World population is expected to rise to nine or ten billion halfway this century, and all these people need somewhere to live. Some people believe that space colonization will be the solution, for others arcology is the answer, but the question is, of course, whether arcology is nothing but a megalomaniac fantasy?
What is arcology?
On the English Wikipedia we can read the following:
Arcology, combining “architecture” and “ecology”, is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of enormous habitats (hyperstructures) of extremely high human population density. These largely hypothetical structures would contain a variety of residential, commercial, and agricultural facilities and minimize individual human environmental impact. They are often portrayed as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.
In other words, we can explain an arcology as a city contained in a single, enormous building. Different arcological proposal have varying estimates for their intended population number, from as low as a few ten thousands to as high as slightly more than one million residents. Because of their scale, inhabitants of arcologies are supposed to leave their city very rarely, if ever.
I am not quite sure whether I would classify so called domed cities as arcologies, they have certainly some characteristics of arcologies but for the purpose of this post I will leave them out (I will discuss them in a separate post). To some degree, also vertical farming can be considered as a kind of arcology. And many proposals about arcologies, indeed include vertical farming into their plans.
The main purpose of arcology is to enable large concentrations of humans. This idea is based on the assumption that there is too less land available on our planet for humans to live on. But if you look on the map of the Earth, especially one which shows the local population densities, you will see that human are unequally spread around the globe. Not land scarcity is the problem, but population distribution.
There are several problems with arcology. The first is the vulnerability for catastrophic events such as earthquakes, which can destroy arcologies and kill their inhabitants. Since many proposed arcologies foresee population in the order of hundred thousands or millions, evacuation of all inhabitants might be impossible in some cases. Therefore arcologies should be build such that they survive several catastrophes.
The problem of evacuation is part of the second problem with arcologies. The entrances of such structures are a kind of bottlenecks, only a few percent of the residents can pass through the entrance during a certain period of time. Traffic jams will be frequent, if substantial numbers are leaving or entering the arcology all the time.
The construction of arcologies does not face only technical challenges, but also it also requires a lot of natural resources. If great numbers of arcologies will be build, we might ask whether will be enough resources to build them. However, this problem can be solved by space mining, which is also good new for space colonists.
Another problem is energy consumption. People living in arcology will use more energy than the same number of people who life on a “flat” surface. This because a certain amount of energy is required, just to keep the arcology running. We believe that fusion reactors might be the most likely methods of generating power for these structures. Because these reactors are relatively small (compared to coal-fired power plants).
One alternative for arcology is using solar desalination of seawater in order to settle large desert areas such as the Sahara or Western-Australia. This approach would solve most, if not all, of the problems we mentioned in the previous sections. Problems might, however, arise from the governments of those areas. They might oppose the immigration of large numbers of people to their countries.
Another possible alternative is seasteading. This concept has problems on its own, although it shares the problem of resources for construction. However, seasteading might be cheaper and can start at a much smaller scale.
Space colonization is in the long run a far better alternative. In space there more than enough resources, no earthquakes, megavolcanoes. Further space governments might be much more willing to accept new immigrants than their terrestrial counterparts. And if space governments would not be willing to accept new immigrants, people can start their own colonies. However, space colonies has some other issues such as radiation, in an upcoming post we will discuss the danger of space radiation and how to deal with it.
We believe that arcology is most suited for small countries with high population densities such as Singapore.