Starhawk's Vision of San Francisco

The Vision of the City (November 2007)

Fifth Sacred ThingDiversity and a Multicultural Vision:

In the San Francisco of The Fifth Sacred Thing, diversity is a key value. Many races and ethnicities coexist in harmony. Differences of color, gender, age, sexual orientation or physical ability are not allowed to restrict a person’s opportunities. The ancestors of many cultures are honored in ceremony, art, and education.

Every child in the city grows up speaking at least three languages: English, a neighborhood or ancestral tongue which might be Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Samoan, Philippino, Yoruba, Arabic, Hebrew or Ohlone, and American Sign Language. Lessons and Council Meetings are always signed as well as spoken, so the deaf are easily integrated into public life. Streets, pathways and new buildings are designed to be accessible for wheelchairs and those with mobility problems.

Retrofitting all of the city’s three story Victorians would be an undertaking beyond the city’s capabilities, but any citizen who becomes disabled can have their own home rebuilt.
Diversity of lifestyle, learning style, religion, and culture are also honored and are key to the richness and variety of city life.

The Streets and Layout of the City

“The city was a mosaic of jewel-like colors set in green, veined by streams and dotted with gleaming ponds and pools. Seen from above, blocks of old row houses defined streets that no longer existed. Instead, bicycles and electric carts and the occasional horse moved through a labyrinth of narrow walkways that snaked and twined through the green. Above the rooftops, gondolas like gaily painted buckets swumg from dabbles, skimming from hilltop to hilltop, moving between high towers where windspinners turned. To the northeast, Maya could see a long train moving across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, bringing early grain to the central market. Beyond, the blades of the wind generators atop the Golden Gate Bridge seemed suspended in midair, their supports invisible under a gray shroud of fog.” Pp 1-2

In 2048, when the novel begins, global warming and melting ice have raised the sea level by about five feet, drowning the low-lying areas of the city built on fill beside the bay. The old dowtown is flooded: scryscrapers peek out above the waters, linked by small boats, but mostly abandoned as providing them with power is a major undertaking, and they were not built for energy efficiency to begin with, relying on elevators and air conditioning. A few have been refurbished, with solar film on the walls, wind generators on poles high above, and windows that now open to admit a breeze.

Where the water ends, the city has been transformed. Cars have mostly been eliminated. A few routes remain open for delivery trucks that run on second and third press olive oil, and electric emergency vehicles, jitneys, and buses. Buses have been transformed into rolling art/fantasy vehicles—a legacy of the Burning Man gatherings of the turn of the century. Pirate ships, birthday cakes, giant flying pigs, huge Goddesses, castles—every one is unique, and Transport Guild recruits sculptors and painters. Many have open decks, and musicians are encouraged to ride and play, so that strains of music constantly waft through the streets.

High places are linked by gondolas, that swing on cables from hill to hill. Their supporting towers also serve as the base for the wind generators that power the cables, and the spinning blades are painted so that their movement generates flowing images and colors. The underlying premise is that if public transportation is convenient, free, and fun, people will not miss their cars.

But most transport is by foot, by bicycle, or by skateboard, scooter, rollerblade, and a hundred new variations on all of the above. Just as young Norwegians once learned to ski as a matter of course, youngsters of the city grow up on skateboards and their derivatives.

The streets have been dug up, leaving narrow snakes of asphalt for the skates and bicycles, and a few delivery and emergency routes that are larger. Buried streams have been opened up and now run freely through the city. The streams are lined with fruit trees, shade trees, and native shrubs that provide bird and wildlife habitat.
The streams are criss-crossed by little bridges and footpaths, many of them accented by colorful mosaics or carefully set patterns of stone. Gardens replace pavement, for much of the city’s food is grown within the city.

“’Do trees grow where you come from?’ a small boy asked Madrone.

“’’Lots of trees,’ Madrone said. ‘We go up to the mountains every year and plant thousands of them. We plant fruit trees along all the walkways our city, so in the spring when they blossom it’s beautiful with pink and white flowers, and in the summer, when they ripen, you can reach out your hand anywhere and taste something sweet. And no, we don’t worry about people stealing the fruit, because it belongs to everybody, and theres’ so much of it that everyone has more than enough.’”

