Sustainability through Massive abundance.

Episode 42: Fixing Edenicity

An end of season round up of corrections, omissions and breaking news about Edenicity.

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What if you're wrong?
Intro [music]
Reference design
Corrections and Clarifications by Episode:
12 Transportation
18 Governance
19 Permaculture Quiz Answers
22 Education
25 Getting Money
32 Powering Edenicity
33 Opening Borders and Minds
36 Recycling Everything
41 Building Edenicity
Thank You

What if you’re wrong?

That's NOT the question I get asked by young people who learn about Edenicity for the first time.

If anything, I get the opposite response. They want Edenicity to be perfect. When I mention the need to budget for experimentation, research, undoing mistakes—that's when they freak.

"Wait a minute! You're talking about meeting people's basic needs here. You can't afford to be wrong. That wouldn't be safe, and people wouldn't buy it!"

To which I say, "Look around you. Are cars safe or healthy? Do you trust the water where you live? Is your food free of pesticides?

We don't have to be perfect to compete with unjust industries that are killing the world.

Recall from Episode 5 that design doesn't happen all at once.

If you've been following this series, you probably noticed some of the numbers and terminology have been changing. For example, the number of loop cars, also called "passenger pods," per city has ranged from 10,000 in Episode 12, to 6,000 in Episode 37. I sometimes mention that blocks have 250 people, and other times 240.

Clearly, I've been tweaking my mathematical models as I go, and that won't stop even after construction begins. In fact, the numbers will change even more once we build it for real.

It's been a constant learning journey for me throughout this series, and I often learn more after I record an episode on any given subject.

So today, let's conclude this series by tying up some of those loose ends.

INTRO [music]

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

Welcome to Episode 42, where I'll critique Edenicity as it's been presented so far in this series.

Reference design

Let's start with the Reference Design that you can download from the design link in the show notes or on

First of all, when you look at the grid for the city, the design neglects the interplay between water and landscape, because that will vary from site to site. In permaculture, water design precedes placement of access, structures and plantings, so it will dictate where everything else goes.

The Zone 4 grid is straight, but on a real landscape, it would follow the contours of the land, naturally curving all the lines. In permaculture, tree belts and paths tend to go along lines of contour, neither uphill nor downhill, or along ridgelines. Ridges and contour lines naturally cross at right angles, which creates a curvy grid shape that will depend on the specific site where the city is built. It's efficient to install ponds where the contour lines bend sharply on the map. These are either valley ponds or ridge point ponds.

The cover art for today's episode gives only a hint at some of the real world effects of water design on the city's shape. It shows some of the Zone 4 creek beds, which need room to meander back and forth. These and other topographic effects distort the grid.

In all likelihood, actual landscapes would distort the grid a lot more than this, so that some Zone 4 intersections range from three way to six ways.

Another feature that I didn't have time to improve happens at the block level. If you look at the pool in the middle of the block at the bottom of the Reference Design, it has straight edges. Wavy would be better, because it increases the length of the boundary between environments, which increases biological interaction and productivity as discussed in Episode 19: Understanding Permaculture.

However, some edge effects could still be introduced in the planting areas of the pool by varying the depth and providing shallow entries for amphibians.

Okay, let's move on to the episodes.

12 Transportation

In Episode 12, and throughout the series, I used 16 seat pods for underground loop transit. Smaller loop pods, maybe just four to eight seats, may be more energy efficient and reduce wait times for commuters. That would take somewhat more detailed modeling to figure out than I've been able to do thus far.

I also should have mentioned vertical takeoff and landing aircraft such as air taxis, which have become very popular in some of the futuristic city designs that you'll see out there on the internet. Of course, this will be up to individual cities. But I would strongly caution against these flying annoyances as something anyone would want anywhere in the city. They come with the same demand for parking that cars have, especially high value rooftops that could be growing food and moderating building climate.

And don't let anyone fool you: flying taxis and flying personal cars will be noisy. Siemens posted a video comparing electric and internal combustion powered planes. Close up, the combustion engine was much louder, but at a distance, the two aircraft are almost equally loud.

A relentless background roar of sky traffic would take a toll on our health and happiness. No thanks! Especially not with silent, rapid underground loop transit.

At most, small electric aircraft might deliver some emergency services such as ambulances and fire suppression.

On the other hand, as mentioned in Episode 37, large vertical takeoff and landing electric airliners would be a dream come true, because without runways, they would shrink the lands needed for airports by a factor of 80. You could fit a whole airport in one of the 36 factory districts in Edenicity's industrial zones. Also, because of their vertical ascent and descent, they wouldn't have to overfly and disturb the inhabited parts of the city.

18 Governance

Okay, in Episode 18 on governance, I forgot to mention the importance of frequency. This is a concept that I introduced a few episodes later in Episode 23 in the context of a neighborhood association, and what I said there was that we had such a high frequency of programming that it was really easy to get to know your neighbors.

For Edenicity's governance, I'm thinking that a weekly cycle would be best, maybe something like a block meeting on Monday, villages on Tuesday, towns on Wednesday, and a city level meeting on Friday, with delegates sent upward with each step.

Clearly, this is way more responsive governance than electing representatives every two to six years. Now, you might worry that such a responsive government might be unstable. But rigidity in governance is a recipe for tyranny. Where we really need stability and continuity is in the commons. For example, in transportation, education and health care. For these we need a well organized, highly trained civil service with representation at perhaps quarterly intervals to and from the governance circles.

