Chapter III - Neighborhoods and the Web of Life - 2
Infrastructure access Edit
A single family or small group can't anticipate everything, and can't gather everything. I guess the "plus" side is that (at least in the USA) it's difficult to find ANYPLACE that is very far from some town.
If you are building a remote retreat community "from scratch", (NOT recommended by the author) costs and difficulties are reduced while the resources of a functioning community are within reach.
All 20 families can live in a single room, or individual family homesteads, built per the resources of each individual family, or in a multi family condo complex, or in a motel arrangement with everyone having a private room, and common service facilities. It does not matter.
What matters is adequate sustainable life-support and minimum biological levels such that reasonable genetic safety can be maintained. Life support needs to be “local”, and essential life elements recycled locally, if for no other reason than to provide incentive to ensure that that materials put back into the food system are acceptable in the food system to the intended recipients of the food.
Regardless of how the population is housed, the relationship of population size, solar window, water supply, essential nutrients, human scale, unavoidable limits, etc, does not change.
The internal infrastructure of an isolated community will probably of necessity initially be limited. You are, after all, basically working with the assets of at most a dozen or so families (i.e. 20 family minimum unit). Over time, with the labor of multiple generations consistently upgrading the site has potential for significant refinement.
A clear advantage of building new on virgin territory would be cheaper land purchase price. Remote cheap land would for example certainly make it more likely that a community of 20 families could afford an area 1208 on a side (about 34 acres) with a four acre center court, vs attempts by 20 families in an existing community to buy-out 16 other homes to establish the center court in an existing town setting.
But, if the community is a remote retreat, physical refinement may by be outweighed by loss of education and technological abilities. A particular challenge will be education.
Education in isolation Edit
If a gathering of 20 homestead units has "perfectly" randomly distributed population ages, multi-generation families, etc., it might have 2 kids per class / age, and some approach to "Home Schooling" will probably be required.
"Home schooled" children have demonstrated that traditional classrooms may not be essential, or even rational, but those programs rely on educational materials developed "elsewhere", published and shipped, and on non "expert" parental teaching. Home schooled does not mean second rate. Education should be emphasized in all aspects of the Homestead association.
If there is not an overall crash, the web offers expanding opportunities for education, without "leaving home". Following a crash, the homestead association should as soon as possible document all of the resident knowledge. Note though, homeschooling or any teaching approach with too small of a class is an in-efficient use of the teaching resource.
Safety priority I Edit
Physical security and safety
A single family can be surprised while asleep or distracted. A single family can easily be physically outnumbered. Clustered homes raise the stakes for potential invaders, making it more difficult to determine the exact number and nature of residents and their habits, as well as putting the help of family and friends within the carry of your voice.
Neighborhood watch. Regardless of other factors, an awake and observant person is likely to be an essential factor of a security program.
With a large enough population, a gathering of homesteads can maintain a 24/7 "on duty" watch. There are 168 hours in a week. If security is stood once per week, for a four-hour period, there are 42 watch periods. An isolated family would be quickly worn down providing continuous surveillance. Six families would mean each family would have to provide someone "on duty" once every day. 20 families would mean each family would have to provide someone "on duty" only once in nearly every three days.
The person “on duty” does not need to be a muscular guard. In a low-tech environment, the guard must move about the overall complex in some “random” manner to sense what is happening. In a high-tech environment, it could be an elderly grandma sitting and watching favorite movies, while also having camera and audio feed from throughout the complex wired to the same room. To protect the property and lives of the neighborhood residents, what is called at the first step is just a version of “Neighborhood Watch” - someone to watch and listen, and sound the alarm if warranted. (What other “laws” do you care about?) As the homesteads gather, the per-day watch standing for each homestead dwindles, but the requirement for security does not.
With just this level of community, we see the potential for specialization, as one or more individuals or families would rather volunteer to pay someone to stand watch for them, than stay up on their own.
Each home already has its own food production, power generating, etc. area. Whether isolated or gathered, each home needs to be fenced from unwelcome invaders. As an example, putting a secure fence around six independent 1/4 acre homesites requires around 2,400 ft. of fence. If concentrated around the perimeter of clustered homes, it would enclose the entire 20 homestead site. Not to mention a circled gathering of such homes provides significant controlled gardening area with essentially no additional outlay in protective fence.
