How to Read This Blog


HOW TO READ THIS BLOG:

To get the most out of this blog, I recommend beginning with the earliest post and proceeding in chronological order. For the most part this blog, like a planning document, builds on data and rationale in a linear manner. You may find value in individual posts taken in isolation, but I suspect your experience will be richer if you follow the intended progression.

Friday, January 27, 2017

LPS 2: Inventory of Existing Conditions

In the first post of this series, we established a general outline of our study area:  Anytown, USA.  Anytown may not be exactly like your town, but it shares characteristics with many places in America.

For the purposes of plan development, we will inventory the general conditions of the built, natural, and social/economic environment of Anytown.  This will provide the base set of conditions from which we will project future scenarios, given what we know about the unfolding macro situation from the World Planning Series.

This post will be intentionally more graphic-heavy than most posts on this blog, in order to relay a highly visual and hopefully relatable narrative that describes the kind of place under discussion.

Housing

We'll begin at the starting point of all stationary and semi-stationary civilization: shelter for habitation of human families, or, "residential" development.  In Anytown the majority of housing stock is the detached, single family home, making up about 60% of total homes.  In itself, this does not necessarily presuppose a particular pattern of development; however, these housing units are developed in a manner that is primarily supported by and is supportive of automobile transportation.  The resulting suburban development pattern looks largely like this:

Is this really so different from  apartment life?

Of course, other housing types can easily be found, including about 20% apartments and condos, 15% duplex or townhomes, and 5% mobile or manufactured homes.  However, even most of these types of housing follow a similar overall pattern of development as the single family home.  Individual or shared front and rear yards contain boxlike buildings, generally following similar architectural styles within neighborhood areas, as determined by the decade of construction and the anticipated class of the inhabitants (or cost of the units).

A large portion of the total land area is taken up by rights-of-way, containing meandering roads wide enough to accommodate two passing vehicles plus parking on-street.  In many cases (especially in newer neighborhoods) there are also sidewalks, but the street is the dominant feature of the space.

Generally the units are about 2,000 square feet, smaller in older or lower income areas.  There are several bedrooms, large communal spaces for cooking, dining, and leisure.  The units have all the necessities of modernity including electricity from the grid, potable water on tap, and sewer service to carry it all away.

Commerce

Of course there are also considerable areas of commercial development, generally separated by some distance from the residential areas (especially the higher income residential areas).  These tend to be aggregated along the more major roadways that extend continuously across the city for long distances (arterial roadways).  The reason for this is that the majority of the citizens in Anytown travel by car, and they tend towards the most efficient route to their destination which results in large volumes of traffic along these key roadways.  Business operators have learned that placing their business directly on roadways with high traffic volumes provides maximum exposure to their customers and increases their chances of success.  These areas are the home to strip malls and big-box chain stores, which provide a majority of the goods and services needed and wanted on a daily basis for the average citizen.  As a result, many of the commercial areas in the city look like some version of this:
















The main exception to the strip-mall pattern of commercial development is in the city's downtown, which was platted in the 1800's and reflects a development pattern based on pedestrian scale transportation rather than automobile scale transportation.  Buildings are compact and close together, with a mix of uses including retail and offices on the ground floor, and various mixes of office and even housing in stories above.  Overall, the balance in downtown is in favor of commercial development, necessitating additional housing outside of the downtown core and resulting in a daily in-migration of workers and shoppers during the day and an exodus back to suburban houses in the evening.  For the most part, however, once people arrive in downtown in their automobiles they are able to get around by foot.

While suburban commercial areas include retailers and service providers that most people need access to on a daily basis, the types of commercial development that remain in downtown tend to be of a different mix.  The older more compact buildings in downtown tend to not be conducive to major chain stores, so locally owned and operated businesses tend to have a greater presence.  Because of the large number of office workers, there is a proliferation of dining and entertainment establishments.  While some core daily services like a small grocery, drug store, hardware store, and others are all present, the majority of the retail businesses tend to be boutique in nature, fitting specific niches like antiques, coffee shops, or apothecaries.  The walkable development pattern supports a pleasant urban environment that looks something like this:
Downtown Main Street Jacksonville, OR




















Supply Chains

Of course, whether talking about downtown or the suburbs, very few of the products being sold at any of the businesses actually come from the area.  Anytown is fed by a constant stream of truck and rail traffic delivering all of the goods being consumed by its citizens.  Highly perishable goods, like food, arrive and are sold or consumed within days or a few weeks of their arrival in town.  This means that at any given time, there is perhaps a week's supply of food and other products available from the last delivery.  This supply must constantly be replentished in order to keep products on the shelves of stores and food in the pantries of citizens.





















