Session 1

January 27th
Session One:

Part One: Introductions, review syllabus, grading, and Zoom policies.

  • Cities are planned by
    • urban planners
    • city government
    • state government
    • national government
    • developers – non-profit/ for profit
    • social movements
    • lobbying, special interests
  • how do people with less social power relate to groups with more social power

Part Two: Discussion focused on concerns, challenges, and hopes for the future of cities. Class discussion for Part Two guided by the questions below into 9 breakout rooms (one for each question):

  1. What do you think of when you hear the term “alternative urban futures”?
    • the realization that sustainability does not have an alternative that you can survive
  2. What are your most significant concerns for the future of cities?
    • urban sprawl
    • “overpopulation”
    • better transit
    • affordable housing
    • people leaving the cities
    • housing
    • sustainable income
    • urban sprawl
    • empty cities
    • crime
    • access to resources
    • urban decay
    • housing quality
    • affordable housing
    • urban density
    • climate change
    • equity
    • corporate dominance
  3. What are the most significant challenges facing the future of cities?
  4. How would you prioritize what you think needs to change to improve quality of life in cities?
  5. What policies and programs do you think are working well in cities?
  6. What changes, policies and programs do you think would improve quality of life for people living in cities?
  7. What do you think would prevent these changes from happening?
  8. What do you think would make it more likely that these changes could occur?
  9. What strategies can urban residents use to promote change in urban areas?
  10.  How do we define: Inclusive, Resilient, Productive, Livable, Sustainable

Video:

Part II “A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair – 7.36 minutes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m8YACFJlMg

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT DUE: February 3rd

FIRST: Create two lists. On the first list, write down all of the characteristics you associate with a “good” city. On the second list, write down all of the principles and values that influenced how you thought about and determined the characteristics you associate with a “good” city?

NEXT: Watch the video below and write down the ways in which this city reflects or does not reflect the list you created of the principles and values that influenced how you thought about and determined the characteristics you associate with a “good” city?

The Future of Cities – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOOWk5yCMMs (18 minutes)

USP 658 – Session 1

  • Reviewed US constitution
    • Discussed 3/5 rule, virginia compromise
  • Discussed nation states
    • Ethnic nation states are generally stable in the long-term
    • Countries founded on ethical claims like the us or the ussr rely on confidence and reputation to hold them together.
      • The ussr collapsed because the state lost credibility
      • The us is now losing credibility by not living up to its principles
  • The story of white people in America is not interesting and many of the early heroes were hypocritical slavers talking about liberty.
  • The story of black people, latin people, indigenous people, and immigrants is the real, interesting story of America

PHIL 621 – Session 1

  • Housekeeping
    • Professor likes to use green checkmark feature in the participants list of zoom
  • Writing Assignment 1
    • Do you accept the proposition that your brain is a computer? Why or why not?
      • There are many computational processes happening in the brain, but brains are not deterministic machines. There is a great deal of probability, fuzzy logic, balancing of conflicting perspectives, and random chance involved in neural networks reaching conclusions. So they are both like and unlike computers. 2
    • Can you imagine conditions under which it would be rational for you to change your mind or make up your mind? Describe them or explain why not
      • If my evidence or first principles changed then I would change my mind. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, experts were saying not to wear masks. Now there are saying to wear two masks. This led to me changing  my mind about wearing masks.
    • What objections might people have, and how would you rebut those objections?
    • Class discussed similarities and differences between computers and brains
      • Myelin sheaths are like semiconductors
      • AI is like intuition
      • Computers don’t make art
      • Talked about the empiricism argument that humans don’t actually create new things, they just synthesize novel combinations of things they’ve experienced. Computers do the same thing; artbreeder for example of neural nets that generate new buildings or faces based on ideas they see in pictures of other buildings or faces
      • Talked about descartes and mind body dualism

Desert Farm: Phase Two

I plan to buy a plot of land and build a desert farm to operate as an educational campground teaching people about permaculture and resource sovereignty. The idea is that people can come and join the community long-term after a mandatory on-site quarantine period.

Then, together, we can all work to grow food and subsist on the land with the short-term goal of complete food and water sovereignty for the community, and the long-term goal of everyone being completely free to work on their own projects and careers in order to thrive together on the land.

The initial steps towards a minimum viable product are outlined in another post. This post is about the steps between the MVP and the future Goal State.

MVP Down

At the beginning of this phase-two plan, we are already growing enough food to feed ourselves. We have our power and water situation figured out. Composting facilities are in place managing our waste products. Water recycling is in place and we are importing little to no water. Public bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities are in place and everyone in the community has access to all their basic needs for survival.

From the social perspective, the community is accessible to anyone who wants to join. During covid, this will be pending compliance with and completion of the appropriate Ingress Protocols.

Let’s envision the landscape on-sight at the beginning of phase-two. We now have a 3×3 grid of city blocks on site. These roads are unpaved gravel, and not intended for vehicles. The center block  contains the first public showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. One of the front outer blocks contains food preparation facilities, early aquaculture infrastructure, water reclamation facilities, and composting both for food and animal waste products. Outside this block is where more agriculture will take place.

Additional Projects

Many additional projects have already been proposed by early community members. These may be started earlier, but this is the time when they will become the major focus.

One of the challenges facing communities like ours, particularly in the early stages is the lack of ethical and sustainable products to help us start down the path of reaching resource sovereignty and providing for our own needs.

So I propose that one of the most natural things to do is make and export products that make it easier for other communities to do what we have done here.

Aquamation

According to Wikipedia, Alkaline hydrolysis is a process for the disposal of human and pet remains using lye and heat. The process is being marketed as an alternative to the traditional options of burial or cremation.

According to Nolo, the liquid byproduct of alkaline hydrolysis is a nontoxic solution of amino acids, peptides, sugars, and soap that can be disposed of through local sewage systems.