Every home should have its own safe-room. These can all be interconnected with communications wiring, pipe, etc. as technology and resources permit. Communications among homes can be carried over a wire for thousands of feet by sound powered phones, using only the minute current generated by the impact of voice sound waves on a microphone. The technology is robust, and simple.
Anticipated "invaders" Edit
Hostile. In isolation or otherwise in the absence of organized law enforcement, self defense is required.
Neutral. I'd suspect that no matter how well hidden, both pre and post crash activity make a neighborhood of such homesteads attract attention and visitors. The gathering of homesteads is better off in security though than an isolated family. Residents still face the ethical / moral question of how to deal with outsiders, especially those who do not show obvious hostility. Who decides?
If the group does not somehow have extra common assets, the food or shelter for such guests will be from individual family assets. Yet the guests pose a threat to all. Discuss it in the group.
A modest gathering of homesteads has wide choice in location, as it only requires cooperation among some low number of families. Location is still however a significant consideration.
Ecological concerns. Do your plans include paving/over and / or building on that wonderful piece of wilderness you found? How are you going to keep your life support infrastructure separate from the surrounding nature?
Pollution. What would be the point of creating a retreat to sustain our families into the future, only to discover it's been located on top of a toxic waste dump. In the USA, I understand the federal EPA, and state equivalents, track all known significant threats. While still available, obtain all relevant information on your location.
Low natural risks. Winds, floods, earthquakes, volcano's... These types of disaster are all reduced in impact by advance warnings, and prompt outside assistance. Typical emergency planning for today, is to expect no more than 72 hours before significant help from outside the damaged community is on scene. I suspect that for quite some time, the advance warnings, and help, will be absent. Inherent risks should be minimized by careful site selection.
Security. There may already be prepared sites out there, which are remaining silent for security. This is certainly a consideration, and if I can manage to prompt a group to come together, once we've reached our initial "critical mass", it is possible that we would also cease public discussion that could lead to excessive temptations in a time of crisis. The location itself can be the first level of security. If your location is uninviting, most people won't even think of looking.
Transport corridors. If you are in isolation, major highways, railways, etc., may be pathways for refugees of a "crash". There with still though be a need for ready access to appropriate paths for appropriate commerce.
Even if transport is reduced to dependence on human power, i.e. bicycles, would you rather undertake a cross town, or cross country trip on foot, carrying your supplies on your back, and walking across raw land, or have your goods strapped on a bike, and pedaling, even on broken roads? The existing roadway grids could probably remain as viable pathways for quite some time, even in the absence of repairs, due to the also missing heavy traffic.
Use of a bicycle as a primary means of transport imposes limits (weight, speed, endurance, and angle of incline) but also offers advantages (aerobic exercise, no artificial gas generation, greatly reduced "road" needs. Typical automobile roads have extreme changes in altitude, “bad” for a bicycle rider. Enter old railway beds. Many old, abandoned railway beds, often stripped of the track and ties, continue to exist as stone paths. Per an average of several web bicycle safety sites, project the sustained speed of an average adult on an upright bicycle is around 10 to 12 mph.
If you are considering a remote retreat, or ease of human powered transport between cities, remember that for railroad tracks significant effort went into providing smooth, gentle grades and turns for the trains, therefore these may be nearly ideal locations for bicycle paths. In addition to their city terminals, early railroads required stopovers for taking on more coal, wood, water, etc. These resupply stops, now abandoned, may prove to be appropriate locations for a retreat gathering of homesteads.
Virtual. I'd suggest a significant aspect of a banding together homesteads that are self-reliant and self sufficient in the basics, is the synergy possible in association with other similarly prepared and functioning families. So long as other neighbors around you are not a "threat", and you are within reasonable walking distance of those you are officially cooperating with, I don't see that it is a "show stopper" to make your family preparations, even though you're actually inside a greater, non cooperating (YET) community. When neighbors wake up, you and your associates can serve as guides for the late-risers. Absent physical co-location for security and the advantages of a single large gathering, to some extent a community could be “virtual”.
