Sustainable Civilization: From the Grass Roots Up
Chapter VII - The City As Ecology - 2
Movement of people, and things. At the present, things tend to be moved by a human controlling a heavy powered vehicle. For the relatively slow need of cargo movement within a city, can we switch to some type of "pipeline" system where only the cargo moves, perhaps in an underground canal system?
Vehicles with solid wheels, running on a relatively smooth and level track, are probably at the top of energy efficiency and effectiveness in moving bulk or heavy cargo on land, long distances, between distance points of origin and destination. If a train car is 10' wide, and 60 long, it' has around 600 ft. sq. of roof surface. Using primitive estimates, 1 KW of sun per sq yard, 20% efficiency panels, the car can generate up to 13 KW in direct sun. I think that's around 17 horsepower. It's an approach which can work to keep some type of between city travel going. Steep grades could get a boost from trackside panels, or how about a trackside connection between trains going up and down the grade… The down train uses generators to brake, feeds the slope grid, and it's used to help the up train. Or the power could be stored for later use, with some further losses.
Intracity. Trains / trolleys / electric bus on a fixed route, central power allows a lighter vehicle (no battery weight), regenerative braking to distribute to the grid of vehicles. If these vehicles are to travel at any rate significantly faster than a walking pace, they need to be isolated from the surface pedestrian traffic. The two obvious options are putting them on raised track, or as subways. With either option, “stations” higher than the track conserves energy, using the uphill to slow the transport on entering the station, and downhill to resume speed on leaving.
A subway tunnel approach offers the opportunity for much heavier cargo, with less ongoing maintenance of the system. The subway does not necessarily need to be a large or luxurious. Think in terms of a large concrete storm drain pipe, with a sit-down only scale subway car. The city has 121 square mile grids, which if limited to one "station" per grid (not necessarily so limited) would put everything in the city within two six minute (brisk) walks, and a few minutes subway ride. In a similar below ground pipe system, heavy cargo could be floated in an enclosed canal, moved by low power pumps moving water to the “high” side of the system.
Personal transportation. Lightweight, low power, streamlined vehicles can still provide relatively "high speed" personal transport, especially in a compact city. Although pedestrians can cross flow at corners without stoplights, it doesn't work for vehicles. But stop and go wastes energy. Thinking in terms of human powered vehicles, or neighborhood electric vehicles, "roads" would only need to be improved walkways, and could be elevated to be essentially level and permit crossings without the typical city stoplight every 1/8 mile. Pedaling a bicycle / human powered vehicle, the "engine" needs exposure to clean and flowing air, further making this a "fit" with raised tracks.
Emergency response vehicles hybrid / fueled (i.e. alcohol or biodiesel), able to travel unrestricted by power connections or track.
Which existing community, if any, do you believe has the greatest potential for development into a "sustainable" human centered ecological environment, and what steps do you suggest to assist / guide such development?
A whole new city does not normally just happen. Cities typically develop at sites because of a natural resource, trade route intersection, etc. An ecocity starts with one of these existing cities and evolves.
Relative isolation from other large communities…
Walking to the city presents too much of a challenge in distance and/or conditions.
Adequate renewable resources within walking distance of the city center, which are or can be under control the city or city citizens. In particular for the author’s location in the desert southwest of the U.S., fresh water.
A variety of small businesses with potential post oil era viability. A climate tolerable without mechanical HVAC or burning fuel for heat.
Government / residents willing to accept/allow alternative construction, graywater use, etc.
Access to reliable power. A good stream/river drop for hydro, windmills, solar p/v, solar "steam", SOMETHING. (I don't see any practical substitute for electricity for nighttime lighting, or of course electronics, which seem to be a "floor" for continued progress)
Heirloom, one of enduring value. Design / engineer / build for quality and durability. In example, the author is still using a glass door bookcase inherited from my grandfather, meanwhile numerous "particle board" bookshelves I've purchased have crumbled, snapped, or otherwise quickly passed their useful life (not to mention the fumes from the particle board…)
Reduce. Design / engineer / build for zero toxics release. Act as though the city is inside a sealed bubble of its land footprint.
