After John’s visit to San Francisco, Jennifer and I continued the conversation we had started about what is it about San Francisco that makes it so interesting for sustainability. I remember Jennifer saying when she first got here that she felt a real sense of pioneering and possibility, even a few hundred years after the pioneers headed out West. Some thoughts we had:
People want to create. SF has a strikingly high concentration of people wanting to create – if every other person in LA secretly, wants to act (or direct…), here every other person seems to have a start-up dream of some sort. It is very charming somehow. Related to this, people think “design” in the sense of identifying and meeting an untapped need – as opposed to other cities where people might primarily be looking for ways to do things more efficiently and effectively.
People think big. Maybe it’s the potential reach of IT, but ambitions are big. Google’s mission: “To organize the world’s information.” Facebook: “To make the world a more open place.” Not small things. Related to that, VC Paul Graham has a nice essay about the different “ambition” messages cities give out. Cambridge, MA is “you should be smarter,” NYC is “you should be richer,” but the Valley is “you should be more powerful.”
But people also think local. There seems to be a real appreciation for local shops and artisanal products of all sorts – and not just chi-chi ones – and a relative lack of chain stores except in just a couple of concentrated neighborhoods – to a degree I’ve not seen in any other major city I’ve lived in.
… and they feel closer to nature, because they are. It does seem to make sense that seeing water and/or hills from so many places in the city, and very often you are walking up or down noticeable slopes, makes people more aware of the fact that we are on the Earth. Not to mention the omnipresent earthquake danger. Easier to forget that in the concrete valleys of Manhattan.
But not to say that SF has it all over London though… London (and the UK) is, as my friend James’s friend Paul nicely says (as I coincidentally discovered when I Googled “London versus Silicon Valley”), the “beating heart of so many social movements, from anti-slavery to fairtrade, universal suffrage to 3rd world debt cancellation.” It is far more more diverse, both nationalities and professional backgrounds. And let’s not forget that London has its very own Silicon Roundabout.
Which is just to say that SF and London are simply complementary – and this nicely mirrors SustainAbility’s own set-up.