Safety priority II Edit
Revenues and resources
Everyone in your neighborhood owns their home free of any mortgage. All are fireproof and grow enough food to feed the family. Someone from each homestead works enough to pay the property taxes, but otherwise each family more or less specializes in some craft, and the crops grown. Since everyone gets along on the barter system, and no money changes hands, you ignore the rest of the taxing authorities.
Your local “sales tax” authorities may consider all of your barter exchanges a commercial transaction, and demand their tax.
The IRS is also quite likely to consider your exchanges as commercial transactions, subject to income tax, self employment (Social Security & Medicaid) tax, etc.
And it can get worse. Say the neighbor kid double-digs your garden, and you barter some of your canned goods in exchange. If the tax authorities deem the kid your employee, vs an independent contractor you potentially owe minimum wage, tax withholding, and such other labor law requirements as are imposed in your jurisdiction. (Our laws are “nuts”, and even the tax authorities DO NOT know what they say.)
Although no money actually changed hands in any of the above events, if they are deemed taxable you will have to obtain official currency somewhere to pay the tax officials. Most likely, someone from each family will be forced to work at a “real” job to earn cash.
Government agencies, in particular the tax authorities, have a vested interest in fragmentation of families, friendships, and communities based on such. If you are growing your own food, looking after your neighbors, helping each other, taking turns letting the kids gather at homes, and not hiring someone for these "services", the tax authority has no easy basis to establish and siphon off part of the effort. Government agencies have a vested interest in discouraging people from taking care of themselves, or each other, and in CREATING problems, and expanding problems, to expand the scope of the solutions the agencies offer.
Even for a small gathering, if intentionally established in a remote undeveloped area, the potential cost is significant. The land purchase, although cheaper than a similar area within or close to a community, nevertheless alone poses difficulties. Unless there is extensive group cooperation, pooling of funds and agreement is reached, the purchase may need to be initiated by one or a few wealthy individuals. Within such a gathering there is the likelihood that the standard currency will be used, as will a “gift / favor” approach to activities.
Internal trade in a small community of family / friends can be barter / loan, with informal accounting. If a goal is the same 2% in farming as the U.S. today, in each association there are 3 people doing the gardening/farming.
Posit a gathering of 20 families having agreed to use "MONOPOLY" money as a medium of exchange. Someone finds another game box, and divides up the money. Is anyone richer? Prices rise, but everyone can still afford the same purchases. What happens though if the second game finder slowly filters the excess money into the economy by purchases that benefit that family? In the long-term overall the community is no more wealthier, however, the sneak has personally profited to the percentage the additional “cash” relates to the initial cash. The extra monopoly money adds no new value to the community, but does inflate everything.
The U.S. dollar is no better. The federal government, via the NON-GOVERNMENTAL agency of the Federal Reserve, puts printed, and debt generated cash into the economy, benefitting the government and the federal reserve, but lowering the value of every other dollar in the hands of, or on deposit on behalf of, EVERYONE ELSE.
There is an entertaining, yet for all practical purposes accurate, audio file floating around of and old lecture, titled "Wheat Receipts". I found a version on it online at:
It explains the federal reserve and other banks, which would include a barter / bank system, in terms of the operators of grain storage facilities. We encounter… problems… whenever anyone has the opportunity to create new symbols of wealth, without bothering to provide the labor or goods that make the wealth real. As presented in the lecture, farmers store their grain in commercial towers, blended with wheat from others. The farmer is issued a receipt. A grain tower owner realizes that the towers are never completely empty, and he could if he wanted sell the wheat he believes will never be asked for. He elects to issue a receipt to himself for the amount, which representing a claim on wheat in the tower, he can sell for cash.
So long as there are banks that can “loan” the money you have in on-demand deposit, the same situation could develop regardless of what you call the currency.
Nevertheless, your group, your community, whatever the level, NEEDS a currency that is disconnected from the highly manipulated and completely artificial federal currency. You need to realize that all voluntary exchanges between two parties are barter. Money or currency is simply some agreed intermediate barter item, where everyone is readily willing to exchange their goods or services for the barter item, or the currency representing the barter item.