Transportation

By this point, we have already alluded to the various forms of transportation present in Anytown, simply due to the necessity of transportation to the normal operation of the local economy.  While the government of Anytown likes to pay lip service to being "multimodal", the reality is that one mode of transportation totally dominates all others: the car.

All day, every day, even late at night, there are automobiles cruising the streets from one place to the next.  Anytown is actually one of the more progressive cities in the US, with about 60% of its total commute trips being taken by a single person in a car.  Bicycles, for comparison, make up around 5% of commute trips, which is a very high rate for American cities.  The car is so embedded into the culture of Anytown that huge swaths of land are dedicated just to accommodating them both in travel as well as at their destination in the form of parking lots and garages.  Because it is assumed that everyone is travelling by car, the design of land uses is such that it is difficult to get between places by any other mode.  Even for short trips, it is easier to drive from one parking lot to another than undertake a potentially dangerous voyage by foot or pedal.



Of course, some people do travel by other modes.  One of these is public transportation, in the form of buses.  Long ago, streetcars traveled across Anytown, but as the use of cars expanded even public transportation came to consist of giant gas-powered cars.  The majority of the people using public transportation fall into two categories:  people who cannot drive for some reason (poverty, illness or disability, inability to obtain a driver's license), and students at the local university who use it as a shuttle service to campus.


Civic Infrastructure

In addition to the privately held assets of individuals (such as houses and commercial businesses), there are a number of assets held by public and nonprofit entities in the name of the entire public.  These pieces of civic infrastructure serve key functions such as putting out fires, maintaining law and order, dispensing justice, or providing medical care.  They include the public buildings where government workers toil such as City Hall and various office buildings.  They also include firehouses, vehicle and machine shops, and storage yards and warehouses for the development of public sector projects.  These facilities are generally kept operational by support from tax dollars, both locally as well as passed-down from state and federal government sources.




One piece of civic infrastructure worth mentioning explicitly is medical facilities.  This includes hospitals of course, but also a vast network of private and nonprofit facilities as well from private practice clinics to urgent care facilities to pharmacies.  All of these facilities are dependent upon easy access to energy, technology, and national supply chains.  They are also extensively used, as a very significant proportion of the population is reliant upon regular medical care and products.




Utility Infrastructure

Behind and often underneath all of these public and private facilities, there is a vast network of utility infrastructure feeding the buildings and streets so that they can function as we have come to expect.  Most people do not understand or recognize the importance of these facilities because they operate silently in the background.  However, if they ever stop functioning, people would notice very quickly.

Each building in Anytown has it's own internal system of plumbing for clean water and waste.  Outside of the building envelope, the local municipality owns and maintains a vast network of pipes which must be regularly inspected and cared for, and occasionally patched in the event of a break or leak.  The potable water is carried from large water purification plants, which draw water out of above-ground reservoirs and use a complex process of filters and chemicals to produce clean drinking water.  These facilities must be manned and supplied every day to keep the water safe and flowing.  At the other end are large wastewater treatment facilities.  Once again, these facilities use complex processes of chemicals, filters, and bacteria to break down contaminants enough to release the waste into the environment.  They must also be continually manned in order to ensure proper function.




In Anytown, the local municipality owns the electric distribution system via its own electric utility.  It does not generate its own electricity, except for a few small community solar gardens.  All of the electricity feeding the system is purchased from a local Power Authority, which owns generation plants for the entire region and then allocates the electricity to the member jurisdictions.  The vast majority of the electricity is provided by the burning of coal, although a small and growing percentage comes from utility scale solar and wind facilities.  For the most part, however, Anytown is involved in keeping up its distribution grid.  This requires regular ongoing maintenance on a daily basis, as well as the ability to respond quickly to outages and broken lines.




Human Resources

Lest we forget, all of these buildings and infrastructure exist for the purpose of housing, employing, and serving the human beings who occupy Anytown.  What are the characteristics of these people?  Clearly, they are not a homogeneous mass- but rather a wide spectrum.  While we won't go into details here, there is an active civic life in Anytown, including an abundance of arts and cultural activities.  The people of Anytown have a wide variety of past times and diversions to choose from, including local sports, recreational activities, theaters and museums.



By race, Anytown is about 70% white, 10% black, 15% Hispanic, and 5% other races.  Most people are in their productive adult years, with about 20% of the population under the age of 15 and about 15% over the age of 65.  The majority of the population falls squarely in the "middle class", with one or two wage earners allowing a typically American middle class lifestyle.  About 15% of the population is living at or below the poverty line, most of them chronically.  While the official unemployment rate is extremely low, a large but unspecified number of people are underemployed or have dropped out of the workforce and are reliant upon public assistance.  There is a noticeable homeless presence in the town, numbering over a thousand over the course of a year, or about a half a percent of the total population.

