Tag Archives: community

The future is local: Braddock, Pennsylvania

"We will grow" - the bridge to BraddockWe’ve been talking a fair bit about urban decline and decay, and efforts to repurpose collapsing cities.

Now, here’s an example of a dying town trying to go its own way – Braddock, Pennsylvania was once a flourishing steel town, home to Andrew Carnegie’s first free library. Now it has a population of under 2,500, and the axe of a proposed freeway hangs heavily over its neck. 2005 saw John Fetterman become Mayor, and he’s now working to bring “the kind of outside energy, ideas, and interest from the artistic, urbanist, and creative communities” to the town. [hat-tip to Justin Pickard; image by Hryck.]

In other words, if you’ve been reading along with Cory Doctorow’s serialised novel Makers over at Tor.com, or following Chairman Bruce‘s ongoing obsession with “stuffed animal” architecture and squatter culture, Fetterman’s plans will look pretty familiar. Whether Braddock can reinvent itself as a counter-cultural artist’s enclave remains to be seen, but you’ve got to salute the determination of a man willing to work at making it happen. When your government can’t (or won’t) help you, you’ve got to help yourself.

A loosely related story from Canada sees five Ontario grocery stores abandoning their franchisee status in favour of becoming a cooperative organisation that focusses on stocking the local produce that corporate policy previously prevented them from selling. Are we seeing the first trickles of a global landslide toward massive decentralisation, and a return to economies driven by community and proximity? [via MetaFilter]

Domed cities and super-squellettes

Here’s another classic science fiction trope being upgraded to serious proposition: the domed city. The Discovery Channel has apparently been doing a program about mega-engineering, and one of the subjects was a proposal to hide Houston beneath a dome to protect it from the effects of an increasingly erratic climate.

Houston dome concept

Sadly there’s not much detail about the hows and whys (they want you to watch the program, natch), and the sheer overload of Flash content on the DC site keeps crashing my browser. But the dome sure looks pretty – from the outside, at least. [via Technovelgy]

Meanwhile, if you want a more gritty and realistic look at the city landscapes of the near-future you should be tagging along with Bruce Sterling, who’s currently obsessed with emergent, repurposed and interstitial urban spaces and is producing a quality stream of links as a result. One of the latest nuggets is about the favelas of Caracas, Venezuela – built in and around a failed Modernist tower-block project and almost entirely maintained by its residents without government support or funding.

A life on the ocean wave: more seasteading concepts

Opinions differ as to whether seasteading is a plausible libertarian utopia or an unfeasible dream aimed at prising investment out of those whose desire to escape government control isn’t tempered by political realism, or something in between the two.

But one thing’s for sure – it’s an idea that catches people’s imaginations. National Geographic has images of the five winning entries of the Seasteading Institute’s design competition, and all of them have that science fictional *snap* – they look cool, futuristic and (most importantly) plausible, even though they are not intended as actual blueprint designs. This one is titled “Rendering Freedom”, by Brazilian architecture student Anthony Ling:

"Rendering Freedom" seasteading concept

Leaving political and logistical realism aside for a moment, wouldn’t it be awesome living on that thing? For a month or two, at least… until the first big storm brews up, inundating you with rain for weeks on end and keeping the supply ships from coming near enough to deliver food that isn’t fish…

Sarcasm aside, I expect sea-borne micronations are something of an inevitablity – though I doubt they’ll be luxuriously purpose-built and instigated by successful businessmen like the Seasteading Institute imagines them. I think they’re more likely to form themselves out of groups of nomads and refugees, and to use hardware that’s already available – abandoned oil rigs or tankers, for example, or lashed-up flotillas of smaller vessels floating Sargasso-like in regions with little legitimate traffic. To be honest, I’d not be at all surprised to find there are a few of them already. [via grinding.be; image by Anthony Ling courtesy of Seasteading Institute, ganked from linked NatGeog article and published here under Fair Use terms, contact if take-down required, etc.]

The web as emergent collectivist digitopia

socialist starEven now, US resistance to the concept of socialism is a knee-jerk of epic proportions, at least among the more vocal ranks of punditry. But maybe it’s coming anyway – Kevin Kelly crops up at Wired, claiming that the internet is fostering a grassroots variant of technology-enabled collectivism deep in the heart of America… and beyond.

We’re not talking about your grandfather’s socialism. In fact, there is a long list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state. This new brand of socialism currently operates in the realm of culture and economics, rather than government—for now.

The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of Linux was born in an era of enforced borders, centralized communications, and top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a type of collective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free market with scientific five-year plans devised by an all-powerful politburo. This political operating system failed, to put it mildly. However, unlike those older strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme.

It’s an interesting and provocative read, and I heartily recommend you take twenty minutes to read it all.

What I find most intriguing about it, though, is the fact that most of the article would work just as well if you replaced every instance of the word “socialism” with the word “capitalism”. That doesn’t invalidate Kelly’s argument, though; what I think it means is that the old polarity between the ideas encapsulated by those two words is weakening; both socialism and capitalism as ideologies have taken some serious blows in the last sixty years or so, but the underlying systemic approaches to examining and adjusting the way huge numbers of people live that lurk beneath those political edifices are increasingly looking like complementary models or theoretical frameworks, much like you’d find in science.

Which isn’t to say that people won’t crusade under the banner of a scientific theory – look at the new wave of militant evolutionists, for example. But it suggests to me that social economics may gradually be coming detached from the binary oppositions of geopolitics; as awareness of the flaws and benefits of both approaches become clearer and more widely disseminated (thanks to the web, natch), perhaps it will become harder for politicians to claim that one or the other is “right”, “better” or “more American” (or British, or Chinese, or whatever). [image by anarchosyn]

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Crowdsourced crimebusters – first border-jumpers, then bank robbers

We’ve already seen how the public has been drafted in to help bust people trafficking across the US/Mexico border; turns out that law enforcement agencies in Arkansas and Texas are using web mashups to enable members of the public to track down the perps of other forms of crime:

Law enforcement agencies have longed relied on the press and the public to help catch crooks, of course. And some departments, like the NYPD, upload their “wanted” posters. But BanditTrackerArkansas.com — and its sister site for Texas, BanditTracker.com — are a little different and a little more sophisticated. Descriptions of the suspect and the crime are paired with pictures from the bank’s surveillance cameras, both indoor and out. The whole thing is then plotted on a Google Map.

The scheme seems to be in its infancy at the moment, but I doubt it’ll stay that way for long; budget restraints will mean a continued shortage of law enforcement officers, but there’ll probably be no shortage of people willing to do their bit to nab the baddies.

Somehow, I find this a lot less sinister than the border-watch systems; it smacks of a more honest sense of community. That said, it also has greater potential for some quick and dirty hacking, whether it be to protect a criminal from pursuit or to frame someone innocent…