Reuse. When do you recall the metal structure of a washer or dryer wearing out? We need to engineer so that such durable parts can continue to be used without costly and energy intensive reprocessing. We need to have components that are easily disassembled and if still viable reused. Think of used item stores, or "ebay" where people auction off their "trash to treasure" items.
Recycle. Design / engineer / build for upgrading or recycling. Obviously bio-degradable products can be returned to the soil by microbes and re-grown into something else. Complex, high tech materials or artifacts probably need to be collected, categorized, and stored, or disassembled and stored, for re-use.
Self constructing / Self Replicating. Design / engineer / build to emphasize use of biological systems. Wood for example remains an incredible engineering / construction resource. Alcohol is a practical fuel where free roaming quick refueling power is required.
“The challenge is to get the market to tell the ecological truth.” - Ernst von Weizsäcker,
Sustainability is a broad concept, with a problem for sustainable economics exampled in the "529" college savings plans. In general, there is a choice between investment plans, and pre-paid tuition plans. If we were NOT saddled with an inflating currency, the cost of a college education would be virtually the same now, or 18 years from now, varying essentially based on the quality of the services and demand. In that scenario, the investment approach would seem to make more sense. In an inflating economy though, you are chasing a rising target, and the pre-paid tuition may work out to be a better bet.
Jobs. Performing a particular service for the same entity on a regular basis.
Professions. Performing a particular service for a variety of entities on a regular basis.
Repair or replacement would appear to take a higher place then expansion or completely new facilities (at least not those that simply provide the same use or service as something already in existence. Without resources being wasted in ongoing construction of new facilities, to perform the same “old” services (housing or providing for an expanding population) “new” facilities would rationally represent completely NEW needs or capabilities, vs rehashing of the old.
Even in so far as law, as personal responsibility and “common sense” is brought back into the picture, one would hope that frivolous legal cases would fade into the background. (Yes folks, this is an attorney commenting that we have far too many “B.S” – and I do not mean Bachelor of Science – cases in the legal system.) Far too many times, I’ve seen lawyers for parties “churn” cases, make motions, file documents, interrogatories, demands for discovery, etc., not necessarily for vital information, but as a means to harass the other party in a case while running up fees.
We need creative thinkers, those who can look at what we have, and what we know, and envision something that is better.
The city can be composed of individual family homesteads, of whatever construction each family can manage, or a single large arcology. What matters is the relationship of numbers of people, and reuse of resources.
Night outside illumination for paths, placed below eye level. If electrical consider centralized bulbs with fiber optics for the individual walkway lights. Just enough to light the ground but leave the night sky visible.
Venturi effects of terrain and structures which increase air velocity may be used to improve the harvest of wind energy.
Water collection. All rain should be directed into cisterns or on to a stream system. Wind could be used to pump water to "high ground" for gravity pressurization of the delivery system.
Modification and upgrades. The physical structure of the city, when physically modified, needs to be modified with future upgrade in mind. For example, how many times have the streets in your community been torn up and repaved because a particular pipe or wire was being repaired or added?
Multi-purpose Zoning. Interweaving work, play, learning, socializing, and other activities. So long as the noise, light, and visual interference of a home and a restaurant don't intrude on each other, why can't such be side to side? It is generally undesirable to have isolated areas devoid of "eyes watching". All of those facilities "needed" on a "day to day" basis should be within walking distance of the homes served.
Energy Co-generation. Using waste energy from one process in a different process which needs it.
Present cities rely on the production of widespread markets to supply food. Absent cheap transportation the city MUST have a more direct connection with the food source. It must recycle the human and resident animal effluent safely, efficiently and effectively back in to the food production system. The city be able to feed itself from within the resources under it's control
Open field agriculture is the present standard. This method, at least as practiced, is dependent on fossil fuel to operate farm equipment, process and deliver food to cities, and is also dependent on chemical fertilizers to feed the crops. It is an open ended process which moves from oil to food to cities to the dump or the sea. It is not sustainable.
Attempts have been made to use processed sewage sludge as fertilizer, but these have encountered the problem of contamination. Not everything that ends up in a city sewer has first been eaten and digested by a human. The typical city sewage is contaminated with metals, toxic chemicals, etc. that go down our drains.
