about the town project
What you need to know beforehand
About this collection
Most of the following key quotes are from the book 1, beginning, and cover some of the basic questions about the town project. In some cases, the quotes are stripped down to their core statement.
About the story
Alice Adler sets out to convince the US billionaire Tom Holbon to join her in developing a town experiment. The aim of the experiment is to question— well, everything.
About some of the characters
Alice Adler, born in Berlin, 1972, head of the Easy Town Foundation. Alice studied business and some economics in Berlin and Bristol. Before the project, she worked as a freelancer in photography and web design. First impression: sportive casual, unruly short dark hair
Tom Holbon, born in New York, 1953, American businessman, programmer, the richest man on the planet, philanthropist, married to Fran Holbon. He heads the project’s Business Team. Fran heads the project’s Research Team. First impression: business casual, greying
Jack Harris, born in London, 1972, famous actor. He works internationally, mostly lives in London and has three children (18, 16, 8) with his ex-wife. He joined the Arts Team in the first week of the project and splits his time between his movie work and the project. First impressions: ‘Bloody hell, I’ve seen this guy on screen.’ ‘Blimey, he’s hot.’
The key quotes
for the first time
‘If this project goes ahead, experts of many professions will be needed. But the project also needs people who aren’t academics. Playfulness and ease are as important as expert knowledge to make this project work.’
‘And you think I could help?’
‘I’ve seen your playfulness on screen. And I’m sort of hoping it wasn’t all acting.’
The playfulness, I’m talking about, should be part of the very fabric of the project — not an entertaining sideshow. It’s about loving and enjoying life, venturing, twirling through the air, provoking, crossing lines, laughing, opposing, daring … It’s the talent to play around with ideas, questions, impossibilities; always open, never narrow-minded or fixated on existing knowledge; free to explore.
for the first time
You need an independent
and curious mind to run an experiment like this.
The experiment is about trying out ideas and for that you need one person who makes the final decisions about what is to be tested. Besides, all I’m asking is to be convinced why we should choose one idea over the other, and to take one step at a time. I’d say that’s not asking too much.
Why is the name important?
Easy is a friend. His story inspired the initial ideas for the project. That’s why the name is essential — to me.
What I’d like to propose is to build a town from scratch and run it as an experiment. In the experiment, we would treat every aspect of life as a variable, as something we can put to the test, as something we can adjust until it makes more sense than our present systems. We would question every theory we know. We would question how we do business, how patients are treated, how the town is composed in terms of people, businesses, educational and cultural offers, or its layout. And we would try to find out whether we can’t do better if we use our imagination, and hang our complacency in the closet.
And turn the world upside down?
Just to give it a good shake.
Her next words, however, were spoken quietly.
‘My friend Easy was not fine.
Many of us on this planet are not fine.
But maybe we could be.’
Tom swallowed and looked up from his writing.
But her eyes had a note of cheekiness in them. She had all these questions and saw the misery, but she wanted to do something about it, not dwell on it.
Why an experiment?
So we can test ideas in a microcosm and make adjustments whenever something doesn’t quite work yet. Or when another promising alternative comes up. Besides, the experiment allows us to operate outside existing laws, ideologies and perceptions, making us free to explore ideas without any impediments. Also, I don’t want to drag too many people into our mistakes. And we’re bound to make mistakes if we truly want to discover something. Producing new ideas on paper and then pushing them on a whole country just isn’t good enough for me.
Why do such an experiment at all?
Because too much doesn’t work for too many people — is the obvious answer. For me there is an additional point. To me, the discrepancies on our planet are like a riddle, a challenge. It’s something that begs me to solve it. I’m not capable of accepting that we as humans can’t do better, that we can’t get to the roots of how to make life worthwhile living for every creature on this planet. And I’m tired of the scrupulous businessman narrative — as if jerks were a natural given we have to accept. It’s not. Also scientists tend to observe what is and research how something came about. But in our experiment, we would explore what could be. It’s complex. But maybe, it’s just a question of solving the puzzle. And what better way to solve it than to build an experiment where we can test, eliminate, try again, rearrange, invent, dare?
What’s the benefit of Easy Town?
When I was a kid, I heard about children dying of hunger in Africa. I was shocked but not worried. Because I thought, this will be sorted out soon, and then everyone will have enough to eat again. I was convinced that a tragedy like that is not only solvable but that every effort would be made to solve it as soon as possible. The older I get, the more I wonder why we, for example, explore the universe, make movies or have football tournaments when we still haven’t made sure that every human has enough to eat. Sometimes I want to press pause and say: Look, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to find out, and there’s a lot of fun to be had, but could we, please, sort out the essentials first? Neither the fun stuff nor the intriguing mysteries of the universe are going anywhere. We can have it all — later.
Also, when I listen to politicians, I often think they don’t have the time, understanding, daring or imagination to find the root of a problem. Or, to put it more drastically, you could compare most societies to a huge rotten tree. Instead of going to the roots to find out what made the tree sick, politicians tear off the odd leaf, replace it with a new one and call that
change for the better.
In the town experiment, we would try to find the roots of whatever we regard as problematic. The benefit? We might learn something to our advantage.
Besides, the town would be tangible. People are suspicious of change and of new ideas, notably when they believe that they’ll get a bad deal. If Easy Town works, anyone could come and see for themselves what we have discovered. And then everyone can decide which of our findings they want to try out themselves.
Why build the town from scratch?
Because the way a town is built is crucial to how people interact, whether they feel at home, whether they’ll be healthy, whether tourists are attracted and so on. I’d like to create a town which is thoughtfully put together so that every bit of it adds to a vibrant, thriving, beautiful, sustainable, healthy and beneficial whole. An existing town wouldn’t provide us with the freedom to pay attention to every detail. Besides, everyone living in our town will have applied to be part of the experiment. The participants will have an idea of what’s coming. In an existing town, we’d have to find a compromise for those who already live there.
Even for a basic overview of the ideas, you’d need a large team.
I know. And then we need to find a place where we can build the town, and a government which is curious enough to grant the experiment the freedom it needs. But we’d start with seven main teams. And our programmers would build the town simulation so that we can run preliminary tests of our ideas. And if he agrees, I’d like artists like Jack Harris on the team from the beginning.
And you think I’ll just hand over my fortune?
I wouldn’t know where to start to calculate how much money is needed for a project like this. But let’s say the project required fifty billion dollars. That would, as far as I know, leave you with seventy-five billion dollars. That’s more money than you can possibly spend in your lifetime. So what do you have to lose? Besides, my aim is to make the project financially independent rather sooner than later. We could set up some businesses even now. These businesses would work for the project’s benefit, and later we’d integrate them into the town.
But there won’t be any return for me?
Again, what do you want that money for? You have a unique opportunity to build something extraordinary, something that will need initial capital, like a child. Would you ask your child to return your investment? Or would you ask your child to pay interest? We wouldn’t build Easy Town to make money. We would build it to find out what’s good for us humans.
Come on. Let’s find out whether growth is the only option for a business, whether some sort of slavery is necessary for a thriving economy, whether we need two hundred kinds of cheese in extensive packaging. Let’s explore. Let’s take nothing for granted or proven. Who knows what we may find? Enough people are talking about this or that idea, but we would create a complex microcosm and put everything to a practical test, be it ideas for businesses, health, architecture, ecology, society and every other field.
And for that, I’m to hand over half of my fortune?
You’d still be one of the richest men on the planet. Aren’t you past the age where you need to verify your cock’s length with the balance on your bank account? I believe you’re better than that. At least, I hope you are.
How is any of this going to end hunger, war, illness, injustice, fanaticism, terrorism, global warming?
It’s half past nine. And that’s what you want to talk about now? All right. In short: With a single town, we can help to rethink whatever needs rethinking. We can test ideas and deliver tangible and reproducible results. War, hunger, global warming and all the rest are consequences of inadequate practices. By tackling root problems in our town experiment, we might find adequate practices which in turn might influence all of the above positively.
But who knows? Maybe we find out that there is no hope for the planet as long as humans live on it. And even that would be a result. All charities could close, governments could go home, and everyone could do whatever they want. No more worries. The world will end, no matter what we do.
Do you think this is a good moment to be sarcastic?
I’m not sarcastic. Not really. Because that might be the result. Besides, it’s paramount to keep in mind that this experiment will never provide ultimate answers. We need to be careful not to come up with some ultimate truth or salvation like so many movements and religions.
No good has ever come
from having all the answers.
To make sure that we don’t start to take ourselves too seriously, we employ whatever it takes to keep a level head, an open mind. That’s why I need people like Jack Harris on board. People who bring a natural playfulness, ease and even recklessness into the project. People who make us laugh, not least about ourselves. People who keep us safe from thinking too highly of ourselves. People who keep us from becoming arrogant prigs.
At the first
Easy Town meeting
Just saying: let’s build this experiment, let’s test, let’s make the human welfare our priority, let’s produce solid facts in a town built from scratch in every respect.
We will set up the Easy Town Foundation as an umbrella for everything we think up.
I cannot think of a single aspect of the town, its economy, its design or its people that might not be of interest to us. In fact, part of our initial work will be to identify everything that makes a town tick.
