Cavallo Point, like the Breakthrough Dialogue, is at once a retreat from the world and an opening to it. Situated in Horseshoe Cove, esconced in mountains, Cavallo Point overlooks San Francisco and the Bay from just beyond the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The resort itself is constructed as a half moon of 24 buildings, all built between 1901 and 1915.
The proximity of the Golden Gate Bridge may inspire some hard questions about the evolution of the modern state, our "risk society." It took four years (1933 – 1937) to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and the project came in $20 million (2010 dollars) under budget. In comparison, the new Bay Bridge is ten years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget. While the Great Depression yielded the grandeur of the Golden Gate, the Great Recession is yielding a bridge renovated to reduce earthquake risk.
From one perspective, the difficulty America has in building new infrastructure — whether new bridges, high speed rail, or new transmission lines — can be read as a sign of American or even Western decline. From another vantage point, the care with which we build new infrastructure is a sign of progressively better treatment for workers and the environment.
In the heart of one of the world's great high-tech metropolitan regions, we can contemplate how urbanization, specialization, liberalization, and creativity might be mobilized to revitalize America. We can also consider how many of these same forces have led liberals in the Bay Area and elsewhere to reject modernity — at least discursively, if not in practice — and to adopt both dystopian Malthusianism and anti-government worldviews.
Our hope is that the expansive landscape of the American West will help us to think creatively about how to overcome the already crumbling old-modern dichotomies, between nature and humans, the state and markets, work and leisure, and the self and others. At the same time, we want to take the relevant, useful elements from traditional liberalism and use them to build a bridge to a new, modernized liberalism.
With the Marin countryside to our backs and the city before us, the locale will remind us that what is natural and what is human are inseparable. The Golden Gate is defined by the resplendent orange-vermillion bridge that traverses it — a human transformation of the visual landscape that literally and figuratively elucidates the awe-inspiring views we deem natural.
But if creating new natures is ancient, the challenges, risks, and opportunities we face in a world of seven billion modern humans are radically new. The Dialogue is a chance to explore what kind of liberalism will allow all seven billion — going on ten billion — humans to live fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.