Alrighty, I'm back to this. I would like to give a big thanks to the folks who have given me all the constructive criticism on my ideas, they have been ridiculously helpful in fleshing out a dream. There's still much work to be done, as I haven't nearly scratched the surface. That being said, the goal here is still simple: To outline the broad strokes of the project and from there, put forth an actionable plan. This might take some time, but I don't mind.
If you haven't read the other parts of this series of idealistic mindfuckery, please check them out here:
And without further Adieu...
A Mid-Stroke Retrospective
A lot of reading, research and mind-melting has gone into spewing forth something that doesn't sound like a retard wrote it. Some might suggest that indeed, a retard wrote it. I might agree. But one thing is for certain; If this is retardation, I love it.
I might put forth that none of what I propose is technically new. This is taking a lot of inspiration from a lot of different thinkers over the years, and I believe this makes sense in many ways. If we are to move forward and find a way to get a magnum opus level project like this off the ground, starting off tabula rasa is probably not the best solution. After all, why reinvent the wheel? Well, maybe the wheel is a bit... asymmetrical. It needs to be hammered out a bit, bent into a shape that more perfectly resembles a circle. Right now, I'm somewhere between "square" and "oval". I would absolutely hate to strand myself in the delusion that I have finally found the perfect answer to well.. much anything. After all, fallible human here.
That being said, I am the beneficiary to the life's work and constructive criticisms of many people, both living and dead, and am now free to impose upon you the burden of thinking with me. The shoulders of giants isn't just the greats of History; It's the people you surround yourself with as well. Let's make that Axiom 5:
5.) No one individual is exempt from Criticism, and History provides lessons to be learned.
Good. Now what of Infrastructure?
The Practical Bits and Pieces.
If there ever was a truly actionable plan in the realm of Intentional Community, laying out how people get things, where they go and what they do in the actual physical community is of paramount importance. Nobody lives in a book or a Crypto Blog, now do they? The place where all of this is going to be built is just as important as the theoretical structure. A great, long talk of infrastructure is going to be necessary. So, where do we start?
Building a City.
The intentional community should be one that represents a “microcosm” of the world at large in terms of available infrastructure and resources. The major difference is that these things should be approached in a manner that allows for greater efficiency without sacrificing quality. There would be some changes that might at first glance appear to be quite different from the rest of the world, and admittedly, might require personal adjustment. However, the idea is that the changes made will be vastly outweighed by the benefits gained. The natural next step is to suggest that the community be entirely self sufficient. I would argue that this will not be the case at the outset, nor would it serve well under Axiom 4 to attempt this before its time. Remember, interoperability with the outside economy and government is essential, and a give and take should be considered simply part of the game. At first.
That being said, the ultimate goal is to achieve self sufficiency if the time comes where peaceable and practical expansion is undertaken, should the project be successful. This is in part because of the axioms, but also because some of the innovations necessary to reach self sufficiency are likely not yet realized. That in part is what I hope to accomplish in due course through encouraging and facilitating innovation within the populace. There is more to this that will be covered in the Growth section of this series.
I am - at risk of being deficient in rigor - lumping together several interesting aspects of the community in terms of infrastructure for the sake of brevity. Each of the items I cover here would be done greater justice in a single chapter of a book for each, or more. That’s the legwork to be done soon.
MAJOR ASPECTS OF COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE
1.) Water/Wastewater Management. Working in the field I do, I understand the importance of water. It is the life force of a community. People simply cannot live without it. Surprisingly, it is not as simple as where one gets their water or where the used wastewater in its many forms goes after the fact, but also one of nature.
I very often work with subdivision plats, drainage surveys and grading plans. Runoff is a HUGE piece of the community pie, because it just so happens that if you don't have proper drainage for your runoff, you end up with costly floods. In the United States Government, floodwater is really important. In fact, FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency does a shitton of work in identifying flood zones and issuing flood insurances to homeowners. We are talking billions of dollars of money every single year. While I do believe that sourcing water and processing wastewater is important most definitely nontrivial, managing runoff is essential. With that being said, I have some preliminary ideas (COMPLETELY open to debate) that would assist not only in managing water runoff, but perhaps also using it as source of water.
