Engineers and techies are often misunderstood. They come off as looking cheap when in fact they are optimizers. It is their nature to solve any puzzle that is presented, and the persistent puzzle of life involves getting the most resources while expending the least.

I have a bit of that in me too. That's why my mental hobby for a few decades has been designing what I call Cheapatopia. Cheapatopia is a hypothetical city, designed from scratch to be an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life.

Step one in designing Cheapatopia is assembling the team of visionaries. That's you. I appoint myself team leader, and over the next week or so I will describe the elements of Cheapatopia and ask you to suggest the best design solutions.

Today I will discuss some assumptions. The first and biggest assumption is that the era of ridiculous consumption is over, at least for your lifetime. If we want universal healthcare, and a decent standard of living for the exploding population of seniors, the average household will have to learn how to make do with less. But in doing so, there is no reason we can't be happier at the same time, so long as we do it right.

Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on entertainment and social interaction. If you have that, plus health, safety, and financial security, you might be willing to give up the over-consumption and needless complexity of your old life.

You might also be willing to give up some of the options you enjoy in your current life if the tradeoff is gaining more and better options of a different sort. We'll consider those later.

I believe the next big change in society will involve simplifying our lives, getting rid of the waste and inconvenience that we drifted into, and finding meaning through more social involvement. Cheapatopia would be an engineered city both in terms of its physical structure and in how the citizens participate in it.

For example, in Cheapatopia, no one would ever again hire a babysitter or put their dog in the kennel while they are on vacation. That sort of thing would all be done by neighbors, and you would know those neighbors well.

When you design Cheapatopia, don't assume you would be living there yourself. It won't be for everyone. Don't hold that against Cheapatopia. It's a mental exercise.

Today's design question is this: Where would you locate Cheapatopia, in general terms?

In your answer consider physical beauty, energy, weather, water, proximity to a major airport, natural disasters, and anything else you can think of. And assume Cheapatopians work at home or within the city, so commuting is minimal.

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Jul 13, 2009
In the US, I would pick temperate zone, somewhere on the latitude between NJ & MA. If you mean practical spots, where 1000 people could pool their resources & buy 1000 acres, then I would suggest someplace near the Hudson river in NY perhaps, hopefully north & upstream of any GE sponsored contamination. A place with mild /quick snowy winters & and mild unhumid summers. CA might be perfect climate, but lack of water & space is a problem.

This could be one of the greatest thought experiments yet. I like it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Sorry to harsh the vibe on an otherwise good idea, but I can't get over the assumptions here. There's far too often a sense that we have to, "make do with less" and other such concepts that fundamentally don't reconcile with whom we are today. Why?

Scott, would you be giving up your home theater? Your tennis club membership? Pet ownership? Air conditioning in your hybrid? That's my problem with yet another mental exercise, it's got too many non starters to even consider.

I'd have to support Scott's right (and my own) to continue to make decisions for what's good for him individually - ultimately that has far greater appeal than some bureaucrat in Cheapatopia deciding for him/us. I don't doubt that this disqualifies me as a resident, but doesn't it disqualify everybody eventually? I think so.

Nonetheless, it's your mental model, not mine, so have at it.
Jul 13, 2009
I know what I wont be reading for the next week, someone else's version of utopia. I am not interested in living somewhere where something is provded for free. I prefer doing it myself. If more people would stop looking to others, we would not have the mess we are in. Everyone wants someone else to pay their way. Pay your own.
Jul 13, 2009
Cheaptopia should be a first-ring suburb of Charlotte, NC.
Cheaptopia would be built on solar and wind energy systems and would often add energy to the grid.
The weather in Cheaptopia would be moslty mild - suffering neither the coldest winters of Boston or the sultry Orland summers.
Fresh water would be plentiful in this region.
Nearby Charlotte/Douglas International Airport would provide access to the region.
Just an initial thought.....
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Several posts mentioned weather, terrain, and economic possibilities. Aren't these things how people have always decided to settle? Just look at where the major cities are in the US (the ones that were established before air-conditioning), and you'll find all these features: New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Jul 13, 2009
It seems to me that "great place to live" and "cheap" are inherently contradictory. It would have to be fenced off somehow (mountains, water, federal reservation like a national forest) or it would just sprawl out of control over time. If fenced off horizontally, it will expand vertically (think Manhattan) unless somehow controlled by zoning (DC). In any case, if it's that desirable, rich folks will bid up the price of the available land.

