Sustainability through Massive abundance.

Episode 41: Building Edenicity

How will Edenicity actually be built?

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How will Edenicity actually be built?
Intro [music]
Business potential
Who can do this?
New construction
Moving in
Close [music]

How will Edenicity actually get built?

That's the $300 billion question. Short answer: we need green zealot developers who think really big and get out of their own way. I'll get into detail about each of these qualities later. But sadly, I've never even read about any company or person who could pull this off.

I mean, look at all those brand new ghost cities in China, and now Africa, with their millions of bleak, empty cookie-cutter apartments over sterile lawns and endless streets and highways. Even China's so-called eco-cities require a half hour car ride to go anywhere. That's a big, fat design fail.

And think of all the small time back-to-the-landers with their pickup trucks, who hope to somehow live so pure, that they inspire the whole world to change. I know. I was one of them for several years, and I demolished this lifestyle in Episode 20.

There's a huge need, and so far, no one has addressed it. They've not even come close.

That's why I launched Edenicity.

In some ways, I feel like that guy in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The seemingly random twists and turns of my life have uniquely prepared me for this. No matter how much we know, we all suffer from delusions‐that's the lesson of science. My failures, more than anything else have shaken me loose from some shared delusions that are killing this world.

Throughout this series, I've only been sharing perhaps the most obvious and interesting 20% of the models, plans and strategies behind Edenicity. That won't change today as I get into how Edenicity will happen. But I hope the parts I do share thrill you as much as they thrill me.

INTRO [music]

Cities designed like modern Edens for economic and ecological abundance. I'm Kev Polk, your guide to Edenicity.

Welcome to Episode 41, where I'll discuss some development strategies for Edenicity.

Business potential

Let's start with the business potential. Recall from Episode 8 that the world's urban population is growing by 200,000 people a day, and it's going to continue doing this for 30 years. An additional 200,000 more people a day are going to need new or upgraded homes in the cities. So that's 400,000 new urban homes per day for the next 30 years.

And it's not just housing. It's also transportation, energy, and agriculture. So clearly, there's a really huge opportunity for change.

So where's it all heading? Well, my models house 10 billion people in a total of 1,850 Edenicities of about 5.4 million people each. Let's compare that to today, where we only have 81 cities in the world of over 5 million people. So basically, the market is 96% open for the development of things like Edenicity.

Now it's true that among those 81 large cities in the world, some of them are really a lot bigger than 5 million people. Which raises the question: could we have really huge edenicities?

Sure, no problem. Back in Episode 1, I pointed out that nature prefers bigger Edenicities because that leaves more uninterrupted wild habitat between them. Imagine an edenicity of 37 million people. That's the same size as the largest city in the world today. Yep, you guessed it: Tokyo. Now our original Edenicity had a four minute commute from village center to city center, and the maximum commute of 20 minutes from door to door from one corner of the city to the opposite corner. With 37 million people, the commute times increase to seven minutes from village center to city center, and the maximum door to door time increases to 26 minutes. So even with seven times the population that I've modeled for Edenicity, you have only slightly longer commutes.

The model works over a very wide range of populations. But I would submit that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense below about 5 million people.

Now, there are 1,147 cities of over 500,000 throughout the world. And I would say that these are a really good place to start with building Edenicity. But even if we turn all of these cities into Edenicities, growing them by at least a factor of 10 in the process, that would still leave room for 700 Edenicities that would be entirely new construction.

Who can do this?

Who could take on these really huge projects? Well, those green zealot developers who think big and get out of their own way.

Let's pick that apart.

A green zealot is someone who will do whatever it takes to end mass extinction. This is someone who would never, ever, ever accommodate the car, the parking lot or the highway, which are by far the most environmentally destructive elements of our society.

A green zealot would also understand that ending climate change is not nearly enough to end the mass extinction. Episode 2 showed how we need to cut consumption of land, energy and resources by at least 95% and recycle and do a ton of other things too, if we have any hope of ending the extinction. Any design that falls short of these metrics is a fail and should never be built.

Now paradoxically, making such vast cuts to our consumption is not possible with small, piecemeal design. That's why we need developers who think big.

As I've shown again and again throughout this series, especially in Episode 20, change this profound is only possible with designs integrated on the largest of scales. Therefore we must design big; this takes courage.

After all, this new paradigm absolutely demolishes 50 years of entrenched thinking in sustainability: small is beautiful, simplicity, slow food and so forth. It takes immense courage to admit that these beautiful ideas were wrong and instead to think big, and keep your thinking big to pull something like this off.

And finally, these developers need to get out of their own way, which means committing to getting it done regardless of how.

They need to be flexible with process. So for example, Village Homes—that wildly successful permaculture eco village in affluent Davis, California—was largely owner-built. But in Southeast Ohio, homes built on spec did a lot better. In every location, we need to be ready to test, change course, and go with what works.

Second, we need to bring in the heavy hitters. These are the top accounting, legal, financial and technical firms. I've been watching sustainable development for decades, and I can safely say that no one is ever going to bootstrap a food co-op into anything like Edenicity.

The second way that developers can get out of their own way is to not get too freaky with the design. Don't make your neighborhoods look weird or out of place like so many of the new city designs around the world. Rowhouses are found in various forms throughout the world. Save the iconic, futuristic stuff for the city center, and for goodness sakes, root all of it visually in the local culture. We need to use tried and true methodologies like permaculture and stick to the Reference Design.

Now, again, green zealot developers who think big and get out of their own way don't exist, and it's my job to create them.

But once they do exist, where will they start?