At its core the Easy Town experiment is about being curious, about trying out visions, about exploring and playing around with ideas, testing the limits of the possible, daring to try out the unconventional, questioning the inevitable, allowing for complexity.
In short, Easy Town is an attempt to interweave all aspects of the human well-being into a consistent, living and breathing whole.
There will be seven main teams:
Design, Health and Care, Economics and Business, Ecology and Agriculture, Arts and Crafts, Admin and Society, Research and Education.
Each team has main tasks, but close co-operation between all teams will be crucial. Since I believe that design is essential to every aspect of our town, I placed the Design Team at the centre of this chart.
Let’s start with Design. One of the principles of Easy Town will be beauty and—
Simple. Because our town is about healing. I don’t mind experimental design. But when I go home, I want to feel well, not challenged or repulsed.
Beauty …? Is that why Jack Harris is here?’
This time everyone laughed.
Jack tried to chuckle, but he was annoyed. Even more so when Alice smiled at him cheekily before addressing her audience again:
No doubt, Jack Harris is beautiful. But when you talk to him, you’ll notice that there’s more to him than meets the eye. And that’s what Easy Town could become:
A place that is a feast for our senses and a place that has substance at the same time.
Something real inside and outside.
So you want to control all businesses with your town rules?
It’s an experiment. So yes, we make the rules. But this is about rethinking business practises, about testing alternatives, not about control. And if something doesn’t work, then we’ll try something else.
Think about it, if we can identify, what it takes to avoid every kind of exploitation while giving the greatest possible freedom to all market players, then we will have achieved something remarkable.
I’m a free spirit. I dislike rules. I want as few rules as strictly necessary. But every rule we choose will have to count.
Companies won’t like it. Their profits would fall if they don’t have access to cheap materials and labour.
You’ll have to give me a better reason to stick with exploitation than to fill some douchebag’s pockets.
Only consumption keeps the economy alive. And people only consume if the prices are acceptable.
And the puppet masters whisper day and night:
Buy, buy, buy! — my rubbish.
I say, let’s tell those whisperers:
Bye, bye, bye.
Let’s find out whether something like a non-exploitative economy wouldn’t be just as alive as today’s rubbish spitting economies.
Besides, in a non-exploitative economy, more people should have an income with an actual purchasing power. More purchasing power means both, people can pay adequate prices, and more people engage on the markets.
You’re not facing up to reality.
I never thought that facing up to reality means accepting inadequate practices.
Over the last days, I’ve asked myself repeatedly: is it possible that we have become too blind to the fact that our codes and algorithms can’t solve every mystery let alone every misery on this planet?
Easy Town can’t either. But it might help us to go beyond codes and theories. It can provide us with a place where we can test alternatives to our present systems.
More than anything else, I’ve always wanted to find solutions. That’s what programmers do. We find solutions, we make things run. And I’m grateful for this opportunity to think outside the code box.
What’s the good of one town? How is this going to solve our global problems?
Too many people believe that change is impossible, that the way our world is run follows some kind of natural law no one can break.
no one should break.
However, if we manage to create a town where changed rules work, we would get away from speculations about alternatives. We would have a proof that alternatives work. And people could visit the town and see the results of our experiment for themselves. This is what we can do with our project.
You could say that our world has a virus. And that virus makes humans and nature sick. If we get lucky in our experiment, we might find a vaccine. If we get even luckier, our vaccine will dry out the virus.
So you do want a revolution?
No, not really. I’m driven by curiosity. And I’m not a fan of revolutions. But we might be able to contribute to a world where the well-being of humans means something. Would that be a revolution? Maybe. I’d rather see it as an inspiration.
Could you tell us something about your architectural ideas for the town?
I’m not imagining a Hobbiton, but I admit that I like round shapes. In fact, I’ve often wondered how and why humans came up with rectangles, triangles or perfect circles since you can’t find them in nature. Nature is much more varied and a lot less angular and repetitive. I mean how is it possible that no two thumbprints are alike? It’s incredible.
Forms, shapes and patterns found in nature would be one of my starting points for any designs. Another important aspect is variety. Rather than using the same sort of buildings to fill whole streets or districts, I’d like to see a mixed assembly of buildings which fit together nonetheless. While I’m open to suggestions for buildings of a more modern style, I want to avoid soulless, cold and perfectly efficient buildings.
Are we going for a Gaudí style then?
No, I don’t think so. That might be a bit too much. I’d go for something pleasant with surprising elements, and only on occasion for something as elaborate and colourful. A lot will depend on what sort of buildings we need for how many people. And then we’ll try to compose an interesting mix.
In the simulation, we’ll build a virtual copy of Easy Town. Whatever a particular team finds or suggests will be fed into the simulation. Let’s say, the Business Team determines that the town needs a hundred shops with a total of eight hundred people, running the shops. In that case, we add a hundred shops to the town simulation, plus eight hundred shop workers, their homes, in some cases their children, their recreational activities and so on. Say the Ecology Team finds out that the town needs one thousand trees to ensure an optimal oxygen level. Then we add one thousand trees. Say the Design Team comes up with an amazing university building. Then we find a place for it, and make sure that it has a nice square in front of it and so on.
I’d like to see an interesting demographic mix, a good ratio between residents and non-residents, patients and non-patients, between couples and singles, and between couples with children and couples without, as well as a good ratio between apprentices and students. And then there is the ratio between types of accommodation: house or flat, small or large, quiet or in the buzz of things. And again, I’d like to find a good ratio, not just between the types of accommodation but also between private, public and business buildings. And on top of that: a viable business diversity. And I’d throw in some resident artists.
Will there be tourists all year round?
Yes. Easy Town should be an all-year holiday place. Maybe we should add a big winter garden with a pool. My calculations are just a start, and we can play around with those numbers. What would it mean to have more patients and fewer holidaymakers, for example? Do we achieve a good demographic mix this way? What would it mean if the number of residents was fifty thousand? How many people are needed to keep the town going? What sort of professions are required and so on. Moreover, where do they live and where do they work?
I’d prefer a circular layout for the town. And since one of the objectives is to mix all people in town regardless of age, gender, origin, fitness or income, I thought that the patients and their facilities should be placed around and near the town centre. This way the patients in Easy Town wouldn’t be shut away. They’d be at the centre of things. The second circle could be dedicated to Arts and Crafts, including a theatre, a museum, a library and so on. The third circle would be the place for businesses and smaller factories. The fourth circle could be dedicated to Education and Research, and the outer circle would be reserved for tourists. The latter would have the advantage that the tourists would be close to the attractions around the town, and wouldn’t always be in the town.
So you would have five hundred wheelchairs criss-crossing the town centre, smashing into cars?
Good point. For one, I’d love a town without cars. Is that possible? Is it desirable? Can our town cope with five hundred patients in wheelchairs? What does it take to make it happen? How do we make sure that patients, grannies and kids aren’t shut away but part of the everyday chaos? These are exactly the questions we’ll explore.
I said earlier that Design should be at the centre of all our considerations. However, Health & Care provides us with an important starting point. Health is something we all need, and we’ll create a town where people can heal. And once we’ve figured out what we need to heal, and what it takes to remain healthy, then we figure out how to finance our approach.
With all due respect, and I like most of what I’m hearing, Ms Adler, but I wouldn’t want to live in a place where I’m confronted with seriously damaged and old people, like all the time. I’ll be old and sick soon enough.’
Alice held his friendly gaze. Then she smiled. ‘That’s a good point. I remember visiting someone on Ko Tao, in Thailand. He was staying in a small bungalow resort, run by a family. The family had a house with a large terrace, which served as the resort’s restaurant. The house was also home to a very old and disabled grandmother. The door of her room opened onto the terrace. She couldn’t walk and would sometimes push herself across the floor to the door. And there she would rock to and fro like a baby to let her family know that she wanted something. I’d eat my late breakfast while the daughter and the granddaughter washed or fed her on the terrace.
Did I like to see that? No, I didn’t. I didn’t, because it reminded me far too much of what happened to my friend Easy. Especially one day when the grandmother had a seizure on the terrace. It was terrible.
On the other hand, I didn’t doubt for a second that this family had chosen a good way to care for their grandmother.
They didn’t fuss about her.
She slid out of her bed? So what? She pushed herself to the door? So what? She needed a wash? So what?
And the old lady was better of for having her family around, and for having as much freedom as she could muster.
Whenever I visited Easy in rehab or later in the nursing home, staying four days was my limit. It was all I could take. Not because of him. He was sweet. And it was good to spend time with him. No, it was the number of tragic cases. It was me, who couldn’t accept what had happened. It was me, because I didn’t know how to spend those wretched evenings. It was me, because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life looking after him. What I’m saying is, that yes, I like drooling grannies as little as I like drooling babies. I’m actually pretty sensitive when it comes to drooling.
I don’t think the solution to my sensitivity is to surround myself with childless people who never get a cold and stay youngish. I think the solution is to get used to seeing these patients, to make them part of our everyday life. And to make sure that we can go to a pub in the evening where we meet other people who go through the same miserable situation. And to make sure that we can take on a job in the town for as long as the rehab takes.
By ensuring that relatives and the hospital staff are supported, patients will get the best possible care.
Creating a town that allows for such a supportive environment, that’s something we can attempt to do.
