Re: Interesting article on "walkable cities"
- Can we get ahead of this somehow?Suggestion: (following Agile software best practices)
- Compile user stories (feature descriptions) on a wiki.
- Define what each user story implies in terms of observable / testable / quantifiable features.
- Prioritize features.
- Design (plan views) incrementally one prioritized feature at a time using a cheap tool such as Google SketchUp.
- Refactor when new features are added if there are conflicts or sub-optimization is needed.
(e.g. It is generally not possible for every feature to be just a few steps away.)
> From the FOOL:
> Our planned communities so far have largely focused on ideas for rural settings. The trends in the article suggest that the future, especially for the upwardly mobile, is urban. Can we get ahead of this somehow?
- This brings up something I found recently and was looking for a good reason to post. A small photo gallery of a Green Living housing complex in Germany.
This quirky bit of urban architecture reminded me of the 'bolo' communities described in anonymous Swiss author P.M.'s treatise on Post-Industrial culture called Bolo'Bolo.
We actually do have concepts deriving from TMP that strongly relate to these new urban trends and would offer very valuable development prospects--assuming we could team with real estate developers of sufficient vision. Aquarius is not strictly about living at sea. TMP2 plans for land-based communities as a possible part of its development.
The reason planned communities, in the US particularly, tend to employ rural edge-of-wilderness settings is that it has usually been necessary to go to such distant places to find economical land and to deploy any sort of alternative architecture, renewable energy, and sustainable technology without bureaucratic obstruction. As a certain southwestern saying goes, everything new ends up in the desert. Why? Because that where you have to go to be left alone. And this tends to be the root of these communities' downfall because this isolation from the conventional infrastructure, job markets, and commerce that supports other communities often compels them to seek impractically extreme levels of self-sufficiency coming at great compromise in standard of living. Because we tend to be so generally industrially illiterate in our culture and have been steeped in a lot of cultural myth about our frontier ancestors, there is a strong tendency among people to over-estimate the potential self-sufficiency they can achieve individually or in small numbers using at-hand technology. You see this error constantly repeated by every interest group with some utopian notion of breaking away from the rest of civilization to create some ideal lifestyle in isolation.
Truth be known, very few people really want to return to an agrarian way of life or would willingly abandon existing career tracks for a subsistence lifestyle. Environmentalism commonly idealizes such lifestyles while--until quite recently starting to shift in perspective--demonizing the city and urban life as symbolic of everything that's supposedly wrong with civilization. But, despite its obvious problems, the city has, in fact, always offered the more sustainable way of life when you do the math. Most certainly, cities through the late 20th century tended to be grossly mis-managed thanks to runaway speculators and corrupt government, diverging from their optimal sustainability and quality of life. They abandoned important facilities for co-generation, sensible architecture, allowed the introduction of automobiles into an environment they were totally inappropriate in and pandered to their dysfunctions. The Red Car conspiracy parodied in the movie Who Killed Roger Rabbit was a real thing, and frankly it's still on-going among the political Right whose utter disdain for all forms of public transit is pretty plain. We've largely forgotten that we originally chose to build cities because they offered a superior standard of living, largely though the access to a larger concentrated market for goods and services. They weren't imposed on us by overlords of some sort. Living at urban density has been the norm for humans since pre-history simply because there was safety and economy of labor in numbers. We've been building cities since we learned how to farm. In the late 20th century we let our cities deteriorate into dystopias compelling everyone who could to flee. Now, having experimented with suburbia a couple generations and realizing the subtler kind of hell that way of life really is, they are being rediscovered. There is much improvement needed still. But, if maximum sustainability is the goal, it remains a better choice than any other mode of living, if we can overcome the persistent stigmas cultivated in the late 20th century.
But how can one demonstrate that potential in a world where cities still remain largely in the grip of power structures, forces, compulsions, influences, delusions feeding their persistent dysfunction? Thanks to the recent real estate market crash new opportunities have opened for adaptive repurposing of some urban locations through renovation and re-development. Things like the NYC High Line park project hint at the possibilities. (a project unthinkable in that city before the turn of the century, no matter how practical and technically feasible it has always been) But that doesn't really get to the core structural dysfunction of cities and in the US generally we're still largely forced to go outside the city, even beyond suburbia, to work on this. That, however, doesn't mean we must resort to some agrarian soft-tech subsistence lifestyle in hand-built Earthships and self-imposed isolation. The strategic logistical factors that originally determined the locations of cities are no longer so strict with the advent of demassified renewable power production, advanced telecommunications, advanced shipping services, and robust, diverse, transportation. We can leverage the practical independence offered by distance on a freedom to do the right things the old cities still wont without having to go to silly extremes of radically alternative lifestyle. And there's a phenomenon demonstrating this point that's very important to this discussion; the Edge City.