This will be a great business to generate wealth for members of the community who are involved with this project. It will also mean valuable organic byproducts which can be used to grow plants and feed both livestock and the community.

MicroStock

Growing insects presents three kinds of benefits for the community.

Growing bees produces food in the form of honey as well as providing vital pollination to the food we are growing on site.

Growing grasshoppers and crickets is a way to convert compostable food waste into food for other animals like chickens and humans, as well as to make animal flour as a valuable export.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics may be our most valuable project. This allows us to produce an enormous amount of food while conserving over 99% of the water normally used in growing food.

Mycoculture

Mushrooms are an amazing food crop. There are countless kinds of edible mushrooms from chicken mushrooms to oyster mushrooms. These grow off organic waste material and allow us to convert it back into delicious food.

Livestock

Growing chickens is fun and easy. Chickens produce lots of delicious eggs and consume insects like grasshoppers and crickets as well as pests like cockroaches.

Pigs and dogs are helpful workers who will keep the site free from snakes, scorpions, rats, and other potential hazards.

Edible fish are a crucial part of the aquaponics system. They create a bacterial and enzymatic ecosystem in their tanks which can also handle and process waste products from human toilets. The enzymes and bacteria convert human and fish waste products into aquaponic food for the plants.

Air Wells

One of the early community members proposed this and it’s become one of the most interesting projects in development. There are technologies from around the world for pulling excess humidity out of the air and converting it to liquid water.

Just like the moisture farmers of Tatooine, we will be harvesting that excess humidity and putting it to use as fresh water added to our community water supply.

There are passive designs which require no power to run once built, and produce up to a hundred gallons of water per day. This could be a very exciting opportunity to add water from thin air without needing to purchase it or remove it from rivers and aquifers.

Water Reclamation

Water reuse is absolutely crucial. Water is already an expensive resource, and it’s going to keep getting more expensive as time goes on. Reclaiming every drop is vital for any sustainable community. There are already traditions from around the world for how to do this. One example is using the soapy water from hand washing to flush toilets or clean floors, dishes, or laundry.

There is also distillation and filtration which allows us to extract pure water from sources like the fish tanks. This technique has already found wide adoption in the Earthships of Taos.

Castile Soap

Everybody knows Doctor Bronner’s works for everything. You can shower with it, you can wash dishes, wash your hands, do laundry, and even brush your teeth with it.

Making castile soap is an ancient tradition all over the world. Since it’s one of the main things we will need to use in our community, it only makes sense to start making it ourselves and eventually export it to other communities like ours.

Preserved Foods

Dry foods are a natural product to produce, not just for our own consumption but also for export. Things like Jerky and Biltong are already popular and wildly overpriced. These will make excellent exports once we are ready.

Ingress Protocol

I am using the term Ingress Protocol to describe a set of rules that a group can follow to minimize the covid risk for new members being added to the group over time. I am not an epidemiologist and I am not an expert on these topics. I am an expert in Sociology, Social Justice, and Urban Studies. My purpose in writing this essay is to collate and collect the conclusions which other experts have reached in studying this topic. This is an issue where some urban settings are doing an excellent job and others are doing a terrible job. Let’s try to understand the differences along this spectrum.

Months ago, I started writing a research paper about what measures would be required to hold a large group event safely during the pandemic. I began this research in response to news stories about rapid tests being given to people who wanted to enter fancy parties in the hamptons. I interviewed many doctors and public health experts and quickly came to the conclusion that this is fundamentally impossible for several reasons.

  • People are most contagious before they test positive.
  • It can take weeks of infection and contagiousness before someone tests positive.
  • We just didn’t know enough yet about how the virus works and spreads to say what it takes to define a safe and effective Ingress Protocol.

Since then, a great deal of research has been done and many municipalities have had great success with a two-part strategy of keeping their populations completely covid free.

Step One: Exclusion Strategies

The idea here is to develop strategies intended to prevent the virus from ever entering the group. This is what’s called a non-pharmaceutical strategy because it relies on social and infrastructure structures like borders rather than vaccines. Examples where this has succeeded include Guernsey, New Zealand, Iceland, Fiji, and others. You may notice a pattern with these locations; they’re all islands. This greatly simplifies the ability of the leadership there to enact effective exclusion policies which limit the possibility for the virus to move into the population.

But none of these countries have closed their borders. Instead, they used the duration of the initial lockdown to plan and develop safe and effective Ingress Protocols.

Step Two: Developing Ingress Protocols

Everyone is familiar at this point with the idea of a two-week quarantine. It is generally assumed that two weeks is enough time to tell if someone is infected. But actually, this is only true for 90-95% of those who get infected.

To that end, Guernsey’s mandatory quarantine time for those who want to enter their population is three weeks with mandatory testing on both ends.

The big question in deciding between two and three weeks is risk. Is it worth saving that 5% risk to ask for another week from each person? Would it be more reasonable to go with the 10% risk and then require they wear masks and maintain social distance for another week inside the population? These are the questions local health officials have to answer when deciding the mandatory quarantine time for their local Ingress Protocols.

Barbados accelerates the process by requiring people to show up with a negative PCR test taken within the last 72 hours, and then quarantine for two weeks before testing negative again. This strikes me as potentially risky since they could have been exposed at hour 71 and then their second test would be less than two weeks from exposure. It really should be test, isolate, test, rather than letting people go several days after the first test before isolating, particularly if those days are spent on a long plane ride full of other passengers.

America has no mandatory quarantine time. It doesn’t even require testing for people who want to enter the population. Anyone is free to come to America regardless of whether or not they have covid. America has fundamentally the exact opposite of a safe and effective Ingress Protocol.

The Bottom Line Is Risk Appetite

If like America, you don’t care at all about the covid risk, then have wide open urban borders and just let everyone come and go at will.

