Thoughts

My vision for the towns and villages of the future

As I hinted in my previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, and I hope to do it justice. If what I write here seems scattered, it’s because I haven’t been keeping notes on my ideas, though I’ve had many, so this is more or less ex tempore.

Even though I’ve made my thoughts on overpopulation pretty clear in previous posts (here is one of them), it’s important to state once again that I don’t believe the natural world can support as many humans as there are in the world for much longer, and something will happen to cut our numbers down. Nature will either do it for us, through the use of a blunt instrument such as a nasty disease or a series of natural catastrophes, or we can do it ourselves, by limiting the number of children we have. I have written previously that I believe one child per family would provide an immediate and constant decrease in population for the foreseeable future, and the ideal way to do it is for each family to commit to this by themselves, or we may get into a situation in the future where it will be mandated upon us.

In many ways, we are living in the best of times, and I’ve written about this in the past as well. It would be a great pity and a great loss if catastrophic events cut down the world population indiscriminately, reducing our civilization and technology back to medieval times, but that may well happen if we don’t take action ourselves. The best way to go about this is to ensure that we decrease the world population while we maintain and continue to develop the comforts that make modern life so worth it. I’m talking about modern plumbing, modern surgery, modern dentistry, modern electricity installations, modern computing, etc. Losing these would set us back hundreds of years, but that’s just what will happen through some sort of cataclysmic events if we don’t reduce our numbers proactively.

There are population controls built into nature for every species. I don’t think I need to say more on this. Nature documentaries abound, and you can see for yourselves that every species is subject to either natural predators or natural diseases that limit its numbers. When those fail, food supplies become limited and numbers once again fall. But we as humans have managed to evade our predators and our diseases, and we’ve also managed to pump up the production of our foods, to the point where there are much too many of us around. We are literally eating everything in sight and we’re consuming everything we can get our hands on. This cannot go on. Something will happen. It sounds ominous, I know, but just look around you. Everything in nature is governed by natural laws. We have been stepping all over those laws. How much longer do you think this planet upon which we’re so dependent will tolerate our numbers and our crimes against nature?

At this point you might be asking what this has to do with the towns and cities of the future. Well, this was the preamble that now allows me to say that these settlements of the future will have greatly reduced populations (one way or another), yet if we have been proactive, they will have maintained all of the modern comforts and will also provide gainful employment for people from all sorts of trades and occupations. That will be the hat trick.

Let’s look at population density. Clearly, lower population density is going to be a natural result of less population, but how about some numbers? There are many studies on this and I could link to a few, but I’d like you to do your own research on this. What feels comfortable to you? What feels overpopulated to you? For example, my house sits on a plot of land that’s about 1200 square meters in a small town in Southern Transilvania. The plots for the houses around me vary in size but I would say on average, they’re about 1000 square meters. This is enough space for a good-sized house, a driveway, a courtyard and a garden, plus some nicely-sized trees. I find this to be a good size for a plot of land in a town. Any smaller and it would feel cramped. Any bigger and it would of course be better 🙂. As for apartment buildings, that’s a different story. I would say about 100 square meters is the minimum for up to two people, but more importantly, and this is something I rarely found in apartments, there should be a minimum ceiling height, and it shouldn’t be 2.4 or 2.6 meters, but more like 2.8 or 3 meters. A small room is much more bearable when the ceilings are higher.

How about in the countryside, in a village? There, a decent plot of land that would allow you run a moderately self-sufficient household would have to be at least 3000 square meters, though that’s a bit small by my account. Let’s go with a number that’s easier to remember: 5000 square meters. That would allow you to have a bigger courtyard where you could round up your animals, keep a tractor or two, have a good-sized garden in the back to grow vegetables, etc, and you’d still have space for a good-sized house, a barn and various annexes such as stables, hen houses, etc. And you’d need some additional farmland outside the village, but since I’m not a farmer, I can’t speak to the size of those plots of land.