Plazas and Gathering Places:

Market Street—or what’s left of it—has been turned into a wide, pedestrian avenue, suitable for processions and demonstrations, ending in the Central Plaza carved out of the streets and open spaces near the library, museums, and city hall. Now, every morning it’s a true market, filled with stalls carrying produce and crafts. Sidewalk cafes, children’s play areas, a skateboard park and small open-air performance spaces transform the area into a lively city heart. The dead zone of public buildings around it has been infilled with residences, to create life at all times of day.

Each neighborhood also has its own plaza. Many have been carved out of intersections, and all have cafes and eating places, small shops, art, and play equipment, and public gathering spaces. As well, each has some special attraction, and many are stations on the Trackways.

The Ritual Hill, formerly known as Bernal Heights, is a wild space in the heart of the city. The microwave tower on its top has long been recycled, and instead, a large amphitheater is built there, with elegantly concealed sound equipment and fabulous acoustics. On the level areas around the hill stand shrines to a multiplicity of religions, and there’s plenty of room for open-air gatherings, ceremonies, and dance.

The Council Hall sits between the two mounds of Twin Peaks. A huge, light-filled, geodesic dome, it has room for thousands to gather and debate.

Many of the other hilltops and parks of the city have been restored to native habitat or provide farmland and grazing land. In a sense, the whole city has become a park, but Golden Gate Park remains special ground. Atop the island in the center of Stow Lake now stands the earthen-roofed dome where the nine old women of Defense Council keep the city safe by listening and dreaming.

The Trackways

Winding throughout the footpaths of the city are special Trackways, that lead from destination to destination. They are the far descendents of those par-courses for runners with different exercise equipment at each station. Some, indeed, are for physical training, with open-air weight machines, chin-up bars, and water fountains at intervals along a route. Many are for children, with marvelous fantasy-sculpture play equipment at walking or cycling intervals, that in sequence take a child through a favorite fairy tale or teach a lesson.

This is a city that children can explore safely. They can ride the back of the great white bear, climb the spires of a magic castle, and visit the four winds. They can skate the journey of evolution, from tiny bacteria up through climbable dinosaurs in fern groves, or walk the proportional length of the solar system, riding the wide merry-go-round of Saturn’s rings.

For adults, there are Art trackways, leading from sculpture to gallery to working studio. There’s a giant Adult Playground, with swings, slides, and a jungle gym scaled to make grownups feel small again. There’s a Meditation Walk, leading from Zen Garden to labyrinth to shrine, and a Pathway of the Elements that winds up the Ritual Hill past shrines of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. And there’s the Lovers’ Lane, that leads from rose-covered bower to moon-viewing tower, past sculptures of famous lovers of all sexual persuasions, plaques inscribed with poetry, and heart-shaped mailboxes where messages can be left.

Gardens and Food:

Every house has its own small street garden space in front, as individual as fingerprints—some are wild collections of rambling roses, grapevines and honeysuckle, others are geometric potagers. But the communal food-growing areas along the streams and footpaths are sculpted into flowing curves, spirals and round beds with keyholes, esthetically pleasing and actually making more efficient use of space than traditional rows. Trellises rise up the walls of the Victorians in the neighborhoods, and even some of the skyscrapers have been retrofitted with tiles that provide pockets for hardy plants. Every possible inch of growing space is used.

Behind the Victorian row houses that line the city’s streets, each interior block is a sheltered, secret garden/farm, and each has a special focus. Most include ponds, fountains, greenhouses, moveable chicken domes that allow the birds to scratch up and fertilize new garden beds, and many also raise rabbits, bees, or even pigs. They produce almost all of the fresh fruit and vegetables the city needs. Grain, range meat, and supplementary produce is grown in the sunnier East Bay and the surrounding areas north and south of the city. The counties of Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa are still famous for wine, but more of their land is devoted to local edibles. All farming, ranching and food production is strictly organic.

The cool, foggy city is also a center of mushroom production, and the gardeners and mycologists together have developed a symbiotic agriculture where mushrooms grow in conjunction with herbs and vegetables, improving the soil fertility and providing another source of food.