On the other hand, based on the current state of the research, policy, and the measurable impacts of that policy over time, we know that a two-week mandatory quarantine period with testing on both ends shows with a 90% certainty whether someone is infected. We also know that extending that to a three-week quarantine takes that 90% certainty up to a 95% certainty.

For Guernsey with its ~65k population, that extra 5% is worth asking for another week from those who want to enter. For New Zealand, that extra 5% risk is more acceptable than asking individuals for a third week of quarantine.

It’s worth noting that while New Zealand’s Ingress Protocols have occasionally failed, Guernsey’s have never failed to date.

Vaccine Exceptions

When people get the covid vaccine, they are 70-99% protected from infection. This is good, but it also means that when they do get sick they become asymptomatic carriers and potentially become superspreaders.

It makes sense to allow people who have been recently vaccinated to come and go at will without a mandatory quarantine period, with the expectation that they are taking reasonable precautions like masks and social distancing when they are outside the community.

Your Actions Stem Inexorably From Your Principles

Your actions stem inexorably from your principles.

“Even if you don’t believe, you cannot travel in any other way than the road your senses show you. And you must walk that road to the end.”

-American Gods

I see a common theme in popular discourse where people look at a given situation and think, “Oh well if only they had done this or that differently, then everything would be fine.” I recently heard this argument made about Hitler. I heard someone literally argue, “If not for the thing with the Jews then Hitler would have been great for the world.”

The problem I see with the idea of equivocating by trivializing significant details is that it misses the fact that these things were the only possible natural culmination of the ideas and values and principles that led people up to that point.

The 2021 capitol insurrection came as a shock to no one who has spent any amount of time trying to understand the people who committed the act. The ideas and values and principles they had been reciting and living out for years could only have led to the exact kind of violent insurrection we saw. In fact there were already examples. The same people had recently tried to kidnap and assassinate the governor of Michigan. And now we are told that they have further insurrections planned for all 50 State Capitols in the coming days.

There is a thread of contrition running through our culture. People like Biden think it’s possible to return to the status quo (which for most people was nearly as bad as things are today) by “healing” and “unifying” the country. These moderate centrists fail to see two things.

First that these violent events in furtherance of the cause of a fascist ethnostate have always been the only possible conclusion of the movement that has been building towards that point for decades or centuries depending on how you define it.

Second that trying to shush these things and sweep them back under the rug makes it worse. Working to delay an inevitable conflict is an admission of guilt, and acts only in furtherance of the cause of injustice. This is the fundamental failure of generations of Americans who give us figures like Biden; the failure to confront the real and fundamental challenges of the day. They hide behind platitudes rather than actually making any attempt to understand or resolve the problems that face them. Their goal is not progress, it’s regress. They want to go back to feeling comfortable ignoring the white nationalists that prowl other people’s streets. They want any discussion of the serious issues plaguing our society to be turned down to a comfortable volume where it can be easily ignored.

Because of this fundamental failure of generations of Americans to address both universal existential threats and centuries of specific harms visited unjustly on minority communities, these problems are worse today than they ever have been.

We must resist the calls to turn down the volume. We must turn up the volume.

⌛ Texas [Draft]

This post is about the Texas leg of my year on the road. I’m traveling to all the national parks in the contiguous 48 states. I’m also stopping at several other interesting spots along the way, and making sure to sample the local fare.

Previous: New Mexico

Next: Louisiana

  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Breakfast Tacos, Austin, Texas
  • Hippy Hollow, Austin, Texas
  • Rainbow Ranch

Timeline

Texas is a big, weird place. This will be my first time visiting. I’m scared and excited! I plan to spend up to two weeks here.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

The Guadalupe Mountains are another fossil reef just like the Carlsbad Caves were in New Mexico. They are literally right next to each other so that makes sense. There is lots of hiking and scenic vistas so that will be a nice time.

Since they are so nearby one another, I’ll be splitting my week at Carlsbad KOA between Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend seems like a pretty normal area without any really amazing or unusual aspects aside from some scenic vistas and lots of interesting endemic species and habitats.

Big Bend also has a hot springs!

I will be stopping for the weekend at Big Bend before heading on to Austin. I plan to stay at the NPS’ Free Primitive Roadside Camping on Old Ore Rd.

Hippy Hollow, Austin, Texas

Hopefully it needs no introduction but Hippy Hollow is a park at Lake Travis in Austin. It is the only legal nude park/beach in Texas. It’s funny there are half a dozen in northern California and yet Texas identifies as being a freer place. 🤣

I’ll be camping for a week at the nearby Windy Point Campground. This is just about a thousand feet from hippy hollow, and also quite close to Austin so I’ll be able to chase the local fare while taking a break after covering so much ground the week before.

 

Budget

I’m budgeting about $150 for gas since Texas is so broad.

I’m budgeting $100 a week for food during this trip including both groceries and eating out.

 

Local Fare

I have been told by friends that I must try breakfast tacos in Austin. According to Eater, I should check out Paco’s Tacos and potentially Vaquero Taquero both of which are in Austin.

Buzzfeed says I should try Smoked brisket with white bread, white onion, pickled jalapeños, and bbq sauce. That’s a VERY specific suggestion so I will keep an eye out for that, though to be honest it doesn’t really appeal to me. Far & Wide agrees with some more suggestions of their own.

 

 

Next up: Louisiana

⌛ New Mexico [Draft]

This post is about the New Mexico leg of my year on the road. I’m traveling to all the national parks in the contiguous 48 states. I’m also stopping at several other interesting spots along the way, and making sure to sample the local fare. Public health officials across the country argue that this is one of the safest things to be doing right now.

As someone who lives with essential first responders, this is much safer than staying at home. We had just finished house quarantine after our third covid scare from a room mate’s workplace — the day before I left — so I was feeling very ready to get going and put some distance between me and other people.

 

Previous: Arizona

Next: Texas

  • The Very Large Array, New Mexico
  • Earthship Biotecture, Taos, New Mexico
  • Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Timeline

There’s not a lot going on in New Mexico in terms of national parks. In fact there’s just one. I plan to spend about a week in New Mexico.