In his 2006 book, Ecocities, Richard Register describes a construct called an implantation. This is a large scale integral neighborhood built inside an existing city. Using the Reference Design, this would be at minimum a 6,000 person development. Now the biggest problem with large scale development in existing cities is that parcels tend to be fragmented, and it's hard to buy up enough contiguous land to pull something like that off. And when you do, there can be enormous resistance to any change at all.

In Register's book, he talks about having meetings at city hall with 30 of his supporters for a fairly modest project. And this was a fairly small showing, as he had previously built support for the project throughout the town of Berkeley, California, among hundreds of individuals and businesses. But according to Register, the project had 15 foes that he claims were threatening supporters with loss of business and spreading lies about the project. All 15 showed up at the hearing and managed to shoot down the project. It must have been absolutely crushing to Register, because he obviously spent years and enormous amounts of time and energy trying to pull it together.

What I would suggest from the perspective of the green zealot developers who think big and don't get in their own way is that they learn to use power, which means, first of all, casting a wider net and securing people's commitment to showing up.

In Bloomington, Indiana, for example, which was 15% smaller than Berkeley, we had 200 supporters showing up at city hall for major initiatives. The vast majority of these supporters had taken permaculture courses and participated in weekly programs at the Sustainable Living Center.

A green zealot developer needs to let their supporters know that they have a war chest for the express purpose of instantly pressing charges and suing any opponent who uses fraud and intimidation to obstruct a public proceeding. Then use that war chest at the first sign of trouble!

Now, there are many more power strategies but these are proprietary to my business model.

Beyond power and coalitions, another great tool for the green zealot developer is to make sure that there are no losers. In Register's book, he talks about transfer of development rights, or TDRS, as a very powerful tool for making sure that you minimize the number of people who come out feeling like losers in these transactions. His preferred tool is a double TDR, which removes development from one site (for example, the suburbs or strip malls or roads), and adds the development rights to another site which will be higher density. This works because the higher density development brings in far more revenue than what it costs to buy out the low density development. For example, a block of Edenicity can house 250 people: about as many as 30 times that much land in the suburbs, when you include all of the land devoted to streets and parking, and the Edenicity block provides far more economic value due to its rooftop gardens and ground floor cafes and shops. So it can afford to buy out the suburbs, or at least take the sting out of falling home values in the region where it's built. And again, there are many proprietary strategies that can accelerate this transition. The TDRs and the many benefits of living in Edenicity would provide incentive for people to sell and move into Edenicity.

Now what would construction look like for an implantation, that is to say a large scale integral neighborhood built into a city?

Well, as with all things permaculture, you start with your water design, and that's going to depend on the site. But the basic idea is that you dig features into the landscape that will collect, store and soak water into the landscape, making it more fertile, and in most cases, recharging underground aquifers.

Next, you put in your bike paths, and put the solar roofs over them, which then provides power for the boring machines that will dig your tunnels for the Loop transit system that you'll be linking to the city's public transit centers.

The soil excavated from these tunnels provides the bricks that you'll need to build the houses and buildings of your villages. These are stored under the solar roofs on the bike paths, while you prepare the plantings for the Zone 4 forests, Zone 3 broadacre crops and Zone 2 orchards.

Then you build your village square and your row houses block by block.

New construction

Okay, that was implantation into an existing city. What about new construction? Well, you definitely don't want to do what China did: build a city for 500,000 people and have it lie vacant, and then build 50 more ghost cities.

Instead, we'll start with a Hyperloop line to a nearly full Edenicity. This is a place where housing prices are going up and the city is pressing up against geographic barriers to growth. That's when you build your Hyperloop line to your new site for your new city.

Of course, one of the first things you need to do is attract anchor businesses and communities. And fairly early on, you want to be building your hospitality industry, the destinations and attractions, so that people can actually see the new city and decide if they want to help it grow.

The construction sequence in this case happens town by town. And as before, it'll go: water, bike paths, tunnels, zones, 4, 3, 2. And then in this case, you're building the city center, the town centers and the village centers as well as the row houses block by block as the population grows.

Moving In

Now, at some point, you've probably wondered, "where do I fit in?" More to the point: "When can I move in?"

Well, first, you probably would want to visit an implantation or a new Edenicity. You'll no doubt hear about them when they're being built. And one strategy that I can share is that they'll have a strong hospitality industry. So such visits will be easy. You'll do all the usual things: look for a job, give notice that you're not renewing your lease or put your house up for sale.

The thing that might be a little different in this case is that if you're already located somewhere close to that Edenicity, you might get a TDR payment for the rights to demolish and recycle the property that you're living in now. And this would soften the blow and make it so that you don't lose so much money as the property is returned to wilderness.

Now the buying process might be a little bit different from what you're used to. Because this is generally new construction, you would have the opportunity to customize with culturally appropriate layouts, finishes and motifs. Now this could be an individual choice, but it would be better to be done as a community process as J.H. Crawford outlines in his book Carfree Design Manual from 2009.

In that process, you would get together with like minded people and design a home, a row of houses, a block or a village together.

Well, perhaps design is too strong a word. Layout and customize might be better terms, since you'll be working with professionals in architecture and construction.

Once that's done and the construction is finished, all that would be left is to move in. And this would be done professionally by movers with electric hand carts on certain days of the month. Of course, you need to set up your bank accounts with the vesting for a universal basic income and start participating in local governance at the building and block level.

But before all of that, head down to the cafe and, depending on how you got there, rejoin your tribe or make some friends.

Close [music]

If you enjoyed Episode 41, please use the share button in your podcast player to let your friends know about it on social media. And be sure to join me for our final episode where I'll critique Edenicity as presented in this series.

I'm Kev Polk and this has been Edenicity.


Edenicity 41: Building Edenicity

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