Closed loop agriculture. We've go to close the loop on recycling the nutrients from human effluent as close to the source as practical, while also minimizing the opportunity for contamination. The closer that the recycling is to home, the more the residents will take personal responsibility for ensuring the safety of the system.
Urban Landscaping. City landscaping can be a food source. Microclimates created within the city can make for a rich urban ecology and substantial biodiversity.
Farm Staff. Current U. S. farming has I believe 2% of the population working to feed the rest of us. Shooting for the same %, the city needs 20,000 people working in food production.
Assuming 250,000 cultivated acres in a farming belt, it's about 12.5 acre for each person to work. With a shift to greater concentration on trees and other perennial crops in a permaculture approach and with "temporary" help is doesn't sound like an impossible task.
The city has 134,400 homesteads. If the home gardens are instead tended by master gardeners, working a 40 hour week, the gardener would have only around 1/2 hour per property. This again appears to point toward perennial / long term crops, vs annuals that must each year be coaxed up from a basic seed.
Keeping strangers away from one's back door is a significant design consideration.
Internal. An essentially pedestrian city provides a lot of eyes and ears in the public arena, and a mix of zoning minimizes regularly scheduled "abandoned" sites. Start with the concept of neighborhood watch, and expand.
Crime. We tolerate too much, and have abdicated too much responsibility to our elected and professionally paid law enforcement employees. Get off your butt, refuse to be intimidated, and act on the fact that you have arrest authority. If your state or local government does not allow you to do so, and does not allow you to be armed in the same manner as the police, perhaps you should consider it is time to gather and move your assets to somewhere that recognizes your independent right to exist and deal with the world.
External. The city must be prepared to exercise self-defense. Whether peacetime or war, a question is what about visitors? A city, that is NOT in collapse, in a world that is, will be a primary destination for many. But the city CANNOT accept everyone who approaches. There MUST be some approach, some “welcome center” where potential new recruits for residency are evaluated and an determination made whether there is excess resources, and whether they should be offered on a temporary / permanent basis to any particular individual, and the terms overall.
The next level up in government. In most locations at least in the U.S., a city can appoint as law enforcement whomever it wants. In argument, it could be every citizen of the city. If your state or higher government prohibits this, again, it may be time to move your assets.
Other governments. Your city, your state, your nation. What other government do you recognize as having authority to control your life? The United Nations?
Non-governmental organizations. If you did not vote for them, did not invest money in them, and do not care about their policies, don’t let them interfere with you.
In theory the misery generated at the earlier discussed levels by an expanding population should make it clear the city also cannot expand. But if your city gains attention as the most advanced in sustainability, and we are in the post-peak oil era, who believes that the city WON'T be challenged by a population influx? How do you stop it?
POLITICS / GOVERNMENT
When the government falls, those to whom violence and force are no stranger will take over. They will not necessarily be the best, brightest, or even the strongest. They may simply be the first to use violence to impose their will. Consider if you will the "turf wars" among gangs, and their escalation if there is no organized police force to oppose them.
At each level, surviving communities will need some form of organized government, and defense. When our complex and oil dependent government system dies, Feudalism may again rise to replace the missing layers of government. I discount "elected" officials, because, at least in our present system, those elected are primarily there due to a popularity contest, based on their promises to tax and spend, rather than an understanding and ability to manage. In those large cities which manage to survive, the police commissioner may be the individual with the greatest power. For smaller communities, the natural leader to arise seems to be the County Sheriff.
During and immediately post-crash, there will be an excess of people, well beyond what can be sustained. I suspect that there will be little tolerance for criminal acts, or thought of scarce and valuable community assets taken to support a prison population. A "kind" sentence will be expulsion. A "standard" sentence will probably be death.
If the city is a governmental entity, while authority remains, it must comply, including with access, allowing protests, etc. If the city entity was a private corporation, it would under present law be able to exclude non members.
However the city is organized, the charter needs to be fixed, unchangable except by unanimous agreement of all votes. How about each village has 1 senator to the city, selected by the representatives of the Homestead associations. NO elected position to be paid.