I’ll be coming in from Arizona the night before and staying at Datil Well Campground the first night. This is just $5/night and has restrooms. Which is a very good deal. Plus it has good reviews.

Very Large Array

This is a very cool feat of engineering which has always fascinated me. It’s a very large array of radio telescopes. They are networked so they can work together to see far away parts of the cosmos. I recently wrote a term paper about this, and about possible future advances of this technology. Since then, NASA has since actually done some of the things I wrote about. Very cool topic.

After checking this place out, I’m planning to head to Cebolla Mesa Campground which is a free USDA campground near Taos.

Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is something special. This is a weird arts collective which evolved into a very popular and profitable permanent installation called House of Eternal Return which tourists can pay to visit.

Many loose associations such as arts collectives and arts nonprofits see the example of Meow Wolf as an ideal future state to which they feel compelled to aspire. I’m not sure I accept that, and I think almost all of them stand no chance of doing that. I think this is something fundamentally different from many of those groups, and it’s not something that would be possible for most of them to accomplish. I want to understand this difference better, so I plan to visit during this trip assuming they reopen in time.

Sadly it looks like they will not be open during my visit to the area which means just one more reason to come back!

Taos: Earthship Biotecture

As a scholar of improvised community infrastructure, Taos is a top priority for this trip. This is a community which builds experimental xericulture homesteads using recycled material and designing their homes and communities to capture rainwater and coexist with the ecosystem, growing their own food in sustainable indoor desert gardens.

You may notice a theme developing from my previous post which focused heavily on the work of Paolo Soleri in combining community architecture with ecology to create sustainable, regenerative alternatives to the modern industrial city.

I’ll be staying nearby at the free campground Cebolla Mesa.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

I’ve visited some cave systems in the past, but nothing anywhere near the scale of the Carlsbad Caverns. Formerly on the coast of a now-gone inland sea, these caverns host the nation’s largest natural cavern room. “The big room” is 4,000 feet long by 625 feet wide and 255 feet tall. I’m excited for this one.

I may stay at the Carlsbad KOA during this period. I’m not yet certain.

 

Budget

I’m budgeting about $100 for gas based on my planned route.

I am camping in my diy trailer the whole time so there will be no cost in hotels or lodging with the exception of one night at Datil Well for $5.

The cost of the guided tour at the Earthship Visitor Center is $16.

I’m budgeting $100 a week for food during this trip including both groceries and eating out.

 

Local Fare

Getting food to go, like camping, falls into the “lowest risk” category of the current CDC guidance.

Buzzfeed recommends Adovada. According to Wikipedia this is “a baked meat dish that is a specialty in New Mexican cuisine. In its simplest form, raw pork is cut into strips or cubes and placed in a large plastic bag with New Mexico red chili powder or minced red chili peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin, lime/lemon juice and/or vinegar, and salt, then mixed and refrigerated overnight. The dish is cooked by baking at low heat wrapped completely in foil or in a covered dish like a casserole dish to keep the meat moist.”

Sounds good. Looks good. Let’s try it! There doesn’t seem to be any exceptionally popular place to get this so I will probably try several different ones and report back.

 

Next up: Texas

Desert Farm MVP

I plan to buy a plot of land and build a desert farm to eventually operate as an educational campground. The idea is that people can come and join the community for a long time in order to learn about subsistence techniques and pitch in with money and work.

Then, together, we can all work to grow food and subsist on the land with the short-term goal of complete food and water sovereignty for the community, and the long-term goal of everyone being completely free to work on their own projects and careers in order to thrive together on the land.

One of the first planning tasks is defining the MVP or minimum viable product. What are the bare minimum essentials that we need when we get started?

Goals

Let’s start by talking about the early-stage goals for the community.

Sizing

One of the critical early questions to ask is how big should the community be. Many of these challenges are far easier to address with a tribe-sized community. Humans evolved to live in groups of 30-50 individuals. Our brains are wired for this. Food production, infrastructure, and many other challenges we face are far easier to address at this scale.

I think it makes sense to start with this size for the MVP phase of the project. It may later make sense to increase in multiples at this scale. Eventually, it seems likely that each project may have a group this size which owns and operates their project together.

Subsistence

The primary short-term goal is subsistence. We need to rapidly get to the point of being able to feed and water ourselves onsite without any inputs, and while managing and recycling all our outputs.

Infrastructure

Layout

Just like Arcosanti, the initial settlement will be outside the planned future development. This will allow easy access to the site by positioning First Camp near the road like our own Mind Garden.

By the end of the MVP phase, we will have built a 3×3 grid of city-block sized squares. The central square will be the main public space and feature public restrooms, showers, and eventually art installations.

The eight outer squares will be sites for group camps just like Ponderosa at Slab City or Moon Cheese at Black Rock City. These will eventually be allocated on an annual basis to groups with compelling project proposals for public offerings, resident stewardship, and  fulfillment of the principles set forth in the Desolation Manifesto. All of these camps should operate as independent, self-sufficient, bootstrappable, and self-funded businesses which address issues related to permaculture while also fulfilling the triple bottom line. Some of the early project proposals include an air well, aquamation facilities, Castile soap production like Dr Bronners, and of course basic community infrastructure. The purpose of all these camps is to inform visitors about techniques for affordable, sustainable alternatives for building communities like ours.

Initially, the only thing we need to worry about is building essential infrastructure and doing it in a way that will let us later expand as planned.

Outside the core grid, land will be allocated for the purposes of the community on an annual basis by the community. Food production and solar arrays are among the most important possible land uses. Additional land not allocated for specific uses will be set aside for dispersed camping and miscellaneous art installations.

But before anyone can come, we need several basic things to be prepared so they can be provided for the community. Most of the work we need to do will be at the site of the future central square, starting with public restrooms and showers.