Edge Cities are something that emerged in the US as suburban development in older metropolitan regions--east-coast in particular--began to reach its effective commuter radiuses. By the late 1980s suburban sprawl had, in many places, reached a limit in maximum practical commute distance from key urban centers. It's no longer unusual for people who work in Manhattan to commute from as far away as eastern Pennsylvania--as insane as that might seem from an environmental perspective. At the same time escalating city taxes began driving small to medium scale businesses away, into 'industrial parks' and 'commercial campuses', in the suburbs facilitated by improving telecommunications, overnight shipping services, and shrinking scales of power production systems. Thus in many places along that commute limit a new kind of urban development began to appear. Tight clusters of low-to-medium-rise commercial buildings, shopping malls, 'big box' stores, trucking depots, light industrial/commercial 'parks', and new 'master planned' housing developments right on major highways. Miniature urban industrial/commercial nexuses--microManhattans---still suburban in many aspects, still car-addicted, but with many of the benefits of cities and intended as a practical alternative to the long trip to them. These were very different from the rail-based commuter towns of the early 20th century. Their organization lacked a center defined by the convergence of a rail link and main roadway, creating a recognizable 'main street'. Instead, they were usually centered on a commercial cluster of some sort around which the rest radiated and the use of rail--far beyond the extent of commuter rail systems in these locations--was used for industry. These Edge Cities created a haven for the old cities' tax exiles, drawing on the dispersed suburban worker pool in the opposite commute direction. They have been particularly popular with technology start-ups. They are, however, tenuously sustainable. They have been very dependent on the vicissitudes of the general economy, 'anchor' corporations, and the whims and attitudes of the core big city politicians who these days flip alternately between treating the commuter as asset and parasite. (in recent years, some US cities have repeatedly sought to tax commuters on the argument that they represent a parasitic burden on their transit infrastructure, punishing them for not living in the cities where they work regardless of whether the majority of those workers could afford that or if the volume of housing necessary even still exists)
I've often thought that if it was possible to create an arcology, it would likely be done in an Edge City situation. In practice they have been ad-hoc developments driven by outside forces. But if there were real estate developers with the necessary imagination, you could pull-off an EPCOT. You could build new infrastructures with modern technology, employ alternative architecture, employ renewable energy and other sustainable technologies comprehensively, establish a uniquely superior urban lifestyle without the obstruction that makes this so difficult in the old cities or compromises in connection to the global network of the larger civilization and its markets. (which makes me wonder why The Venus Project never got around to thinking about this) Thus I've imagined a kind of proto-arco development deriving from the Aquarius concept. A planned 'microcity' that seeks to very deliberately compete with the older urban habitat in sustainability, standard-of-living benefits, creative and entrepreneurial opportunity, while eliminating the hassles associated with their typical decrepitude, architectural dysfunction, and oppressive bureaucracy. And this relates strongly to the Aquarius program because that's intended to do pretty much the same thing in a marine location.
People see Aquarius as a rather fanciful SciFi concept because it's built on water and we somehow imagine that to be difficult, requiring speculative technology--again because of that compulsion to assume that if you're living at sea you MUST be employing some kind of space settlement degree of self-sufficiency. But there's nothing special about building on the water anymore beyond the particular structural systems you must use and logistics of the location--which are certainly a challenge but hardly necessitates Star Trek technology. And being on water doesn't really matter to the way Aquarius functions as an urban habitat beyond favoring a certain spectrum of industry and recreation and compelling its unified architecture--which is as well justified by the need for greater efficiency in space use in general. Aquarius is, essentially, an arcology and as such it works just as well on land as on sea. In the long-term vision of TMP2 Aquarius is a prototype and demonstration for a new urban habitat that is intended to be exported back to the land to subsume todays dysfunctional patterns of development and create a civilization looking very much like that long envisioned by Paulo Soleri; a world of nodal arcologies in networks of linear cities set in a restored natural environment. That's the long-term picture of Terrestrial civilization in TMP2. TMP is not an 'escape plan'.
Aquarius takes a somewhat different approach to the concept of arcology than Solari, who still labors under old fashioned notions of idealized 'perfect' design. Aquarius is based on a premise of a necessarily freely evolvable urban habitat relying on modular functionally generic architecture continually and perpetually repurposed on demand. We might impose a specific form at the start but that's merely a near-term contrivance. The rest isan evolution driven by a never-ending 'conversation' between structure, its inhabitants, and the environment. It is an emergent urban construct--a product of something more like genetic engineering than traditional architectural design. In the Solerian age, with the advent of NanoFoam-like technology, it is anticipated to become a self-aware self-generating urban construct--realizing the dreams of both Rudolf Doernach and Constant Nieuwenhuys. But let's not get too esoteric here. In practice, Aquarian architecture uses derivatives of currently existing high-rise construction enhanced with a little more application of simple reason and without the restrictions imposed by the street grid. There's nothing speculative about how it's built and the approach of flowing unified garden-terraced macrostructures forming a synthetic volumetric landscape--what I like to call tectonic architecture--is now a common approach among many Post-Modern and New-Modern architects. Just as we've long overlooked the potential freedom of design with the automobile once freed by electric and hybrid technology from the shackles imposed by mechanical power trains, so too has a radical freedom of architecture been waiting to be realized once we abandon the shackles of the street grid and the accommodations to the car that should never have been allowed to share a human living. Aside from the strategic importance to TMP of development at sea, the practical virtue of building on the sea is that there space is 'free' and thus it is easy to escape the imposed dysfunction of the anachronistic pre-established street/parcel grid. It's the other desert where you can build and try new stuff and be left alone. That's the real point of it. But the sea isn't the only place/situation where that might be possible--at least at relatively modest scales and where you can use the new arguments of New Urbanism as a key premise.
