What concept of cities is promising?

Charter Cities, and modular concepts

Most recently I read about the concept of charter cities, the idea of Charter Cities, first proposed by economist Paul Romer, the concept is over a decade old and carries the promise of lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty into a life worth living. But at the same time, this idea does not yet seem to have found a suitable product-market fit. The idea of charter education or schools is a decade or two older and comes from similar center-right or libertarian circles. A charter is a kind of founding document that aims to ensure that the school or city is well managed. Cities in terms of infrastructure are complex systems, their communities are complex systems. 

In my past articles, I have written a lot about complex systems. This is especially important to understand when thinking about concepts for the future or rather building the future. First of all, we have to take into account that the economy is still far from recognizing and integrating the findings of complexity research (University Santa Fe as an example).  

The basic idea is that we have to distinguish complex systems from complicated simple and chaotic topics and in many cases, we have to separate them. On weekends I spent a lot of time in the forest, which is a complex natural system (in most cases our forest aren’t natural anymore, but this is a different story), where trees were cut down and probably resold (simple system) and then houses or other things are built with them (complicated system). The whole history of mankind from building stone tools to exponential technologies can be seen as a process in which complex systems of nature that we are just beginning to understand are transformed into complicated systems. We are familiar with these complicated systems and we think we understand them, but we are actually far from understanding them. If we look at countries where we think the state has failed or where they have a fragile system, we get insights into the fourth system; chaos. Because when different cooperative systems play a role, we see how the complex system is broken down and a system of chaos is created. 

Perhaps a better example is provided by Jordan Hall (a thinker I can only recommend to everyone, wonderful podcasts and powerful explanations of complex things like this one) - the ocean is a complex system, and when we surf and get hit by a big wave, we end up underwater and see only darkness, and we lose the sense of which side is up and which side is down. In this case, it is best to stop moving, wait a little bit until a ray of sunshine appears, and only when the barrier from chaotic to complex system is overcome and we recognize which side is up and which is down, we will continue and swim back to the surface.

Complex systems can repair themselves, heal themselves, and must experience stress and not chronic strain to be antifragile. Complex systems CANNOT repair themselves. Chaotic systems are those where you don't know if they are swimming up or down (using the surfing example). 

The majority of the systems in which we interact; such as societies, culture, mind, economy, gardens, climate, oceans, our bodies, and communities, are all complex systems with positive and negative feedback loops, delays, nonlinear relationships, and emergent properties. The point is, communities scale, our cities, and mechanical systems do not. 

In complex adaptive systems, we observe fractal patterns, also called flake-free or self-similar patterns. For example, there is a certain coherence at the level of molecules, cells, organs, bodies, and societies. There are so-called scaling laws, for example, the ratio of surface area to volume. If you find a bone of a dinosaur, you can calculate how big such a dinosaur was thanks to proportionality and these scaling laws. If you are interested in beautiful pieces, look up for Mandelbaum or Fractal Patterns. 

Back to the Charter Cities. One of the problems in finding Charter Cities or The Product Market Fit is an insufficient understanding of what Nassim Taleb calls "a cat is not a washing machine" or in one of my favorite books by Nick Hanauer "Gardens are not machines". A garden requires a feeling for the garden, the care of the different plants that harmonize with each other. Here we also need to understand what a natural garden is and how it grows. But as an example, we can take how much water the different plants need, but too much kills the system but too little kills the system. 

Nassim says that most cities and city-states have survived for thousands of years, while empires disintegrated after centuries because the government is difficult to scale and cities (at that time) were the optimal size. What unites Denmark and Singapore as well-governed countries are that they are one smaller than the USA or Russia, for example. You can also look at it another way or say that you should not build too big to drive companies and other structures to ruin. We need to allow volatility, learning through "skin in the game" to allow feedback loops and a healthy amount of stress to overcome the challenges. 

In the last few years, I was speaking a lot with people around the world, who wants to build the next Techno City. Most of the Concepts failed and we see a lot of Ghost Cities around the world. If you google Konica City for example in Africa, you have other examples in Asia, Russia, and more. Some cities are already built, some aren’t. But the case is you can’t just build a city and think people will come. Its much more complex than that. 

The much better idea, at least in my small brain is to start from the bottom-up. Start from schools and build communities of local Pirates, entrepreneurs, and Startup hubs, that can scale to bigger structures without losing the antifragile model. I am part of a few of those concepts and if we are able to provide more information I will publish them here. But so far I have seen two great concepts, that aren’t perfect yet but good to go. The first one is Oceanix the other one is Regen Village. I believe that setting up the cultural environment will be one of the most important building blocks. You also have to keep in mind, that this is not something for the next five years. Think about a concept that will long for thousands of years and try to imagine what is missing, what do we have to build first. 

Stating small with a few hundred people could accelerate in a couple of hears to hundred thousand just in a few years. A great way to expand your thinking is the following article: 

https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/03/7-3-billion-people-one-building.html

Cause this concept can be further expanded into something like Charter Cities on a country level - including the already existing towns and cities and merging them seamlessly. Because most of the time it is more about culture than infrastructure. From this point in time, we are able to rethink the system structures. I predict this could happen in less than a decade and could change everything like the smartphone and internet. 

