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
Cheaptopia, location. Um... Washington no-one would miss it, and the only disasters there are aliens... lets face it they only blew up the white house. not like its anything important, Your all still taking orders from the Queen of England anyway, You just havnet noticed. Why do you think your presidents are Soo pally with the UK and not for example FRANCE???

by the way colour has a u in it and its pronounced AL-YOU-MIN-IUM

slightly more seriously, Id look outside the states, its too big for a cheaptopia to work, if you placed it somewhere cheap then you would need to spend loads to network it to the rest of the states, if you build it somewhere near an existing city, then the land is too expensive and your in risk of being absorbed into the city. (so no longer cheap)

Germany would be a good place to start, they have fantastic engineers as well and if your lucky the dollar could rise against the Euro so your getting better value for money. also in the 1930's they put in the autobarns, (moterways without speed limits) and sorted out public transport so that its already cheap and well connected.

God save Cheaptopia.
Jul 13, 2009
I have a feeling that Scott's version is going to be a lot different than some people posting here expect (both those who seem to like communes and those who seem not to). I bet that while at least partly commune in the abstract sense, it will a lot different from most efforts at communes seen to date.
Jul 13, 2009
If I were positioning Cheapatopia, I would place it in the foothills of some mountains, preferably in a temperate climate adjaced to a lake or river. Should have good southern access (for solar), the proximity of mountains should help with wind power and source of recreation. The position in the foothills and proximity to lake or river should provide steady source of water and recreation, The general terrain should be relatively flat (for easy of non-mechanized transport), while not boringly pancake-flat.
The climate should be a mild, temperate one that encourages outdoor activities during most of the year in order to encourage greater social interaction.
Jul 13, 2009
Presuming that initial real estate costs could be ignored, Kauai, HI would be the perfect location. Temperature varies little throughout the year, there is a little rain every day, the cleanest air in the world thanks to prevailing winds, and a population who, other than tourism, are already accustomed to working locally and buying locally.
Jul 13, 2009
Until the perfection of teleporting, there will never be "quick access to Atlanta." Why do you hate Knoxville, sj? Leave it undiscovered.
Jul 13, 2009
Stoopidgurl: Your username says it all. We are the only rich country in the world without universal healthcare, and most Americans do want it. The main disagreements are how to fund it and how to keep expenses down. Are you really saying that you'd prefer living in a society in which some people have no access to health care?
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Jul 13, 2009
Excuse me: New Zealand.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
New Sealand
Jul 13, 2009
Having spent 23 years traveling the world and the US while in the military, it seems to me that every locale has its own form of natural disaster -- tornado, earthquake, blizzard, wildfire, flooding, hurricane, etc. You have to pick your poison, perhaps on the basis of probability of occurrence x extent of damage should it occur / ability to mitigate it though appropriate building technology.

If bubba jones is correct about real estate costs (and I think he is), then you're probably looking for a smaller town or semi-rural area not too far from a metropolitan area that could be inked to it with some form of mass transit. It also has to be large enough to be economically self-sustaining. A college town like Norman, OK, might fit the bill. Or perhaps someplace like Moses Lake, WA, which has an old SAC base, now used for air cargo operations serving Portland and Seattle, whose airports are often socked in by fog. Both have relatively cheap energy costs as well (by national standards), fueled by natural gas in OK, hydro in WA.
Jul 13, 2009
The location of the town should take into account local natural resources. For a town to be successful it needs to produce something that other towns will want. The town needs to predominantly export rather then import. If the town were in the mid-west then wind and sun would both be natural resources which could be tapped to produce energy which could be exported. The mid-west also has fertile soil which is also a natural resource, since it can be used to grow food which can be exported. Water is also extremely valuable, both to produce energy and to produce food. A large body of water would also increase quality of life since everyone wants to live on a lake.

There are also large areas of the mid-west which are currently unpopulated, so obtaining land for the town might be easier.

So my proposal is for the town to be located in the mid-west, and it should be located in the country, but not too far from cities. Cities will provide the demand for the food and energy which is produced by the town. Also a large lake should be at the center of the town. The lake can be man-made by damning a river. How about Nebraska, just west of Omaha, along one of those many rivers that fans out from city.
Jul 13, 2009
North Carolina might be a choice - not far from the medical/technology triangle, not far from the ocean or the mountains, moderate weather changes (a bit of winter, and nearer to the mountains, more moderate summer). Not far from airports and the people are generally nice.
Jul 13, 2009
Who says that we want universal healthcare?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2009
Energy has to be the most important factor here, because it has the most effect on the largest number of people on a regular basis. This rules out the South, Northeast, and Upper Midwest. I'm not intimately familiar with the climate of the entire country, assuming we're talking about staying in the US, but this would seem to leave the mid-Atlantic, Midwest south of Iowa, and Northwest.

In terms of natural disasters and natural beauty, that would probably leave the Northwest a landslide winner. Somewhere in southern Oregon, perhaps?
Jul 13, 2009
Try Knoxville, TN. Beautiful area, lots of greenery. Climate is moderate with some AC and some heating, but not so much as compared to the far notheast or southwest. Natural resources are plentiful, with Tenn Valley Authority Power. Not a hub airport, but a regional with quick access to Charlotte and Atlanta.
Jul 13, 2009
Won't Cheapatopia need to be built on less expensive real estate? Presumably the consumer-class will continue to hoarde all the tasty climate.

So, you'll have to accept crappy weather and a secondary airport. Which is fine, if everyone works locally and doesn't have enough money for lots of travel.
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