So imagine we built an intermediate-stage Aquarius on land as a planned eco-city--a microcity or proto-arco. We situate like an Edge City, in a place where we are still well 'plugged in' to the larger infrastructure--right on a key highway with major telecom trunks--but free to deploy subsistence technology that doesn't come with compromises; renewable energy, advanced farming technique, light industry, and alternative architecture. The same approaches to design we talk about using on water will work just as well on land, the chief difference being that we replace lagoons and bays with garden 'valleys'.
Let's take a look at that picture I often use as a visual example for the intermediate-scale Aquarius; Paul Maymont's Villa Flottante Thalassa intended for Monaco;
This structure is a good generic visual model for a proto-arco and it's just as sound on land as on water. Replace the central lagoon with a central park and it works just the same aesthetically and functionally. Imagine the exposed tops of every one of this structures vertical support sporting a vertical axis wind turbine and the top ring shade structure covered in solar panels and you've probably covered much of its power needs. Though you can't see it in this picture, even its approach to parking is just as we would use on land. This design originally featured a submerged parking garage as part of its foundation structure. On land, one would likely use the very same thing as an underground parking structure to keep automobiles out of the living space and to create additional storage without sacrificing surface space. This is also a good analog to the 'atrium' type of space settlement described in TMP2. This is just how we would likely organize a manned settlement on the Moon or Mars. The only difference is that we would create this inside a built-up dome or excavated chamber. So if one wants to work that angle as a design premise, that works too. In a more northern location you could even imagine this structure topped with a pillow-panel dome just like the Eden Project or a tefzel tension canopy to create a year-round tropical garden habitat as a key attraction and useful buffer for passive solar heating. With that installed, there would be almost no visual difference from the inside to living in a space settlement, yet it wouldn't look like some theme park depiction of a space station because it works aesthetically as a comfortable place to live.
This structure is functionally generic in nature. Its utilities would likely be concentrated along vertical support structures, which is where stairs and elevators would also be. In fact, these vertical supports would frame the basic units of space--each 'loft' the clear space horizontal deck area between the supports. All use of space is based on retrofit and living here would basically be akin to living in a ready-made loft apartment building. So, though the support structure shown is a little specialized, with the right structural system the individual floors are freely 'morphable' and extensible to produce an endless variation in form as needed. This way the habitat could freely grow as needed both concentrically and vertically or creating more specialized perimeter features to accommodate certain uses. (theaters, vertical farms, solar furnaces, etc.)
We need no more reason to create something like this than the desire to create a better, novel, place to live, but we are also interested in creating an incubator for entrepreneurship relating to the industries and technologies that would enable other aspects of TMP development. Architectural design and culture influence quality of life, but standard of living is dependent on structure, infrastructure, and the conveniences and opportunities that can offer. Why would someone want to live in our imagined microcity? What sort of advantages can we offer compared to the conventional urban location? Much of that depends on the demographic for the kind of people we would target as residents. My feeling is that this would be something appealing to the same kind of people interested in cohousing but who are also looking for creative and career opportunity. Creative professionals, Makers, and the new generation of technology entrepreneurs who have been cultivating a very different model of the American Dream. One that isn't based on doing whatever makes money in the pursuit of the cabin on a lake in the last decades of life but who are shopping for an optimal lifestyle in the present that accommodates their career/creative pursuits. That's the key difference between the old and new middle-class today. The previous generations ran the American Dream into the ground. The new generation is re-inventing it on their own terms in a 21st century context. We would want to create a sandbox for doing that. I also see this as appealing particularly to people with an interest in Bright Green environmentalism and Eco-Tech, with the community and its immediate surroundings serving as a practical proving ground for such technology they themselves are developing. This gets to a key point for our organization in general. Any space advocacy group can chat about rockets and living in space. We want to offer people the opportunity to be the ultimate first adopters. To cultivate a general lifestyle actively trying to live 20 years or so into the future.
So the first and most important feature of our microcity is one that has nothing to do with architecture or technology but rather gets at the issue of the now plainly failed system by which the middle-class has been housing itself. We would offer an alternative; the Community Investment Corporation. This concept is very prominent in TMP2, key to its whole founding economic development model, basis of every proposed settlement, but I fear most people in this forum still don't comprehend it very well. Essentially, the CIC replaces home ownership with community ownership. The concept of mortgage finance is done. The system is broken, the societal confidence is broken. No one in their right mind still takes this seriously as a 'safe' way to park wealth and house yourself. We now need a system that isn't going to take homes away every time the banks make bad bets in their private luxury casino or the cry-babies of Wall Street have a panic attack. So instead of betting your future on a crappy stick-frame house on a tiny random lot of real estate somewhere, the CIC offers the alternative of buying into shared ownership of a whole town or city (or in the TMP context, the whole economic infrastructure of TMP) that you earn dividends on as a share in the profit of everything the community does commercially while also getting, in exchange, an option on the use of space in an urban complex for a home or home-business. All the real estate of the community--and potentially many other communities and developments--is owned by the CIC which is, in turn, owned by everyone who lives there. So you're not hitching your wagon to the fate of one little random house lot. Your investment is in everything in the community as a whole, its value buffered by the net productivity of the community as a whole and everything the CIC invests in. Consequently, issues of 'property value' and what impacts it at the small scale are utterly irrelevant. It no longer matters who your neighbors are, what their race or class status is, or how they choose to decorate their home. You have no personal property value to worry about. It's the net productivity of the community collectively that matters. The only trade-off is that you have to respect the community's right to move you somewhere else in the complex (or buy you out at your share value if that's not sufficient) if the space you live in is needed for more important things. You never lose anything in that situation but, maybe, a preferred window view. And, of course, you always have an option to relocate at your own discretion to any free space available in the complex, locally or in any other communities under the same CIC, without worrying about issues of buying and selling property and how it impacts one's investment. Yes, choices may be first-come-first-serve but other than that, you can pick-up and go as you please. The community doesn't need to fabricate sliding scales of standard of living to suit sliding scales of economy. It's architecture would reach for the best for everyone, equally.
