California as a Design Problem

The Developing First World

Less than a hundred years ago, California was the “developing world,” and today, in the shadow of neglected infrastructure, anachronistic governmental institutions, and dilapidated design policy mechanisms, it is once again. Wallace Stenger famously wrote that “California is America only more so.” Today, for better and worse, California is the world, only more so — a situation not without apocalyptic overtone.

California is D:GP’s object of study, a meta-design problem composed of heterogeneous components and constituents. California is a State whose dynamism is driven by its own divisions. So despite current problems we look to the dynamic, often chaotic history of invention and conflict that has defined California as inspiration for what is follow.

The Californian Century

California is home to many of the world’s most inventive scientists, engineers, companies, studios, philosophers, entrepreneurs, writers, activists, artists, creative and technological talent, as well as an unparalleled diversity of natural and demographic resources. From the Spectacle to the Singularity, it could be said that California’s culture and economy invented the second half of the 20th century.

As globalization is driven by the continued emergence of sub-national, post-national and supra-national politics, some as small as a data-packet and others as large as an climatic system, California’s status as the richest non-Federal jurisdiction in the world, its complex national and international borders, it’s pivotal location among European, Latin and Asian economies, (as well as its exemplification of dysfunctional self-governance), makes it a critically important laboratory for redesign and redevelopment. If necessary restoration, revitalization and reinvention doesn’t happen in California, it might not happen at all.

How Broken is It? Too much, or Not Enough?

It is obvious that California, the jurisdiction and the culture, face critically serious challenges: how to move people across cities and between cities when streets and airports are already beyond capacity, how to reform cumbersome and inequitable healthcare mechanisms, how to redesign an unsustainable and overly-centralized food industry, and a southern border that undermines social and economic equity and growth, an over-utilized prison system, not to mention an unworkable budgeting and proposition processes that threaten to catapult the entire jurisdiction into the Pacific?

D:GP helps to facilitate the conception of new technologies and systems to meet new challenges, to restore old resources that will sustain new systems, sometimes to restore old systems with new technologies, and often to grow new systems with old means. Our focus is trained on the immediate future, and on the emergence of planetary-scale ubiquitous computing, but our methodologies are agnostic and eclectic.

The Case of California

The advanced information & computing technologies under development at Calit2 are not only infrastructure about which governance decisions must be made, or that can support decisions by governments. Rather, ICT transforms the very architectures of what governance is and does in a democratic network society, potentially making its systems and institutions more transparent, mobile, efficient, decentralized, and nimble. Or more cumbersome, fragile, remote, and energy intensive.

The difference is how they are designed, and for what they are designed. Their potential must be designated and actively integrated with emerging solutions on a hyperlocal and hyperglobal scale at the same moment. By channeling the energy and vision of California’s recent futures past, and of looking (once again) at systems as designable networks (bottom-up, top-down and middle-to-middle), DPP is one key platform for transforming insight into policy.

California has been called the original “society of the permanent Beta” and “the world’s laboratory.” Despite the well known challenges (financial, political will, economic authority) facing every polity, California is, perhaps still the best poised to assemble the ways out. To do this, the maximum intensity of intelligence and attention needs to be invested in communicating strong scenarios and preferred possibilities, and supporting their growth.

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