And while we are at it, we can question and rethink whatever else might need a rethink.
Early tribes invented gods to combat their fears.
I guess, we’re still mostly driven by fear and anxiety.
Only today, we don’t invent gods. Today, we make order and rules. We sort everything and everyone into nice categories. We find labels, rules and explanations for every eventuality. We bring everything under control. We use disinfectants wherever we can. We become cleaner and more perfect by the day.
I think that is as useless to combat our fears and anxieties as was inventing gods.
Easy Town is not about clean, perfect, ordered or about looking away. I’m not sure what it will be about. I’m not sure Easy Town is possible. But I’d like to find out.
the Easy Town experiment
week 1, settling in
Maybe social media is the worst thing we can do to ourselves. But it would be careless to ignore its potentials. And since I don’t like the policies of most tech companies, or their profiteering and data exploitation, we’ll need our own platform.
That’s one of the things, we’re going to test in Easy Town. Are we capable of creating something, because we’re interested in that something? Or can we only create things to make yet another fortune? And, how is that fortune made? By using people’s private data to flood their accounts with tailored advertising? I don’t want to do that. We’d like to have a platform where we can interact. That’s a good thing in itself, I hope. It doesn’t have to make masses of money in addition. It does, however, have to make enough money to make it happen and to keep it going.
How about the people in the town experiment? Will they get paid?
No, they get to live in an incredible town, and they get a chance to contribute to our research which in turn will benefit them. I think that’s enough. Besides, the experiment is limited and not the livelong monitoring of anyone’s interests and stupidities.
In short: I want to choose what I see when and how. And I don’t want to please some giant tech corp, or be tricked into constant consuming or sharing. I want to be my own master in every way. I’m sick of any and every kind of manipulation and the constant animation to share and compare.
GARDENS FOR EASY TOWN
- The Challenge Garden
- The Feel Garden
- The Gods Garden
- The Party Den
- The Camping Garden
- The Silent Garden
- The Common Garden
Like the Party Den, the Gods Garden will be located outside the town where it can make all the noise it wants.
Each religion – or let’s say, as many as we can fit in – each of them will get an equally sized space in the Gods Garden. A religious group can use its slot to build whatever they like as long as the building doesn’t exceed the allowed maximum height. All we provide is the main structure with lanes, plots, little garden patches, and maybe some sort of central meeting point for everyone. The rest is up to the representatives of each religion.
From where I stand, religion is a private matter. And this garden will provide a place where people can worship their god.
We will only succeed in our experiment if we are open-minded and don’t cater to anyone or any ideas.
The job shakers coordinate temporary changes in occupation. It’s probably best if I write down some scenarios for you. For example: I’m a friend of a patient, and I’d like to stay close while he is in rehab. So I go into the job shakers office and tell them that I’m available for the next five months, and I have these qualifications. I might also give them an estimate of how much money I need to earn to cover my expenses back home and in the town. And then the job shakers would work out a schedule for me, because I could be useful in several jobs.
OK. And what if I go to the shakers and tell them that I’m at my most productive if I only work for three months a year as a programmer, that I’d like to go surfing in Australia for three months, and that I’d like to get my hands dirty, work somewhere outside in building or gardening or fishing in the remaining six months?
I’d say, go for it. But most importantly, we’d make sure that your job as a programmer is secure.
Do people jobshake the same time every year?
It should be more flexible. Maybe one year you need more money, and another year you need more time off. The important thing is that you find someone who can take your place while you’re away.
Why doesn’t the shaker office appoint someone for my temporary job vacancy?
You are best qualified to evaluate who can do your job. The job shakers coordinate and help. But the responsibility to find someone adequate is yours. The actual shaking is that you can add any number of additional jobs to your primary job.
Happy adults make for happy parents.
And happy parents make for happy children.
The project team had over two hundred members by now. Seven teams, seven main team leaders, quite a few sub-team leaders, and Leo’s team who co-ordinated them all.
The seven teams had very different sizes, from twelve members in the small teams to nearly fifty in Design.
Alice was pleased that they had achieved a good mix of people within the team. There were over fifty professions represented, ages ranging from twenty-two to seventy-two, near parity between female and male team members, and a good crowd of people with other gender identities, over ten nationalities and more diverse origins, and every conceivable dress preference.
I’ve been thinking about what some artists told me, back in Berlin. They said that Berlin gave them the opportunity and freedom to experiment; to be themselves; follow their ideas rather than meeting expectations or conventions or being high-performing to please some jury. I’d like to have that kind of freedom for artists in Easy Town. In fact, I’d like to have that kind of freedom for everyone. A chance to test yourself in a safe environment, to experiment without being scrutinised or judged, to find out who you are and can be without pleasing anyone. Be yourself instead of trying to win some competition.
week 2, Health & Care
Health & Care were a large team and from today on, they met in small groups, each group focusing on a specific issue.
Some of the important questions were: How many medical facilities will there be? Are there special requirements for the street layouts or the accessibility of buildings? How many medical staff will be required? How many relatives of patients might want to live and work in the town? How can the job shakers support all concerned? What kind of costs would the town have to deal with?
Based on the answers to these questions, the other teams would ask: how many residents would it take to make this work? And the number of residents would determine the number of schools, theatres, shops, homes and so on. In short, a lot depended on the directions taken by the Health & Care Team.
People should live between the medical facilities.
By combining hospital buildings with non-hospital spaces and buildings. And this way, we’d have several hospital buildings rather than one huge ugly block.
But that means long distances within the hospital.
Yes, but we could have bridges between the buildings. Say there are two hospital buildings, and each of them is three storeys high. And there is a space between those two building, big enough to either have a garden or a smaller building. If we opt for the smaller building, then the building could be home to a café, a hairdresser, two flats and an artist studio. And then we could add a bridge above the artist studio to connect the two hospital buildings on the third floor. And maybe inside this roofed bridge, we could feature the artist’s latest work.
Severe cases aside, it might be good for a patient to be wheeled or walked to your training centre.
My training centre?
Yes, and for several reasons. Being in a hospital is boring. A change of scenery is always welcome. And at the training centre, people can mix with their fellow patients while waiting for their appointments.
So, we would have a training and wellness centre surrounded by hospital and private buildings? And this centre could also have a café attached to it?
Yes. The sort of café where you find students, or the carpenter from around the block.
We should think about job opportunities for patients too.
Yes. And returning to your profession might stress you. It might trigger memories you can’t deal with at the moment. But working in a new profession, might help in the healing process, especially if you experience success.
I always thought a star shaped layout would be best for a ward. The patient rooms are in the beams of the star, short corridors, maybe six or eight rooms. All corridors lead to a circular hall. The hall could have a broad window front where people can sit together. At the centre of the hall, we’d have the reception, rooms for nurses and doctors, consultation rooms, medicine storage.
I like it – a lot. Though, I wouldn’t go for a perfect circle.
Of course, nothing too perfect for you, Alice.
Perfect is boring. Spaces are always better when there are things and even surprises to discover. That’s probably true for patient rooms too.
I agree. So can I ask the architects to do some sketches for the ovalish wards with surprises?
As for the rooms of long-term patients, those should have at least some private items, like a chair, pictures, an aquarium, a familiar wallpaper, a hi-fi or things like that. And we should stick to the daily routine these patients are used to, like getting up late.
But that’s impossible. How are we going to get all our work done?
By good planning. If we have enough staff, daily work should actually become more interesting.
Then people would wash and eat at different times?
Why not? I even think that whoever can, should be encouraged to cook for themselves. Or people cook together. Or, as I’ve seen in a hospital in Italy, you meet in a dining room and eat together.
We are talking sick people here.
But not necessarily people who can’t get together to cook.
Will we really break with well-established practices?
That’s the point of this project.
On the other hand, adjusting to the patient’s normal routine might help them to recover more quickly. And adding some normality to the hospital environment might help too. And cooking together could be fun for the patients. I mean, maybe … And people do get dazed in a hospital. And there are some night owls among patients.
Yes, patients would be happier. And it’s much easier to work with patients if you don’t have to use half of their therapy time to cheer them up.
I agree too. But if we mix hospital life with public life, there might be security concerns.
Tilly can teach everyone martial arts.
I can’t wait to teach the old grannies some tricks.
The security issues are a bit more complex.
Of course. And we’ll think of something.
The new idea came up this morning, in a meeting with Daria, Devery and Javiera. The short version was this: They didn’t want the Hub to become another tech giant which infiltrates the world like a virus. On the other hand, the whole point of a social media platform was to connect the world and become just another global infiltrator.
That was a problem. One they wanted to solve.
And then they realised that they could de-giant the Hub with a simple trick.
Some Hub tasks needed to remain centralised like development and data protection. But other tasks could be handed to local operators like the maintenance of the network, customer services and even parts of security.
Anyway, that was the first part of the idea. To clarify: the Hub would be developed by the Easy Town Foundation, and it would be one major social media platform, if not an internet within the internet. That was the digital side of the Hub.
On the physical side of the Hub, a stable global network was needed. And several Hub hardware units, or Hub Stations, would have to be set up around the world. These hardware units could be maintained by local teams.
And then the intriguing part of the idea came up.