As a legal construct the CIC is similar to a condominium corporation except that it is not so specialized, treating it's own space as more-or-less generic with many uses, spreading across potentially many kinds of properties--some purely created for-profit--and integrating co-investment in businesses located in its communities. This is how it functions in TMP2 as it's economic foundation, particularly the foundation of the cooperative industrial development ultimately intended for space development. Initially it would have limited funds for co-investment until the commercial leased space potential of its first communities is fully realized. But it's anticipated to become great enough in collective holdings and cash flow that it could begin to loan it's own shares to prospective residents as its own form of home finance. This would be particularly useful in attracting specific people needed for certain services or to fill key roles in resident companies or facilities--such as attracting work forces for quickly growing businesses, health care personnel, teachers, technical specialists, and scientists.
Though at first this capability would be very limited, as a corporation the CIC is capable of utilizing its commercial profits in any way it wishes to the benefit of its shareholders. In a conventional company this, of course, usually boils down just to a stock dividend and/or growing share value. But as the property manager of the real estate of the community the shareholders all live in it can use its cash flow for the benefit of that community in any way the shareholders see fit. Thus, in addition to its basic maintenance and physical improvements, it could contract--locally or externally--any sort of services desired to enhance the lives of its residents, including services that have traditionally been the province of government but which have long been systematically reduced, marginalized, or eliminated in the US. For instance, property insurance, health care, education, daycare, elder care, security, garden care and landscaping, transportation, shipping services, telecommunications and cable/on-line TV services, food services, housekeeping, and so on. All this can be potentially rolled-into the 'package deal' of buying into the community at the democratic discretion of the resident shareholders. And, of course, everything is cheaper in 'bulk' thus by force of numbers the community as a collective can negotiate on the open market deals on such service contracts not possible for the individual, leading to a much lower intrinsic cost for such things if purchased on an individual basis--especially adding in the potential of local businesses which have a social incentive to minimize margins because their customers are neighbors, friends, and fellow shareholders. Altogether, this is a very powerful new way to think about community from an economic standpoint and for going about housing ourselves that really empowers people rather than exploiting them.
Another key benefit the microcity could potentially offer is a business incubator service package in combination with cooperative community co-investment and micro-lending through the CIC--once it's robust enough. Truth be known, Americans really suck at business. That might seem a strange suggestion but it's true. We have a very high rate of start-up failure simply because people come out of school as financially and economically illiterate as they are industrially illiterate. The average woman in a rural village in India knows more about practical economics and commerce than the average American college graduate. And this is born out in the extreme reluctance of our financial industry to actually support start-up business of any kind. Indeed, one now often has to be in business at least five years just to get a business checking account! And business lawyers routinely farm 'shelf corporations' to sell in packages with business credit cards to startup companies that normally can't get this any other way.
If we intend our microcity to be a haven for the entrepreneur, it would be sensible to cultivate the capabilities of a business incubator to support such efforts. This would include the creation of a local microloan program--just like that employed so famously in India--as well as other forms of start-up and cooperative investment as well as high cost facilities/equipment sharing and 'technical support' in the form of shared accounting, bookkeeping, banking, and legal services. This would also include adult educational programs sometimes featuring the community's own entrepreneurs and professionals as teachers. These days we really have to consider such services as almost as basic to our living needs as healthcare services--especially if we are cultivating a culture focused on entrepreneurship and invention. And we should aspire to cultivating a culture of positive nepotism where the businesses in a community operate in a mutually supportive way--because they are neighbors. (and under the, CIC co-investors) We have let objectivism run so rampant in the American culture that business people commonly treat all other business people like mortal enemies even if they aren't competitors. That doesn't help anyone but the few corporations already at the top. A community needs to function as a community socially AND economically.
