What would it be like to grow up in a car-free, ecologically and economically abundant city? In this episode, we'll rate your childhood home and explore how much better it could be with ecologically sound city design.
How was your childhood?
Did you have a safe and happy childhood? Was the place where you grew up hostile or nurturing?
Recall from Episode One that edenicity is a measure of ecological sustainability plus economic abundance. To me, this is the key parameter of happiness, especially for children.
With that in mind, let's estimate the edenicity of where you grew up with a simple quiz. Just count your "yes" answers.
Was at least one of your parents able to take a year off from work to care for you when you were born? If they could take more than one year off, count that as two yeses.
I ran the places that I've lived through this quiz, and here's what I found. Lafayette Park Detroit, where I spent my early years, had an edenicity of 80%. Honolulu, Hawaii had an edenicity of 50%. My neighborhood right now in Columbus, Ohio has an edenicity of 30%.
For reference, the Garden of Eden would score about 100%, with a few assumptions such as the actual presence of children there!
My goal for future cities is an edenicity of 150%.
Cities designed like modern Edens, for economic and ecological abundance. I'm Kev Polk your guide to Edenicity.
Welcome to Episode 22, where I'll discuss what it's like to grow up in Edenicity.
Childhood in a changing world
Childhood differs a lot throughout the world, and many relatively static cultures are now on the move, engaging the global economy, fleeing the catastrophes of climate change, or population pressure or political turmoil. My schoolmates growing up included many wartime refugees, and even former child laborers and child soldiers.
I've had discussions about whether Edenicity would fare better in a collectivist culture or an individualistic one. A friend suggested collectivist cultures would be a better fit. My not very academic explorations on the topic suggest otherwise. It seems to me that collectivism as a social attitude usually manifests as clannishness. And this can thwart large scale social integration and innovation. How? Through tribal conflict and local tyranny. Confucian culture is inherently collective. So China puts a lot of energy into suppressing tribal tendencies within its borders. Perhaps this explains the perplexing apology China often makes for its widespread oppression: "It's not easy to manage a billion people."
In social anthropology classes in college, I was struck by the field's professional blindness to the violence of order. By this I mean, anthropologists regarded as good anything that maintained the structure of a clan, tribe or culture, even if it caused suffering. Things like ritual mutilation, hazing, narrowly prescribed roles based on gender, caste or age, and routine school discipline all qualify as structures that maintain order through violence. All of these tend to maintain a society, but they chafe against the emerging global notions of justice and social equity that are integral to Edenicity.
Customs and cultures are often shaped by climate, and so is Edenicity. To the degree to which people come to Edenicity from the surrounding region, it will fit their culture (see Episode 11 for more details of climate design). Nevertheless Edenicity's 5-zone structure is likely to prevail, as it rests on ecological fundamentals and the common global denominator of village life.
To see this illustrated, just download the reference design from the program notes.
For many people, Edenicity will layer urbanity on top of village life as they grow up. It will give children of previously clannish cultures greater exposure to a wider range of people and customs. I saw this play out in hundreds of ways among my immigrant friends growing up in Honolulu. This inevitably leads to tension and family drama, which I witnessed firsthand growing up.
I also saw this teaching Somali middle schoolers last year in car bound Columbus, Ohio. One kid had just arrived. He told me all he saw back in Africa were cows and stars. Now all he saw were streets and cars.
As we saw in Episode 18, traditional roles and lines of authority are dying globally. There's no going back. And no culture anywhere really knows how to deal with kids and smartphones.
But design needn't only atomize and alienate. It can build bridges to better relationships between people and between people in the living world in a time of rapid change.
Growing up in Edenicity
In Episode 3, I mentioned that Edenicity will probably begin with the developing world. I also explained how that city could overtake the prosperity of any American city in the time it takes a child to grow up there.
What would it be like to be that child?
Well, let's start well before the child is born with family planning. One of the points that many ideologues miss about family planning agencies is that their primary function is education, which means fewer unplanned pregnancies and far fewer high risk pregnancies. I imagine that this would include parent advocates, and this would work something like the Buurtzorg homecare nurses that we saw in Episode 18. Recall from that episode that they advocated for their patients, and saved the insurers a lot of money due to early detection and prevention of problems and by recruiting family members and neighbors to help. I imagine that parent advocates would work like this, holding workshops at the block and village level.
Now, these workshops and activities would be aimed at building parenting skills and community support. But occasionally, they would, in a changing world, have to deal with trauma, and they would in all cases have to support diversity and provide a nurturing environment.