The idea of new decentralized systems in Banking, Energy, etc aren’t new anymore. Think about it for a minute and then imagine how a small City could look like with all those new nature-oriented systems. There are already in Africa many systems like this, still early days, but they have mobile banking (M-Pesa), p2p information infrastructures, M-kopa which is a decentralized off-grid energy system for rural homes and it replaces the more expensive energy providers. Thomas a friend of mine often called the Tesla Roadster or Earthship projects. The role model for innovation with billions of people in mind in 2050. We would need similar innovations in the space of washing machines, transportation, sanitation, agriculture, etc. But for most of the things we are still very limited in our thinking, that’s one reason why I love Sci-Fi thinking or normative thinking. 

We currently focus on the housing category, cause we believe it will be one important founding block for future civilizations and also to create them in a more sustainable way. Currently, there is a trend of tiny houses and cohabitation as a reaction towards the housing crisis that looms in many big cities. But the solutions in this space are currently too expensive or they lack the circular economy component. 

There are some great PreFab house examples like the Eco Capsule, PassivDom, Container Houses etc. There all have a great ambition to come up with cheaper solutions, but most of them starting with the Tesla strategy. Unfortunately, they do not have a city concept in mind. Which makes them in my opinion useless. There are many other innovations in the area that we can broadly call space industry and smart materials that might enable much cheaper houses through techniques such as biomimicry and already mentioned smart and metamaterials with exponentially dropping prices. Which will be a very important part in building future civilizations. I am always looking for new/ alternative material concepts. Drop me a message if you find cool stuff. 

I am thinking a lot about modular homes out of repurposed or natural materials. Really have a look at Oceanix and try to understand the concept behind it. 

But the overall point is simple — thanks to exponential technologies and progress in complexity science and computer science, etc. one can build new villages, or “charter”/  “alternatives” cities out of modular components within months and doesn’t need to wait for decades to do a randomized control trial on another Dubai, Shenzhen or Hong Kong.

What we need in terms of culture, mental models — scientific concepts, mindsets and mental debugs:

I'm a big fan of game theories and so one could assume that we should all strive for Win-Win situations and escape the zero-sum games and zero-sum transaction mentality. One could also assume that this mentality is due to the ecological reasons of the economy based on scarcity. A few thinkers like Schmachtenberger, the Weinstein brothers, and others who think about Game B. I've written something about that and there will be an article about Game B soon. It's primarily about an economy of abundance based on the anti-rival foundations. Schmachtenberger keeps calling it the generator function, which means you have to consider many or even all existential risks with a rival dynamic. 

But the problem of rivalry could run much deeper than the game theory itself. The consideration of rival dynamics itself is already two levels deeper than the currently prevailing thinking in effective altruism - below existential risks and below the generator function. But it could well be that the scarcity is actually created by these rival dynamics themselves and not just the other way around - that this scarcity creates the rivalry. 

At least this is the view of mimetic theory divided by Rene Girard the mentor of Peter Thiel. If you read the Book from zero to one you will see how he influenced Peters thinking a lot. Scarcity and rivalry could also reinforce each other in positive feedback loops. It would therefore only make sense to assume that this problem could therefore lie much deeper than the absence of an affluent society. Girard says that the people who are most similar are also the most rival, and therefore humanity has developed scapegoats that produce the "sacred" by externalizing the violence generated by these rival dynamics and protecting communities from self-inflicted violence. 

Throughout our history, the sacred has always been depicted with violence, even from different angles. Now the field of economy (economic and also political economy) is the field that tries to establish this mechanism of self-transcendence and to create peace and prosperity by externalizing and containing violence with violent means. We look for the enemy in the other country, through which we fight terrorism without actually knowing the exact background. We put our own interests in the foreground. This process is less and less effective as this process of scapegoating other innocent people has become more and more visible, obvious and obvious over the centuries. The world is becoming more transparent and in many cases, we can see how wrong things have been done, but I don't want to make it easier, because we tend to see things simply. I can explain this in more detail another time. 

To go beyond rivalry - to acknowledge the rivalry, to integrate the rivalry, but to transform it, we need to encourage a change of framework - through a paradigm shift and a change of hearts and minds through various mental fixes.

There are different levels of change and impact - direct change (working in a kitchen, farm, building a modular smart city), scaled change (starting a business building several Charter Cities), system change (creating an innovation that opens a new space of possibilities) and finally a change of framework - or a change of thinking, paradigm shift, etc. (think of the recognition of human rights).

Some of these mental mistakes are presented by Tom Chi, who explains, for example, why we need to think about ourselves and an emerging property of the entire ecosystem and how we do not even exist as a concept without air and plants that produce air. Other mental bug fixes help us to learn constantly and learn how to learn: "Knowledge is the enemy of learning". We must constantly check ourselves - am I in the mindset of an expert who must prove his knowledge, or am I in the mindset of a learner. Probably read my Article “Our Horizon is shrinking” on that. 

Learning (as a concept other than education, knowledge and the signaling of competence, so to speak) and communities of lifelong learning could be the key to this, which Game B makes possible and thus also overcomes rival dynamics and creates spaces in whose anti-rivals social innovations are planted and grow beyond the world. 

I wanted to illustrate my thinking in the area of New cities and Learning schools and the depth of the problem.

In my opinion, some conscious efforts are needed to build anti-rival and anti-fragile communities and we must increase our efforts. I look forward to exploring this space further and would like to participate in the rapid development of prototypes for social innovation ideas in this area. Please join me with feedback and suggestions or corrections.

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