddenly, I was transported out of the city and into this beautiful, private garden.    (L4J)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/68/219478504_bc40f2175f_m.jpg?w=700    (L4K)

Literally five seconds earlier, my ears were hurting from sounds of large trucks hauling asphalt. In the garden, I heard nothing but the water trickling from a large fountain and birds chirping softly and contentedly. The back of the Royal Library stood guard over a large grassy courtyard, with pockets of colorful flowers dotting the garden and the occasional tree providing shade for the weary visitor. Although there were others milling around the garden, they were irrelevant. I stopped, looked around, and breathed in the sweet air.    (L4L)

Aandehul,” said Soren. “It literally means ‘hole to breathe in.’ There are lots of spaces like this in Copenhagen. This is one of the best.”    (L4M)

Christopher Alexander describes the patterns found in these spaces as Courtyards Which Live, Quiet Backs, and Positive Outdoor Space. I had seen similar spaces like this the day before — buildings surrounding serene Courtyards Which Live, parks enclosed from the rest of the city. They are wonderful, rarely found in cities in the States, and the Royal Library Garden is the best of the aandehul.    (L4N)

These kinds of spaces play an important role in Martin Heidegger‘s work, where he describes walks through the forest suddenly leading into these open spaces surrounded by trees. It is in these spaces, according to Heidegger, where we become fully aware of ourselves — Dasein.    (L4O)

Epilogue    (L4P)

The following day, I was describing my experience at the Royal Library Garden to Alexander Kjerulf, who had never been there, and I mentioned “aandehul.” Upon hearing the word, he gave a start, then laughed. While metaphorically accurate, the word is also used to describe a whale’s spout.    (L4Q)