The final role for parent advocates would be to look at the blocks where people live and work with the local governing circles to make the blocks safe, as we'll see in a moment.
In the womb, a child will be affected by the environment. In Edenicity the clean air, water and nutritious food provides a healthier pregnancy. Recall also that in Edenicity, we would have universal health care, which would be 50 to 80% cheaper than it is today, for reasons I outlined in Episode 4 (basically, with a healthier society, your healthcare costs are much lower).
Parents and families would not struggle as much because they would have a universal basic income that would allow parents to be home and spend time with their babies. Now this universal basic income, as I will describe in more detail in Episode 25, would be powered by an asset tax. And based on my experiences as a foster parent, I would say that the universal basic income for children would generally be about half of the adult basic income, though the city might adjust this from time to time to maintain a stable population.
Now I can say that, as a foster parent, it meant a lot to have a stipend to offset the additional costs of caring for children. My ex and I weren't making much as market gardeners and the stipend let us provide good clothing, food, activities, even a vacation to our children. We had been warned that kids aren't as a rule grateful, but our five year old really made a point to mention these efforts.
So if you look at the references design, you'll see that the population per block is about 250 people. And I'm figuring that the life expectancy is something like 90 years. That would leave us with about 5 mothers with infants per block, or about 132 per village at the replacement rate. And there'll be perhaps two to four times as many per block in the town and city centers.
Now, when you think of childhood, one of the universal experiences is receiving gifts on meaningful occasions. In Edenicity, I would want to have public programs and incentives in place to encourage people to use durable toys made out of recyclable materials, as well as holiday celebrations that encourage free gifting. I mean, where I live, we have Lincoln Logs and Legos now in their third generation. I also imagine biodegradable fabric toys with recycled fabric and wooden buttons, though I understand that this is a fairly heavily regulated industry.
Now as a toddler from age two to four, you might start noticing that there's something like eight other young children your age, give or take a year, on your block.
Now, the architecture where you live is chunked by zones of decreasing intimacy. This means that, of course, you're very close to everybody in the apartment house where you live. And you're probably fairly close to your immediate neighbors and whoever your family spends time with at the cafe. And then the other people on the block, you see almost daily in the cafe and just coming and going, so you get to know a few of them as well.
Now, I know from my travels that there are places, such as the southern Cook Islands, where everyone is expected to take care of children, and strangers in town are given the same status as children. And so people take care of each other and they take care of strangers. And I think that's a great tradition that can certainly be built into the parent advocate programming at the block and village level.
Now speaking of the block, when you have toddlers, of course, you're going to be really concerned with safety. Now, the good news is that there's no cars and high speed traffic for them to run out into. This is why I had so many questions in the quiz about cars: I think they are just simply not good for children.
But in any case, if you look at the reference design, there's this massive pond in the middle of the block, of course, that would have to be fenced. And you'd also probably have at least some sort of barrier to the bikeway so that children don't get run over at the bikeway. Now, it's true that in the reference design, most households do not face the bikeway. So if you're expecting to have young children, you might decide not to live facing a bikeway.
Now, as I mentioned, the cafe culture will tend to knit your block together. You would see most of your neighbors daily and this would increase the social capital, meaning that when your parents have somewhere to be, they'll find it much easier to find somebody they trust to watch you.
Now, speaking of cafe culture, let's talk about food. Specifically kid food. Edenicity should make a conscious effort to explore regional and cultural cuisines in school as part of a normal education. There should also be an effort to use dramatically less processed sugar. And this will be fairly easy because this is an environment where fruit, berries and other edibles are part of the landscape. And if you're doing it in permaculture style, you make sure to plant so that there's an abundance of food available in every season.
When I was a community gardener in Bloomington, Indiana, we grew spinach over the winter. And it was so sweet that the kids from the nearby low income apartments fought over it.
If you've ever watched kids interact with food in the landscape, you'll notice that they will put stuff in their mouth that they never would at a dinner table. So the environment itself will encourage healthier eating habits.
Now, of course, the environment will also encourage children to climb on trees. And there'll be climbable trees on every block. And then town and city centers will have tall buildings with large parks and playgrounds nearby.
Schools in Edenicity
So let's talk about what it would be like going to school in Edenicity. And this really contrasts to my experiences here in Columbus, Ohio, where it's sadly not uncommon for kids to bring guns to school, and every school seems to have a police officer and there's long bus rides.