A city of a million people, covering 121 square miles, with 134,400 homesteads surely presents a situation where some formal organization / governance is required. Doesn't it? What is the minimum required "government?
Radical concept? What if the government declined, or was unable, to register a lien on real property? You could and buy sell real estate, but it would not be available as security for a loan, or as an asset which can be attached in a lawsuit. Thoughts?
Ecological Industry - A potential function of the city core is repair / recycling / manufacturing of complex products, and storage of parts / materials in the area most readily accessible by the bulk of the residents. Many aspects logically need to be centralized. Consider that a high temperature "foundry" can be solar powered, but the mirror set up would be a large device, requiring careful construction and operation, not practical to replicate or operate on a small scale.
The folks at Columbia University, New York City, New York, have worked up a theoretical food system where a city building is used to produce food for a significant number of city residents. Under typical present law, to actually implement such would require the support of city agencies such as building code, health, planning, sanitation, etc. Their model for concentrated commercial urban farming to feed 50,000 people in the City of New York is a 48-story building, either 90,000 ft2 or 250,000 ft2, depending on necessary requirements.
Doing the math, their preliminary statement appears to claim only between 1.8 & 5 square foot per person is needed to produce food, while their wheat discussion indicates a best non-stop production of 292 sq. ft. per person. Whether or not such a building is long-term sustainable given present knowledge and materials, it presents an interesting use for what may become abandoned city buildings. Outside of their food analysis, consider such a modified structure as a recycling, or bio materials resource. (See the book Biomimicry, by Janie M. Benyus) Use of a closed environment, provided the power is available to manage heat, light, and water condensation, presents a tremendous opportunity for the growth of water intensive crops (i.e. cotton) without the waste of the precious resource in open field evaporation. It provides a very controlled environment for plant cross breeding experiments.
If you contemplate it, machines and industries can be formed into food webs and ecologies, just as living creatures. So far, they just can't do it on their own. Within a long term sustainable, ecological city, where there can be no constant external input, and no "garbage" to continuously dispose of, we must arrange our industry so that the effluent from one process is the feedstock of another.
The raw materials on Earth have been here essentially since the planet coalesced. Atoms in your body may have been part of Julius Cesar, or ancient dinosaurs. In the biological arena, everything is designed to be disassembled to some level or another, and re-used. We need to apply the same rationality to our industry and products.
The new "raw material" for industry will be "old" products. The easier used or broken items are to disassemble to a useful level, the greater the ease for creation of a new product. A comparison though:
Aluminum cans are readily recycled, but they require a great deal of energy to melt and re-engineer into a new can. Glass bottles are readily recycled, potentially by just washing and putting on a new cap. Re-use of the unbroken, uncontaminated glass bottle requires MUCH LESS energy and handling than recycling of the aluminum can.
Technology such as cell phones can avoid processing and laying miles of copper wires, but present cell phones are much more fragile than most hard-wire phones, and dependent on batteries that represent a constant flow of toxics. To get an honest market price for any product containing toxic materials means requiring the industry bear the cost of recycling.
We need approaches to high-tech materials that do not require use of toxic materials and leave dangerous residue. I understand we already know the principles of zero-pollution production, but don't because it's still cheaper, in terms of money, to continue polluting. When dumping costs rise, business looks for alternatives. In the city (or on the Earth as a whole), there IS no "away" to throw things to. Even for substances well below the scale human can directly deal with, select organisms can remove remaining trace pollutants, and concentrate them for re-use.
Education. Higher education, or specialized programs are a natural, low energy, but high profit effort for a city. Even if the population of the future is concentrated in cities, there will be those who elect to live in less dense areas, who will nevertheless seek local services. They will need teachers, engineers, doctors, etc. The city offers clear opportunity for specialized education and experience that becomes a valuable trade item over a broad area.
Culture. Museums, libraries, art and entertainment, etc. are natural outcomes of the specialization possible in a city. A key aspect is NOT reaching the point where one aspect holds a gun to the head of another to force them to subsidize the lifestyle or choices of another.
A city of a million people, covering 121 square miles, with 125,000 homesteads surely presents a situation where it would seem some formal organization / governance is required. Doesn't it? What is the minimum required "government?