If the basis of your agreed barter currency denomination is something that can be created, it needs to be something that if created adds value to your local economy of at least the same usefulness as the unit created. Finding gold adds potential units to the economy of a gold standard economy, but new gold found in a mine does not add real useful value to the economy, and essentially dilutes the currency, just as a government printing press does. In comparison growing a commodity such as wheat, or generating a useful amount of electricity does add clear value.
What do you, your neighbors, your community do to generate material wealth, or more on point while the present tax authorities exist, to generate “dollars”? Earning external income presents another question for such a gathering that is in a remote site. While communications and transport remain, almost any specialty could be engaged in, though I suspect that post-peak oil that productive "industrial" activity would be limited to handicrafts, or repair / reworking of existing products. Once internal stability is achieved, it could be that external income needs would be minimal, and perhaps met by retirement or investment payments, or a few working outside the group, and purchasing the outside goods needed within the community.
Until the rest of society, and politicians, catch-up with the requirements of long term sustainability, your group may need to stay “below the radar”. There are of course things that need to be presented to your local officials.
Existing zoning and/or business license/taxation requirements may pose sufficient barriers as to prevent some from implementing a "sideline" business that they might otherwise have an interest in operating. The very people who would benefit in the future from such hobby businesses waiting in the wings, will probably balk at changes today that would allow them to start to develop. But it must be done.
What else do you see that needs to be changed, to get the various levels of government OUT OF THE WAY of achieving long-term sustainable civilization?
So long as the external infrastructure continues to function, the gathering should be capable of keeping up to date with the rest of the world (given appropriate funding).
A question: Assume your family, and nineteen other families, have completely equipped homesteads with everything in presentations to this point, and are planning on isolation. Do you have the technology and technique to repair or replace a broken plate or cup? How about a p/v panel? Or even a light bulb?
Once in isolation it appears limited to “Handicraft” technology for new items, or reworking and replacement of more complicated technology. Within a short period of time in isolation, expect technology to be limited to scavenger activity, then decline. (How do you make a bolt, or an eyeglass lens?) I would expect to see significant reliance on natural biological processes. (Growing plants and animals, fermentation, etc.) I would also expect to see significant reliance on herbal medicine or “home remedies”
Organizational structure Edit
The closest example is the cohousing movement, which in simple terms is privately owned dwellings with their own traditional living facilities, but also with perhaps extensive jointly owned facilities (food preparation & dining, meeting rooms, recreation facilities, library, workshops, children's space, etc.) which are essentially reserved for the use of the owners.
The physical design is usually such as to encourage personal contact and use of the common areas. There is no required sharing of income or other personal assets. There may also be other jointly owned assets, vehicles, tools, machines, etc.
Cohousing facilities, and quite a number of neighborhoods, have restrictive covenants, rules for the neighborhood that one must agree to follow as part of obtaining title to the property. As with an easement on the property, the covenants survive even seizure of the property and a resale. I solicit input for covenants for a long-term sustainable neighborhood.
With private ownership of the means of providing for life support and comfort needs, as well as potential sources of income for the organization, it is by definition a capitalistic autarky.
While such fictional entities are still available under law, the common areas and the overall neighborhood may want to create and operate under a corporation, or a limited liability company. Please note my "two cents" is that such entities that do not hold owners and operators of a business responsible for what the business does are contrary to a long-term sustainable community as ecology, where "negative" feedback and consequences are required.
Typically each homestead (regardless of the number of people living at that location) has one "vote" in areas of management where the association has discretion. I solicit feedback on further organizational thoughts, association rules, etc.
The person voting for each homestead may, or may not, be the same person who in general is "in charge" at home. In general family homes are essentially meritocratic, lead by the person most qualified. All members may provide input, perhaps the “owner” of the home (the elders) and the primary wage earner(s) have significant input, or perhaps “veto” power, but in general someone (in our home, the wife) has the “final” say.
Depending on local law, it may be in the best interest of the association for all "common" areas to be owned by a corporation, limited liability company, etc., with the goal of minimizing the liability of any individual family / homestead to a third party who may be injured on such common property, and seek to sue the association.