In his movie Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore pointed out that gun violence doesn't so much correlate to gun ownership as it does to the perception that you live in an uncaring society. So the design for Edenicity, especially with the school systems, is to do exactly the opposite: make it caring.
So let's start with kindergarten. So by kindergarten, you're starting to ride a bicycle. You're fully mobile. You can get around your village. And in a village of 6,000 people, you might have 67 children in any given year. So your kindergarten would be maybe 5 classrooms within about a 4 to 5 minute walk from the very edge of the village.
Your elementary school would also be in the village center. And here I take my cues from Finland's education system, which was profiled in Michael Moore's movie Where to Invade Next.
Now, this is a system that has vastly outperformed the rest of the world's educational systems on several occasions. And that surprised everyone, not the least of whom were the Finns, because they didn't set out to beat anybody academically. They just wanted to have an educational system that was fair and inclusive. And so this means that school is free from pre K through PhD and that you never have to shop for schools. They're all good.
Now the schools are small, typically a couple hundred students, and they're within a few minutes walk from home. The teachers are skilled, professional and respected, and they have to earn a bachelor's degree in education plus a master's in their subject area. And the standards are high. There's a 10% acceptance rate to teaching programs in Finland. That's tougher than the Ivy League was in the United States through most of the last century.
The Finnish schools focus on expression and learning about yourself and others. So they are inherently multicultural. There is little to no homework. The school hours are short, and they include a lot of recess. So school is a place of discovery and connection, not subjection and drudgery. There are some desks, more beanbags and quite a few lab stations.
One of the most striking features of the Finnish school system is that there's minimal standardized testing: basically one entrance exam at the high school level and one at the university for placement. And that's basically it. And their outcomes, again, are excellent.
So they're basically relying on a really professional workforce among the teachers, and really accessible schools. And it works.
So this is more or less the formula for Edenicity. Your village school would have about 330 students. Again, they'd all be able to walk to school within four minutes from home.
And for field trips, there's no bus or transit nightmare to get there. It's just a few minutes to any town center or to the city center by bicycle or by loop transit. So this would be great not only for school field trips, but also for split custody situations, because in this case, the public transit would be sufficient to get children around.
Now it may surprise some listeners to know that I sometimes rode the bus alone at the age of 8 in Honolulu, and so did many other children that I grew up with. Loop would be much safer and much faster than this as it would not be competing with other vehicles and traffic.
Just think about that for a moment: a child of elementary school age would be far freer and far safer in transit than any child in most cities in the world today. This would give them a lot of opportunity to discover the world around them and to interact with people and to really become confident in the world. It's a far cry from having to be driven from playdate to activity to school to other activities in the car dependent cities that we live in today.
Now, as you reach middle school age in Edenicity, what you don't need is a great big Middle School. That can be a real nightmare. So once again, the middle school would be in the village center, and that would have a couple of hundred students: a peer group that you probably grew up with.
But in this age group, some of your field trips will start to go into the Forest zones that surround the towns, and occasionally out into Zone 5, which is true wilderness. And this could be almost a rite of passage into adolescence and young adulthood.
High School (academic or vocational)
Let's talk about high school. In my experience, a big High School is a dream come true. There's so much happening, and now young adults are mature enough to be able to handle it. There's so much opportunity, especially truly competitive athletics and music. So I would locate the high schools in the town centers. Four grades nine villages per town. 66 students per village per grade. So that's 2,376 students.
As they did at the end of middle school, their field trips would include visits to Zone 5, and they might become involved in volunteer work there with restoration efforts, or elsewhere in the city.
Finally, when you graduate, you could go on to college or trade school in the city center, and the city center would include dozens of colleges that serve hundreds of thousands of lifetime learners.
Now, let's return to the quiz at the beginning of this episode. Would a child in the developing world have an edenicity score much different from yours? Probably not, at least compared to what I just described.
From the perspective of Edenicity, we ALL live in the developing world!
So when I asked you what it would be like to be that child, I was really asking what it would mean for you or your children to grow up in Edenicity.
What would it mean to grow up in a safe and caring place where the land and people nurture you, where your lifestyle heals the earth, and you can grow and dream without limits? At what point would you decide to move there?
If you enjoyed episode 22, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss the show. If you haven't already done so, please visit Edenicity.com to download a copy of the reference design. And be sure to join me next time when I'll describe the birth of a real world ecovillage. I'm Kev Polk, and this has been Edenicity