“’Tell us more about your home, Charlie,’ Hijohn said. ‘Who owns the water?’

“…’Nobody owns it. You can’t own water where I come from.’

“‘Somebody’s got to own it,’ Littlejohn said. ‘Somebody always does.’

“’We believe there are Four Sacred Things that can’t be owned,’ Bird said. ‘Water is one of them. the others are earth and air and fire. They can’t be owned because they belong to everybody. Because everybody’s life depends on them.”

“;But that would make them the best kind of thing to own,’ Littlejohn said.” Pp.72-73

Water is sacred in the city—honored, respected, and every drop is treasured and valued. With an annual rainfall of about 25 inches and a dry season that can stretch from May to October, water is a huge challenge. Every roof has a rain catchment system, and every basement has a cistern that can store water, to be filtered for drinking or used to water the extensive gardens. Graywater is filtered and re-used in the gardens. Ponds, waterfalls, flowforms, fishponds and tanks are integrated into the food growing systems.

People in the city believe that no one can be ill or unhappy near the sound of running water, so fountains abound in healing centers and public gathering places. Larger reservoirs on the slopes of the city’s hills store water and provide refuges of beauty and habitat for animals and birds.


The city has abundant sources of renewable energy. The tides and currents that flow under the Golden Gate turn huge generators that provide a major source of electrical power. It is supplemented by solar panels on roofs, wind generators, including many that hang from colorful balloons suspended above the rooftops, and others that crown the supports of the bridges that span the bay.

Work and Economics

“’We don’t have centralized control of the economy, although we do have as much coordination as possible. We don’t have production quotas, for example. Work groups set their own goals and run their own affairs and barter in the markets for credits. But we’ve come to understand wealth and account for it in different ways. Marx said that wealth came from labor, but we say there are three different sources, and labor is only one, the most variable. There is also the stored labor of the past: for example, a house that was built a generation ago, or my grandmother’s English bone china. That sort of wealth should also be shared fairly, not hoarded up in a few families. And finally, there’s wealth that is based on the resources of the earth, on the Four Sacred Things, and wealth no one can profit from individually.’

“’Do you use money?’” the woman next to (Madrone) asked.

“’Our credits function like money, but they’re not backed by gold or silver. They’re backed by energy, human and other sorts, and our basic unit of value is the calorie. So a product is valued by how much energy goes into its production, in terms of labor and fuel and materials that themselves require energy to produce. And part of that accounting is how much energy it takes to to replace a resource that is used. Something that works with solar or wind power becomes very cheap. Anything requiring irreplaceable fossil fuels is generally too expensive to think about.’

“’But do you have rich and poor?’ the same woman asked.

“’We’re each guaranteed a share of the wealth of the past and of the resources, which translates into a basic stipend of credits. As I said before, you could live on that, frugally, if you really didn’t want to work. But if you do work, you earn work credits, and the more you work the more you earn, so there’s incentive for those who want personal advancement. And if you do something really spectacular, achieve something fabulous, people bring you gifts.’

“’Don’t people cheat?’” asked a woman at the end of the table.

“’All the accounts are public. Your whole work group sees the bill you put in each week, and believe me, they know if it’s accurate. If not, you’ll hear about it, and if necessary they’ll bring it up before your Guild or council. Of course, some jobs don’t lend themselves to counting hours, like mine, or like being an artis or a musician. We get a fixed stipend.”…

“…’After the Uprising, every tool and device and process was reevaluated according to the Five Criteria of True Wealth that Latasha Burton developed.’

“’Which are?’ Beth asked.

“’Usefulness. Sustainability—meaning that it must generate or save as much energy as it consumes and doesn’t depend on nonrenewable resources. Beauty. Healing for the earth, or at least not being destructive. Nurturing for the spirit. Private automobiles failed, for example. They’re certainly useful and many people maintained that they can be beautiful, but they weren’t sustainable… Some industries disappeared…others had to change. We print a lot of books, but we make paper from hemp, not from trees.’” pp274-275

Work is undertaken by small groups that organize the work, set standards, and decide how to distribute rewards. Work groups are further organized into Guilds for each profession or industry, that determine what work, products or services are needed and which work groups will do them. Guilds bargain for resources, support research and innovation, and have a voice in Council and the decisions of city governance.