Power

In the early stage, I want to set up solar photovoltaics with lithium batteries to hopefully give us all the power we will need. The solar arrays will be federated around the property so as to produce power at the same locations where it’s needed. Distributing power production this way is vital to resiliency. There will be no single point of failure.

I plan to duplicate my work from Burning Man, creating a simple network of artsy spider boxes which can run off the battery banks and distribute the power. This means each set of solar panels can charge separate battery banks which are each dedicated to different purposes. For example, one dedicated just for refrigeration and cooking, one for infrastructure like internet and lights, and one to serve as the initial public backbone for the small number of people who will be working on the early stage of the project.

As a proof of concept, I built a small camper which generates 600 watts of solar power which is far more than enough for all of my own needs as an individual. This simple system will simply be duplicated several times to satisfy all these initial requirements.

Food

During this first stage, two large chest freezers will be placed inside a shipping container with additional shelving to serve as the  community’s secure food storage. One of them will be fitted with a special thermostat to make it operate like a fridge; this way we have a large fridge and a large freezer to share. This is a popular and successful strategy in widespread use at burning man and elsewhere.

In the beginning, a very simple community kitchen will suffice, probably housed in the same shipping container as the food storage. This is actually how the kitchen at my burning man camp started out. Larger food production facilities will make sense once there is a larger group to feed and house on-site.  In the long-term, I’d like to see the kitchen offering some kind of simple meals twice daily (breakfast/dinner) to everyone so that there is some basic level of access to nutrition guaranteed to all community members.

If the side of the property with the street access is the front, then I envision one of two outside-front blocks as the main kitchen where food is collected, stored, and distributed. This allows the kitchen access to the central square, the unplanned land for agricultural use, and to the street for deliveries. We aren’t going to be able to specialize in everything, so no doubt some food imports will be necessary.

Food will be produced in several exciting ways on the empty land adjacent to the kitchen. First, there is closed loop aquaponics. I have done a great deal of personal research and experimentation with this, and the possibilities are huge. We will need to build several simple tank beds inside some kind of greenhouse. These will be stocked with edible fish, shrimp, etc. Then a simple raft of styrofoam insulation floats on top of the water with holes cut in it for net pots. These net pots contain the many leafy green vegetables we will later eat.

There is a really enormous amount of research available about this method called Deep Tissue Aquaculture. It serves several purposes at once. It grows food both in fish and plant form, it runs off of urine from both fish and humans, and it cleans and recycles water that would otherwise go to waste. It does all of this without any soil and while using over 99% less water than soil farming. Deep tissue aquaculture has been in practice from Mexico City to Thailand for tens of thousands of years and it’s both more efficient and more productive than more mainstream techniques.

Additionally for long-lived vine plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peas, and berries, the dutch bucket method allows us to very simply build a similar growing station which uses the same fish water to grow these large plants in a way that is more suited to their needs.

For both the dutch buckets and the aquaponics beds, I think doing the growing inside a shipping container with controlled light cycles and temperature will be a huge improvement over outdoor or greenhouse growing. In order to avoid the limited seasonal growing cycle as a result of changes in daylight, and to avoid the unnecessary heat, we can let a rooftop solar array capture the sunlight and heat before transmitting that power to led grow lights in the cool, humid inside of the container gardens. It’s not clear to me whether this makes more sense as a short-term goal or a medium-term goal, but I think getting crops out of the sun cycle and into a protected environment will allow us to grow a lot more crops year-round as opposed to only during their natural growing season.

One of the biggest reasons to grow food indoors instead of outdoors is the opportunity for first-in-first-out just-in-time growing. I want to take this early stage to experiment with ways of doing the planting and harvesting to allow for FIFO/JIT so that we can produce these vegetables as we need them, not all at once. If we plant two or three each of spinach,  lettuce, kale, etc every week or so, then we can harvest that many each week after a 26 week growing cycle. This is one major opportunities for innovation in subsistence farming that I think we can really pioneer here. Instead of growing lots of food in the spring and trying to store it for the rest of the year, we can move production inside and grow the same food year-round. This likely wouldn’t make sense for vast corporate agriculture, but it makes a lot of sense for subsistence farming.

For example, a standard sheet of syrofoam is 8’x4′. If we build the tank beds to fit that size, then we will have 8*4=32 square feet of growing space in each bed. Because most leafy greens require about one square foot of space, this means we can segment the production such that one row finishes growing per week. That way we always have fresh leafy greens on hand, with more being ready each week.

Despite the focus on aquaponics, I’d like to have an additional focus on composting in order to create healthy soil for growing plants that way as well. In the long-term, it makes sense to create geodesic domes to allow year-round food production for soil crops. In the short term, I think it makes sense to start with the circular beds that will eventually be enclosed in future domes. These can be constructed on an ongoing basis using reclaimed materials from the composting process, including compostable toilets, table scraps, and other sources for compostable materials. These domes will likely be well suited for agricultural products like herbs and spices or anything that may have a harder time with aquaponic growing methods. Imagine walking into a dome full of fresh basil. to have your morning coffee and bagel.

This will also be a great opportunity to inform people about companion planting techniques. Rotating monoculture is one of the practices most responsible for the many catastrophic side effects of corporate-scale agriculture. Instead of sewing vast fields with a single crop that strips all nutrients from the soil and then moving on to new land like corporate agriculture does, we can focus on reviving ancient wisdom traditions around plants that work together (companion planting) to provide for one another’s needs while nurturing the soil in a way that keeps working over time (is sustainable).

Remember that one of the key principles is to be a community with no outputs. We need to find ways of recycling and reusing all the materials that normally get dumped somewhere. This makes us more sustainable but it also gives us huge opportunities for growth. This is a perfect example because we’re taking waste that would normally be buried and turning it into fuel that drives food production and growth.

