Re: CONC: arcology & permaculture (was generic density increase / calendarcontrol)

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Mon Jan 01 2001 - 11:20:21 MST wrote:
> The fundamental issue I take with Soleri's conception of an arcology is its
> reliance on central planning and a priori decisions about over-all urban
> design. At one end of a spectrum of how an arcology might actually be built,
> we see a desire to impose structure on urban life at every level from a
> city's inception. It is possible to imagine a less pre-determined and more
> organic implementation, in which the basic structure of an arcology is laid
> out to provide a mechanical and infrastructure grid and then fine-scale
> development is allowed to happen on an emergent basis (but, ironically, this
> would require even more prior engineering work than a more fully planned
> arcology). However, in either case, the basic notion of an arcology calls
> for a level of up-front planning that seems inconsistent with the kind of
> open-ended evolutionary flexibility that I've come to see as the most healthy
> fundamental value for urban life.

All fully planned and successful communities currently in existence are
small, relative to cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. Large
cities can have semi-managed growth, but that's apparently the limits
of human capability. One of the more infamous recent experiments in
massively wide scale planning, the Soviet Union, failed in part because
of its inefficiencies.

This is also a problem for building space station habitats intended for
similar numbers of people. For that reason, this problem (how to
build an infrastructure that 100,000+ people can move into, both at
their own pace and after the infrastructure reaches its initial limits,
given the inability to precisely plan for that many as opposed to the
single digit crews of current space stations and space vehicles) may
well merit investigation.

One possible solution: keep one side of the structure relatively clear
of habitation. When the rest of the structure has enough population
density that it becomes tempting to use the clear side, build some more
structure on that side. The outside edge of the new construction
becomes the new "clear zone"; the old one, and any non-reserved area in
the new construction, gets opened up for habitation. Problem: this can
be extended indefinitely for space habitats, but gravity makes this
suitable only for horizontal expansion planetside...and without the
vertical use and planned transit connections that arcologies promise,
what does this accomplish besides building a city like any other?

> Beyond this, the problem of capital concentration seems to make Soleri's most
> ambitious ideas impractical in any but a world completely freed from the
> economics of scarcity by full-blown Drexlerian nanotech. Working as I do now
> in the world of very large scale engineering and construction, I fear the
> kind of social structure required to support the concentration of capital
> required to undertake a "real" arcology as envisioned by Soleri. A few
> hundred million dollars seems to be a practical upper limit on the amount of
> money that can be sunk into development of any engineering project by private
> interests. With current and near-term technology, this seems to be far short
> of what would be required to finance the building of the infrastructural and
> civil/structural "core" of a working arcology of any meaningful size (even a
> "village" of a hundred thousand or so, much less a real city . . .)

There's a few ways around it, but they're not easy. For instance, one
could try to decelerate one of the near-earth asteroids such that it
stayed in Earth's orbit, a bit ahead or behind Earth itself, then
launch robo-miners to break the asteroid down and return it, piece by
piece, to Earth for sale (at least, those pieces which could not be
more cheaply obtained on Earth - precious metals to start, then other
pieces as the organization figured out how to return mass more
cheaply), and get the necessary capital concentration that way. But
that's just a *little* involved...

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