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About Ecotopia

A Design Strategy For the New Millennium in Santa Cruz, California


In November of 1992, I was inspired by the example of the Homeless Garden Project, when I was informed of the success of the first year’s Community Supported Agriculture Program (C.S.A.). I had been under the mistaken impression that the hundred or so participants, who had paid somewhat over $300 in advance for a share in the coming harvest had subvented the program, paying in more than they received in produce. I thought members received half or three-quarters in value in terms of the weekly boxes of organic produce supplied by the garden. In fact, the members received twice what they paid for at market value. I suddenly understood the meaning of an “economy of gift”, based on, of all things, homeless labor. Participants risked their share, paid in advance, based on their faith in the project, and received twice what they paid for. It was a wonder to behold.

I had learned the phrase–“economy of gift”– from the French philosopher–Paul Ricoeur–whom I met at Harvard in the 1960's. In his essay on “The Golden Rule”, he speaks of an ethic of abundance that goes beyond the ethic of reciprocity of the “do unto others”, the “do ut des”, the “quid pro quo”, of the Golden Rule. He cites the biblical passages where Jesus proclaims the Golden Rule as the universal ethical principle and then seemingly shatters it when he says: “Love your enemies” and “Lend without expecting anything in return”, imperatives that are not reciprocal, based on a radical self-sacrifice.

These free-spirited imperatives express an ethic of super-abundance, where self-surrender is called for and where the lack of measure is the good measure because it comes back to you spilling over in your lap. This meaning was driven home to me by the superabundance of the CSA Program of the Homeless Garden Project: you got twice what you gave. A slogan popped into mind to express the point: “too much zucchini!” I wondered what it would take to extend the C.S.A. Program throughout the County. I speculated that l0,000 social security recipients would be well served with a box of organic produce every week in season and even if it took ten years to accomplish, the current model would serve as a reference point. As two and a half acres serve one hundred fifty members, so two to three hundred acres could serve ten thousand members. An effort is now underway under the direction of Nancy Hendee to score this proposal and work out the details.


An effort such as this would not only solve the problem of homelessness by providing jobs for everyone who wanted to work in a productive garden project, it would also provide the basis for ecotopia. Ecotopia is the restoration of the organic integrity of nature first of all in terms of food production, as Alan Chadwick demonstrated in his application of French Intensive and Biodynamic procedures and principles at the Alan Chadwick Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The spirit of ecotopia was established in that project almost a quarter of a century ago. It is now time to fulfill the spirit of ecotopia in a five year plan for the turn of the millennia.

Santa Cruz exemplifies this spirit of ecotopia as a center for the environmental movement– the effort to restore the integrity of organic nature against the late stage of the self-destructive forces of industrial society.

Santa Cruz, as ecotopia, over the next five years, becomes a national and international center for the embodiment of this vision of superabundance based on an economy of gift, illustrated by the abundance of organic production.

Ecotopia is an interesting concept, first formulated by Ernest Callenbach in his two works: Ecotopia, and Ecotopia Emerging. Utopia means “no-where”, a fancifully imagined ideal reality, as in Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia. Ecotopia is not nowhere, the ‘u’ is supplanted by ‘eco’, from the Greek, oikos, the word for household or home. By this simple shift in words, Santa Cruz, a specific place, becomes ecotopia. In the spirit of the old gold rush, a spirit that still persists in California, if you claim it, you have it! Therefore, we stake our claim for Santa Cruz as ecotopia in order to develop a five year plan by the year 2000, when the reality of the vision is achieved.


Through computer simulation, Santa Cruz will be modeled as an ideal environmental community; the work begins to make it a reality within five years, thus becoming a model for the nation based on computer modeling and image forecasting.

Think of it this way. To become ecotopia, Santa Cruz symbolically secedes from the United States as an industrial society, rejecting the national forces of self-destruction, still running unchecked. If you donºt like the political implications, then think of Santa Cruz as a kind of environmental Club Med. The borders of entry–Highway l, north and south, at Davenport and Rio Del Mar, and Highway l7, at Scotts Valley, are sealed off. All tourists are required to register at border kiosks, where they are given their passport, pre-arranged reservations and opportunities for recreation and education. They are registered as Green Consumers and given a Green Card which gives them a discount at all cooperating businesses. They are required to leave their automobiles and lease an electric vehicle for their transportation needs. Electric shuttles would be provided, as well, for inexpensive and convenient transportion. Santa Cruz would be the first commuity in the country to go electric for the tourist theme of ecotopia. Highway One, from Santa Cruz to Monterey, as the first link, would be declared the Electric Highway of the country, with charging stations conveniently located at Moss Landing.

Ecotourists would proceed to the high tech building devoted to the integration of technology and environmental remediation–the Hyperspace Center on Pacific Avenue, where they would check in at an interactive CD Rom station which would detail for them all of the features of a green vacation. Tourists would be encouraged to walk the Santa Cruz Circle Trails and visit the Natural History Museum, the Ecology Hall of Fame and the Botanic Garden at Pogonip, as well as the other attractive segments of the walks: e.g. the UCSC Chadwick Garden and Farm, the UCSC Arboretum, Long Marine Lab, The Homeless Garden Project, Lighthouse Field, etc. (cf. Circles Brochure for list),

They would be fulfilled in their quest for the affirmation of the environment and the intact quality of organic integrity–they would be the Green Consumer of the new millennium. In this way, the highest vision of the environmental movement would be matched by the greatest economic development through tourism. By the year 2000, two million tourists would pre-book a year in advance for their vacation in ecotopia, the same number who now come annually to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The prospect is irresistible. It has the historical trend of the environmental movement, since Earth Day, l970, in its favor, witnessed by the numerous environmental victories and special interests now active in Santa Cruz.

A special series of monthly festivals would mark the year for the Ecotourist and Green Consumer, beginning with Earth Day 24, in April of 1994 and National Trails Day, in June, of 1994, when the Enchanted Circle will be inaugurated.

This plan and its development would have the special advantage of overcoming the conflict between economic development and the protection and conservation of the environment which has split our community over the last two decades.

Ecotopia is a Visitors and Convention Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and Economic Development dream. It maximizes what Santa Cruz is already–a vacation center for millions of people without a cohesive theme beyond the Beach Boardwalk. Santa Cruz is in search of a unifying theme to guide its destiny since the earthquake into the next century. Ecotopia is a theme that fulfills this need for a vision for the future. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Ecotopia would solve the problem we have assumed since l985–the end to homelessness in our community.

Paul Lee

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