It probably goes without saying but I want to make sure we are only using heirloom varieties of plants so that we get healthy, reliable results from plants that were designed by nature to succeed as part of a broader ecosystem, rather than designed in a lab only for the purpose of maximizing profit no matter the cost to that ecosystem.

Another one of the big advantages of growing food in the desert is the fact that there are lots of food crops which are well-suited to growing in the normal desert conditions. After all, people have subsisted for tens of thousands of years here growing crops that thrived under these conditions and allowed vast civilizations to develop here. We will need to set aside a large area for these kinds of crops as well.

Another critical piece of the puzzle is pollinators. If we want to produce our own seeds to grow food far away from other agricultural enterprises, then we will eventually need to develop apiary skills and establish bee hives to pollinate the plants. I am very interested in building off the work of Paul Stammets in researching and experimenting with the ways that agarikon fungi can serve bee colonies as a general-purpose antiviral to stop the apiary viral complex which when combined with widespread pesticide use is decimating vital bee populations around the world. Bees are absolutely essential to human well-being. We could not survive and produce food without them.

Livestock

Chickens are fun and easy animals to keep. They love to eat any pest insects like cockroaches, and they make lots of delicious eggs. I’ve had chickens most of my life, and once you taste fresh eggs, you will never want to go back to store bought. Chickens are a no brainer.

I’ve also had pigs and dogs. One of the dangers of living in the desert is the presence of venomous animals like snakes and scorpions, as well as coyotes that will try to eat the chickens. Luckily, both pigs and dogs love to hunt and eat snakes and scorpions, plus they chase away coyotes. For this reason, I plan to get a couple of pigs (pot-bellied) and a couple of dogs early on. These will never be food, just cute friends who work on keeping the grounds safe from dangerous animals.

Water

The same block where the kitchen sits will also play host to our Department of Public Works Camp (DPW) and serve as the central distribution node for things like power, water, internet, and septic.

Trenching these things will eventually give access to the other eight blocks of the core grid. For now, it will only be supplying the kitchen with power, water, and septic.

I’d like to start with a raised IBC Tote water tank, and eventually construct a full IBC water tower. This builds on lessons I learned at Slab City during my visit there. This will initially serve to simplify water distribution by putting a lot of water in a big tank where everyone can access it. The easiest short-term solution will likely be either hiring someone to truck water in periodically or else using a second IBC tote to truck water in ourselves.

Eventually, raising that tank or one like it will mean we can let gravity do the work of high powered pumps in providing water pressure for showers, sinks, etc.

Water reuse is a must. Water is expensive and it’s one of our scarcest resources. We must focus on reclaiming as much as we can and finding new uses for it whenever possible. There are great ted talks about techniques in use around the world for reusing water five times or more before it becomes too dirty for any useful purpose. To that end, I’d like to have public access to water freely available to everyone in the community. This will create natural incentives for us to educate guests about how important water recycling is, and to provide adequate infrastructure to close the loops on the outputs.

In the long-term, I want to focus on developing and expanding bio-remediation and reclamation techniques for water. For example, in the earthships of Taos, many use this same technique of collecting human urine in a tank to grow plants. They also use a complex system of mechanical filtration or bio-filtration to reclaim fresh water from the tanks.  The water they drink is the water in the fish tanks, put through a series of filters. Then it goes back into the fish tank when they pee it out. In the tanks, bacteria and enzymes break the urine down and make its chemicals available to the plants as food. This is why the technique is called closed-loop aquaponics. Adding fish to the tanks just adds extra urine to feed even more plants while including fish as an additional food source.

There is no reason we can’t use something like a simple solar distillery or other filtration system to clean the fish water and pump it back up into the water tower to be used again as perfectly clean and potable fresh water, and this has to be the long-term goal because water is only getting scarcer and more expensive as the biosphere continues to collapse.

If everyone uses 1-3 gallons of water per day (about half the average for a typical American), and we have one hundred community members, and we pay $1/gallon to have water trucked in (less than half the average paid at burning man), then we are paying over ten thousand dollars a month just for water. Every gallon we reuse means money we save every community member.

Some of the people involved in the early planning stages of the project have  expressed interest in building Atmospheric Water Generators such as Air Wells. I think in the long-term this makes a lot of sense. Even in the desert, there is a lot of water in the air, and that water can be extracted in order to be used as potable fresh water. Also, while closed loop aquaponics uses over 99% less water than old-fashioned farming techniques, a great deal of the water it does use goes into the air as humidity through the processes the plants use to make glucose and other materials they need. This water accumulates in the air since the greenhouse is a closed space. It makes a lot of sense to extract the excess humidity back out of the air in the greenhouse and return it to the tanks for reuse. In fact, this is a natural side effect of air conditioning. All air conditioners produce water which must be drained away. This can simply be caught or piped back into the system. This seems like a challenging project but we have someone who wants to do it, and I think especially in the long-term, it makes sense to focus on any water reclamation strategy that’s available to us.

As a case study, one of the best examples of water bio-remediation is water hyacinth. This plant grows quickly and floats on water with no soil for its whole life cycle. In fact, in places like Thailand, water hyacinth is what they traditionally use as the rafts to grow plants on in their ancient deep tissue aquaculture techniques. They use water hyacinth just like we’re using styrofoam. One of the other benefits of water hyacinth is that it filters any heavy metals and other toxins out of the water. Water hyacinth can grow in raw untreated sewage, purifying it into clean water while producing lots of compostable plant material. It can even be fermented into ethanol or other biofuels.

Internet

The most common individual-scale strategy I’ve seen in my own research in improvised communities is using hotspots from providers like T-Mobile or Verizon. I use one from Google. These costs can even be shared by several people caravanning together.

Community-scale internet is a more challenging problem to solve. The current internet infrastructure is owned by a corporate monopoly. The backbone that was built with public dollars is now only accessible through corporate gatekeepers. I think there is a lot of hope that this will change in the future, but currently our only real option is to pay a gatekeeper for access.