Another less grandiose demonstration of economic cooperation that would be both environmentally beneficial and offer a great convenience to residents would be the implementation of a simple buying club, most likely starting as a venture founded by initial residents. The buying club would be a shopping service where a couple of people using a van take on-line order from residents for their groceries and other basic needs once or twice a week and do all that shopping collectively. This might seem an almost inconsequential service, but it would radically reduce the time and fossil fuel consumption routinely used in the community and overcome the inconvenience of distance from other shopping centers. This has always been a key feature proposed for Aquarius Seed settlements as it likewise overcomes some inconvenience associated with living off-shore. It's the same logistical issue as living 'in the country'. With such collectivized shopping, the power of numbers can come into play again to economize on the cost of most common goods, which the shopping club could begin buying in bulk directly from suppliers. And, of course, this would form the basis of a community 'general store' geared toward convenience goods that could be operated 24/7 as an 'honor store' where people can walk in and use a digital ID card for purchases at any time. This would be a precursor to the experimentation with future cashless anticipatory demand-based market systems.
Getting down to 'hardware', another key advantage of our microcity would be the option for comprehensive deployment of renewable energy, both integral to the architecture and on adjacent space. Likely locations of the microcity would see it set in relatively undeveloped areas typical of Edge Cities, such as former farmland. In such locations it's likely that the development project would need to purchase parcels far larger then its initial urban structure would use alone. Thus there's no obstruction to mass deployment of wind and solar power at its periphery. It has no one to answer to on the issue but its own, presumably more sophisticated and progressive, residents. The architecture could also integrate passive solar energy, but this tends to be rather hit-or-miss in practice so a primary reliance on active systems is more likely. Green sells. The ability to boast total reliance on solar and wind energy is a powerful attraction--and, of course, is also a potential commercial activity itself given expanding grid integration. With enough surrounding property, a solar/wind farm alone could be a chief supporting industrial activity for the community.
Using the same architecture as Aquarius, the microcity would likely be based on the same use of reinforced high-performance masonry construction retrofit using Utilihab or similar methods. We can now buy carbon-negative concrete products as well as many environmentally superior interior finishing products to further improve the community's impact profile. Another way to add to the green credentials of the community. Many other forms of sustainable technology could be implemented as well; composting plants, Living Machine blackwater and greywater processing, geothermal heating, large scale rainwater recovery, xeriscaping for perimeter landscaping, prairie restoration and organic farming on surrounding lands, on and on. All these things you just can't do in the usual city without being hassled.
As anticipated for intermediate stages of Aquarius, the basic structure of the complex would be like that of the typical unfinished office building and all space in the microcity would be outfit by retrofit, being offered to residents as loft space with broad window-walls they can outfit however they please using Utlihab or similar retrofit construction. A special thick sound-proofed demising wall system based on highly fire-resistant mineral foam insulation such as Airkrete would be employed in a modular tilt-up panel form supporting furniture and decorative cover panels over a surface-mount utilities space. (mimicking the way floor and ceiling surfaces would likewise be used) Most homes may employ an open-plan interior design and, as I've discussed elsewhere, the use of 'pod furnitecture' to provide a high degree of flexibility and a novel venue for personal creativity. As with the typical Aquarian home, the microcity home may be based largely on the use of modular shelving and cabinetry systems along demising walls and for a few key partitions while remaining space is outfit with furniture clusters and--often user-designed--mobile furniture 'pods' that define the functional zones of the home and can be easily moved about the complex when relocation is necessary.
To establish the community's potential as a cultivator of entrepreneurship, its structure would be designed with a ready supply of potential workshop and small shop space with many residence spaces designed specifically as live-work loft spaces. Again using that Villa Flotantte as a simple example, a predominately vertical approach to organization would be used with lowest terraces in the structure as well as some underground parking space set aside for optional light industrial and commercial space--that ground level a logical location for such things as walk-in workshops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants in the manner of old towns' residence-over-shop street configurations with possible heavy vehicle access from the 'back' (outer perimeter). This level might be more generally open to the public, providing visitor access to businesses and well showing-off the features of the community without getting in the residents way. The level above this would be suited to public offices such as doctors suites and to hosting daycare and educational facilities. Upper-most levels, with their expansive views, might also be suited to cafes, restaurants, and public lounges. As can be seen in the Maymont design, its top deck features a rooftop park ring with shade canopy. This is a likely use today, along with integration of solar and wind power systems and greenhouses, and would be a useful location for gyms and running tracks.
A key feature supporting the cultivation of entrepreneurship would be a shared community Fab Lab and workshop. This would host a compliment of the range of newer digital fabrications tools--fabbers, laser cutters, sign cutters, flat bed and dimensional CNC machines with options for milling, plasma cutting, and hydrocutting, more specialized PC board mills, digital weaving systems, the full compliment of manual woodworking and metalworking tools, and other general tools. It would also feature an extensive supplies and parts warehouse using the previously noted honor store model. The Fab Lab would serve primarily as a casual walk-in workshop for design, invention, and very small run production and an informal classroom for the education of residents in use of the tools, electronics, robotics, and general industrial literacy topics. In this way it would enable use of tools and technology that people individually might not be able to afford, enabling their invention/development to support their entrepreneurship. It would also have a very practical purpose in the production of Utilihab and other building system components and custom furniture for use in the community to allow residents to outfit and customize their homes. It would also have a smaller role in the community's own maintenance. This is one of the most important features of the community relative to the demographic it would seek to attract and the culture it would cultivate.