First, let's get a few non-brain busting principles out of the way. First, in order to make water flow, you need gravity. Incredibly obvious, right? Water flows from higher elevations to lower elevations, just as if you were to roll a ball down a hill. The second prinicple is that in order to achieve sufficient flow of water from one elevation to another, there is a minimum "grade" you need in order to do it. If you have pavement, that grade, or change in elevation has to be 1%. In the situation of turf or landscape, you need at least 2%.
I introduced numbers, but don't let that scare you off. I'll explain! Say you have a 1% slope for a distance of say, 100 feet. That 100 feet is the horizontal distance between two points, and we call that the RUN of the slope.If you remember back to your basic high school math, the slope equation is (RISE)/(RUN). The rise is but the total drop between the two endpoints of the run. Here's a potato image to visualize:
Real Potato Quality.
The total height the water falls is the Rise, and that can be calculated by this: RISE = (SLOPE) x (RUN). When we change the 1% to 0.01, multiply that 100 feet by 12 to get the number of inches, we get:
RISE = (0.01) x (1200 inches) = 12 inches.
The rise from the lowest part to the highest part of our run is 12 inches, which means that our GRADE changes by 0.12 inches per foot. That means for every foot we travel forward, we drop our elevation by 0.12 inches if we want water to efficiently travel downward on pavement or concrete or some other equally flat surface.
These are really simple calculations for a simple example and would require more work and thought when we finally put things together. Your layout of turf and pavement/concrete/whatever will affect how you get water to flow to some particular place, and how. As for my initial plan, here's the broad strokes: what if you wanted to create the community to make use of this runoff by design? Well, you could do it one of two ways. The first would be to have an underground storm sewer system that would make use of grading to get that water to flow to inlets, where the water would then be transported to a lake, retention pond, whatever. Storm sewers are... somewhat expensive to implement and is usually done in the the initial construction of a subdivision or community. That being said, I have another potential way to get it done.
Let's say you had a community that has the goal to process this runoff water for potability and wanted to find a novel method of transporting it from one place to another without mucking about with storm sewers. One thing you could do is design everything to where the highest point in your community is the exact center, and the lowest point is the borders of the community. The easiest immediate way one might be able to do this is to make the entire community circular in shape, with slope in any place being adjusted for turf or pavement to collect in one or more areas that then converge on a place that processes it. If you were to exaggerate the slope, you would essentially be looking at something that bears a striking resemblance to a cone, or a triangle if viewed at its profile:
Additionally, there would need to be several collection sites around the perimeter that pump or otherwise transport water to one place that would then be used as a location for treatment and integration into the water supply. Now of course, the civil engineers among my readers (if any) might scoff at the idea, but I see this as a way of integrating proper drainage without the future costs of maintenance of a traditional storm sewer. More work will surely be necessary.
Another thought is that if we wanted to implement a more decentralized system, we could set up the community where water is both treated and stored at multiple strategic locations, or even on a per-domicile basis with any excess being processed at the end as well. OR if you wanted a really Medieval feel to your community, just have it all drain into a moat. My inner child would personally vote for this option. As for processing and distribution, automated or semi-automated solutions should be arrived at as time goes on. This is something that actually really excites me and I want to expound on this idea very soon.
As for wastewater (such as you know... piss and shower water), the community might benefit from a more centralized solution for processing. I have some other ideas for this, which I will integrate later. And of course, actual water piping and other considerations in households would be important to work out in an efficient manner, which I hope to get to later as well. For now, broad strokes.
2.) Solid Waste Management.
In a sentence, solid waste consists of two major items: Shit and Trash. How in the hell do you take care of SHIT? In traditional cities, these things are managed by sanitary sewers, which transport all the peepee, doodoo and greywater to one place and treats it. Fun fact: the average american creates about 320 pounds of shit per year. I'm ready to hear the jokes.... Americans are full of shit. I can't speak for all of us, but I can tell you that standing at 6'2" with a similar weight, they DEFINITELY do stack it that high.