So 1000 square meters in towns and 5000 square meters in villages sounds good to me. And in order to meet the demands of farmland in-between settlements, we’d need to ensure a good distance between them. I can speak to the distance, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving. In order for these distances to be enjoyable and for the cars to be run properly, so the engines to have a chance to heat up during each drive, 10 minutes would have to be the minimum, with a 20 minute relative max, otherwise the drive gets a bit tedious, especially if you have to do it often.

How about the size of towns and villages? What numbers should we be looking at? Once again, I’ll speak to what I know. My town has about 47,000 inhabitants. By most standards, it’s a small town. But as it turns out, 47,000 people are too many for its infrastructure. The streets can get crowded during rush hour, partly because they were built for a much smaller town and partly because there are simply too many people crowded into the edges of the town, into neighborhoods full of apartment buildings built during communist times. When all those people get into their cars or into trolleys and start going through a medieval town that was built for about 10,000 people, it’s too much. So if we’re going to try to preserve the existing infrastructure, and I think we should, our town could probably handle somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 people, and of course these numbers would be different for each town or city. Some people would be much more comfortable living in larger cities, but even there, I would caution against encouraging ridiculous growth. I could look at one city where I grew up, and that’s Cluj-Napoca. It’s one of the most prosperous cities in Romania right now, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s become unlivable. It’s much too big, much too crowded, much too stretched out, much too expensive and it’s chaos to try and get through it during the day. I wouldn’t want to live there.

As long as I’m on the subject of density, I’d like you to think about another number. When you walk through your town or city, count the people around you and think about what feels comfortable to you and what feels overcrowded. To me, more than 1 person per 10 square meters feels overcrowded. 10 square meters may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s about 3 meters by 3 meters, roughly. Given that our personal space is roughly about 1 square meter, we’d need at least 1-2 meters of space around us which could be navigated by other people without impinging on our personal space (keep in mind they may be carrying bags as well), and you’re already at 9 square meters (1 sq m + 2 sq m in each direction). Add another square meter to the total for a little more buffer and you’re at 10 square meters. I guess at peak times we could go as low as 1 person per 5 square meters, but anything lower than that would be overcrowding and even though you may not realize it, your body would feel the effects. Your heart rate would go up, your stress levels would go up, you may get a headache, etc.

Let’s talk about transport and roads. There are huge costs associated with building and maintaining roads and highways. There are also so many vehicles on the roads. Should the population levels come down, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we’d still have this ongoing debate about pollution and consumption of natural resources and so on and so forth. I for one love cars and furthermore, I love old cars. While I enjoy the convenience and reliability of modern cars, I love the way old cars look, inside and out, and I love their fantastic, cushioned ride quality that’s so easy on the back, especially during long drives. If there were a way to combine the advantages of new and old cars, I’d be all for that. Some people say electric cars are the future. I’m not so sure, not unless we invent batteries with much higher capacities and whose raw materials aren’t as toxic and difficult to obtain from the ground. A number of years ago, I had a rough idea about a car that might be able to harness the gravitational force of the Earth and turn it into propulsion and possibly even levitation, but it’s something that has so far stayed in the realm of scifi. Beyond a wild hunch that this might be doable, I don’t have the scientific knowhow to even begin planning a prototype. The advantage of such a (scifi) vehicle would be that it wouldn’t pollute and it wouldn’t need the tremendous expenditure of paved roads, since it would be able to float just off the ground. Back to reality though: I’d be happy with cars that pollute less, last longer and look better, and by better I mean they should look more like the old cars, with organic curves and endearing appeal.

Let’s talk about buildings and architecture. I think most buildings in existence today are copy-paste jobs and have little to no originality that would make them worth saving when they start breaking down, and that’s a great pity. In terms of environmental impact, getting a house or a larger structure built takes a tremendous amount of natural resources and manual labor, and if you’re just building some nondescript box with cheap materials, you’re guilty of not only using up natural resources, but also for using them improperly, for a structure that will eventually be torn down. Furthemore, if you’re gilding that same crappy architecture with expensive finishings that you then tear down every decade in a stupid effort to keep up with fashion, you’re guilty a third time. There’s an old saying with a clear message that goes, “three strikes and you’re out”.