Since there would be Hub Stations, physical buildings with servers for the Hub, why not use these properties to support the local community? Why not turn a Hub Station into a physical Hub for local businesses, education, arts or medical services?
And this could be financed by some of the income a Hub Station generated.
It was a strange moment when the idea materialised before their eyes: physical Hub Stations where people could come together and set up businesses and services that were needed in that region. This way the Hub would be a platform that gave back to the community and didn’t just suck it dry.
The Hub Stations offer an incredible opportunity to support local communities, and to add a new angle to the whole social media idea. To make it work, we need to distribute the Hub Stations in a way that makes sense. If a Hub Station is too small, the profit for the region will be insignificant. If a Hub Station is too big, one station will get all the fun.
Even patients with the same diagnosis react differently to treatment and in their own time.
We will have to go by some average.
If we are serious about doing things differently, then nobody will be rushed to recover in the shortest period possible.
My friend Easy would have done better if he had been given more time and more treatment. He was not average. And we are here to make sure that everyone gets the treatment they need.
Beauty is more important than you’d think. It’s more than things being easy on the eye or events cheering you up like the sunshine after a rainy day. A lot of it is about the familiar rather than the strange. It’s about feeling that you are in a place you can relate to, understand and like. Any discomfort or challenge might be intriguing for a healthy person, but it isn’t for the recovering patient.
I’ve been thinking about the body, the mind and the soul. The three buggers we have to deal with on a daily basis.
Well, that’s what I call them. I don’t mind the mind, but the other two can be quite annoying. Anyway, I was thinking about everything that is part of us. And I wondered how we could ensure that every part of us has a chance to be healthy. Well, the body needs nutrition, rest, awareness and exercise, the soul needs to learn how to relax and digest, the mind needs input and challenges. And whatever we learn needs to be applied.
Needs to be applied?
It’s still sketchy. But the trouble with learning is that the knowledge acquired in schools, for example, is rarely used in everyday life. What if kids learnt something, and they could use that knowledge in brief work experiences or challenges?
You want to turn children into workers?
No. But only because children are exploited in some countries doesn’t mean that being part of something with a tangible result is a bad thing. And we learn better when we can use our knowledge.
Like making coffee for our parents on a Sunday morning?
Yes. Or think of a farming family. During harvest, every hand counts, the kid’s help is needed. If we could find a way to include kids in working processes so they experience that their contributions matters, and so they can apply what they’ve learnt at school, that would be something. Especially if their childhood was still carefree.
It sounds complex.
I agree. And I don’t know whether it’s possible. But working together, that’s when you feel you belong and matter. Applying your knowledge, that’s when you know you didn’t waste your time when you studied. These are important experiences for any person no matter the age. And this point is about learning and inclusion, not about making kids into productive entities.
So there are two subjects you want us to look into. How can we exercise and stimulate the body, the mind and the soul? So to speak.
OK. And the second question is how can knowledge be applied? That’s really Education and probably Society, isn’t it?
We neurologists can add some arguments from our point of view, and Felicity from the psychologist’s side.
There’s a third point, isn’t there? Doing something relevant. That’s important for our patients too. And we can extend this point to include children.
Good. And anyway children need the same sort of stimuli for their development as the neurological patient. That makes it recommendable to let patients and children learn together. Also, this gives both parties the sensation of helping, of being of use, of being in the midst of things, of achieving something; all of which are important experiences.
A healthcare manager brought up healthcare costs.
We still need to get a better idea of what’s best for patients and staff. Next, we’ll work out how much money we’ll need for that, and then we’ll come up with an idea of how exactly patients will contribute to their healthcare costs. And then, Business can work out how much tourism we’ll need to co-finance our approach to healthcare.
Think about it. In one way or another, everyone in town is affected by tourists. So it’s only fair that everyone benefits from them. And with the income from tourism, we might overcome the inherent contradiction. We want both: acceptable healthcare costs and the best for our patients, staff, research and facilities.
I just realised something. If we do a good job in our experiment, then living in our town will be healthy, ergo healthcare costs should decrease over time anyway.
Sometime later, patient safety was brought up.
It doesn’t make sense to guard everyone against everything. It’s like treating everyone like a potential idiot. And if we are constantly safeguarded, how are we going to learn how to protect ourselves?
We could reconsider common safety measures. Though, I’d suggest that we include patients and relatives in the decision process. But I can imagine situations where relatives could permit us to allow for more freedom of movement even if there’s a risk that the patient might get a minor injury. I keep remembering the story of the old lady in Thailand who could slip out of her bed to slide on the floor to the door. Why shouldn’t we make such freedom available to our patients?
Being overly careful hinders progress. And sometimes you are better off for getting a bleeding nose.
It’s actually part of life. Life isn’t simple or safe. So why should the healing process be?
There is one thing that worries me.
For now. If we mix hospital spaces with private spaces, who owns the property?
That’s a question, I’d like to ignore for the moment – for the whole project. For now, we assume that the Easy Town Foundation will own everything for the duration of the experiment. That’s the only way to ensure that we can adjust what might need adjusting, such as rents or further building developments. The big question is: How will we deal with property after the experiment? And honestly, I’m struggling to come up with a good idea for that. From what I’ve seen neither private nor state ownership work.
That means businesses belong to the town too?
Again – I don’t know yet. And again, for the duration of the experiment, we need to be able to adjust business rules in order to test them. Honestly, it’s too early to say more.
week 3, Economics & Business
Do we really want to keep all other brands out?
I don’t see any major brand playing by our rules, such as not exploiting labour or resources, or using compostable fabrics and packaging. And as for small labels, if they’re happy to comply with our principles, they’re welcome.
You’d risk millions of jobs only to keep big brands out?
Our town won’t have that kind of effect. But if we had that sort of influence, you’re right, thousands of jobs would be lost. At the same time, thousands of jobs would be created since our approach is more labour-intensive. And it would be more efficient, because we’d use fewer resources and produce less rubbish. Besides, would I risk the future of our planet only to keep big companies in business? Or would I support slave-like labour conditions only so big corporations can flood the markets with rubbish?
To summarise: our fashion label will be called dot.international with a snap or a drum or a stab to indicate just how creative we are.
Everyone chuckled and John continued: We’ll be open to any designer who doesn’t want to exploit anyone or anything, and who is fine with creating at least some wearable items.
Nicely put, Lucy commented and John went on: We’ll ask some of these designers to work with our town people to create a special everyday collection for our towners. This collection can be produced by other businesses if they have obtained our seal. And probably not lastly, all articles sold on our website require a minimum of orders. Which means the workshop in New York will only start producing if a minimum of orders have been placed from New Yorkers. Which might be OK, because we are selling high quality, moderately priced and none-exploitatively produced and traded goods.
John frowned and added: It sounds good. I give you that. But I’m still not convinced.
There were satisfied and rebellious smiles on most faces until Lucy carelessly brought up the subject of gender, in particular, dressing children in blues and pinks.
Alice flared up.
Bollocks! I believe every human has the right to become what they want to become. I loved to play with my cars and trains as much as with my doll’s house. I have no intention of denying or negating any part of myself – be it female or male. All of it makes who I am. Kids shouldn’t be dragged into one corner. Sometimes I think we love order so much that we strip ourselves of all the potential inherent in our personality. And instead of enjoying every single layer of our being, we deprive ourselves of true freedom. And for what? For some freaking conventions? And that goes for women and men alike. Besides, it’s not fair that women get so many more dressing choices. If a man wants to wear a dress, why not? Why do we have to make this divide between the sexes? And frankly, the way men dress is mostly boring.
So you’re not against women dressing up or dressing in pink? You’re just saying there should be more freedom for all parties? And gender shouldn’t have to play a role? And boys should be free to dress in pink too?
Yes. And it’s the kids I’m most concerned about. It’s the assumption that we know what they like and who they are. I remember that I hardly ever liked anything I had to wear as a kid. And I hated the fuss my mother made about this sweet dress or that wonderful coat. I had my own ideas. And there is another point in this. If we curb the curiosity and freedom of kids, their natural instinct to explore, to try out, then we end up with people who are too dull to develop any ideas of their own — ever.
Children are children. They need looking after.
I wonder whether looking after is a fitting term. Kids need someone to rely on, to turn to, to learn from. Other than that, they are fine on their own. And instead of creating our children after our own image and pushing them towards some ideal, we could enjoy their infinite nosiness and curiosity and uniqueness.
He didn’t much care about gender. And the thought of allowing children something like a free will was alien to him. But with regard to gender and children, he was prepared to reassess his views. The point that bugged him was the feasibility of having a fashion brand, to say nothing about some of the other product ideas.
But he knew, he needed numbers to convince Alice. Numbers like: how many t-shirts would they have to produce to make the production in town feasible? In fact, she already said that if getting the numbers right meant to increase the size of the town, then they would do just that.
Getting the numbers right …
He knew that the approach to produce in town had little to do with creating a self-sufficient town and everything with providing a suitable business diversity, ensuring that products comply with the town’s standards and to reduce the need for transportation. These were all laudable aims.
But they would have to get the numbers right to make it work. And their products would have to be so good that the towners were prepared to pay a little more. Well, it was worth a try.
If we build this town for the people, wouldn’t we have to ask those people what sort of jobs they are interested in, and set up the businesses accordingly?
