O’Neill Cylinders and spatial planning

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on October 18, 2012

In an earlier post I discussed the potential of Bernal spheres and Stanford tori for city states, in this posting I will discuss several ideas for the spatial planning of O’Neill cylinders.

The ideas I will discuss here are not developed for space colonization as such, but can nevertheless be very inspiring for Space settlers. Especially for the larger space habitats spatial planning is an important topic. In this post I will discuss three proposals: O’Neill’s own idea, Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities and the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright. The purpose of this post is not to force a certain spatial plan on to Space colonies, but rather to provide a framework for developing better societies.

Since O’Neill cylinders provide a large plot of usable land, they allows for more sophisticated spatial planning then smaller habitats. The latter will typically be highly populated and most of their usable land will be used for housing and closely related activities. Consequently the smaller habitats will lack any significant amount of nature (forests for example), while many, if not most, people will appreciate nature.

Since the days of O’Neill, the consensus among space colonization advocates (and we follow this) is that industry, agriculture and living should be separated (the first two should not be located inside space habitats), this is an important difference with terrestrial spatial planning. Combined with the practically unlimited resources in space, we are free to design the interior of an O’Neill cylinder as we like.

In his book, The high frontier, O’Neill has given an example of spatial planning. In chapter 5 he describes the build cities at the ends of each stroke of land, referred to as “valleys”, and using the land areas it self for villages, forests and parks.

It would be interesting to look at a few spatial planning concepts from the past. In the 1930s the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright  designed his famous Broadacre City. In this proposal “true” cities would disappear, while people would spread out over the country (for this reason his plan was not very popular outside the USA). One feature of this scheme was that each family receives a 4,000 square meter plot of land [1]. Which was to be developed according to wishes of the receiving family. While there many really good aspects to his vision, there is some important critique about the Broadacre City idea, which can be found here. A serious drawback of the original design is that it heavily depends on automobiles for transportation. In a space based nation, in which people are spread over many different space habitats, cars are really cumbersome to handle. As O’Neill explained the main modes of transportation in and between space habitats are space ships, maglevs, bicycles and walking [2].

My personal favorite is, however, the garden city, a concept developed by Ebenezer Howard around 1900. In short this urban design is an attempt to reconcile the city and the countryside. In Howard’s plan a garden city should require 6000 acres of land (which is approximately 25 square kilometers or 2428.2 hectare), of which 1000 acres are used for the actual city and the other 5000 acres are destined for agriculture [3]. As I have already said, most space habitat advocates favor a physical separation of agricultural and living areas. At first sight Howard’s idea seems to be outdated, and it is to some degree. Nevertheless I believe that this garden city concept is good starting point for our own spatial plans. We should look for alternative destination for these agricultural lands, a portion can be reserved for allotment gardens, while another portion is reserved for sport associations (think about field hockey clubs, rugby clubs and so on). In Howard’s original designs there is a remarkable lack of recreation areas (to be fair Howard planned a park in the center of his city, but this is one is to small for serious sport practice.)

The actual city itself, would be an annulus around this central park and would be divided into six wards, each with 5,000 inhabitants. This would give a total city population of 30,000 thousand, in addition a further 2,000 would live in the rural area of the city. Howard also thought about what to do when the city population would grow, unlike the natural course of urban growth by which new buildings are attached to the existing settlement, he foresaw to build new garden cities a few miles away of the old one. In fact he suggested to build a central city, a garden city with 55,000 inhabitants, first  and later to build six (normal) garden cities around it. The central city would serve as a regional center. This particular configuration is not feasible for a standard O’Neill Cylinder (diameter 6.4 km and length 32 km), but is we would increase these dimension s with a factor 5 (which would give an areal increase of a factor 25) then it would become an interesting option. However such O’Neill cylinders XL will not be realized in early space colonization.

A different but related concept is Columbia, Maryland. Like the conglomeration of garden cities, the different villages of Columbia are not one single area but separated by green areas (called the Tivoli garden). The city’s 100,000 residents [4] are spread among nine villages, with a land area of 82.7 square kilometers (compare this with a valley of 107.23 square kilometers). If we would organize a valley in a similar fashion as Columbia, than we would get a city with population of between 130,000 and 143,000 [5]. In order to keep this city mostly car-free, they designers envisioned a minibus-network.