A key infrastructure feature and another very important attraction for the microcity would be inclusive access to very high performance Internet service with ubiquitous local WiFi and a corporate-class on-site data center, taking advantage of location along major telecom trunks. This would also include entertainment services. Again, the power of numbers would allow the community to negotiate for internet services as a whole, obtaining deep discounts with costs simply rolled into a standard monthly community maintenance fee--itself potentially defrayed by CIC commercial income. Internet access is now a key feature of the contemporary standard of living and a key factor in the choice of location for entrepreneurs, yet this is often still overlooked by municipalities.
Similarly, the complex would use its collective buying power to negotiate for discounted shipping services from companies like UPS and FedEx, relying on the fact that it would deploy a centralized pick-up/drop-off center that residents access on their own. This could also function as an outlet post office, regardless of whether directly supported by the USPS since it would have the option of functioning like a commercial mail drop.
Another possible infrastructure feature we could offer that would be exceptionally unique is one described for Aquarius as the Personal Packet Transit system and SuperStore. The community would likely start out far too small to have a need for the Personal Rapid Transit technology anticipated for the full-scale Aquarius. But it might still benefit from its smaller-scale cousin, the Personal Packet Transit system which would function like a dumbwaiter able to transport modest sized containers and packages throughout the complex. Based on a one meter cubed container, this would be used to send and deliver mail and parcels directly to homes and offices, both within the community and to the community's postal/shipping center for external shipping. Eventually, such facilities might even go global with the community managing its own air and sea container shipping services linked directly to regional ports and air terminals. (this is not an unusual thing anymore for small businesses. My own small business, which I run from home, routinely uses container shipping services)
The SuperStore is a community centralized automated storage facility, most likely placed in the underground parking space (later, deep interior structure), that would link to the PPT system to create a whole range of additional services. It would be divided into refrigerated and non-refrigerated zones and combine both personal, commercial, and community storage. It might also form the basis of the community data center, its same materials handling systems adapted to also function as an automated maintenance system for rack servers and maybe even capable of assembling its own storage structures. As a personal storage facility, the SuperStore would take the place of the cluttered garages and attics typical of suburban homes while allowing speedy automated access using a personal computer photo-database providing an easy means of cataloging and searching once's belongings. An access terminal would simply automatically photograph items as they are put into a container and save the images with the container index data. This would also facilitate moving as the system would be able to temporarily store and transfer many of one's smaller belongings during an in-complex move. For business and industrial uses, it would provide convenient fast-access storage of archived files, product, parts, and supplies with direct link right to production systems for input or output as well as linking to the community shipping center. It could also facilitate food services, serving as the ultimate digital 'automat', delivering groceries ordered through the buying club, and providing meal delivery from in-complex restaurants. Relating to this, the system could function as an automated virtual shopping center allowing residents to store, buy, sell, and barter goods without the need for any sort of storefront or individual warehouse. Again, this would also link to the community shipping center to facilitate linking of the SuperStore to Internet based commerce. As a community service it would store maintenance supplies, Fab Lab and community workshop supplies, and serve as an automated lending library that goes beyond books and media to the sharing of tools, art, furnishings, and even personal medical support equipment. This would tie in well with child and adult education. Finally, the PPT and SuperStore could be used to transport trash and facilitate recycling and composting.
At first the community may be a bit too small to effectively implement a PPT system based on a dedicated conveyor. Even with a one meter cubed container, it would be a bulky system for a any modest sized structure. (with the full scale Aquarius, PPT service was intended to integrate with the PRT using specialty cars and only special conveyors close to the access terminal point. This would afford the use of many size containers up to the scale of a walk-in closet as big as the PRT cab itself) So at first systems based on discrete mecanum wheel robot platform carriers might be employed, much like those used in hospitals, factories, and more recently in automated warehousing. These tend to be rather slow, however.
Before the advent of the automobile, older cities understood the necessity of something that is only now being rediscovered by New Urbanists; the concept of the Third Place. The Third Place is those places in the built habitat that are neither home nor work places and serve both to off-load some of the volume needed for personal space and create comfortable, casual, venues of socialization. In the European tradition this was the role of public squares, pubs, cafes, and gentlemen's clubs. (before that term took on a different connotation…) In the US, cities like New York featured pubs and bars, of course, but also smoking lounges, a diversity of hobby-oriented clubs, social clubs (which developed a later habit of turning into HQs for mobsters…), pool halls, arcades, bath houses, sports clubs, and the like. In Australia this took on the unusual form of 'mens sheds'; home workshops that became the private masculine retreat of married men and evolved into small local social clubs--rather like the club house featured in the Red Green Show. In recent times mens sheds have evolved a surprisingly sophisticated cultural and educational role in that country. With the introduction of the automobile and the flight of the middle-class, cities slowly lost their third places and even the memory of what their cultural importance was. The suburbs had no use for such things. They were impractical in a situation where every place had to be linked by automobiles and where people were expected to use their houses as microcosms of all non-work activity. In the suburbs there are no places to simply 'be' except at home--which is why older children are compelled to invent their own kinds of ad hoc third places places in shopping malls, neglected greenbelts, abandoned buildings, and whatever overlooked spaces they can find in that barren, placeless, centerless environment, always being treated like vermin by municipal authorities. We are very stupid about the kinds of messages we subtly communicate to our kids...