We want to find out what sort of business diversity is good for the town, so I guess we’ll have to find the people who’d like to work in the sort of businesses we want to test.
If we make beauty one of our principles, beauty should also play a role in the kind of products we offer. Instead of wasting our time on junk, we think before we produce. And we make products that are worth buying. Actually, not only in terms of beauty but also in terms of durability.
As a result, we’d produce less.
Yes. If our products don’t need to be replaced frequently, we might be out of business sooner than we’d like, and that would cost jobs.
I can think of two major arguments in favour of durability. Firstly, we’d use fewer resources, meaning we use less material and energy. Secondly, we produce less waste. As for employment. Employment is already suffering from new technologies. And if we continue with automatisation, we might have to offer alternatives to jobs anyway. So, should we really continue to produce ever more junk to save employment which will be in the hands of robots sooner or later anyway? Or could we create new jobs if we produced more individualised? This would be more time consuming, but it would have overall advantages.
Create something playful, use unexpected elements and give your designs character, avoid the immaculate. This will save beauty from becoming something soulless and boring.
Nature isn’t repetitive as such. It always creates variations. It always creates uniqueness. That’s why it’s doubly strange that we use so many simplifying and generalising labels, instead of acknowledging diversity and abundance.
How about underground caves or a network of caves?
We could have an underground pool.
An underground wellness garden with restaurants and bars.
Why underground? I mean, sunbathing is part of the wellness programme, isn’t it?
Our wellness place could be a cave experience. And it could lead directly to the party den.
And your chamber of horrors would add to the experience. In fact, we could have a small underground train, taking you from the pool through the horror show and right into the party den.
And we could use slides to connect the caves.
And some places don’t need daylight, like theatres, cinemas, museums, even shops.
And there could be a connection to the Challenge Garden. A challenge course that takes you underground.
And ends in the pool.
We could have a whole underground relax-and-let-your-hair-down-just-have-fun place.
If we don’t get enough land to build everything we want for our town, we build it on different levels: underground, ground level—
—and a whole new world on the next level. Gardens and pools on the roofs, bridges between buildings, actual paths on buildings, shops and workshops on the roofs, even squares for a farmer’s market.
That’s the solution, isn’t it: shops on the roofs. Means you don’t have to see them all the time.
I like the idea that our town is fun. But it shouldn’t turn into an exhibition. You know how towns come up with weird stuff only to attract tourists?
Don’t worry. Our weird stuff will be part of the very fabric of our town, and not some fabricated add-on.
You want to challenge the tax system?
Of course. But not today.
People will go on the barricades for worker’s rights infringement. But we won’t need worker’s rights if we don’t exploit people.
It’s tricky. But we don’t invite just anyone to the party. And we write the rules for our businesses because these rules are part of the experiment. Besides, I don’t hold with the privatisation of energy, water, telecommunication or transport, so no such private investors get access to our town experiment. And since I don’t hold with government owned either, we’ll have to find another solution for these services. Also, I don’t think that big corporations are driving a sustainable and balanced economy. So again, no access. I don’t hold with the exploitation of labour and resources. So, no imports from companies who choose to exploit. Nor will we import cheap labour to work for a pittance, be housed in containers and do overtime with little or no protection. We don’t exploit our fellow humans. Also, producers who want to supply the town would have to use sustainable packaging, since plastic is not an option. And since we want to find out whether any or all of this is doable, there will be no uncontrolled access to the town’s market.
However, while protectionism is traditionally used to protect national interests, mostly concerning monetary and territorial power, the town would protect, if anything, a lifestyle. If a manufacturer, say in Asia, produces sustainably, pays their workers well and adds to the product line of the town – meaning that the products are actually needed or desirable – I might still argue that the costs of transport should be considered, and I’d ask why this product can’t be produced in our town or region. But the principles of the town wouldn’t be violated, and therefore said products should be allowed in – at least in the long run, I think.
I remember enough about economic history to know of the dangers of protectionism. That’s why we focus on defining principles which will allow for free trade as long as comprehensible conditions are met, which, by the way, not only protect the well-being of the town but also that of the workers and resources of our trading partners. Whether we like it or not, we can only truly test alternatives if we bar the present practices and players from our town.
Frankly, we’ll only have a beneficial free trade if we rethink the way we do business, and if we rethink the way we value our fellow humans and our planet. As long as free trade is a means for stronger nations to keep exploiting both labour and resources in smaller nations, trade will never be free for everyone, just for the taker. In fact, if we really want a free exchange, then we have to reshuffle power structures, and find a system where equals trade and deal with equals.
Everything else is masked exploitation, at best.
week 4, Ecology & Agriculture
The town layout.
We work with seven main circle roads. Only three of the circle roads run around the centre so that the centre isn’t buried in the middle of the town. Instead the centre borders on a quiet area above and a buzzing area below.
That’s why you located the medical facilities above the centre?
Yes. This way the patients are both in a quiet area and close to the centre, where the town is set to thrive. The other four circle roads only stretch for about three quarters of the full circle. In addition to this, eight main roads cut through the circles, leading from the centre of the town to the outer circle. This way the town is divided into plots, each of them bordering on two circle roads and two main roads. Within each plot is a network of smaller streets and paths.
I’m not a fan of building high.
Do you have a maximum height?
I wouldn’t go higher than four or five storeys. Also, could you speak with our psychologists about how living in an apartment affects people? And what makes a healthy apartment? Things like not hearing your neighbours giggle, or getting enough light into the rooms? And when is a point reached where too many people live in one spot? Not just in one apartment but also in a house, in a street or within one of our plots. Where is the limit for how many people live well in one spot?
That’s important from the ecological standpoint too, with regard to resources required, waste accumulated, air quality and similar points.
And it’s relevant for our health. For example, bacteria and viruses thrive in densely populated areas.
I like the uneven plots and the green spaces and that Arts, Education and Business are nicely spread across the circles with their facilities while you keep the tourists in the outer circle. I also like that you use different architectural periods and mix designs from different countries. And it seems to fit together, and it offers new things to discover everywhere. I like it a lot.
How could they find and maintain a balance between the town’s needs and nature’s capacities?
The start-from-zero approach allows us to begin with a clean board. Take power, for example. The most sustainable town in terms of power consumption is a town which doesn’t use any power at all. This is our zero point, and our starting point. Can we make the town work without any power? Yes, of course, we can. Humans lived without power for thousands of years. Next, we identify areas where the lack of power is undesirable.
Generally speaking, we don’t ask, how can we have ever more power? We ask, how can we get the power we need? And how can we get that power in the most energy saving way?
Our approaches are not about depriving the town of something. It’s always about awareness, and about trying to figure out what we really need and in which quantities and in which quality. Our approach also takes into account which effects our decisions and wishes have on the people who produce, the resources we use and on the environment.
I thought, you’re against government ownership.
I am. But these community services have little to do with ownership. In a sense, the water, the power plants, the recycle plants belong to no one. And in a way, they belong to everyone. What the town administration does, is look after these services for everyone in town. And the people who do this live in this town. There’s a connection between their work and the place they live in. I think that’s important. If you have one big government that runs the power for a whole country, you lack the connection to the place, and to the people you live with. The power plant becomes one big anonymous something. But in our town, we’d know Freddy, who looks after the solar panels, and Edna, who repairs the water pipes. And Freddy and Edna would know who they do their work for. Besides, I’ll never agree to making money from water. If there’s something like a basic right, then it’s clean water. And no one should profit from a basic right.
However, water provision incurs costs, because it requires infrastructure: water pipes, sewage plants, maintenance and so on. But we are already looking into ways to reduce these costs. One way is to avoid chemicals and other harmful waste in our water system.
And we will raise awareness about water quality by offering tours in our water plants, and by providing temporary placements via the job shakers.
The consumer price will cover maintenance costs and provide a buffer for repairs. But the costs for water, power and telecommunication will be partly offset by the income we can generate from processing waste. So in a very literal sense, we all become part of the natural cycle. It’s a give and take. BUT — and it’s a capital but — I’m pretty sure that this only works on a local level. You need a personal connection to ensure that the network is well looked after. You might even need the local scrutiny. I bet Freddy doesn’t want a dressing down from Tiffany, the laboratory assistant, or from Alfonso, the baker, for failing to keep the power running.
How will we deal with waste?
Before we can deal with waste, we have to ask questions like: where does the waste come from and why? What is waste? Which waste can be reintroduced into a cycle, and which waste is problematic? How can we avoid problematic waste, such as plastic and other toxins?
That also means questioning packaging. The ideal scenario for waste tends towards zero: a cycle with no waste. So far it’s unclear whether that’s possible for a whole town. But it’s important that every team considers both: using sustainable materials and avoiding waste, especially problematic waste.
The no plastic approach isn’t easy. The other day, a friend asked me whether her kids would be allowed to play with Lego in our town. Lego! What was I supposed to say? No, we forbid Lego? It sounds so weird. But if we’re serious about a plastic free town, then plastic toys will have to stay out too.’
On the other hand, if we offer wooden toys, we would encourage a greater use of wood, and that isn’t sustainable either.
I had a metal building set. And there are trees which grow fast, aren’t there?
Yes, but there are limits.
