Thursday, September 29, 2011


I think we all know what this one means, or to put it a little differently, we each have our own idea what we think it means. Sir Thomas More borrowed it from Greek to be the title of his book. In Greek it meant nowhere, which is kind of the thing about utopias. Maybe it's just the era that I happened to grow in--in the shadows of the utopian projects of the sixties. I think a lot of them did some good, but they all ran up sooner or later against the human fraility of their framers to one extent or another.

Nevertheless, I thought I'd just highlight this word right now, because oddly I have been hearing it in a lot of different contexts  recently. I think it's in the air right now. It's one of those words that seems to be gaining energy and life again. I think a lot of people, despite or probably because of the economic woes that many face, are beginning to think again about what the good society (as Wikipedia points out 'utopia' (nowhere) is in English a homophone with 'eutopia' good place) could possibly be.

We had an interesting guest at the Penny University this week. Gary Patton was a supervisor of Santa Cruz county for twenty-five years. He used to hold early morning weekly meetings at a local coffee shop so that he could talk to his constituents. Although he's been a familiar face in the bookstore I work in, and I've run across him in other contexts as well. But I'd never really heard his bio. He got into community work because of his interest in utopian thought and together with other Santa Cruzans worked to put their own vision of Santa Cruz's future in place. They succeed in keeping the North Coast from becoming a major development, and in other ways worked to keep the small town character of the place. As Patton said, it takes about five people working together to form a movement. Fifteen is probably better, but you can do it with five.

He has an interesting blog that I learned about that evening too. It's called Two Worlds/365, and .. you can find it here . It isn't necessarily about utopia, but I think utopia is implied.

It's  a funny coincidence that I came across this article in the Sentinel today. The short story is that after the 1989 earthquake, downtown Santa Cruz was in ruins and had to be rethought. One of the decisions was to make Pacific Avenue not only one way, but not the same one way all the way through. Now, an outside consultant has been hired by the local merchants, who apparently gives them the  flabbergasting news that the traffic pattern is keeping some of the major players from coming to town.    

"Your design is keeping stores like Apple from coming here," the consultant said.

Oh, horror. The design, by the way, didn't keep Borders from coming here and lasting 10 years or so. I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't the Santa Cruz traffic pattern that finally brought them down.

Having Apple on Pacific Avenue is probably on the checklist for some people's utopia. It wouldn't be on mine. But that's the thing about utopias. It's not as easy to construct one that fits all sizes as one might think.  


  1. Route 56, you say? Sometimes even a GPS won't get you to Utopia.

  2. Yes, I think GPS probably makes it less possible rather than more so. Once the GPS breaks down and you're hopelessly lost, then maybe you've got a shot.