I suppose something like an Italian hill town, with the populace contained on the hilltop in small dwellings, very few cars, and the low lands permanently reserved for agriculture, might work.
Jul 13, 2009
charlesfunnish: I wasn't criticizing the username. It's a great username if you want to post stupid things. It's also a great username (from an ironic point of view) if you want to post brilliant things. And I chose my username because I'm fat, raised by a single mother, and have a big mouth. I also don't like hippies. But I'm not a racist or an anti-Semite.

Having said that: I would deny some healthcare to old people if the benefits were unlikely to exceed the costs. I don't see the point of putting a new liver in an 85-year-old alcoholic with multiple organ failure, do you?

And would I wait longer for cancer treatment? It depends. How long is "longer"? If so long that I die when I otherwise would have lived, no. But that's a moot point when so many people have no access to cancer treatment (other than palliative care) at all.

People confuse universal coverage with state-funded, state-administered coverage. We currently have state-funded, state-administered coverage (Medicaid and Medicare) which is not universal, and the Netherlands has non-state-administered, occasionally state-funded (for the poorest) coverage which IS universal.

It's irresponsible to opt out of health insurance because you're young and healthy and then expect to receive top-notch care at public expense when you're hit by a bus.

Personally, I don't care who funds or administers the coverage, as long as it's truly universal, you can't lose your coverage by losing your job, and you can't be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. We could make that happen by cutting out the gross inefficiencies in the existing system. When we spend as much money per person on health care _administration_ as Singapore spends on _health care_, and we have similar outcomes (at least in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality), we're obviously spending too much.

That being said, I don't support a system like the Canadian one where you can't legally opt to spend your own money to purchase care outside the system. If I could get cancer treatment today for $5,000 cash or in a month for zero, I'd probably choose the former.

I'm not sure what the best system is, but our current system is broken. If you like it, you've probably never been severely ill or injured. I hope you can keep that up.
Jul 13, 2009

You should visit Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. You may be surprised to see you mental exercise has been made real. :)

Jul 13, 2009
Sounds like communism driven by bad assumptions.

Case in point: I know my neighbors, and I don't think they're the first ones I'd call upon to watch my pets when I'm on vacation.

In any event, if you're interested in finding a place for this city, you're going to run into problem #1: funding. In order to locate anywhere, you're going to have to pick up some real estate (even in the case of a floating city, you'd have to manufacture some artificial real estate). According to the rules of real estate (current chaos notwithstanding), hunks of land that are seen as more desirable will cost more than hunks that are less desirable, so there's a very good chance you're going to end up with a parcel of land that's more or less completely out in the sticks.

Maybe there's a ranch in Texas that you could pick up for a song. Oh, wait -- that's been done already, hasn't it?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
-- On the north-east coast, wind aplenty, sea turbines are possible
-- Glorious scenery
-- Ocean helps regulate temperature (less extremes)
-- Close to a large seaport
North-east also means a lesser hurricane factor.

If I had to guess, I'd say the community would benefit greatly from being self-sufficient and having high-valued exports such as water, energy or locally-grown food.
Other concepts:
- Barter system or community currency to encourage community growth
- Exotic imported foods kept to a minimum
- Playgrounds/social interaction instead of China-imported toys
- All nutrients can be obtained from locally grown/harvested foods (helps lower garbage levels when you aren't dealing with plastic packaged goods)
- Low-maintenance lawns
- Entertainment consists of physical interactions where groups get together to do what they normally would. Going over for dinner, fishing, etc.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Personally, I think prairie urban environments like Calgary Alberta or Denver Colorodo would be the best place for Cheaptopia. There is a lot of space for agriculture, reasonably good winters with warm summers. Lots of sun and wind for green energy. As it is land locked, there isn't the risks involved by living by the ocean.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Two thoughts:

First, location - Saw a documentary on Discovery discussing a giant pyramid made of "nano-tubes", seems like this would be a logical solution for housing and creating the environment necessary for Cheapatopia. Create a series of these with locations all over the world and allow inhabitants to decide where and when they occupy. This gives variety and exposure to all geographic locals desired.