Then we’ll work out a sustainable limit. Western kids have too many toys anyway. Maybe we can ask Education to add classes where kids can learn to build their own toys.
We focus on all aspects of town farming and how co-operations with local farmers could work. For residents with gardens, we suggest to set up collection points for vegetables and fruits. This way, it would be easy for individuals to sell their excess harvest.
We were wondering about town farming for patients.
That’s possible. You’ll have to give me more info, though. Do you want a vegetable garden at the back of a hospital or nursing home? Or are you thinking about using the roofs? And what do you want to do with the harvest? Also, some plants might be more useful for less able patients. Like, tomatoes are easy to harvest, potatoes require more strength and bending down.
For the simulation, I’d be interested in food quantities and food varieties required for the town.
I can give you some statistics on average food consumption, for most common groceries. However, these rates include groceries that are thrown away. If we find ways to avoid food waste, then we’d need to provide less food.
I’d be interested in a start-from-zero approach with respect to food, and I’d like to see whether that tells as anything about useful amounts and varieties of food.
week 5, Arts & Crafts
At the moment, the team focused on the role arts and crafts could play in the healing process of patients. But that didn’t keep Arts from playing the odd prank, like the toilet paper installation, last week.
Maja called her Arts Team The Visionary Meddlers, and there was some truth in that. Though, the other teams weren’t always happy about the meddling.
In contrast, Roger called his Crafts Team The Practicals.
Alice and Tom repeatedly talked with the other teams who felt that Arts & Crafts took too many liberties and thought too highly of themselves.
However, a shaken confidence, a rattled conviction, a well-aimed joke, an unasked for contradiction, a fantastic sky castle, a daring objection, or a bugging question could be useful in seeing otherwise hidden ideas or misconceptions; it could open doors and sometimes conjure a window out of thin air.
And by now the teams started to appreciate that fact. They also realised that this was a two-way road.
They could retaliate.
There’s nothing like building something with your own hands. I remember building a bookshelf, first thing after handing in my thesis on globalisation and free trade. I loved the fact that there was nothing to argue about the bookshelf. It was all rickety, but you couldn’t have theories about it. It was great.
But crafts feel so out of date.
Just because our craftspeople mostly work with their hands doesn’t mean their products will be outdated.
And an innovation doesn’t need an app.
And an app doesn’t make an innovation.
I don’t know.
Besides, a handcrafted product is unique, high quality and durable. Not the kind of junk everyone buys.
They were talking about special workshops which could be visited by patients, tourists and residents. Not only to watch the potter or tailor at work but also to give a hand if they showed some skills.
And if their contribution is good, they get a share of the earnings.
And if it isn’t, they’ll have to pay for the waste of time and material.
week 6, Admin & Society
His Society Team worked with a relatively balanced age structure for the town.
What’s your balance between working people and people who don’t work, such as children and pensioners?
There are different opinions on how long a person should be educated, and how early a person should retire.
No one seems to address that more and more people in the West suffer from burnouts and don’t even make it to working until fifty. Let alone working till sixty-five.
True. In our town, we keep everyone fit enough for high jumps in our hundreds.
Demanding that people should work longer only proves how out of touch politicians are. They don’t bother asking how a person can remain healthy so that working longer is possible.
That’s what I just said.
Working more years makes even less sense since progress will continue to make jobs redundant.
It’s not just burnouts. If we assume that a person can only have one profession in their life, then many people can’t do their jobs indefinitely.
Or ballet dancers, or construction workers.
Surgeons shouldn’t work forever either.
But if we could have several professions, we could have a profession for every decade of our lives.
Though, that’s not going to help if job opportunities continue to decrease.
We could design our life in a way that allows for shorter and longer working periods, depending on our individual needs.
And if people didn’t work constantly, their jobs could be available to others. And a single job position could provide an income for several people.
And just think about how much the teaching sector would grow.
And if I want to buy a new computer, I need to work more hours. But once the beauty is in my hands, I can take off some months to explore it.
Yeah, that’s the direction.
Banks won’t like it. Neither the irregular incomes nor saving to buy.
No, they count on people making debts.
One person’s debt is another person’s fortune.
Nor will governments like it. People would pay fewer taxes and on a less regular basis.
And you’d suggest governments spend less?
Yes, of course. And if we do a good job in our experiment, then a government will need a lot less money.
week 7, Research & Education
The educational square makes offers for all age groups, and we could build it in a way that people cross the square rather than walking around it.
How would this work?
Each square has schools for all age groups, plus university faculties and apprentice facilities. In addition there would be public restaurants where parents can eat with their children, and there would be workshops for artists and craftspeople.
And we are thinking about integrating a nursing home.
And a nice café where our wise elders can have debates about our town experiment.
In short, the educational square would be a mini-town within the town, with a focus on learning and mixing. All buildings would be grouped around a square with a park. That’s why we call it educational square and not a centre. Patients could watch the buzz. And those patients who had a severe stroke could relearn speaking or writing with the children.
While mingling is great, and parents having lunch with their kids is great too, no one should feel obliged to mingle. Mingling should be an offer, not a demand.
We provide the environment and the opportunities, and people choose to make use of them or not?
‘Yes. Not least because kids need freedom too. And they might not always want to hang out with their parents or other adults.
You’re right. We are a little too focused on bringing everyone together.
Maybe not. It’s just, I feel kids today get too few opportunities for adventures of their own making.
We have been looking into your suggestion to get parents and other people into teaching. And we talked to Beatrice about the job shakers programme. She said that anyone who would like to get involved in teaching could register the hours or days of absence from their own job and make their workplace available to others during that time.
We’d like to create a database with all the knowledge offered by the residents of our town. Then we could match the offers with what we want to teach and make a plan when to invite which external teacher for a lesson.
And for the coordination, we’d use the job shakers. For example, a nurse could teach a class about the human body, or a judge could introduce the children to the justice system. In addition to this, we could set up a group of volunteers who step in when a teacher gets sick and no other teacher can be found.
How do you propose to organise the classes?
We want to include as many approaches as we can fit in. If we have a group of children who work best with lecture-style teaching, we will have a class for them. For children who love working in groups, we will make it possible. For children who are interested in only a few subjects, we will try to find a concept too.
For the latter, it might be possible to postpone certain subjects, maybe even a few years. That way these children would get really good in the subjects they have a knack for. And when they are older, they can pick up the subjects they need for the exams.
At any rate, we agree that children like adults have very different interests and talents. A single approach will never do justice to every individual. Besides, there is the important question of what we achieve if we force-feed children with knowledge they have no ear, eye or mind for. We would also like to put a greater focus on social interactions. Explore communication methods and social behaviour with the children. And like with the patients, we want to acknowledge that not all children develop on the same timescale. Children who show all signs of working well with their hands might, years later, be ready to explore their minds. The idea to group children into categories for life is ridiculous and curbs a lot of potential. On the other hand, we don’t want to disadvantage our children by deviating too much from a country’s curriculum. So we will take up the challenge to ensure that the exams at our schools in Easy Town get national and international recognition. It’s also important that our children understand that learning needs effort and dedication. In return, we will nourish rather than inhibit a child’s natural curiosity and desire to explore and understand.
The Hub is our best chance to make the project known to a wide range of people.
And with the support we propose for the Hub Stations, we demonstrate early on that we mean what we say, that we are not out to exploit, that we work to create not to pump dry, and that every human will be treated with respect in our businesses.
Are we addressing everything that’s critical about social media?
We’re addressing what we can. The rest will be up to the users. It’s everyone’s own responsibility to be their own master and not a slave to constant self-portrayal, comparisons, bullying and junk-info infusions.
Then you have doubts about the Hub?
Doubts, fear of making a huge mistake and of overdoing it. Of not knowing when and where to stop and how. I mean, we say that people will be happier when they mix and mingle. And at the same time, we give them this amazing labyrinth of all possible online social media streaming gaming fun there is. When are they going to go outside and have a nice fight in the Challenge Garden or a mud bath in The Senses Garden? How will we ever be simply fine with ourselves?
By being our own masters,.
True. And the town will be a good place for that.
I guess I’ll regret the Hub. I just can’t see it ever stopping to mess with our brains, as Simon put it. He’s strictly against the use of social media. But we’ll go along with it for now. Oh, come on, Noel! Don’t look at me like that. The Hub is the greatest and best place to be on the net. If we sink, we’ll do so in style. And you lot are doing an amazing job and can be proud of it.
As proud as those scientists who split the atom?
No. As proud as the inventors of the car, I hope.
I think, you’re a little too harsh, Alice. You said yourself that people are responsible for themselves. And we give them an alternative to the present online offers. And this alternative will benefit everyone connected to a Hub Station. And the Hub will benefit our town project which in turn will benefit others. The Hub is not some self-indulgence. It’s actually a brilliant idea. And if anything, it will increase awareness of what’s good for us and what isn’t.
week 8, Back in New York
We repeatedly discussed job security. One way to make jobs secure is to run the town like a company. We never explored this option in full, but it’s been on the table for some time. Contracts would be made with the town, and this way the town guarantees job security and good wages. This could benefit everyone in town. However, once the town is running, the management of the town could easily misuse its position while pretending to work for the benefit of all. That would be terrible for the town. But the real danger is in the exemplary character. I remember a headline, years ago, where Tom suggested that countries should be run like corporations. If he gets the town to serve as such an example, it could be used to justify such an approach on a much wider scale. And in the worst case scenario, every single aspect of life would be organised, predetermined, target oriented and probably commercialised. And while I have my doubts regarding present democracies, I dread the thought of providing a viable argument for a corporate style management of towns, cities or even countries.