I think all structures built should have a planned lifespan of at least 100 years. Given the age of so many of the historic buildings in Europe, I think we could successfully plan for building lifespans of 500 years and we could and we should be building structures that could make it to 1,000 years. We owe it to ourselves (to our collective civilization and advancement) and we owe it to the planet, to build structures that last as long as possible, so that once we’ve used up valuable natural resources, we’ve put those resources to very good use. And there should be real, concerted effort from governments everywhere to conserve and restore historic buildings with time-proven methods, using high quality, traditional, natural materials and workmanship.

I’ll give you one pertinent example: in Southern Transilvania, we have many Saxon villages and fortified churches whose architecture was shaped by the industrious people that built them and whose architecture further shaped the land and created an integral artistic and historic whole that is unique in Europe and in the entire world. Nowadays, most of those churches are falling down and the houses are occupied by people who no longer see their historic significance or even appreciate their aesthetic appeal. Historic facades are being mangled. Historic reliefs, sills, cornices, socles, thrusts, pilasters, frontons, gables, porticos, brackets and other ornamental shapes are being stripped away and the bare walls are being covered with styrofoam insulation, with no regard for what was once there or for what will happen to a breathing brick wall once it’s sealed up. We have villages where the churches no longer exist, so even if the houses may still be historically accurate, the village has lost its focal point, or where the churches still stand, but they’re out of place, being surrounded by houses which have entirely lost their shape and are now some ugly, non-descript boxes for the so-called living, painted in garish colors. Ideally, the historic sections of these villages would be declared historic monuments and the whole ensemble (fortifications, church, schoolhouse, village center and village houses) would be conserved and restored accordingly.

Let’s talk about law enforcement, or as I sometimes call it, pruning one’s garden. I’d really like our collective societies to have stricter rules around what is and is not acceptable behavior in public, around public order and noise levels, and about gainful participation in society through work or other involvement such as volunteering, and about the consequences of not doing so. I’d like our towns and village to be quiet, peaceful places where we can do our work and live our lives undisturbed and without disturbing others.

I’d love to see noise violations punished more severely — and this is much more important, with frequency and constancy. I’d love to see people who play loud music get serious fines, now and in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it at home or in their cars. I for one have had it with people whose loud speakers blare and boom up and down our streets and I’d like this kind of behavior stamped out completely. I’d love to see bad behaviors in public punished instantly, even if it means having policemen beating down offenders with sticks on the spot, like they used to do not so long ago.

I am all for people having rights under the law, and I am very glad for the equitable treatment we now espouse for people of different races and particularly for the equitable treatment of women. These advances are humane, they make sense, and they should have happened earlier. But there is a flip side to this: some of these rights should not be inalienable; they should be based on behavior. In the future (and also in the present), participation in society should afford you the same rights as anyone else who participates in that society, but if you’re just a parasite who portends to be part of a society but does not contribute to it through work or other proper involvement, you should, by rights, lose some of your rights. Let me give you some present-day examples.

Those who continually shirk work should not get aid from the government, and those who abuse society’s aid mechanisms by having multiple children just so they can get extra money, should also have their aid cut off, and they should be put to work. But there are currently no legal mechanisms in the EU through which someone can forcibly be put to work, so what we have now, although not many countries talk about it openly, is a certain percentage of the people in those countries who know they can’t be forced to work and who actively choose not to work and live on aid all of the time. This needs to stop in the future. It’s not sustainable and it’s not tolerable.

There are also no legal mechanisms through which policemen can adequately defend themselves and arrest people, should they be attacked. I don’t know if this is the case throughout Europe, but I know, directly from policemen, that it’s what’s going on right now in Romania. Should a policeman pull out his gun and defend himself in Romania right now, it would most certainly mean jail time for him. Should they want to arrest someone, they’d have no jail to take them to, because most, if not all police stations have no holding cells. You can’t put someone in county jail without due process, and you can’t leave someone violent or too drunk on the streets, so what do you do? Right now there’s nothing to do, so policemen will sometimes take these people for a ride to the station, hoping they’ll cool off. This needs to change in the future.