As with the thought of virtual organization for the community, where the homesteads are not necessarily physically next to each other, neither does the common field, or other common assets need to be directly connected to any of the homesteads.
Consider there is a vacant lot, or perhaps a run-down and abandoned home in your neighborhood. Don’t whine about it to the city, organize a group and buy it, and put in the “sweat equity” to turn it into a common facility for your group.
The four acre El Monte Sagrado Resort in Taos, New Mexico, with 40 guest suites is not exactly a permanent living environment, but it strives to provide a comprehensive design solution for a high desert environment. It incorporates rainwater collection, minimum energy to provide heating and cooling, re-use of organic wastes in production of food, earth-based building materials, etc. Water is the critical limiting resource in our high desert environment, with the ancient irrigation network near Taos area having once made it the breadbasket of area.
The facility was previously a motel of small adobe casitas, which were restored and incorporated into the new resort infrastructure systems. Compressed earth blocks made with a hydraulic press were used for 8 of the units.
The facility uses a "living machines" approach for wastewater from toilets, showers, etc. with initial collection in tanks to moderate flow. They use ultraviolet disinfection and only the amount of energy around that of a common light bulb. They avoid using chlorine as it is reported to create carcinogenic and estrogenic compounds biologically harmful in minute quantities.
Call to action Edit
Where do you want to be when the oil based infrastructure is no longer operationally viable? In your independent home, in a community of similar homes, or competing for scraps from a failing society?
At the present, numerous oil wells are estimated to "dry up" before 2010. Rationally, as more wells empty and production levels will fall, oil will no longer be cheap, or abundant, and all of humanities oil dependent technology will wheeze to a halt.
Admit, as oil ceases to be cheap and abundant, the present infrastructure will fail. I have no crystal ball, and cannot tell you what the reactions of nations, and people in general will be. But my guess, based on what we see with minor interruptions and shortfalls, such as the Bolivia seizure of oil fields, and front page news in the Financial Times of Iranian youth signing up to volunteer for suicide bomer missions, is that it will not be pleasant. The first priority must be surviving the crash.
What response to you intend to tell your grandchildren when they ask, "where were you"... when you used the last drop you could afford... what were you doing when others were preparing for the tragedies of the "transition" period... or when others were preparing for the inevitable, post-oil paradigm? Are your children and grandchildren well fed, in safe surroundings, or in the wilderness?
There will be those tough, resourceful, wealthy, or lucky individuals, and their families, who make it through the transition "without a scratch", and do fine. I'm hoping that I fit some such category, and that my family survives... But I've come to believe that everyone who joins in the creation of an appropriate sustainable community will vastly increase their chances of success, and quality of life. If we "close the loop" locally on water, food, utilities, etc., we reduce our "footprint", and reduce the need to conduct economic activity to earn funds to make payments on such.
Consider where we are, our resources, our beliefs and opinions of the future, and act now. Right now, we can not only communicate by phone, over the web, etc., but we can research nearly anything we can imagine, and by a mere "click" cause books, tools, materials, devices, etc., to be shipped directly to us. How long do you think this capability will continue when things start to get "tight"?
If we are going to not only CORRECT the mistakes of the past 100 years, and move on to developing to our greatest capabilities, there must be some groups that avoid the worst of the oil collapse. While "online" discussion can connect like-minded people in their thoughts and planning, it does nothing for any of us regarding physical world preparations.
A modest neighborhood of self-reliant homesteads can in theory provide life support, and new generations, for an indefinite period.
But in isolation (physical or mental) such a neighborhood is going to find maintaining modern technology, and indeed knowledge, difficult. Realizing there are limits to physical resources, even on a global scale, redevelopment must take place within at least basic guidelines to avoid re-acquiring long term dependency on a short term resource.
Look at history, and the reasons stated (and unstated) as to why earlier civilizations failed. Research periods of crisis (i.e. the “Great Depression” )for causes, and analyze the acts of significant “players”, and their underlying motives.
Chapter III - Neighborhoods and the Web of Life - 2