I see your point.
It’s the atom all over again. You discover how to split it, and that might be a good thing. But there’s always a chance that this discovery is used for something destructive. But should that keep us from exploring?
No. No, we’ll keep exploring.
At the first
Easy Town Conference
Q & A
WHY BUILD A TOWN AND NOT A CITY?
We don’t want to put more people through an experiment than strictly necessary.
Some in the auditorium laughed.
And it will be easier to make adjustments in a town. Also, large cities suffer from overpopulation, and small towns suffer from an exodus of people and jobs. If we discover how to run a town attractively, then our results will help cities and towns alike.
WHY THE EMPHASIS ON TOURISM?
Tourism offers job opportunities for relatives of long-term patients, and it brings customers to the town’s businesses. We are also considering to co-finance our healthcare system with the income generated by tourism.
ARE YOU GOING TO FIGHT CAPITALISM?
Our experiment is not about fighting anyone or anything. It’s about creating, and about testing ideas.
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT YOU WON’T HAVE A GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND THE POOR. HOW?
We have both a comfortable minimum wage and a comfortable maximum income. This way, we have a corridor which acknowledges differences in skills and responsibility, without paying anyone out of proportion. And payments will be linked to each other within a company so that any increase on one level will result in an increase on all levels.
HOW SMART WILL YOUR TOWN BE?
If we can help our patients with smart technology, we will. Other than that, we count on the desire for independence rather than a desire for intrusive so-called smart technology.
Our project is not about the poor or the disadvantaged. Our project is not a charity effort. The town experiment is about all of us.
Does the West depend on modern slaves? Can we thrive without them? What does it take to make a town work without exploiting anyone or anything? Is that even possible?
Well, these are some of the many questions, we will address in our town experiment. And yes, we will ask people to pay a price for their purchases that allows our fellow humans to earn a decent living regardless of where they are or where they come from.
Progress would be to acknowledge that not every idea is a good idea. Progress would be to scrap ideas when they cause damage.
The sad truth is, efficiency isn’t efficient at all. It’s actually amusingly stupid and short-sighted, not to mention destructive for ourselves and the environment.
IT SAYS ON YOUR WEBSITE THAT YOU WANT TO IMPLEMENT RULES FOR BUSINESSES. THIS TAKES AWAY A BUSINESSMAN’S FREEDOM.
Our project is an experiment. And for this experiment, we determine the rules. Otherwise we couldn’t test new theories. But these approaches don’t aim at inhibiting businesses. Quite the contrary. The aim is to make businesses more sustainable.
That’s not what it sounds like on your website. It reads like you want to put businesses in chains.
Well, that’s true to some extent. But I see no harm in that. In our experiment, you don’t get to treat your employees like cattle. You don’t get to amass a fortune on the back of modern slavery. Nor do you get to destroy your habitat. You don’t get to sell poisonous food. You don’t get to sell stuff that’s meant to break. You don’t get to be irresponsible, greedy or corrupt. Other than that, you are free to provide the town with useful and pleasant products, and you get to provide well for your employees, and still make a good deal of money.
However, you don’t get to be an exceptionally stupid and short-sighted idiot.
Now, why would you want to have the freedom to be an idiot? I see no harm in keeping you from such troubled behaviour.
Saying that, if we find out that our ideas don’t work, that slavery is unavoidable, that we have to wreck our health, and live a life that becomes more and more stressful and ever less satisfying. Well then, so be it. But for the experiment, we’ll test different approaches.
And Easy Town is just about that. We will take nothing for granted or given. We will explore how we can live without making ourselves, our neighbours and our planet sick.
I am an oddball. I give you that. But I don’t have an agenda other than to be curious and to question whatever needs questioning, and to rethink whatever needs rethinking, so that we can – perhaps – find ways to live with each other that benefit us all.
Quite frankly, am I the only person who is sick of people who perform? I’m not going to perform. I’m going to explore. And I’ll not apologise for that.
The team presentations at the conference
16:00 | Introducing the Project Teams
Presenter: Leo Jones
Speakers: Olivia Martin, Ethan Jones, Kim Bower, Jason Eagles
HEALTH & CARE
Speakers: Simon Layers, Adriana Bricks, Skye Matisse
ECONOMICS & BUSINESS
Speakers: Alistair Mullen, Graham Benson, Tom Holbon
ARTS & CRAFTS
Speakers: Levi Chester, Roger Giles, Jack Harris
ADMIN & SOCIETY
Speakers: Colin Cross, Beatrice Johnson, Michael Peters
RESEARCH & EDUCATION
Speakers: Florence Webster, Fran Holbon, Andy Lawrence, Robin Hussan
ECOLOGY & AGRICULTURE
Speakers: Dana Williams, Scott Merger, Megan Rhys
Daria, Noel and Alice sat together on the outer staircase, watching the panellists, who were taking their seats on the stage.
The screen above the stage flickered into life. Leo was standing at the speaker’s desk, reading his notes. Jack and Levi laughed about something. Kim gave Ethan a hug. And Seth sat down on Tom’s chair. Why?
When their eyes met, Seth held up his phone.
Alice took out hers and found a text: Tom asked me to fill in for him. He said, there are phone calls he can’t put off. Don’t worry. I’m with you.
Alice looked up from her phone and exchanged a smile with Seth.
‘What was that about?’ Daria asked.
‘Tom isn’t coming. Seth is taking his place.’
The team presentations were a wonderful contrast to the previous events, lightly done and illustrated by an animation of the town, on the screen above the stage.
After the lights in the auditorium were dimmed, the spotlight panned over all seven teams and stopped to highlight the Design Team. They were first.
Ethan made a start by introducing the circular layout of the town. One by one the circles appeared on the screen until a full map of the town was completed. While Kim talked about the town gardens, they materialised on the screen too. Two stick fighters jumped around in the Challenge Garden, a wheelchair patient and an artist sat together in the Common Garden, easels in front of them, and a group of children explored The Senses Garden. Next Jason snapped with his fingers, and apartment houses, detached houses, workshops, factories, a hospital, a school and a theatre appeared on the map, briefly looming large and then shrinking to map-size. In his closing remarks, Jason explained how the different needs of individuals were reflected in the different sizes, forms and locations of the buildings. And he took a moment to talk about the health implications of insufficient space, closing with: ‘This is what I learnt from working on our project: Not everyone needs a lot of space. There’s still a bit of a caveperson in many of us. But there’s a limit to how many people we can cope with in our proximity. And that too is reflected in our town planning, in the location and size of our gardens, and in our buildings.’
When the spotlight turned to the Health & Care Team, the animation zoomed in on the town centre where a cartoon wheelchair patient and their family were ready for a demonstration of a day in a patient’s life. Simon, Adriana and Skye highlighting points like accessibility to the town centre, individual rooms and routines, individual care and treatment, interacting with other patients, treatment in The Senses Garden, co-operation with craftspeople and artists, gardening on the hospital’s roof, learning with children, the involvement of the patient’s family in the treatments, and offers for relatives of patients such as accommodation, jobs, support groups, leisure activities, and sports groups.
And of course, the nurse who took a break on a farm, and afterwards told her patient how she learnt to face down cows, got a mention too. And Megan from Agriculture added a little testily that no one should try this without a farmer’s guidance.
For Economics & Business, the animation zoomed out to a full map of the town again, and while Alistair, Graham and Seth spoke, little dots and routes appeared on the map, indicating the business cycles in the town. Ethan and Simon, from Design and Health, added a few points on why the location of businesses would play a role in the experiment, such as short distances between living and working spaces, avoiding noise and air pollution, proximity between different professions and demographies.
Seth closed the presentation with a glimpse into some of the project’s companies such as dot.international, with a snap of the finger, two wheels, soap opera, simply lemons, sweat tooth, pepper books, tomato pics, chuck the limits arts supplies, straight forward systems & software, plastic free devices and office supplies, and natural packaging.
While Levi, Roger and Jack from Arts & Crafts spoke, a colourfully flickering spiderweb appeared above the town. It slowly descended and melted into the map, here and there showing little coloured flickers to indicate that Arts & Crafts would be part of the very fabric of the town by interweaving with all aspects of life. Levi closed the presentation with: ‘An artist is a needy creature. The artist needs solitude, time to contemplate, time to create. But the artist also needs the bath in the crowds, the interaction, the confrontation, the praise. And while there is some selfishness involved in this, the artist always dreams of creating something that makes a difference, that makes a contribution, that gives us something we were missing or hadn’t seen yet. Art, in that respect, is very generous. By integrating the arts the way we do, we hope to integrate some of this generosity, this desire to give, into our town and into our lives, no matter how needy we are.’