Treatment is actually a really fascinating process, and it consists of multiple steps that separates, breaks down, and dries out the doodoo sludge. It's a process that nature has been doing since the beginning of time, with people doing it in a controlled manner for over a hundred years with both aerobic and anerobic bacteria. The byproducts (The gasses and "biosolids") of the process can be used for anything from electrical generation to fertilizer. It's kinda weird to think about because honestly, not a whole lot of us do that. Hell, I never really thought about it that much, either.
Another method of disposing of waste would be to use a system such as a composting or "Dry" toilet that diverts urine and - using several methods - transforms it into something to be used as fertilizer on the back end. If that sounds a bit too "hippy-ish" for you, then I understand. But look at it this way; by making use of things in a semi-sustainable way, resources and money is saved over time. What this means is that the overhead for natural parts of our daily lives can be used to both bring in money (by say, selling useful byproducts) and keep us from unnecessarily spending it (though say, costly overhead). I think this is a good thing, especially if the idea is to keep a community focused on innovating and thinking efficiently.
A good argument that can be put forward is that centralized waste treatment can be more efficient for a larger service area over time. If this is the case, then it should definitely be taken advantage of. Finding ways to automate and streamline these processes with experimentation is definitely in the cards for our future community, and a good reason why you would wanna do it to begin with. I could foresee "hybrid methods" being implemented that take advantage of both a centralized treatment and a decentralized composting plan.
But poop is just one piece of the pie; what of trash? Well, that's something I think we can find some really great ways of managing. The first and foremost idea is simply recycling. The EPA has a breakdown of Municipal Solid Waste products, and it looks something like this:
What really amazes me about this information is how much YARD TRIMMINGS there are in waste. That's a definite large amount, but the largest by far is paper. Anyone with a drawing app or a word processor can tell you that paper could be an easy waste product to reduce if we found ways to both convey and create information using these products on a regular basis. Excess food and those darn grass trimmings can be used in much the same way poop can in composting. The others such as glass and plastics can be mitigated with more efficient packaging, or in some cases no packaging at all for any products manufactured within the community. Of course, people will still shop in stores outside the community that put things in traditional packaging, and I wouldn't throw shade at people for wanting to do that.
However, emphasis must be placed on recycling, and thinking about our trash, and for some good reasons:
1.) It Minimizes solid waste. This is turn can mitigate costs of disposal.
2.) Recycling anything from electronics to metals makes these things available for reprocessing and use in other areas of the community. Back in March I wrote an article on how the coronavirus is changing a bunch of shit in our lives. In that piece I discuss the value of decentralization with respect to the concept of resource allocation and scarcity. Proper logistics, automation, recycling, and sourcing would be necessary in order to have at hand the resources one needs to make essentially anything. I'm gonna get into that in just a minute.
I think that a special area in the community needs to be dedicated to recycling and re-purposing discarded materials, and then stock these materials for usage in constructing other things on-site.
This is possibly among the most important things a community needs. In order to run ant electronics or machinery, having an abundant and cheaply available source of energy is necessary. Some pie-in-the-sky idea might be to eventually have some miniaturized fusion device that can run all of the community's needs for an extended period of time. Sure, that would be awesome. However, as the old joke goes, fusion is about 30 years away. Doesn't help us now.
That being said, we do have a fusion device available to us. Hell, it's the largest, closes and most ancient fusion device near us. I am of course talking about the sun. The sun has a fuckton of energy. In fact, if you compared the amount of energy from the sun that hits Earth in an area the size of Texas to the total energy produced each year, it's about 300 times more. There is more than enough energy to go around, but there are two problems that we have and are slowly solving: Capture and Storage. Solar panels are the capture mechanisms that are becoming cheaper by the year due to economies of scale. Right now, less than ten miles away from my home, a company is putting up a gigantic solar array. As the market shows, solar is becoming an increasingly effective means of acquiring energy. Hell, I bought a single 1kW solar panel for less than 100 dollars a few weeks ago.
