Key quotes about the town project
Most of the following key quotes are from the first part of book 1, beginning, and cover some of the basic questions about the easy town project.
In some cases, the quotes have been stripped down to their core statement.
The key quotes
Alice and Jack
talk 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.
Alice and Tom
for the first time
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 on to 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.
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.
Preparing the first draft for the
Easy Town experiment
week 1, settling in
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.
week 2, Health & Care
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.
week 3, Economics & Business
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.
week 4, Ecology & Agriculture
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.
week 5, Arts & Crafts
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.
week 6, Admin & Society
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
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 time frame. 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.
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.
The team presentations at the conference
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.
Meetings at the conference
Every part of the experiment serves the purpose to learn.
about the town project
Key quotes are presently available in two volumes.