Thursday, April 13, 2006



About fifteen years ago, I took a high quality 4 foot by 4 foot packing crate for a piece of fine art that we had purchased and placed it on two saw horses in my workshop. It seemed like a fine beginning for something. I have been a model builder for years, making model solar homes, model community domes, even model advanced double wides that looked like something I might consider living in. But I had never tried to a make a whole city.

Well, in a day or so, a city began to emerge in my little shop.

I had studied many of the city designs of many of our great architects. Certainly Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City was part of my research. I also like the linear city ideas of Paolo Soleri who ultimately ended up with his arcology designs.

I studied the old English towns and the rich traditions of town building in the United States.

Argonon, as it would become to be known, was different from these.

It was a compact walking city composed of a cluster of beautiful mountain top villages. These so called "mountain tops" were actually man made and hollow. I imagined that they would be built much like we build our giant freeways and largest man made structures. These man made hollow mountains would have a natural outside world of trees and soil, but they would also have an interior world that was lit by giant light tubes channeled from their upper levels.

Instead of the linear city idea of Soleri, I invisioned concentric cities or communities of 240,000 or so, living at a density level found in Paris and other dense metropolitan centers. Each city or cluster would then be surrounded by an energy ring where solar energy was harvested.

Intermixed in with this ring were vegetable crops and greenhouses. In the next concentric ring, carbohydrates and grains were raised and water was collected. The ring around that supported protein development for food and fiber. Outside of this was a buffer zone of several miles depending on the climate and topology. After this buffer zone, another concentric urban zone could be sited.

All in all, that meant the town consisted of about 4 square miles, with the energy/greenhouse zone on its edges. The grains and water area was about 12 square miles. The protein zone (ranching) was about 16 square miles. This creates a 32 square mile footprint for 240,000 people.

By the time I finished with Argonon, I had built three more art crates identical to the first. Thousands of small pieces of town had been manufactured. Hundreds of sponges were ground up and painted to be trees and shrubs. I lit the city with over head stage lights so that visitors to Argonon would be suitably moved.

For about 8 or 9 years, it reigned supreme in my workshop.

I thought of it today because of this story in the Energy Bulletin.

It reminded me of many of my thoughts about human settlement.

Envisioning a hamlet economy:
topology of sustainability and fulfilled ontogeny
by Jeff Vail

The goal of this post is to outline a concrete framework for establishing a new economy based on rhizome structure that provides negative feedback against encroaching hierarchy, that ensures environmental sustainability, and that maximizes its compatibility with human ontogeny.

I will first outline my approach to the problem, then look at one historical example—how the lattice network of Tuscan hill towns created a topology that addressed its unique circumstances, then analyze the optimal theoretical topology of a modern rhizome economy, and finally discuss some real-world concerns for the conscious design and establishment of a new hamlet economy.

Part 1: Methodology

This post aims to take the theoretical structure of rhizome, and flesh-out how a real-world economy will be built upon that model. Rhizome, in short, is defined as a non-hierarchal network of self-sufficient but interacting nodes. Within the context of a hamlet-economy, defining the threshold of self-sufficiency is the key theoretical step.

It would be unrealistic to suggest that each individual be totally self-sufficient—while perhaps possible, it would result in an unacceptably low standard of living, as well as lack the resiliency necessary to prevent the accretion of hierarchy.

It would be equally unrealistic to place the threshold of self-sufficiency too high, for that would create uncontrollable dependencies internal to the economic structure that would trend, eventually, towards a kind of feudal hierarchy.


The language here is a little specialized,

but it is well worth understanding.

As we move into a world where we are adapting to Climate Change,

and reshaping our thoughts to reflect the realities we face,

we will need to rethink everything.


Our towns, our cars, our views about work,

our philosophies of consumerism and materialism,

and our so called economic laws.

(the law of supply and demand is not a law)

We will need to understand deeply and compassionately

that "letting the market work" only passes the higher prices

of depleted resources and ecosystems to

the generations that follow us,

who had no say in our so called "all knowing" markets.

As Ike said.

"Plans are useless.

but planning is essential."

We should all be planning.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice piece, good to think of Argonon again. I had some great evenings in there. MS

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

strong post oz. thanks

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ozzie, That's funny, I was just thinking about Argonon yesterday when I heard a report on NPR about the trend in new communities to make them people and pedestrian friendly as opposed to the typical suburbs. As usual you were ahead of your time.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A people without an agreed upon common basis to their actions is neither a community nor a nation. A people with a common ethic is a nation wherever they live. Thus, the place of habitation is secondary to a shared belief in the establishment of an harmonious world community just as we can select a global range of plants for a garden, we can select from all extant ethics and belief those elements that we see to be sustainable, useful, and beneficial to life and to our community."

This is the beginning of the last chapter of Bill Mollison's, Permaculture - A designer's Manual. The chapter is titled Strategies for an alternative nation. It is a good resource for looking at city building.

Everything from ethics, alternatives to political systems, extended families, trusts and legal strategies.

He also heads the chapter with a quote from William Blake. "He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence."

9:10 AM  

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