Sexuality, Home and Family

“;Every household gets credits for a certain number of working hours per person, for home maintenance and for child care, or care of anyone who might need it. You can trade those credits around any way you like—keep them if you do your own work or assign them to somebody else if you’d rather get someone else to do it for your. And there are usually some people around, like students, who want to pick up a few credits without having to commit to a work group.’

“’And marriage?’ Sara asked.

“’That’s a personal arrangement between the people involved. Sometimes it’s based on their religion, if they belong to one that has rules about those things. But it’s no longer an economic arrangement. If a woman—or a man—wants to stay home and take care of the house and the kids, they’d collect all those work credits and they’d be valued just as much as for work done outside the home, because all work is valued the same.” p275

“’What about incest and child molesting?’

“’We don’t have the kind of social isolation that breeds it. We have a lot of different kinds of families. Some of us grow up in big collectives, like I did. Some are in extended families, with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents; some in small nuclear families. But we make sure that no family is isolated. The Neighborhood Councils form support groups of people from different kinds of households and backgrounds—to give different perspectives. So every kid has half a dozen aunties and uncles from the time they’re tiny. They’re encouraged to talk about things, to ask for help, to protect themselves. And we train all our children, early on, in self-defense, both girls and boys.’”

In general the city is an open and tolerant place, where every sexual orientation feels welcomed. Respect for diversity characterizes the approach to sexuality and family life—and no one way of being is considered the ideal or the norm. Gay, straight, queer, bi, and transgendered people are valued. Coercion and force are considered deep illnesses and crimes.

Many people, like Madrone and Bird, are comfortable with open, multiple relationships, others are monogamous, or become so as they grow older and settle down.
Sexuality is seen as a positive, creative, healing force, and the city’s art and architecture reflect that view in sculptures and spaces conducive to romance, in education about sexuality and safe sex.


Education in the city is a lifelong process. Schooling for children is based on the belief that children naturally want to learn, and learn best by having real experiences and reflecting on them, by involving mind, body and emotions, and through music, art, dance and play. Music and art are the core of the curriculum, rather that peripheral luxuries. When children first learn to drum, counting comes easy. When they learn how to read the tracks of animals and hear the conversations of birds, learning to read and to speak other human languages comes naturally.

Rather than segregating kids in schools, they belong to small Learning Groups, each of which has an adult Learning Guide who helps them find resources and presents lessons. Learning Groups meet outdoors except in the most extreme weather, and their learning includes hands-on projects tending gardens and animals, backpacking trips into the mountains, building, cooking, sailing, and swimming. Anything that needs to be memorized is set to music and sung. Learning is a cooperative project, and the groups are responsible for making sure all their members master each subject. Interpersonal skills and cooperation

“That was the way Johanna ran the schools; she believed children should be taught about things from beginning to end. So they learned to make fire from sticks, and how to put out fires, and then studied all the chemistry and pysics involved as the built steam engines and solar panels and tracked the course of the sun. He supposed it was a good way to learn; certainly they had never been bored, and he was always coming across bits of useful knowledge.” P.71

Adults often form learning groups to explore a subject or skill, and much of the city’s entertainment is in the form of workshops on a multitude of subjects. Neighborhoods provide social centers where classes and discussion groups can be easily held, and neighborhood bulletin boards where they can be announced.


The city is run by nested series of Councils. Each block has a Council to settle disputes, oversee the common gardens and streets, and prepare for emergencies and disasters. Larger Councils run each neighborhood, and overall decisions are made by the Grand Council, to which every citizen has a right to attend. Decisions are made by a modified form of consensus after much discussion, in which every person can participate. Guilds and Neighborhood Councils send representatives, who are empowered to block a consensus, while individuals are not. An Administrative Guild handles much of the work, record-keeping, and day to day oversight of city affairs, but they are not considered to be rulers executive officers.

Children are trained in consensus and in good discussion habits and skills from an early age. Meetings are considered to be both a duty and a pleasure, social occasions as well as decision-making opportunities.