About a third of people are obese (physically limited in what they can do because of body weight), and more than 2/3 are at least "overweight".  15% of the population is dependent upon multiple maintenance medications, which they must take on a daily basis.  20% of people have some type of physical or mental handicap.

Natural Resources

Of course, before Anytown was even constructed there was the natural environment that defines Anytown's unique set of circumstances.  One of the major industries in the surrounding area is oil and gas.  Outside of City limits, it is possible to find rigs operating and new wells being dug.  These resources are far under the ground and require sophisticated techniques and technology to locate and extract; however, there are a number of wells already in operation that automatically and continuously pump oil and natural gas out of the ground and into pipelines.




Not too far from the population of Anytown, it is possible to see a much more natural environment with relatively little disturbance by humans.  Within an hour's drive, there are federally protected lands held by the forest service.  These lands are open to only limited development (for example, for oil and gas by permit only), and other uses by citizens such as hunting and other recreational activities.  Compared to the valley floor where Anytown lies, these forests seem fairly pristine and remote; however, there is an extensive network of forest roads and regular presence of humans in the area for various purposes


File:Gallatin National Forest.jpg

Agriculture

Where humans on the outside edges of Anytown have attempted to tame and exploit the land under their feet, the result is agriculture.  It used to be that the agricultural area surrounding Anytown provided all of the food needed by the citizens.  Now the food distribution system is consolidated and globalized, so locally grown produce and animal products are consolidated at regional facilities and then distributed across the country.


Agricultural practices follow the general procedures described in the World Planning Series Inventory of Existing Conditions, so we won't expand too much upon them here.  Because of the prevalence of cattle around Anytown, there are more independent and semi-independent land owners than in many other places, who simply sell their product to corporations but still own the ranch property.  For a large part of the cattle's lives, they roam across the prairie as they have for hundreds of years.  It isn't until they are finished at feedlots and shipped to commercial butchering facilities that the process becomes distinctly industrial.  Most vegetable production follows a strictly industrial process, with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, airplane sprayers, and massive diesel-powered equipment.

And then there are some small-scale agriculturalists, generally on smaller acreages from 5-20 acres, who fill a specific niche for boutique agricultural products.  These are often organic or near-organic, and include both family farms as well as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and community gardens.  These are a very small part of the total agricultural community, however.


Next

While there are certainly other details we could delve into, the above categories should provide the reader with a fairly understandable mental map of Anytown.  Many of these characteristics should seem familiar, because they are deeply embedded in the dominant culture.

Overall, Anytown is a fine place to live.  It offers many amenities, diverse activities, a beautiful natural landscape, and a wide assortment of people to find things in common with.  While it may be somewhat average among other similar American cities, the reality is that  Anytown boasts a quality of life higher than just about anywhere, at any time past or present.  It truly is the beneficiary of a global empire, built upon the energy produced by fossil fuels.

In the next post, we will take what we know about events unfolding at the global level, and use this information to project future conditions for Anytown.



8 comments:

  1. Comment by Froggman on Our Finite World:

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2017/02/20/oops-the-economy-is-like-a-self-driving-car/comment-page-6/#comment-116299

    But hey, the slaves had high quality pottery. The rising tide really does lift all boats!

    The only time our institutions work to the benefit of non-elites is when its necessary to do so to maintain the existing social order. These “benevolent” institutions exist solely for that purpose- to avoid social upheaval and keep the elite in power.

    I work in government as a planner. We have all kinds of rules we impose on business/development supposedly in the name of “the public good”. In reality, what we’re doing is smoothing over the rough edges that would make these developments untenable. We create a set of legal hoops to jump through that satisfies the citizens just enough that they accept what is happening. It’s because of us that business/development is able to continue forcing itself down the throat of our constituency. We’re not actually standing up to the elite in the name of the citizen; we’re legitimizing exploitation by asking for a few token concessions.

    You can see this model at work anywhere there is a supposedly benevolent institution. You just have to figure out what the real purpose of that entity is in light of the larger system. Who/what really benefits from the actions being undertaken? Feed the starving. Create a social safety net. Let them eat cake. Whatever it takes to keep the masses quelled, so that they can be ruled.

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  2. Hello Froggman,

    ,I just found your blog, coming from "collapse of industrial civilisation". I just want to say thanks for your blog. I always helps with the own state of mind to see the most comprehensible people everywhere coming to the same conclusions as I do.

    So I want to write back, that you might be only one in your personal life to see the nature of our predicament, but you are still dead on. I know I have these moments where I feel like I am getting crazy, because most people I meet think my “doomer” ideas are crazy, I think most of us have these moments.