Second, needs - In creating this alternate world, ones basic needs will need to be met. Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. will need to be provided at a standard level. Who will decide what this standard level is? Somehow greed, lust and other deadly sins will need to be legislatively removed as well or this whole thing implodes on itself in 100 years or so (aka Communism).
Jul 13, 2009
Boone, NC

Already using some wind power — huge solar and biodiesel community.
Great standard of living — mountain views, cool climate (many houses have no air conditioning, lots of friendly people). Currently, housing is too high but if cheaptopia principles took root, smaller, cheaper houses would follow. Major state university on site (Appalachian State). Two hours from Charlotte airport. Two hours from Greensboro airport. Six hours to beach. Not much opp. for light rail system but emerging technology could make it more feasible.

Rec? Four ski slopes; lots of rock climbing, rafting, hiking, Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge

vibrant farmers market; lots of eclectic restaurants and pubs thanks to tourism and university. Opps. for wider cultural offerings (the town's population is about 15K minus ASU and yet Joan Freakin' Baez is going to perform here!) thanks to ASU presence.

Lack of many big box stores. Vibrant freecycle community.

Only drawback is transportation since it is in the mountains.
Jul 13, 2009
I'd vote for someplace with fairly consistant weather, such as California, for example. Not much need for AC or heat for a good portion of the year, making it a good place to start-weather wise.

Off topic: I loved today's comic, but the funniest part of it to me was that Dilbert and Alice had no reaction whatsoever to PHB shoving his hand up a dead squirrel's butt to hold his hot coffee, but the squirrel still being alive evoked the "startled" look on both their faces.

Back on topic: I like this idea of mental exercises around a cheaptopia, this will be a fun week I think.
Jul 13, 2009
My Votes:

Boulder, Colorado area - Beautiful mountains. Good compromise on climate (year round weather variations, but not extremely hot or cold).
Oregon or Washington State - Temperate and near the ocean. Lots of trees. Cascade mountains
Hawaii - Just all around awesome
Jul 13, 2009
New Otherton, it's already got everything you're asking for!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
I like the North Carolina suggestion. The climate is nice, coastline could come in very handy, and there are already established commerce, industry, and technology centers yet for some reason the land is still relatively cheap.

Another thought is an expansion on the floating-city idea: make it mobile, and have it migrate up and down the coast (whichever, although I'm partial to the Eastern US) with the seasons, docking at the major cities for periods of time on the way.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Cheapatopia should be called Dumba$$ville. Give me a break, "big emphasis on entertainment and social interaction"?! This community is doomed to fail. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “cheap” idea, but the last thing I want is more "social interaction" with people in my community. Sure, most people are great. Unfortunately, at least 10% of the population are complete dumba$$es, and even worse, most of them don't realize they are dumba$$es. And believe me, nobody wants to live next to a dumba$$. If you’re unfortunate enough to live next to a dumba$$, then the last thing you want is to socially interact with the dumba$$. If the community is based on being "socially interactive" with your neighbor, then my prediction is all of the non-dumba$$es will get fed-up with the dumba$$es and will move out, which will leave Dumba$$ville composed of nothing but dumba$$es.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Put it on a giant floating raft, that way you wouldn't have a problem with drainage, sewage etc as you could just drop it over the side and move on. Wouldn't need Grave Yards as there would always be Sharks following to tidy up. Wind/Solar power would be easy too as there would be plenty of both.

Other advantages would be:

- No planning regulations
- Tax Free
- Free Fish !
- Global Warming becomes a plus !
- Anyone breaking laws could be easily deported - if you have a plank that is !
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
If we could pretend water were no issue, I'd say the Bay Area. Getting real about water, unfortunately, puts most of California off the table - because the current population accounts for all that is available - and then some. If playing pretend is off the table, I'd go with southern Oregon. It has plenty of water, incredible scenic beauty and a reasonable climate (not as rainy as Portland/Seattle).

I also like the area around Spokane, WA - but I don't spend much time there in winter. In general Eastern Wa has good water access (Columbia River), Power (Hydro-electric), scenic beauty (the Okanogan highlands). Gets a bit chilly in winter, though.

If I didn't have so many crazy relatives there, I'd also give some thought to Virginia. It has a reasonably mild climate, good water access, good land, nice environment overall. Crazy relatives can't be discounted, however. I stick to the West Coast for a reason.
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