There are also no legal mechanisms to force someone to pay police fines. Ridiculously enough, if they have a job, they can be forced to do it, but if they don’t, if they’re parasites, they can go to court and argue they have no job to pay the fine with, or they can go to their local mayor and get a written excuse from the fine. These local yokel mayors are only too happy to give them these written excuses, because they’re desperate for cheap votes and don’t want to put in the work that wins real votes. Lots of nasty characters take advantage of these loopholes in the current laws and they go on offending, knowing there won’t be serious consequences. So we literally have people in Romania who’ve been violent toward their families or toward the police, or have committed other illegalities, who are staying at home on government aid because they don’t want to work, who are not paying their fines because they have no jobs, and who are also making more children so they can get more government aid. That’s a trifecta of crime and it goes on, unpunished. This needs to stop in the future, which I’m hoping will be much more orderly and disciplined. I’m all for rights, but in a logical and rational world, there are also consequences to one’s actions.

These are the things that come to my mind when I think of the future of cities, towns and villages. Thanks for reading!

Standard
Places

Salzburg in the rain

In September of 2008, we made a quick stop in the Altstadt (Old Town) in Salzburg, as we were traveling through Austria. It was raining and cold, and in spite of my camera not being waterproof to any degree, I insisted on taking some photos. I kept it under my raincoat and I’d take it out for a quick photo, then back inside it’d go. It still got wet, but thankfully, it did not break down. Enjoy the photos!

Standard
Places

Washington, DC

We lived in the DC area from 2003 to 2008 and we loved it, particularly the historic area of DC with all the old neoclassical buildings. Here is a gallery of photographs of some of those buildings, including a few from Union Station, which is not only a train station but also a connection to DC’s metrorail system.

Standard
Places

A jaunt through Dresden

Dresden (known as Drježdźany in Sorbian, Drážďany in Czech and Drezno in Polish) is the capital city and, after Leipzig, the second-largest city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic. Its name derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning “people of the forest”. An important thing to note here is that there is a difference between Sorbians (also known as Lusatians) and Serbians; they are separate ethnic groups in Europe, with completely separate histories.

Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor, and was once the family seat of the Polish monarchs. The city was known as the “Jewel Box”, because of its baroque and rococo city centre. The American and British bombing of Dresden in World War II towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city centre. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Zwinger and the Semper Oper.

A view of Dresden in 1945, after the Allied bombing

We visited that old part of the city and we walked around in the section between the Frauenkirche and the Hofkirche in the course of an afternoon. We didn’t stay. We were on a fairly tight schedule and needed to move on. That evening, we made it to a small town named Radebeul, where we spent the night. Enjoy the photographs, there are 93 of them!

Standard
Places

Three days in Berlin

During the same trip where we visited Prague, we spent three days in Berlin. It is an interesting, vibrant city that holds the tragic distinction of having been the most bombed city in history. During WWII, the Allies dropped 67,607 tons of bombs on the city, destroying 6,427 acres of buildings. As a result, the city’s architecture is a thorough mix of the historic and the modern.

Because it was the start of summer and it got fairly hot during the mid-days, I was able to appreciate the strong breeze flowing along the Spree, which you will see in a few of the photos shown here. It was also a blessing to be able to step into large, majestic historic buildings that always stay cool, to take shelter from the blazing heat.

Enjoy this gallery of 126 photographs!

Standard
Places

Two short visits to Prague

Back in 2011, we visited multiple cities in Germany and on the way, we stopped in Prague. It was only for an hour or so while we were on our way to Germany and half a day on our way back. It was about to rain the first time we were there and the second time it was quite hot, even for early June.

