Category Archives: Utopianism

Line marriage as an alternative of the State?

After reading “The moon is a harsh mistress” I was wondering whether line marriages can be an alternative for the (welfare) state. As a person with some libertarian leanings (however, I am NOT a libertarian myself) I believe one should investigate whether there are plausible alternatives for the “state” and whether these alternative should be preferred above the state.

But I will first give a short impression of Heinlein’s concept of line marriage in The moon is a harsh mistress. In this novel the Moon is colonized by humans, the Lunar government is set up and run by the United Nations, while Lunar society is highly anarchistic. The primary purpose of the Lunar government is to ensure the delivery of grain to Earth, and the local population is mostly left on their own. All necessities of life are to be bought, even air.

In this harsh environment, it is not surprising that people are seeking cooperation. One of the forms described, and the only one actually discussed in detail, in The Moon is a harsh mistress, is the line marriage. In this kind of marriage multiple people are married together, and in the course of time new spouses are allowed to enter the line. In theory such marriage can survive for generations, even if the original spouses have been dead for centuries. Since the potential durability of a line, all wealth collected by it, will be kept together. The particular line described by Heinlein, is highly self-sustaining, they produce their own food and recycle their own water.

Since the bond between the spouses, of both sexes, is based on mutual affection the members are ensured of assistance whenever required. Younger spouses take up the care of the elderly, children have virtually no worries about being orphaned.

Personally I do not believe that the Moon is the proper place for human settlement. When the age of space colonization will seriously begin, space habitats would be build in the neighborhood of the Near Earth Objects. And these first space colonies will be the initiative of either corporations or governments, therefore the governance of those early space colonies will be rather bureaucratic. Only after a few decades, as predicted by O’Neill [1], some private individuals will start their own small space colonies.

In chapter 11 of The high frontier, O’Neill describes how five couples and their families leave their own space habitats and travel for months to the asteroid main belt. Instead of group of five separate families, we can easily imagine how a family of a line marriage travel to the Belt.

In the neighborhood of asteroid, especially the smaller ones, there will be enough resources for a group of people to survive for generations. Barter with other groups in the Asteroid Belt will enable a group to meet all their material needs. And since distances between several group is large, the development of large conflicts is unlikely and if one group get into to trouble with a neighboring group/tribe/clan they can move with all their belongings to somewhere else in our Solar System, space enough. Therefore such settlers will not have great need for establishing a powerful government. The only reason to do this is in case of an external threat, but this unlikely since due to both the self-sufficiency and large distances military operations are almost futile to begin with.

Notes:

[1] The high frontier, chapter 11.

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].