That leaves storage. How would people store this energy in a community long term? There's a couple ways that could be done, and I would love to go into more detail now but that would make this entry longer than it should be. Here's the basics: Lithium ion battery banks and Flow Batteries. Lithium for massive commercial scale storage is being implemented in many places right now, and flow batteries are essentially huge reservoirs of electrolytes that can be charged and discharged. These both have their own issues, and weighing out the pros and cons are necessary to get the right solution. Innovation and research will be needed to find a good answer to this.
There are other considerations that we must assess after the energy infrastructure is generated: usage and distribution.
Let's talk about usage first, and to properly do so, I wanna take you back to 2008. It was a great time. I took a trip to Thailand on a study abroad program at my university. I was young, awkward and retarded, and it was a good time. I was even in a film documenting the journey.
Skinner, Before The "Fat Ginger Man" and "Crypto" Titles. I miss my hair.
Any case, I discovered in Thailand, they do things a little differently. For example, your hotel keys have a little card on them that urns on the electricity for the room when you enter. In order to have the power on, that key needed to be there. At the local university, their elevators only all the way up and all the way down, stopping only on particular levels. The Thai had some really interesting ways to keep from wastefully using energy, and I believe the same general idea should be implemented in the community. A really good look at how energy is used and can be used more efficiently is of paramount importance.
Distribution is very interesting, considering that most cities today more or less rely on a really large centralized grid. If a piece of that grid fails, or if the plants fail, You're done. Power is gone. Again, the lessons of crypto have shown us another application for decentralization. Ideally, it would be great to have each domicile have their own solar energy production and battery banks. If one fails, the others will still have energy. Costs of maintenance would certainly be less, since there would be little overhead in the way of transformers and the like. As the economies of scale continue to decrease the costs of solar energy, this could become increasingly feasible. With each domicile constructed to be as energy conscientious as possible, fewer panels would be necessary to power a home. Surplus could be stored. A "local Grid" that connects each home to a primary solar array could be an interesting way to provide backup as well.
I foresee a possible distributed control system that takes into account say, the weather on a particular day and allows the house to efficiently switch from say, obtaining direct power from the panels to reduce the load on the battery storage, and relying on the battery storage when necessary such as at night. Nice long and bright summer day? no problem. Power is diverted directly to use. Stormy? Time to switch to backup.
In the name of interacting with the outside economy, Solar energy may be a great tool to give excess generated power to the traditional grid, which in the long term could provide a source of income for anything from maintenance and expansion to research and development. That's the ticket, folks. While the "green" aspects of renewable energy is indeed great, there are fantastic financial incentives for doing things like this. It's a great selling point.
4.) Food, Efficiently.
Humans need more than shitters and houses. They need to eat, and that's a really big deal. There's two things that I wanna cover in this section, and that falls under farming (vegetables and such) and complete proteins (you know... like beef).
Let's start with the farming option. Without relying entirely on the outside world, how would we efficiently grow a good amount of food plants in a limited amount of space? I propose two things broadly which I believe hold the answer; Aeroponics and Vertical Farming. Now, Aeroponics is absolutely fascinating to me. In a word, aeroponics uses a mixture of nutrients and water that is atomized into small droplets over the roots of plants in a controlled setting. This controlled setting allows for the plants to grow without pesticides or bad weather and uses an absolute minimum amount of water necessary. NASA has been working in this for years, and it is the ultimate optimization strategy for growing plants without the need of a soil medium.
Secondly, the idea of having vertical farming mechanisms is by far the most important aspect. Traditional farming requires land. Quite a bit of it. IF you have a discrete area for a community, that can take up space really fast. vertical farming takes the advice, "If you can't build out, build up" to its most logical conclusion. The major benefit we see with this kind of farming technique - even moreso with the addition of aeroponics - is efficiency in water and plant resource usage. It really is extraordinary. Having said that, there are caveats; In terms of energy, this can be rather... intensive, especially if you're using special types of artificial lighting to get the job done. This is definitely an area of research that needs to be addressed, but I do think that economically speaking, this is in part answered with the introduction of renewable energy. The solar panel cost could in fact offset the area concerns, but if we are already utilizing solar for other aspects of the community, then it really isn't a loss. It's just one other aspect.