Thes best way to provide community-scale internet service will depend a lot on the eventual site chosen for the farm. At burning man, we use long-distance radio towers to beam internet into the city and then distribute it through a series of smaller networks.

Building our community network will be the easy part. I’ve worked directly on this project at burning man and even built a community-scale network myself  for Comfort & Joy. BUilding a community network can be done using simple off the shelf repeaters to rebroadcast the internet connection around the area. Something cheap and simple like this will likely be fine in both the short-term and medium-term. Even a simple Google Wifi Mesh system like the one I have at home will easily deliver gigabit network connections to the entire area of the proposed future development.

The hard part is figuring out the best way to get a high enough bandwidth connection from the internet to our public network so that everyone can get enough access. In the long-term, it will likely make sense to federate this system so that several individual uplinks to Starlink or something like it which can then be distributed around the area with branches building off of these uplinks. It would even make sense to establish load-balancers between the uplinks, and then share that balanced uplink across a simple mesh wifi system. This kind of system would be extremely resilient to any kind of issues outside the area.

bathrooms

Urinal troughs are simple to build and they allow us to easily reclaim valuable material and add it to the aquaponics system to feed the plants. I’ve seen examples where people are doing closed cycle aquaponics without fish urine and using just human urine to feed the plants. I think doing both together will be a good place to start.

Composting toilets are a no brainer, particularly in the early stages when there are just a few of us. Simple instant tents with toilets inside are an easy solution that I’ve already tested with great results. We will likely have some large section of the land adjacent tothe kitchen set aside for composting, in addition to the aquaponics, soil domes, and other agricultural infrastructure.

Many of the composting materials require different periods or temperatures. For example, safely composting human waste requires different techniques from composting vegetables or unwanted plant parts. So there will need to be different kinds of composting set up for different materials.

showers

I have always found it morally appalling that public restrooms and showers are not already sited on every street corner across the developed world. People have a right to bathe and relieve themselves with dignity. This one of the most egregious violations of human well-being I’ve seen perpetrated on a de facto basis throughout not juts America but also Europe. The only public showers that are available in America are found at truck stops and they cost $10-17 each time. This is not ethical. Showers, like restrooms and water, should be freely available for everyone.

To that end, I’ve researched and experimented with various techniques in improvised communities and I like the simple strategy of a low-flow shower head with a metered button to turn it on for a minute or so at a time. Water heating will be done by a simple passive solar water heater. The water coming out of the solar water heater will then pass through an electric tankless water heater in order to make sure it is up to temp. This hybrid design means the electric water heater only has to do part  of the work on cloudy days, or at night when the sun is not heating the water. Our shower system will have no CO2 emissions, and make it easy to collect and remediate/reclaim the water from the drains.

One technique I liked at burning man was the elevated expansion grid platform with a sump pump underneath to collect the water and pump it into a holding tank. Remediation and reclamation processes can then pull the stored water out of the tank and get to work cleaning it up and making it potable again or simply using it to flush toilets in the adjacent restroom block.

Laundry

Laundry is an interesting problem to solve. There are substantial costs involved in terms of maintenance for typical machines, and remediation of the water may not always be possible with certain chemicals. Also evaporating the water during drying is going to waste a lot of water. Probably the best option would be not using industrial machines, but instead soaking clothes in natural non-chemical cleaners and then drip drying them or using a condensing dryer to reclaim the water during drying.

One of the most important things is not using any chemicals that are going to be hard to remediate in order to get the water back afterwards. One of the best options for solvents is Castile soap like Dr Bronner’s.

In terms of methods for not using expensive machines, I have found great alternatives in my own research at improvised nomadic communities.

In the modern world we have lost the tradition of soaking clothes overnight in soap to clean them. This is a huge first step that will be easy for us to do. Simply start by soaking clothes in a bucket with soapy water overnight. People I’ve talked to say that about a tablespoon of Dr Bronner’s in a few gallons of water is plenty.

The next day come back and agitate the clothes in the bucket using a plunger. This final step loosens any remaining debris and let’s it dissolve into the water. Some people also change out the water before and after agitation. But most people I’ve talked to actually don’t rinse the clothes after this. The argument being that if you need to rinse extra soap out then you’re using too much soap.

Then the clean clothes simply need to be wrung out and hung up to dry. This last bit of lost water seems difficult to recover, but the vast majority of the water stays in the bucket. Used Castile soap is easy to neutralize and remediate.

First Steps

We will be using USDA Farm Loans and Grants to buy a few hundred acres of land later this year. The whole project will be organized as a nonprofit. Most of the early team are already fully self-contained nomads so we will simply set up camp there with our existing gear to get started.

MVP Materials

These are the things we will need to buy with the initial USDA grants after the land is secured;

  • A water trailer.
  • Materials for livestock pens.
  • Initial livestock and their feed.
  • Fencing to surround the land.
  • Materials for the first aquaponics beds.
  • Ideally I’d like to get several shipping containers.
    • Freezers and shelving for food and tool storage.

Here are things we already have and won’t need to buy for this project;

  • Lots of solar panels
  • Lithium battery banks
  • Backup generators
  • Shelter/ campers

Arizona

This post is about the Arizona leg of my year on the road. I’m traveling to all the national parks in the contiguous 48 states. I’m also stopping at several other interesting spots along the way, and making sure to sample the local fare. Public health officials across the country argue that this is one of the safest things to be doing right now.

As someone who lives with essential first responders, this is much safer than staying at home. We had just finished house quarantine after our third covid scare from a room mate’s workplace — the day before I left — so I was feeling very ready to get going and put some distance between me and other people.

Previous: Southern California

Next: New Mexico

  • Quartzsite, Arizona (January 14-21)
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (January 22)
  • Saguaro National Park West, Arizona (January 23)
  • Arcosanti, Arizona (January 24-30)
  • Saguaro National Park East, Arizona (January 29)
  • Sonora Hot Dogs at Nogales Hot Dogs in Phoenix (January 29)
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (January 31-February 6)
  • Meteor Crater, Arizona
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Timeline

I plan to spend at least a month in Arizona.