Do you want to live under a government that issues orders to you, or that reacts when someone interferes with your property rights? (Rights to your body, your personal items, and your real estate.)
How much authority over your property, your life, that that of your children are you willing to sign-over to someone else?
ETHICS / MORAL
Austerity will be a fact of life. To use a extreme example for us in the modern, "First World", what is going to happen, even in a city of a million, to an infant born with a lifetime crippling defect?
If the family is sufficiently wealthy, perhaps they could manage to provide for appropriate care/assistance, even in their own absence. But, absent the artificially robust economy, profits, and taxes provided by the cheap energy from oil, how could even a city of a million afford a "publicly funded" program to provide for this child, or any other person incapable of providing some service to "earn their keep"? And if a city of a million can't afford to provide a lifetime of care, what happens in smaller communities?
In the 1950's and 1960's, talk of atomic war prompted some to prepare fallout shelters. At the time, and perhaps in retrospect, some saw the shelter building activity as foolish. But if done well, those shelter spaces continued to be an asset, and may once again, in the coming crash, prove their value as fallout shelters. The shelters were, and are, a form of "insurance". So it is I see every aspect and level of "sustainability", from your one tomato plant, to a self-reliant city of a million. It is personal insurance. It is "life insurance" for your family and heirs. It is insurance for civilization.
DEMOGRAPHICS FOR THE LONG-TERM
Population evenly distributed across an age range of 1 to 80. Average births do not exceed replacement with children born to parents who in an age range of 20 to 40.
There is no need for new home construction. Family homesteads, each an area approximately 100' x 100' (about ¼ acre) house multi-generation families of 8 to 10 people.
Homesteads are arranged into neighborhoods, each a square six homesteads on a side, twenty total. These surround a central courtyard 400' x 400'. Each neighborhood association (about 40 acre) is a gathering averaging 160 to 200 people.
Neighborhoods are arranged into villages, each a square eight neighborhoods on a side (one square mile). The central 40 acres is reserved for shops, schools, etc., putting schools and business within roughly ½ mile of every homestead. Each village contains 60 associations and is a gathering of 9600 to 12,000 people, with around 120 to 150 people of each age (grade in school).
Villages are arranged in a grid eleven on a side, with a city core of nine square miles in a central “X”. The city has 112 villages and averages 1,075,200 people, around 13,400 of each age.
If basic education is considered as age 6 thru 18, there are 80,640 kids in school, requiring 4032 teachers.
Aiming for an educated workforce, and low stress "elder" years, consider the educated workforce to be ages 22 thru 56, this is around 407,400 people. Minus 4032 as teachers and 2% of the total, or 21,504 as gardeners, the employable population is 444,864. The city is large enough to sustain demand for specialists in education, medicine, sciences, etc.
CONSIDERING GREATER LEVELS
An eco-city of a million can be a tool to preserve education and skills, and continue development. It obviously exceeds the capabilities of a dispersed hunter gatherer society of the same population of a million, or any other non-urban approach.
I do not see how a dense, yet ecological community would be able to significantly exceed a population of 1 million, or occupy an area less than that set out above, which if you have limited rainfall, is an area 55 miles on a side (3025 sq. mile). Nor do I see how the same million spread less-dense could maintain the level of interaction necessary.
Yet to house 6+ billion people, it would take SIX THOUSAND such eco-cities, which would cover over 18 million square miles. The total temperate area of the Earth is around 37 million square miles.
What we actually have in place at this time is worse. We have 6+ billion people disbursed over the six continents of the globe, which logically means that our present cumulative human footprint EXCEEDS this area. Yet with our current "system", with all of the additional, non-renewable input, we still cannot provide adequately for the population.
To implement such low-energy eco-cities in sufficient time to provide for the entire present population appears to require magic.
If we wanted to limit ourselves to diverting say 10% of the total productive land space to human activity, it would be 3.7 million square miles, limited to around 1,200 of such cities, or a total global population of 1.2 billion. That population though could live in relative abundance, and peace.
Setting aside for the moment the arbitrary laws written by humans, what would be the minimum physical requirements of peaceful interaction of individual ecological communities?
Chapter VII - The City As Ecology - 2