As I have said at the beginning of this post, the purpose of the mentioned examples is to inspire the spatial planners of O’Neill cylinders. And I hope they will not make the same mistakes as those made by terrestrial urban planners. Space colonization is a nice occasion to experiment with innovation on spatial planning. Of course the specific spatial plans will depend on the political choices made by the owners/governments of space habitats, different political ideologies require different spatial plans. The examples I selected here, reflect my personal believes about decentralized republicanism with its preference for small non-urban communities as the framework for active citizens participation in public affairs.

Notes

[1] A valley of a typical O’Neill cylinder is 3.35 by 32 kilometers, which is 107.2 million square meters. And using Wrights 4,000 square meters per family, we can calculate that a valley provides land for 26,800 families.

[2] I will discuss transportation in space colonies more deeply in another post.

[3] Using the standard dimensions of a O’Neill Cylinder (length 32 km, diameter 6.4 km), we can calculate that each valley can host 4.4 garden cities. This gives a total population of 141,000 people for each valley (4.4×32,000).

[4] Originally (in 1966) it was estimated that Columbia would have 110,000 residents in 1980.

[5] The lower estimate is based on Columbia’s current population, the higher one the estimate from note [4].

Bernal Spheres, Stanford tori and the return of the polis.

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012; updated June 13, 2014.

In this post I want to share some thoughts I have had for many years, concerning the ancient Greek city-state, or polis (plural poleis) and what we can learn from them.

Both O’Neill’s Island I and its main competitor the so-called Stanford torus are designed for some ten thousands of inhabitants, roughly the population of many small cities. And since space habitants of this kind can easily moved to any place within our (inner) Solar system, they can enjoy a great amount of isolation just by keeping distance from other space colonies. Furthermore the abundance of space resources makes economic self-sufficiency not only feasible but also very likely.

Here on Earth no country can turn to a policy of full autarky without paying a huge price. Effectively only very primitive societies can be autarkic without giving up current wealth. One reason of modern globalization is that highly technological industries require large amounts of various resources, of which many are both rare and spread over different parts of the world. Some resources are as good as exclusively found at one place on Earth. Some argue that this interdependence promotes world peace, while on the other hand  we see that competition of scarce resources actually lead to many international conflicts.

In space there is a different situation, since there are a lot of recourse rich asteroids. Actually some “small” asteroids contains a few times more resources than anything ever dug up by Mankind, not only these asteroids have a huge abundance of resources but they also contain virtually all chemical elements needed by highly industrialized societies. A second difference is that competition among space colonies for resources will be low, due to great amount of asteroids, reducing tension among Spacer societies.

We can easily imagine that a small space colony, type Bernal sphere or Stanford torus is located near a small asteroid (dimension less than 1km). Such space society will be economically and politically independent from any other state (whether Spacer or terrestrial). This comes very close to the ancient Greek ideal of the polis: a political independent community of a few thousand people and economically self-sufficient.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks the ideal of small independent communities have repeatedly promoted by political activists. But these ideas and initiatives are repeatedly defeated in favour of the nation-state. A modern incarnation of this attitude is Communalism as conceived by Murray Bookchin. Bookchin, who stood in the anarchist tradition, opposed the nation-state, because it is undemocratic and a tool for corporate interest. Instead he argued that people should organize direct democracy at municipal level. And in a next stage, such municipalities should organize themselves into confederations, these confederations should compete with the Nation State for power. Confederations of municipalities differ from nations in an important way: the municipality is the primary political unit and the municipal citizens’ assembly is the Sovereign; the confederation is just an organization for cooperation and joint action by municipalities, and the representatives of the municipalities in the confederal council are purely coordinating and administrative.

Personally I believe that Communalism and its aims are not realistic, on Earth, because nation states are too well-organized and most terrestrial people don’t care about politics in general, and specially they don’t care about the Nation State. I suppose that most readers of this blog have never heard about Communalism before. On Earth I see no future for Communalism and related ideologies, but in Space Communalism and its idea may play a major role. Although I am not a Communalist myself (mainly because I disagree with its anti-capitalist nature), I believe that Communalism can provide valuable insights on how to organize Space colonies.

Some Space colonies may opt for Communalism, while other colonies will try other forms of government. But I believe there is a future for small polis based political communities in Space.

Inside view of a Bernal sphere

Interior including human powered airplane

 

 

Outside view of a Bernal sphere

Bernal Spheres - exterior