Also, controlled environments means better conditions needed to facilitate automation. Imagine for a moment that you have an aeroponic system in place on a particular level of the vertical farm that is dedicated to say, chives. The chives are grown soilessly and in a very specific area on an aeroponic rig. This could be taken advantage of to construct robotics that can harvest and process these goods, and then send them to another place for pickup and distribution. Something similar could be accomplished with many different food plants! This has to be among some of the most exciting parts of the process, being able to efficiently grow food in a way that really feels futuristic. It is amazing. Additionally, it allows an application of governance; what exactly will we plant? Will there be a scheduling system or seasonal items? What does the community desire, by and large? It can be custom tailored to the tastes of the people.
The next thing we wanna talk about is protein. There are several ways we could get this done if we were looking for a more efficient alternative to say, traditional beef/chicken/pork products. One of these might disgust my Western Readers. I would again ask, as I always do, to keep an open mind to this. Listen to the idea.
The first thing you need to know about efficiency in producing proper protein from cattle is the idea of Feed Conversion Efficiency, or FCR. The higher your FCR, the lower your efficiency. For example, the traditional farming of cattle has an FCR of where around 6. The FCR of different types of fish in an aquaculture scenario is anywhere from 1 to 2. However, there is one common animal that has a really low FCR and has the potential to provide us with a complete protein while limiting the amount of space needed to grow them: Crickets.
YES, Crickets. Don't run away, I know. I was kinda weirded out by it at first as well. Here's the thing; crickets are used all over the world as food. They have an FCR of less than 1 in most cases (depending on the study you read) and can be processed i many different ways to create different types of things you would traditionally eat. Hell, with the right process, you wouldn't even know you're eating insects. They have been added to different recipes for burgers to energy bars and more. That's a hell of thing. They're easy to grow, easy to process (you can just process the whole damn thing without having to cut off pieces of it) and if the anecdotes reflect reality, easy to eat.
I could imagine that a portion of a vertical farm or even some other structure could be used primarily to cultivate and process crickets for consumption. Low cost food for everything the body needs (after perhaps a little bit of cooking and adjustment).
5.) Local Manufacturing and Industrial Facilities.
In order to strike the balance between our self sufficiency and interoperability of the world, we need to take a look at what we can make for ourselves instead of buying it elsewhere, and how we can also leverage that power to provide products for others. Essentially, I think it would become necessary to take a really big look into anything from 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to robotics that can assist in constructing virtually anything we need from locally sourced raw materials. This is a big sub-project that will require A LOT of thinking moving forward, in areas such as automaton, miniaturization, Artificial Intelligence, and more. That being said, this is the most speculative and most ambitious part of the infrastructure that I wish to realize.
Think of it for a moment; You need say... a new toothbrush. You walk into the "Man-Fab" facility pull up a requisition form on the computer, and type it in. The computer would then show you a variety of search results for "toothbrush" which includes anything from "Toothbrush 1.6, Traditional Design" to "Spinbrush, Version 3.4". You're not a fan of vibrating brushes, but you will be just fine in ordering yourself something simple. You type in the requisition along with you residential key, and an approximate time of completion emerges, where you can pick it up and the Man-Fab Req-Collection right around the corner. Later, you type in the key, verify your order and boom! a small door opens and you have your brand new toothbrush.
Of course, the first iteration of such a system would be pretty primitive in comparison this dream, but the idea could begin small. In conjunction with the program of re-purposing and recycling, all materials could be kept in store to be used at any time for the manufacturing process. This could be a volume of books all on its own, but it could be started at some point with the goal of growing more advanced moving forward.
I REALLY wanted to go into architecture in this part, but it seems that I really should focus on that separately in the next part. So, here is the timeline as I see it now:
Part 5: Community Architecture
Part 6: Roadblocks of Experiment Implementation
Part 7: Growth.
I think this does it for now. Thanks for reading!