Prague is a beautiful city. I was glad to so many historical buildings restored to their former selves. Practically everywhere you turned, there was something beautiful to see. The photos shown here are combined from those two occasions. Enjoy!

Standard
Places

A jaunt through Geneva

This past summer we visited Geneva, Switzerland, during the Fêtes de Genève. It was a short business trip, if I recall correctly it was about a day and a half, but in-between the business meetings, we snuck in a jaunt or two through the old town. One afternoon we started down by the lake, on the Promenade du Lac, and we climbed uphill on the beautiful stone steps toward the Rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and the Promenade Saint-Antoine, then we came back down to the lake to see the Jet d’Eau. The following day, we visited the Promenade des Bastions, where the Université de Genève is located. And that was it. It was August, it was incredibly hot, even for Geneva, and the only area tolerable enough during the sweltering daytime heat was the lakeshore. It really says something about global warming when Geneva’s weather becomes intolerable in the summer…

Geneva is a beautiful city with a lot of history. It’s a wonderful thing when a country has a chance to develop and to build upon the successes of previous generations without the ravages of war, which to say the least, reset the clock of progress for a place. Switzerland has been in this enviable position for hundreds of years where it has been able to stay neutral and thus its people have had decent lives and have been able to see the fruits of their labor and to leave something worthwhile behind for their successors.

I hope you enjoy this gallery of photographs from a privileged place, full of beauty and value.

Standard
Places

A visit to Las Vegas

Situated in the Mojave Desert, its Spanish name means “The Meadows” because of the wild grasses and desert springs originally found there. An oasis in an otherwise dry and unwelcoming place, it became known to Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. It was discovered by the modern world in 1829, when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera put it on the map. Settlers were slowly but surely drawn there and in 1905, it became a city. In 1911, it was incorporated.

Its growth back then was limited by the small water supply, but in a couple of decades, things were about to change in a big way. The year when Las Vegas came to be known as the place we know it today was 1931, when it legalized gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This move was “blessed” later that year when construction on the massive Hoover Dam started nearby. This meant the city now had access to an incredible water supply and it began to grow in spite of the Great Depression, helped by the influx of workers who stayed there to work on the Dam. The workers wanted to have fun when they weren’t working and thus Las Vegas began to gain its reputation as Sin City. After WWII, the big real estate developments began and the Strip as we know it today began to take shape. Hotels, casinos and stores, each bigger, more colorful and more lit than the other, dotted the ever-changing cityscape. And let’s not forget the appearance of heavy-duty, commercial air conditioning units in the 1950s, which can be credited with the tremendous growth in human settlements in what were uninhabitable areas. None of the large real estate developments in any of the hot places in the world would function without air conditioning.

Here is a gallery of photographs I took back in 2010 during a visit to Las Vegas. Drab during the day, its colors washed out by the desert sunlight, this place truly comes alive at night and it stays that way till morning. Throngs of people always crowd its sidewalks and the car traffic slows to a near halt on the Strip due to gawkers. If you’re going to visit, I recommend you do it during the cooler seasons (autumn, winter or spring). Visit the shops and museums during the daytime and save your evenings for walking around on the Strip and taking in the lights and the entertainment. It is unlike anything on Earth at night. The place screams abundance and availability of anything and everything. It is the pinnacle of consumerism. While I was there, I got a clear sense that everything you could want was readily available. Ads are everywhere, for every thing. All of the luxury brands have a visible presence there. Every big hotel has its own shopping mall inside, exquisitely decorated, lit to perfection and air conditioned to keep you comfy and happy. Restaurants are everywhere. Bars are everywhere. Should you want to go outside, hustlers on the sidewalk hand you phone numbers for “entertainers” of all sorts. Young women invite you into the casinos. Big LED panels flash ads at you non-stop. The buildings are all lit to perfection, to accentuate their architecture and make them stand out and draw you in. You will get visually and mentally overwhelmed by it all, so be ready for that. As I said above, I took these photos in 2010. The city has changed yet again since then. Some places already look different. Frequent change is the only constant there.

Enjoy the photographs!

Standard