Additionally, Zones 4 and 5 have reps going to the Top Circle. That is the city level meeting, while Zones 1 through 3 report to block, village and town circles. This gives agriculture and wilderness restoration a voice in edenicity every week, or at least on whatever schedule works best.

19 Permaculture Quiz Answers

In Episode 19 on Permaculture, there was a one page summary that included a quiz. It asked you to identify two clear errors in the illustration at the top of the summary.

The first error was that the road is neither on a ridgeline nor on a contour. And the second is that the spillway for the top valley dam empties into the Zone 2 garden beds or into the property in Zone 1 areas. Not a good idea for your floodwaters.

You may have noticed that the crops are in relatively straight rows, but this is NOT an error. The crops are on a slope, so they must be planted along the lines of contour going neither uphill nor downhill, as explained in Episode 15.

22 Education

In Episode 22 on education, I forgot to mention that schools in Finland start at 9am to 9:45am, which is much better for childhood development.

Like most American schools, Columbus schools start at 7:30am, which is almost punitive. By the way, Finnish schools end at 2:00 to 2:45pm, same as the United States schools, and they have fewer subjects, typically 4, with longer recess and lunch breaks.

Why are they among the world's best schools? Because they put the developmental needs of students first and fully support their teachers with the education, pay, benefits, status and autonomy they need to meet those student needs.

A 9:45 to 2:45 school day would be nearly impossible in the United States, because we design our living situations so that most children can't walk to school. Once again, Finland's commitment to universally good education and small local schools solves this problem.

Edenicity's superior design automatically supports this, too.

25 Getting Money

The same week that I recorded Episode 25 about the Universal Basic Income, my wife Rebecca posted a news item about how Stockton, California went from bankrupt to the second most fiscally healthy city in California while giving away free money.

To me this wildly unexpected success signals the need to get a lot more empirical and experimental with economic policy. Cities are the ideal scale for this sort of experimentation. And I can't wait to see what other innovations Stockton's Mayor, Michael Tubbs, comes up with.

32 Powering Edenicity

In Episode 32, on powering Edenicity, in the section on cutting energy consumption, I mentioned the Passive House technology as an area of research. This is exactly the sort of experiment that Edenicity needs to build for several percent of its dwellings until the technology can be perfected. It's an area of unknown risk, but very high reward, as it could shrink a home's energy consumption for heating and cooling down to zero, and remain standing with minimal maintenance for centuries.

33 Opening Borders and Minds

In Episode 33 on immigration, I discussed the Dunbar limit where we can't keep track of more than about 150 social relationships. My mom asked me if this might have any implications for the size of the individual blocks in Edenicity.

Right now, the blocks are 250 people, which exceeds the Dunbar limit. However, there are four rows of houses per block, 60-ish people per row. And many of these rows face a row from another block. That's around 125 people facing each other across the street, well within the Dunbar limit. Now the question is: will people associate more within a block or among houses that face each other across the street?

The cafes will probably operate at the block level, but they will probably have two seatings per meal. So there's a lot of unknowns. Maybe smaller blocks with a few larger squares shared by several blocks would work better. We won't know until we start building, but you have to start somewhere.

Peter Turchin's work, which I also mentioned in Episode 33, suggests to me that blocks should remain cohesive as long as people within a block feel culturally aligned with one another, as evidenced by common language idioms, clothing styles, social occasions and so forth. My experiences with residential colleges and churches support this. Groups of 250 people or so can feel very close and energized.

36 Recycling Everything

After recording Episode 36 on recycling, I've been seeing news items on NPR and other places that plastic recycling may have always been basically fake. According to NPR reporter Laura Sullivan, the plastics industry promoted recycling as a way to make their products appear more environmentally sustainable, which would remove impediments to sales. This would be great if plastic actually got recycled. But according to the article, more than 90% of it never is. It gets burned or buried. It's almost as expensive to recycle plastic as to create it from raw oil, and you can't reuse it nearly so many times as glass and steel.

Therefore, future versions of Edenicity will be designed to completely avoid plastics, and many synthetic fabrics. Recycling will focus on paper products, glass and metal. It also helps that Edenicity is already designed with no grocery stores. Instead, you can get metal, glass and cloth takeout containers for a hefty deposit in the cafes. These containers are designed to be washed and reused many thousands of times, which practically eliminates packaging waste in the food industry.

41 Building Edenicity

In Episode 41, on building Edenicity, I left out a timeline because it wouldn't be honest to include one. My goal is to make this happen as soon as humanly possible.

Thank You

And that brings us to today. More than anything else, dear listener, I appreciate your imagination. My work here has been a bit like trying to describe an iPhone before mobile internet existed: definitely not as good as the real thing! But since you've stuck with the series, you now have the conceptual tools to recognize Edenicity when you see it taking shape.

That will be the moment when we turn the corner on the environment, the economy and begin to heal the world. That will be the moment that transcends recycling, plant centered diets, bike commuting, and all the other forms of personal lifestyle activism that we engage in right now. It won't be a perfect moment. We'll make many mistakes along the way. But design doesn't happen all at once. That's why we are never wrong to set our intent, be ready to learn, and start building.

I'm Kev Polk and this has been Edenicity.


Edenicity 42: Fixing Edenicity

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