The City or Self-Sufficiency?


One of my goals in moving out of the city is to become as self-sufficient as possible, at least with food and power. The idea behind Smart Cities is maximising the efficiency of power, water and supplies. Can we take back power by becoming more self-sufficient?

The Republic

Plato’s The Republic is a conversation between Socrates (Plato’s teacher, who never wrote a book) and several Athenians and ex-pats. It explores the question “What is Justice” and how should a City be governed?

It looks at Power versus Knowledge. In the socratic dialog, they imagine an MVP, the ‘city of utmost necessity’, though this was inadequate and was abandoned for a more well-rounded idea of a City.

They describe four levels of government from highest order to lowest order:
1. Timocracy 2. Oligarchy 3. Democracy 4. Tyranny

Why is democracy so low down in order of governance? It’s one step away from Tyranny, that is too near to the truth from what we saw a couple of weeks ago with Trump trying to hold onto power.

What if ‘knowledge’ in Plato’s city was replaced by big data — could that be enough to have a city and its citizens be just, happy and fulfilled? Could Nato’s Cyber Defence Force represent the guardian warriors?

A Thought Experiment

Timocracy is a state where only land owners participate in government. Those that own land are the guardians of that land, they have to manage it responsibly. All other people are users of that land, and are not responsible for how the land that they are using is managed. In fact, in Plato’s idea, the top-two ruling classes would survive only on a basic income, whilst there was no restriction for the common people to earn money. Is that like Steve Jobs being paid $1 a year at Apple?

“It is now easier for us to imagine the end of the world than
an alternative to Capitalism”
— Fredric Jameson in ‘Speculative Everything’.

What happens if every citizen born into a country owns a proportion of the land — with everyone owning the same amount of land? Everyone would participate in government. We could elect fellow citizens to speak on our behalf to make things easier. The more children you had the more everyone’s. land share would be diluted. How would this affect the population growth? Could you trade your land (and therefore your citizenship) with another country if you wanted to emigrate? How would this affect migration?

People could choose to rent their land to others for farming, industry or business, or choose to keep their smallholding for self-subsistence. How would this affect Cities?

Land rights would be kept in a block-chain. When people die, the land would revert back to all (in a shrinking population), or be diluted in a growing population.

If the taxation system was based upon land rather than income, then tax could decrease the more land you owned and increased the less land you owned, as the population grew too large for the available resources.

If you killed a person, you would have your land taken away from you, and would have to work for all other citizens until your honour and your land was restored to you?

With 66,650,000 people in the UK and 242,496,000,000m² of land,
each person has 3,638m², a little less than half a football pitch.

If we divided the land equally among all the inhabitants of the UK, each would have half a football field. 90% of people in the United Kingdom live in urban areas.

Towards Self Sufficiency

“Research in the 1970s by John Jeavons and the Ecology Action Organisation found that 370 square metres of growing space was enough land to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for a year, with about another 370 square metres for access paths and storage” (GrowVeg). That’s only 10% of Joe’s land in the house above — plenty of land left over his house, lawn and flower beds.

I won ‘Lambeth Food Grower of the Year’ in 2015 for the community vegetable garden I built on my estate.

3D Design of Community Vegetable Garden on my estate. Renders and 3D fly-through videos were used to convince my neighbours to allow me to dig up the grass.

To be honest, it provides more of a therapeutic past-time than enough yield to feed 130 homes.

My neighbour sitting in the edible garden I designed and built on our Brixton estate.

The goal of my next garden is going to attempt to grow 80% of the vegetables I consume. I’m a vegetarian, the other 20% will be crops I am unlikely to be able to grow in the UK.

What do I eat? The house is to the right of the image, the vegetable garden will be at the end of the garden—providing all the vegetables I will need for the year (I’m veggie).

ReGen Villages

ReGen (see picture at the top of page) is addressing today’s problems, but not at the level at a city, but at the level of the neighbourhood. Their vision is (as quoted from their website):

  • Engineering and facilitating the development of integrated and resilient neighbourhoods that power and feed self reliant families around the world.
  • Using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to enable thriving and flourishing communities with surplus energy, clean water, high-yield organic food that support urgently needed neighbourhood regenerative resiliency.
  • Partnering with regional land developers, architects, construction, universities and brand manufacturing firms to maximise cost-benefit efficiency that enable global scaling of development projects.

How would this look at the level of the city? New York is already designing sky scrapers with communal vegetable gardens.

Daniel Libeskind’s Soaring Green Garden Tower for NYC

“Dubbed the New York Tower at One Madison Avenue, the 54-story apartment building features a series of ‘sky gardens’ cut out from its facade that provide green space and terraced balconies for residents. Terraced gardens are becoming quite popular as a means for people to have an outdoor connection, fresh air, and even a place to grow their own food.”

Conserving hot water

Flushing our toilets with drinking water has always struck me a total waste. I don’t think other countries do this. Modern buildings use water harvesting, though that may not be possible in the renovation of an old home.

I want to explore conserving the heat lost in bath and shower water. Currently hot water goes straight down the drain. I want to divert hot water to heat my greenhouse. Such valves are used in heating systems, but not for this purpose.




UX UI Analyst at Capgemini

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Jonathan Harbourne

Jonathan Harbourne

UX UI Analyst at Capgemini

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