Near the end of the 20th century the Third Place was rediscovered in an unusual way, in Korea and Japan. It re-emerged with the phenomenon of karaoke and the creation of karaoke centers with sound-proofed rental lounges where groups of friends would gather for after-work recreation and the use of karaoke music systems combined with the light dining and drinking. This was then followed by a variety of themed lounges and cafes focusing on things like video games, manga libraries, and a variety of hobbies. Slowly, it is being rediscovered in the US with the advent of Makerspaces, Hackerspaces, and various group-built hobby-themed facilities. This is still largely an urban phenomenon. Such Third Places still can't function in suburbs because the hassle of driving ruins their casualness.
My Aquarius Seed concepts have long anticipated the resurgence of the Third Place with the inclusion, even at very small community scales, of community lounges, cafes, and Fab Labs. Beyond its important role as a place of cultivating industrial literacy and catalyzing invention and entrepreneurship, the community Fab Lab is intended to be a vital Third Place in a social and cultural context. The gardens of Aquarius are likewise a vital Third Place, serving as an open air art gallery, hosting cafes, some sports facilities, and providing any number of casual meeting places with varying degrees of privacy amidst it greenery. Community spas, baths, and health clubs are also possibilities, leveraging that power of numbers to afford shared amenities to a community that would be costly or inconvenient to own individually.
But I have also anticipated another new form of Third Place that is directly inspired by the karaoke phenomenon; the small group media lounge. Recognizing the tendency of contemporary people--now disconnected from extended families--to create tribe-like circles of friends (sometimes cohabitating before pairing off into married couples that sometimes deliberately share neighborhoods or develop cohousing) that are maintained by routine group activity such as 'movie nights', this concept takes the karaoke room to a whole new level by creating a kind of living room lounge environment combined with efficiency kitchen focused on a multipurpose large-screen media entertainment and telecommunications system. It would serve the combined functions of a small group movie theater, video and computer game theater, performance micro-theater, video conferencing center, video presentation room, and--of course--karaoke room. As with karaoke centers, these would be sound-proofed and grouped together in some number where they would also be provided with some light food service facilities. These and many other types of Third Spaces could be readily realized in the highly flexible space of the microcity and would be key lifestyle benefits.
What would the lifestyle offered in this microcity be like? Again, this begins with the type of people we would be trying to attract; young creative/technical professionals--designers, makers, programmers, hackers, artists and the like--seeking less expensive workshop and studio space and who recently have started being drawn to the 'Maker scene' in cities like San Francisco and New York much as artists were once drawn to the 'art scene' in those same cities in the late '70s. We're trying to realize a haven for new entrepreneurship and the invention of a new American Dream.
Individual dwellings could vary greatly in size across the complex, but would generally be fairly large, simple, loft-like spaces with expansive window-walls relying largely on open-plan interior design. As noted before, looking at that Ville Flottante picture, the space between vertical supports would likely define the general space divisions. They would be intended to accommodate small families as well as live-in studio arrangements. Some might be multi-level but I suspect most will be single-floor. As noted previously, there may be a common use of 'pod furnitecture' in these homes; semi-enclosed furniture structures that host the specialized features of traditional rooms in an almost appliance-like manner and which are designed for easy customization and mobility, include use of casters or air-bearings. This anticipates the design of pod dwellings in space habitats. This could lead to a novel form of co-habitation for some groups of people where a larger residence unit is occupied by personalized micro-cabins, each akin to a compact dorm room or Japanese 'rabbit hutch' apartment and freely moveable.
Though definitely urban in density, the microcity would have more of the aspect of a university campus or a city like Holland than the more decrepit cities we are usually familiar with. There would be no traffic noise or car pollution and the dominant feature of the space would be its expansive and sheltered garden environment. The biggest noise sources would be workshops and recreational activity. Use of electric and human powered personal mobility devices, hand carts, scooters, utility bicycles, golf-cart scale electric vehicles, electric ATVs for garden use, and various assistance robots would be very convenient in the environment. (and I would expect the kind of people in the community to be inventing and experimenting with all sorts of these) It might not be as well suited to traditional full size adult bicycle use because they travel too fast for an environment where everything is designed to favor walking. (small wheel bicycles like the famous Moulton and Bromton bikes and the recently introduced rear wheel driven dual-steering bikes--bikes with a steering pivot under both seat and handlebar like the Bicymple--might be an exception, given their better handling and stability at low speeds which makes them safer around walkers, though they are no slouches in long-range travel ability)
The two primary thoroughfares in the microcity--assuming a design akin to Ville Flottante--would be on the top deck and the perimeter of the garden. There would be some different options for others. One would avoid corridors in the conventional sense. The chief 'corridors' between dwellings would be vertical, along the vertical supports which would host stairs and elevators. Thus the traditional problem of poor noise control common to apartment buildings would not be an issue as most loft units would have a major structural element between them. Only where those are subdivided further would the sound insulation of demising walls be more critical. But we might improve this even further with the use of some full deck levels as enclosed 'interior avenues' that would have windows on two sides and host most of the features of community lounges as well as hosting things like vertical farm structures. If a dome enclosure is used they might also be fully open terraces facing the interior of the macrostructure. Such avenue levels--now often seen in skyscraper design--would also function as important fire-breaks in the structure. So even though this would be at an urban density, the apparent density would be more akin to a cohousing community with a high degree of privacy for many individual dwellings. People would commonly access their individual homes/loft units by elevator and stairs to avenue levels, having much potential casual random social contact but not in the cramped vias of typical apartment corridors.