One of the main suggestions from TripAdvisor is kayaking but I’m going to be there in January so that’s probably not the most ideal activity for the winter. I would love to come back someday in the summer and run the Colorado. In particular I would love to do a multi-day trip through the grand canyon.

Quartzsite, Arizona

This is a mecca for nomads. Annual events like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the Quartzsite RV Show attract tens of thousands of snowbirds and nomads alike. While there isn’t really anything going on this year, and I wouldn’t want to go if there was, I still want to experience the remote desert environment here and spend some time writing and working through my long backlog of tasks and projects.

Organ Pipe National Monument

This is not a national park, but rather a national monument focused on a specific local cactus. It seems interesting and lots of people have recommended it, so I plan to stop by.

Arcosanti, Arizona

In the words of Maynard James Keenan, “If you were an extra-terrestrial traveler and you landed in the Southwest and wanted to assume an identity here and blend in. This would probably be a good spot to do that.”

I’m very excited to visit Arcosanti! This is a proof of concept Archology designed by visionary architect and urbanist Paolo Soleri. The idea is that the community is designed intentionally to incorporate closed loops which allow it to recycle its waste while providing for its own needs. It also houses as many people as possible in a small, dense area with no cars while preserving the vast wild lands around it; resident stewardship and ecology are built into the architecture of the community. This is where the term arcology comes from.

One of the products they produce are unique hand-forged bronze wind bells. I’m very excited to pick up one of these in addition to a copy of Soleri’s book, City In The Image Of Man.

I plan to spend a week here, reading and learning as much as possible.

Saguaro National Park west/East, Arizona

This park has the nation’s largest cacti. It’s a small park and there seems to be a limited number of activities so we will see how much time I spend here.

I’m excited to see the cactus garden at the museum, and do the scenic drive through the park.

The park is divided in two, with the city of Tucson in between. I will visit each side on separate days.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

I plan to spend a week here, boondocking near Tusayan at Long Jim Loop Camping. Camping here is free for up to two weeks just like Quartzsite and so many other places. This spot is also just a few hundred feet from downtown Tusayan with all the shopping and wifi you could wish for.

Meteor Crater, Arizona

About 50,000 years ago a meteor struck this spot in Arizona. It left a huge crater. I want to see it.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This is a very cool-looking place. I’m excited to see all the weird petrified trees and do the many hikes that are available.

I plan to spend several days here. There are a lot of options for free camping in the area, but the Crystal Forest Gift Shop or the seems like the most obvious option since it’s right there at the park and it’s free.

Budget

I’m budgeting about $100 for gas based on my planned route.

I am camping in my diy trailer most of the time so there will be little cost in hotels or lodging. There is one exception; I will be spending a week at Arcosanti at $20/night.

I also plan to spend ~$200 on a wind bell and a copy of Soleri’s book at Arcosanti.

I’m budgeting $100 a week for food during this trip including both groceries and eating out.

Local Fare

One of the main goals I set for this trip is to try weird and popular local food options. According to Buzzfeed, Sonoran hotdogs are the thing to try while in Arizona. Furthermore, Far & Wide agrees, and suggests that Nogales Hot Dogs in Phoenix is the best place in Arizona to get these mythical Sonoran hotdogs. We will see!

Getting food to go, like camping, falls into the “lowest risk” category of the current CDC guidance.

Honorable Mention

Tombstone seems like it would be fun to check out, but I don’t want to get the normal tourist experience.

 

How It Went

Quartzsite

Quartzsite was amazing. I will absolutely go back every year. I met up with a group of nomads and we camped together for several weeks. The meetup was very very strict with covid compliance which was great. We had a great time getting to know each other safely. I think some of these new friendships will  last for years.

I really liked camping at Plomosa Rd. It was a big open space with lots of room for social distancing.

I love that Quartzsite has a free garbage dump. That was super convenient.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

This place was pretty cool to see. Lots of weird and interesting plants. I’m glad I stopped by. Here is me with an Organ Pipe Cactus…

 

I camped at Gunsight Wash as recommended by the friends I made in Quartzsite. This is a totally free place to camp for up to two weeks just like Plomosa in Quartzsite. It’s just a few minutes outside the Organ Pipe National Monument so it’s a great spot to stay.

Leaving Gunsight, I called around and found that Loves Travel Stop in Gila Bend takes trash for free which was great. There is also a dump but it’s only open weekday mornings and sadly it’s not free.

Arcosanti

To say I was really excited would be an understatement. I have been obsessed with this place for years and finally I get to see it in person!

This was my view for the week from a camp site behind the arcology, looking out over the edge of the mesa. This was just $20/night with bathrooms included.

I was very excited to learn that they were taking covid precautions very seriously here. Only the outdoor things are open, and masks are mandatory at all times.

I did the tour of the grounds plus picked up a couple shirts, a hoodie, and a wind bell from the gallery.

During the tour, the guide mentioned that they have witnessed a trend here over the last fifty years of about a 10 degree increase in temperature during the summer and a ten degree decrease during the winter.

So I was here at a very strange time when we had 58 mph wind gusts and  snow in the high desert.  This made for some great photos. As you can see, I was the only person camped on top of the mesa! The whole Mind Garden was my front yard, and I was the only one taking advantage of it during my stay. Click here to check out the photosphere I created at the same place as the above photo.

One of the residents told me that the exact spot where I’m camping is where Puscifer recently filmed Bedlamite from their new studio album. They are one of my favorite bands and I knew they had recently filmed here but I had no idea it was right here!

Arcosanti is easy to fall in love with. There is so much good, a lot of bad, and the work is so compelling. It would be easy to spend a lifetime working on this place.

 

 

Next up: New Mexico