Disputes are settled by mediators. There is no police force, but every child and citizen is trained in nonviolent intervention and self defense. If a true crime is committed, a Special Council can be called, who will appoint a skilled investigator and will hear the stories of all parties involved. If necessary, a full jury trial will be held. A crime is considered to be something that destroys the balance of community—and the purpose of justice is first, to safeguard the innocents, and second, to restore the balance and reintegrate the wrongdoer after amends are made.

In extreme cases, if the wrongdoer is considered to be an ongoing danger to the community or refuses to make amends, he or she is banished to the wilds of the northern counties where roving bands of the anti-social live by hunting wild pigs and leaching acorns.


The city has made great strides in renewable energy and technologies based on renewable resources. They have huge amounts of energy available, but their only source for metal, plastics and fossil fuels is recycling the remains of the old society and mining the old landfills. They use wood, hemp, and bamboo as well as natural building techniques like adobe and straw bale. They use soy and corn based plastics judiciously.

Bird’s mother Brigid pioneered the field of living crystal technology, which uses directed and focused mind powers to imprint and program cooperative crystals which are the core of their computing and communication systems. The crystals are sensitive to mood and energy and shut down when the level of tension and aggression becomes too high.

Health and Healing

The city provides all the medical care needed by its citizens, including a big focus on preventative care. The city’s medical knowledge and training synthesizes the best of Western medical science with Chinese medicine, herbalism, naturopathy., and understanding of mind/body links. Major epidemics have several times decimated the city, so health care is seen as a top priority and prime concern.

A few healers, like Madrone, are gifted with the ability to sense and shift energies directly. Others work with more traditional methods.

The healing center where Madrone works, at the old General Hospital, has been retrofitted with solar power, natural light, gardens, and fountains to be a true healing environment.

The old hierarchies of doctors, nurses and assistants have broken down. Healers all get similar basic training—then develop their own specialties. As they gain in experience and competence, they gain respect and authority.


After the Uprising, the city recognized that it did not have the resources to both repair its infrastructure, develop the new systems of energy and food production it needed, and mount a standing army.

“We chose food over weapons and so here we sit, lovely but as unarmed as the Venus de Milo.” p.3

They do, however, have a Defense Council, comprised of ‘nine old women who listen and dream.’ Older women were chosen because they were seen as least likely to be carried away by emotion or testosterone. They spend most of their time in deep meditation, watching the currents of probability and weaving a protective, energetic shield for the region.

Spirituality, Religion and Magic

The city strongly values spirituality and honors diversity in religion. Many different religions coexist happily, often sharing celebrations and space. Ritual hill is crowned with many shrines.

“The upper slopes of the hill were dotted with shrines to Goddesses and Gods, ancestors and spirits. Some were elaborately sculpted and painted, some as simple as an offering basket under a tree. They encompassed an eclectic mixture of traditions. A carin of memorial stones crowned a green mound dedicated to the Earth Goddess, who could be called Gaia, or Tonantzin, or simply Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. Kuan Yin ad a shrine and so did Kali and Buddha and many bodhisattvas, along with devis and devas, African orishas and Celtic goddesses and Gods.

Some formed natural cultures: The Yoruba Oshun, Love Goddess, Goddess of the River, stood near Aphrodite and Inanna/Istar/Astarte, in front of a small circle of cleared ground were, at the moment, a woman danced barefoot and bare-bellied. Farther down the hill, the Virgin of Guadalupe overlooked the Stations of the Cross. Up here, the sun was welcomed at dawn on the Winter Solstice, the shofar was blown to announce the Jewsish New Year, gospel music was sung on Easter morning, the call to prayer was chanted five times a day, and at almost any time of day or night someone sat in silent meditation, counting breaths.” p.11

The city’s own spirituality is rooted in respect for the Four Sacred Things: air, fire, water and earth, and the fifth, love and spirit. They are honored in ceremony, their shrines line the pathway up to ritual hill, and their representatives sit in every Council as the Voices.

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Copyright © 2007 by Starhawk. The foregoing contains passages excerpted from The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. All rights reserved. No part of the book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publishers: Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036