The cultural environment of the microcity would be very much future-focused with most of its residents engaged in creative and technical careers and pursuing various forms of entrepreneurship. This would be very much a Bright Green culture. There would probably be a lot of hobby and recreation club activity as well as arts/culture activity. Just as the artists neighborhoods of the conventional cities were fond of frequent 'block parties', so would the microcity be host to a great many unconventional holidays and activity like outdoor movies and performances, as well as much more formal shareholder events. (though most of the formal CIC/shareholder activity would be mediated through asynchronous on-line communication) The microcity would not be a 'bedroom community'. It would be a place of combined residence, work, and recreation where people are actively engaged in making things, experimenting, seeking continual education and self-improvement, and where the minor inconveniences that might be associated with that are accepted. It may be a bit less welcoming to sedentary older people with a more conservative mindset--though as a place to spend retirement, it would be vastly superior to the usual elder community for those who want to stay socially and mentally active. Here you would have a living, whole, vital community where people matter.
The down-sides would be that, initially, much health care services would be at great distances from the community until it was large enough to host more of its own. It could, however, easily host its own volunteer EMS with a modest ambulance of its own always on-hand. Since we generally take so much for granted about how our daily lives actually work, there would be much work for initial residents in trying to implement as much of the services and goods availability in-community despite its small size and remoteness. We can't really account for everything in this context as this would technically be an experiment. That may be difficult for some to deal with as people--especially those with children--tend to be much more conservative about where and how they live and are very bothered by uncertainty. This will likely see fewer and smaller families among initial residents. Its close-nit community would tend to hinder some aspects of competition, favoring diversification over local competition in ventures unless they were focused more on external markets. Tribalism is also an obvious hazard in small communities, which is another reason for keeping well engaged with the world at large. American culture tends to have a problem with maintaining civility during family and romantic conflicts and, until the community was very large, it would be difficult for people in conflict to keep their distance from each other without one or both leaving the community altogether. Rather like the community of Star Trek's starships, it might prove useful to have professional 'counselors' whose role is to be social facilitators and conflict resolvers. (a role common for 'elders' in traditional village life but which we have no functional memory of in this Industrial Age) In terms of business activity, there is a risk of becoming a 'company town' with unsafe and unsustainable reliance on a single large corporate employer and shareholder. Such a community could be a big attraction to forward-thinking corporations like Google, but unless they can suppress their objectivist tendencies and recognize their social/community responsibilities they could suppress other resident business and development activity whenever it seems remotely competitive to them--and as I pointed out earlier, American business people tend to have a compulsion to treat all other business people as mortal enemies whether competitors or not. But as long as residents understand that they are, essentially, engaging in an experiment and understand that bugs must be worked out, such problems should be manageable.
So that sums up a picture of what a microcity development could be in the TMP context. By the way, I've also just explained how The Venus Project might also get down to founding its own prototype city, assuming it could get down far enough from the utopian high-horse to think about implementation. It's very much the same kind of development project and would likely be done in a very similar way. They face much the same problem we do, though. There just aren't a lot of real estate developers with a passion for creating communities as an art form. They just don't get that notion, otherwise we'd see these things being tried already. America might not be up to a challenge like this--it's investment culture too conservative, old, cowardly, and hard-boiled. It might take the sort of bold investors that, these days, we only see in places like China and the UAE.
> Interesting article on "walkable cities"
> Thu Feb 28, 2013 6:14 am (PST) . Posted by:"keithd21" keithd21
> From the FOOL:
> Our planned communities so far have largely focused on ideas for rural settings. The trends in the article suggest that the future, especially for the upwardly mobile, is urban. Can we get ahead of this somehow?
- Hi Eric,
Thank you for sharing the link to the German "quirky" community.
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Eric Hunting <erichunting@...> wrote:
> This brings up something I found recently and was looking for a good reason to post. A small photo gallery of a Green Living housing complex in Germany.
Later on in your long message of March 6th, you said this:
It no longer matters who your neighbors are, what their race or class status is, or how they choose to decorate their home.
Like almost everything anyone says, this line can be interpreted in either positive or negative ways. After considering a range of possible interpretations, I conclude you have hit upon a critical element of the recruiting plan for your community!
The fact is, there already exist human beings who share the attitude you have expressed, so it would appear to me to make sense to invite people who DO share that attitude already, to join your venture.
Your statement can also be interpreted as false, if one considers human beings who are by nature, selective in their association. Therefore, you would want to un-invite such persons to your community.
It also occurs to me that severe poverty drives down any inclination a person might have to try to select the people around them. Thus, you might find a ready audience in a pool drawn from those who live in deep poverty right now.
My guess is that as people gain mastery over their lives, they will tend to show a desire to find and live close to people they like and to avoid people whose behavior they don't like.
I'd like to put in a pitch here, for LUF to provide a framework for individual humans and their families to gain mastery over their environment, so that they can make the kinds of choices they are denied while living in poverty.