    At the great party in the ballroom of the titanic, while water is already gushing into the lower decks, we politely point out that it might be time to get the lifeboats ready and people just say: “Iceberg? What iceberg? Look, its so comfortable in here, what is your problem?”.

    But we are not alone, and clear thinking, wisdom, logic and science are at our side.

    So, much thanks and keep it up!

    Greetings,

    AlienObserver

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    Replies
    1. Hi Alien, thank you for your kind words and thank you for stopping by and reading!

      Delete
  3. Concerning agriculture, thankfully there are alternatives that would serve us. I think in this regard you are too gloomy.

    I live in germany, the situation after world war 2 was very dire, but people got together to produce enough food to sustain them through the tough times. Today we know a lot more about sustainable agriculture. Here near munich, the university of "Weihenstephan", has researched alternatives of industrial agriculture for decades.

    What the great powers that be (Cargill, Monsanto, Bayer ...) would tell us is, that without them, and their GMOs, industrial farming and chemical products we would all starve. This could not be farther from the truth.

    The university of Weihenstefan i.e. found out, that if we would reduce meat consumption by ca 70 percent (from an overboarding 50 kilos per year), we could provide enough food in germany to sustain the needs of our population.

    Industrial agriculture was never about high yields per acre, it was always about high yields per farmer. We today have a population working mostly in bullshit jobs that really only add to the worlds predicament. We could instead transition into high intensification of sustainable agriculture and produce more than we do now.
    See i.e.: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/may/13/miracle-grow-indian-rice-farmer-sri-system-rice-intensification-record-crop

    See also:
    https://www.hswt.de/en/research/research-projects.html

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the examples and I hope that you're right.

      I think the key is making it work at a totally different scale than the industrial farming we have now. We used to feed cities of several hundred thousand people from the surrounding countryside without GMOs, etc., So it can be done.

      Some people and places will have the will to unplug from the current system, many others will not. I think those that try it sooner rather than later will fare much better in the future.

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    2. Even as a doomer I am not concerned about our capacity to adjust to a post collapse life. It is true that some regions will have more problems than others. I cant see that cities like Beijing, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Dubai can possibly adapt and maybe hunger and death will strike those regions.

      My prognosis as how the unplugging/transition into a post growth/post capitalist society will happen is a little different from yours. In my view it will happen gradually but steadily. I see Greece or Syria today as (extreme) examples of how this gradual transition is allready happening.

      Financial capitalism has hijacked the tax system all around the globe. Countries like Greece, Ireland or Portugal are pressed to spend public budget for debt services by the financial institutions and the supernational institutions (like the EU, the World Bank or the IMF). Even in "well off" countries, like in Germany or the US, much of the taxes today are being siphoned by the financial system to enrich the richest.

      Today capitalism is not about profit from labor by owning the means of production. The modern capitalist/super rich uses theft (also called privatization) and loopholes in law, often created by buying off politics, to enrich him self directly from national wealth.

      All modern nation states draw their legitimacy from the services they provide to their people. The reason we have social constructs like nation states is obviously to share the burden of building hospitals, schools, streets, utility infrastructure etc. between all the citicens by gathering taxes to spend them for the common good. This could be called the very basis of what we call civilisation, "the things we do for each other".

      With every cent not spend on schools but "saving" banks or subsidizing the petrochemical industry, industrial agriculture, etc.) the legitimacy of the state and the "civilisation" that rests on it is being slowly eroded. This trsmformation of capitalism happemed, because the limits of groth have bean reached and the ressources to produce and profit are diminishing.

      Other countries like Syria or the Ukraine (also driven by the conflicts over diminishing ressources), are devastated by the geostrategical interests of the Superpowers. Here the state collapses and stops what a state should do.

      What we can today see in these countries, is how many/most people under these circumstances naturally organise themselfs locally. In greece, where the erosion of the state is almost total, people build their own communal hospitals, have their own currencies and built local sharing economies.

      In Syria, in the most stable (but threatened) region, Rojava, the Kurds organized their region as an ecological, socialist, feminist and anarchist, bottom up society.

      The fact is, that falling into barbarism after collapse, as we can see with the IS in Syria, is rare and short lived. We as humans have a build in fallback option that is called soldarity whenever desaster strikes.

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  4. Another link: http://hez.wzw.tum.de/index.php?id=20&L=1

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  5. There is another story from germany you might not have heard of and that could be of interest to you. After the Cernobyl catastrophy, a small town in the black forst region took over the electrical grid and the electricity supply by forming a local collective to buy it back from their supplier.

    This has been copied all around the world and could be a proof of concept to your anytown series.
    https://www.ews-schoenau.de/export/sites/ews/ews/.files/vorstellung-ews-englisch.pdf

    ReplyDelete