18 Nov 2021
Adam Jesionowski
Minimum Viable Antifragile Cities

Let us define an antifragile system as one which survives even when its external inputs are cut off. Let us also consider cities as not only their urban core, but the immediate surrounding agricultural land.

Today’s cities are incredibly fragile. They rely on the movement of goods from the entire globe. Power must come from the grid, fertilizer from chemical plants, garbage plastic goods from China, etc. etc. A small disruption in supply chains or critical infrastructure has large shock effects, threatening the vitality of the city.

To create a new city, as Praxis plans to, is to be given the opportunity to rectify this. An antifragile city generates its vitality internally, rather than importing it. What might this look like?

Agriculture forms the basis of a civilization. The American agriculture system is not only fragile, it actively makes the vitality of its citizens worse though the use of excessive chemicals. We must look towards permaculture techniques instead. Here we find a respect for and knowledge of plants and animals that is lacking in an industrial system. Planting polyculture crops allows for nutrients to cycle between plants without needing to reach for external chemical sources of nutrition. By respecting the climate and reality of the land in the city, we maximize our antifragility–what has worked in the past will work in the future.

Another important topic is that of power. Here I suggest we look at the demand side just as much as we look at the supply side. A maximally antifragile city is able to function without power (though at a degraded level) for long periods of time. American houses usually make the assumption that power is available at all times, leading to housing designs that eagerly consume power. In e.g. the Mediterranean it is perfectly possible to survive the year without access to air-conditioning. If the city is built completely with passive housing, the power needs of the city drastically decreases and antifragility goes through the roof.

American communication networks are extraordinarily complex, though for good reason. Commensurately, they are fragile to disruption: consider the chaos if both power and telephone networks were to go down! An antifragile city has disaster preparedness planned in advance. For instance, say each neighborhood were to be equipped with a battery-powered ham radio and a knowledgeable operator. The nature of the emergency and how to organize against it would be quickly available to each citizen.

The construction of a new city gives us the ability to organize for vitality and antifragility ahead of time. These are far from the only dimensions in which this problem can be tackled. If you can think of more, let’s hear it in the Praxis Discord server!

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