Admin & Society added people of all ages and professions to the map, demonstrating the balanced demographic mix in the town. As more people mingled on the streets, the first tourists and new patients arrived, and Beatrice explained how the special town features on the Hub would simplify administrative tasks in the town and make visits more pleasant for tourists and patients. Michael from Society said at the end of his presentation: ‘In our experiment, we have the unique opportunity to question the way we grew up and live. And more, we get a chance to test values and rituals which reflect our time, our needs, and our priorities for our future.’
Next Research & Education sent their researchers into the field, and their pupils and students to their lessons while speaking about different teaching methods. Then the animation zoomed in on one of the educational squares, Socrates Square, and Robin illustrated the first day in town for a young man who had no idea what to do with his life. And so he started to explore everything that was on offer: he joined the seniors during their morning workout, he helped the librarian with a new delivery of books, he peeled potatoes in a restaurant, listened to a lecture about colours and their effects on the brain, he watched as a tailor measured a new customer, he accompanied a lawyer to a client. And in the evening, he met with other young people in a bar to discuss who they are, and who they might want to become next.
The animation zoomed out again, and Fran spoke about the preparations for the actual experiment. ‘At the moment, the Research Team focus on identifying all the variables we might want to include in our experiment. The next step is to set up teams who research related groups of variables, such as all variables concerning business models, or all variables concerning our health. And other teams will research how to connect the different fields of our town experiment.’
Ecology & Agriculture had the lights turned off, on stage and on the screen. Then one by one, lights appeared on the map of the town, demonstrating how the town would work with a quarter of the average power consumption in an industrial nation.
When the animation turned to daylight again, Dana introduced the rubbish pipelines system and talked about the water provision in town, pointing out: ‘Every household will have direct access to drinking water. And we decided to make drinking water available in refilling stations throughout the town. This way we avoid the use of plastic bottles and everyone has access to drinking water everywhere. Water will not be sold in our town since we regard it as unethical to make money from a basic right, even more so when the trade with water vastly increases the use of plastic. Our water infrastructure will be financed via a small annual fee for every towner, and a fraction of that fee for every tourist.’
Megan talked about food provisions while little town farming gardens and small food processing factories materialised on the map. ‘In everything we do, restoring and maintaining biodiversity is one of our aims. Therefore we will have wild growth in our town and on our fields, as well as passages and safe areas for the wildlife in our vicinity.’
While Megan gave some examples, all sorts of animals from butterflies to deer, and hens to horses drew the attention of the townspeople, who were strolling along the streets of the animated town.
Meetings at the conference
We should be as independent of these moneymakers as we can. How else will we prove just how ridiculous they make the entire healthcare system?
Our experiment starts with something like an empty board – a tabula rasa, if you like. As we proceed, we add one element after the other to the board and see what happens. And we test how we can connect those elements. To start with, we focus on elementary questions such as food, business, arts, age and health.
We are still in a very early stage of our project. We are playing around like children in the nursery, with no worry in the world. And I believe that’s exactly what the project needs at this stage. Because a carefree environment will yield a great variety of ideas.
We are working with a number of assumptions. One of them is that the town experiment can only be successful if we have control over every detail, concerning the town, its residents, businesses and administration, for the duration of the experiment.
Every part of the experiment serves the purpose to learn.
You’re right. We have to start with a single town, with a single experiment. But later, we could build additional towns to research other issues, other sets of rules.
Some key quotes from
book 2, travelling
Our town experiment is not about cosying up to any political or economical view and even less to anyone’s interests. We need to be independent. That’s the only way to explore how we can live on this planet without screwing said planet and ourselves.
The way we live today makes us sick and for some reason, we don’t focus all our energies on finding out what it takes — in terms of how we work and live, what we eat, how we treat each other and all that — what it takes to keep ourselves from falling ill. Our modern lifestyles are pretty damaging to our bodies, minds and souls. And that provides the pharma industry with plenty more opportunities to invent new drugs. But really, we don’t have to damage ourselves only so other people can become ridiculously rich. If we want to be healthy, then we have to figure out what’s good for us.
In our experiment, we are looking for a formula that prevents gaps, financial gaps and opportunity gaps. So we are doing something about these disparities. And while we are for freedom, no one will have the freedom to be an exploitative jerk or bastard or whatever you want to call them. Not in our town.
The trouble with a university degree can be — and it’s a can — that knowledge only gets reproduced, parroted, copied, instead of extended, reinvented, questioned or adapted. And you know what really disappointed me as a student? A university degree doesn’t save anyone from stupidity. At worst it makes you more stupid, because now you think you know something. And you have a piece of paper to prove it. So with Navarro’s help, we’ll make sure our eduction facilities don’t produce parrots but thinkers. And more importantly people who know they don’t know, though what they know might prove useful in learning more. And we’ll teach them to unlearn. Because, no matter how much you get apparently right, there’s always an endless supply of mistakes. Some mistakes lead to discoveries. Other mistakes dress up as right choices or even facts, because we don’t see the full picture. Which is something quite ambitious. And I wonder whether we’ll ever get close to a full picture.
Fact is that we need more Hub Stations on this continent to stabilise the Hub network. Fact is that we have requests for Hub Stations from some countries. And now, we have a list of obstacles. Let’s complete that list. Let’s figure out a more useful application process to counteract the ambitions of corrupt players. And then let’s make a plan. Also, let’s keep in mind where Hub access is actually useful.’
Everyone looked at Andy with a frown.
Eventually Alice said: ‘When did that happen? Useful access? I mean I agree but …’
‘I do listen.’ Andy sighed a little. ‘Maybe it’s because the Hub is becoming so incredibly perfect. Are we forgetting that we can live without it and be as happy? Maybe happier, because we’re not bombarded with so many options? Besides, I had a chat with Dana, our head of Ecology and Agriculture. And she pointed out that the internet is eating up a lot of resources, in terms of power but also in terms of materials used for devises.’
‘But at least the Hub has a non-technical and a real social angle,’ Bandile remarked.
‘And digitalisation has a lot of benefits,’ Lesedi said.
‘Yes,’ Andy agreed. ‘And that’s great. Still, we of all people need to keep a bigger picture in mind. And in that bigger picture resources are limited. And wasting our lives in front of a screen is just that — a waste of time.’
‘Not if we build something exceptional in front of that screen,’ Tefo countered.
Andy gave him a half-smile. ‘Yes. Nonetheless, let’s find sustainable balances.’
book 2/1, travelling, South Africa
Our town should allow for all sorts of lifestyles and not demand of anyone to mix. In our town, we provide opportunities, make offers and let people live the sort of life they feel comfortable with. And rather than making people fit the town, the town should fit the people and their needs.
book 2/1, travelling, Australia
Another academic chipped in. — ‘My name is Lai Cong. But our economy has to grow. We can’t let it slow down.’
‘You can find a balance that is sustainable.’ — ‘Finding balances is one of the priorities in our town experiment.’ — ‘How can we act without destroying the land we live on and live off?’ — ‘What does the economic cycle need to function without constant expansion?’ — ‘Growth is like a hungry beast. Always asking for more.’ — ‘Balance, on the other hand, is something you probably understand better than the West.’ — ‘Right now, we are destroying the basis of life on our planet.’ — ‘But instead of stopping to destroy, we rush to create more destruction in the hope of repairing the previous damages.’ — ‘And that’s what you would be doing if you insisted on fixing your demographic imbalances by increasing the population.’ — ‘You would fix the imbalance by putting yet more strain on your country and on the planet.’ — ‘And too many countries and companies are doing just that: they keep spiralling towards needing ever more resources.’ — And they heap one destructive decision upon the other.’ —
book 2/2, travelling, China
I think we need some serious rethinking of practically everything. And we shouldn’t let any teachings stand in the way, no matter which wise woman or man declared it. And we shouldn’t excuse our inactions with views from other centuries.
book 2/2, travelling, Otaon
Bertok looked at the church pensively. ‘I guess a village needs some kind of focus point. Something that dominates the scene, like this church.’
‘We are thinking about making our library the focus point, and give it a bell tower too.’
‘Yes. We have a special architect for the building, and she is presently studying The Great Library of Sitseaf.’
book 2/2, travelling, Romania
People are curious, but no one is keen to admit it. Someone wrote anonymously: “It’s like you’re caught between wanting to be progressive, and being afraid that progressiveness will cost you all your friends. But we all know that change could make a positive difference for all of us. I wish I wasn’t that afraid of change.”
book 2/2, travelling, Russia
The Easy Town project is and always will be an international project.
book 2/2, travelling, Berlin
You can find more main keys about the town project in the following chapters of book 2:
- book 2/1, travelling, South Africa, Flight to Sydney
- book 2/1, travelling, Australia
- book 2/2, travelling, China
- book 2/2, travelling, Romania
Where to find the key quotes:
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book 1, beginning
Alice Adler sets out to convince Tom Holbon to build a town experiment.
The aim of the experiment is to rethink — well, everything.
Preview: It all began with a letter
Pages: 499 pages
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book 2/1, travelling
Happy Flying, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, South Africa, Flight to Sydney, and Australia
Preview: Rio de Janeiro
Pages: 471 pages
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book 2/2, travelling
Flight to Beijing, China, Otaon, Romania, Flight to Moscow, Russia, Berlin and London
Preview: Flight to Beijing
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Further relevant extracts collections and additional material: