The Living City

Eric Hunting
74 min readFeb 1, 2023

The Living City

The End of Global Warming and the Evolution of a Planetary Symbiote (a speculative history with images by Dustin Jacobus)

Contemporary Overview

The Fall

An Urban Renaissance

Linear Logic and the Urban Web

The Urban Reef

The Rhizome Revolution

Lifestyles of the Urban Reef

The Dance Continues

Contemporary Overview

The Council for Terrestrial Outreach has solicited this lecture on the history of the Planetary Symbiote on behalf of those inhabitants of the Outer System curious about their parent terrestrial society and culture. As caretakers of what — to use an archaic term — is often regarded as the ‘business end’ of the planetary climate management system, and the culmination of the century-long Biosphere Restoration Program, a few of our scholars from the Equatorial Archipelago have decided to take on the mantle of storyteller to relate how human civilization’s greatest crisis was narrowly averted through its largest physical creation to date and the contemporary terrestrial culture and lifestyles that emerged with it.

The Planetary Symbiote is the term commonly used to refer to our contemporary terrestrial civilization, now functioning in greater ‘symbiotic’ harmony with a much restored natural environment. It features three major elements; the natural biosphere composed of many regional biomes designated as ‘bioregions’ that cover most of the surface area of the globe, the Urban Reef interspersing that and serving as the primary human habitat, and, bridging the two, a nanotechnology-based sensor web and infrastructure network called the Rhizome supporting both the human habitat and the natural biosphere together through a distributed machine intelligence maintaining a mutually supportive balance of needs between the two.

As is well known, the Urban Reef is a fractal-like network of flowing linear urban superstructures criss-crossing the Earth and intended to consolidate and strictly delineate the footprint of human activity from the once greatly threatened natural biomes of the planet, leaving the majority of its surface area to nature. Extending in branches across each continent along the primary paths of civilization’s transit flows, it is linked in the north along a meandering ring roughly following the Arctic Circle, connecting the continents of the so-called ‘Earth Island’ through a continuous high speed rail transit and automated infrastructure network. Today largely self-maintaining, this vast superstructure provides housing, food, transportation, and energy for most of human society and is commonly visible from space as a lace-like web interspersing the natural landscape.

With its superstructure composed chiefly of a carbon-based structural composite, the Urban Reef serves as a crucial carbon sink, sequestering much of the carbon previously released as pollution by human activity into the atmosphere across the Industrial Age and now collected by the Planetary Symbiote in various ways through its Rhizome network, much as marine organisms previously sequestered it in Earth’s strata in the ancient past. Though much of the large scale architectural design of the Urban Reef is managed by its integral machine intelligence, resulting in parametric forms typified by flowing contour-terraced landforms, many preserved relic cities of the past remain or have been recreated along it and many Intentional Communities feature very specific forms of architecture to suit their own unique themes and sub-cultures. By general social convention, little human habitation and surface transportation is tolerated beyond a few kilometers distance from the branches of the Urban Reef for the sake of minimizing human impact on the natural biomes now, finally, recognized for their crucial importance to continued life on Earth. However, a number of indigenous communities persist in the traditional ways of their now more respected pre-industrial cultures and, similarly, there are a few communities dedicated to alternative lifestyles immersed in wilderness and aided by various forms of biotech augmentation, often assuming roles as wardens and caretakers of the restored wilderness.

The Equatorial Archipelago is a chain of artificial island atolls very roughly following the line of Earth’s Equator that began among the surviving island communities of Oceania. It links the continents by merging two large branches of the Urban Reef serving as primary population centers for their regions, crossing South America via a branch loosely following the famous Amazon river, and crossing the African continent along the famous Great Green Wall of Africa bordering the southern Sahel desert. These two branches function as important nexuses of environmental restoration activity for their respective subcontinents, much abused in the eras of colonial and then later corporate exploitation. Though the communities of the Archipelago originated as largely independent and isolated islands or floating marine colonies and still appear to be largely separate structures on the surface, beneath the waves the chain has been mostly interconnected through a self-maintaining submarine infrastructure network, including enclosed transit links along seafloor and suspended tunnels, creating the longest extent linear city branch on Earth. These recently created transit links have much reduced the region’s more traditional reliance on airship and wingsail ship transit, though such vehicles still remain in common use. Communities along the Archipelago, somewhat sheltered by their island-like forms, are greatly diverse, engaging in extensive lifestyle experimentation, and it is said that, with two centuries of accumulated experience, the machine intelligence of the Planetary Symbiote has manifested its greatest creativity — if one can call it that — in the associative design algorithms evolved for the Archipelago, resulting in some of the most elegant and fanciful architecture expressed by the Urban Reef. This has made it a popular tourism destination notable for some of Earth’s most exotic sub-cultural enclaves, though most inhabitants insist that much credit is due the influence of the original Oceanic and Southeast Asian cultures of the region.

We often call ourselves ‘reef dwellers’ as out here on the Equatorial Archipelago — the most visible extent of the Urban Web from space — the analogy of the reef seems most apt. Each of the synthetic island communities of the Archipelago consists of one or more atoll-like bays hosting advanced aquaponics farms enclosed by flowing superstructures with often steep, mountain-like, but hollow structural forms host to diverse residence. The Archipelago also hosts hundreds of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plants which provide renewable energy to its communities, supply their farming with sea-sourced nutrients, filter residual toxics from seawater, and maintain, through an artificial microclimate, the comfortable habitability of the islands in a climate zone still somewhat hostile to human life since Climate Change. They also serve crucial roles in the global energy grid and the biosphere management scheme, supplementing the thermal and carbon cycles and seawater flows disrupted in the past. Though food production is broadly distributed across the globe, with extensive use of urban farming much akin to that now employed by space settlements, the Archipelago serves as a primary planetary source for sustainable seafood and related marine-sourced products as the active restoration of marine habitats so greatly ravaged by fishing practices of the past is ongoing and may well continue for some centuries to come.

The southernmost extent of the Urban Reef is along the Antarctic Peninsula, the continent now generally free of its past coastal ice shelves but hosting a new managed hybrid polar biome intended to one day restore them. It is linked to the tip of South America by submarine infrastructure along the Scotia Ridge Arc and South Shetland Islands encircling the Scotia Sea.

Long overlooked by mainstream culture as merely a featureless jagged white border on the bottom of maps, Antarctica briefly drew much attention during the Post-Industrial transition as a focus of independent settlement as its harsh environment grew milder with the loss of its ice shelves and nation states lost their ability to restrict human movement and enforce their old territorial claims. Though many settlements and homesteads were attempted, few survived long as, even with milder climate, the barren continent proved inhospitable to small scale communities. Most settlement projects were ill-conceived from the start and quickly abandoned, some simply disappearing, the fates of their inhabitants unknown. Now the location of extensive research and development in large scale environmental restoration, hosting a variety of small isolated research communities and vast ‘forests’ of engineered plants, by social moratorium human activity has been largely confined to the Antarctic Peninsula and a set of modest scale enclosed arcologies whose comforts were used to lure earlier homesteads and isolationist communities in from the cold, so to speak, as the Continental Cooperatives became dominant. One of the densest and most advanced forms of the Rhizome network has been established across the continent, tapping its geothermal energy and mineral resources while supporting attempts to reestablish its ice shelves through symbiotic hybrid biomes, exploring techniques that may one day be employed in terraforming projects in space. Though the peninsula has become well developed, the Antarctic continent remains the most sparsely inhabited region on Earth, and remains an attraction to many for that very reason.

A city in crisis as climate change impacts result in economic turmoil and the collapse of old infrastructures.

The Fall

The history of the Planetary Symbiote is often said to begin in the early 21st century era historians refer to as the Post-Industrial Transition and more colloquially as The Fall — usually alluding to the dissolution of the so-called ‘superpower’ nations or the collapsing influence of Capitalism and the Western Finance Hegemony of the northern industrial nations. As historians have extensively documented, in what is now considered a crime against humanity rivaling the atrocities of the 20th century’s horrific World Wars, in the late 20th century the collective international fossil fuel industry, along with its financially incestuous partners in the automobile, chemical, and finance industries, sought to not only conceal their early knowledge of Global Warming but systematically obfuscate and suppress climate and environmental science in order to delay necessary action they perceived as negatively impacting their economic growth. This left the civilization largely unprepared for the dire consequences of environmental changes to come, crippling society’s ability to organize an effective response and resulting in one of the greatest existential threats ever to confront the human race and life on Earth generally.

Even as an awareness of the situation finally dawned on society, decades more time was squandered through continued corporate resistance and political theater seeking to placate or distract an increasingly fearful, disenfranchised, and irate populace. Only the disastrous economic fallout of a ravaged environment would finally compel civilization to change its behavior. But as Global Warming impacts eventually became indisputable to even the most delusional of politicians and corporate executives, their response focused largely on late, costly, and largely futile quick-fixes intended to secure strategic assets, state monuments, and the property of the wealthy, along with increasingly authoritarian domestic security apparatus. (to suppress the uprisings they realized were inevitable)

The practical solution to Global Warming was, in truth, relatively simple albeit vast in scale and difficult to coordinate without global consensus; end the perpetual growth paradigm of the Industrial Age and the propagation of a consumerist culture while restructuring the footprint of civilization to embrace the long-suppressed deployment of renewable energy and eliminate carbon emissions. Additionally we would need to systematically move society out of harm’s way in the archaic floodplains and into a more rational sustainable urban habitat returning to nature the space needed for the biosphere to function properly.

But this also meant fundamental cultural change and confronted a deeply pathological ‘modern’ culture indoctrinated by relentless state and corporate propaganda. A culture obsessed with wealth, property, convenience, celebrity or class status, pseudo-meritocracy, and an idealized hyper-individualism. A society long systematically divided against itself along lines of race, class, national identity, and political ideology for the purpose of wealth extraction and political disempowerment and fundamentally incapable of consensus and collective action.

The emergence of the Internet with the rise of information technology at the turn of the century — originally hoped to be a unifying, enlightening, and socially empowering influence on the world — ultimately only exacerbated this situation. Commercialized social media platforms coddled society in intellectual echo chambers and comforting bubbles of filtered reality that were soon exploited as weapons of mass delusion. A battleground of competing propaganda and mass psychological manipulation for competing corporations, nations, and political factions producing outbreaks of viral mania, mass delusion, terror, hysteria, and mob violence leaving society in a general state of disillusion, progressively detached from objective reality and unable to believe any information from any source. Desperate for any means to cope, society resorted to a willful retreat into their own personal reality bubbles or tribalistic sub-cultures. Religions and cults, conspiracy subculture, science denialism, political extremist movements, obsessive nostalgia, escapist fandoms, bizarre and violent entertainment, drug addiction, pathological self-isolation, and an assortment of faddish high-risk activities erupted in popular culture as a kind of psychological defense — the society desperate for anything that might offer an illusion of certainty, authenticity, or stability in an increasingly incomprehensible world. Alas, psychological well-being was long ignored as an aspect of public health in those primitive times, even as it was being increasingly exploited as a weapon! This terrifying and confusing era of mass psychosis remains a subject of deep study to the present day.

And so as the dominant nations and multinational corporations systematically bankrupted themselves in the greatest ‘bust-out racket’ in history (referring to a practice common to mobsters of the early 20th century) while driving their societies insane, walls went up around the old seats of power, civil society crumbled, and the rich began to flee the catastrophe they helped create for remote havens with their looted — and soon worthless — wealth.

After multiple global economic disruptions, multiple mass atrocities committed against growing waves of climate refugees, disastrous swings toward authoritarian despotism, increasingly dire infrastructure failures, and increasingly destructive natural disasters, national authority began to recede almost everywhere on the globe. Individual communities, and what portions of society remained in some way rational, were increasingly left to themselves to adapt to crisis or die.

A new ‘buzzword’ emerged across the globe; Resilience. With national and international level infrastructures increasingly failing around them, urban planners, community leaders, and activists began to realize that the survival of their communities — indeed, civilization itself — would now depend on their own local self-sufficiency and regional networks of cooperation they negotiated directly with each other, rather than through the extractive Market or via the increasingly dysfunctional national governments. Building on informal networks of mutual aid, local community initiatives began to emerge for food and energy security, industrial and economic independence, and many other measures for contingency autonomy. With this idea came a rediscovery of the concept of community identity, long suppressed as competition by State and Market, and a coherent sense of direction and purpose drawing people out of the endemic delusions of the time.

This effort was aided by the simultaneous emergence of an urban interventionist movement cultivated in the sub-cultures of Environmentalism. Across the 20th century, the warnings of environmentalists had been ignored and suppressed almost everywhere, and many in that community sought a retreat from civilization, turning to the creation of more-or-less isolated and self-sufficient Intentional Communities as a means of either escape from the mainstream pathology or developing working examples for a more sustainable way of life the dominant culture might eventually learn to emulate. Generally relegated to edge-of-wilderness locations where their use of alternative architecture, renewable energy, agrarian self-sufficiency, and mutualist/communalist lifestyles could be pursued with less harassment, these experimental communities took various forms such as communes, eco-villages, cohousing and cohabitation communities, housing co-ops, eco-industrial cooperatives, proto-arcologies, arts and crafts collectives, retreats, ateliers, ashrams, and cloisters with various aesthetic and cultural themes, sometimes religious in nature. Some were nomadic; a dispersed insurgent counter-culture hiding in plain sight, bound together by digitally assisted networks of mutual aid. Here an alternative, sometimes subversive, subculture and social economic infrastructure, with the now desperately needed tools of resilience and sustainability, had long been cultivated, out of sight and overlooked. And, from these communities came a wave of nomadic activists known variously as Urban Nomads, Resilience Advocates, Social Entrepreneurs, Outquisitionists, Changemakers, Festivalists, and Solarpunks looking to spread the seeds of their new culture in the wake of the failing Industrial Age culture.

At first drawn to aid communities in what was once commonly called ‘the developing world’ (ie. the systematically impoverished nations of the global south long exploited by colonialism) they found themselves increasingly drawn to the emerging crisis closer to home and pioneered many of the emerging urban Resilience initiatives. They were soon joined by advocates and developers of Open Source technology and design –often called Makers– who found in the capabilities of new, independently developed robotic and digital fabrication –the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0– yet another powerful set of tools to aid community resilience and overcome Industrial Age hegemonies. With these tools, it was possible for every community in the world –be it a village or a city– to realize the full industrial potential of civilization, producing the vast majority of goods within a few kilometers of where they were needed, without vast capital and corporations, thus eliminating the waste, energy inefficiency, pollution, and intrinsic exploitation of speculative mass production long the convention across the Industrial Age. This not only brought security against failing infrastructure and economies, but freed society to explore more sustainable alternative goods long suppressed by the less-than-free Market.

As communities evolved with these efforts toward increasing self-sufficiency they became city-states of a sort, loosely akin to those of ancient history, compelled to assume responsibilities abandoned by the imploding national governments, yet unlike those of ancient times, functioning in new expanding, digitally-mediated, regional networks of cooperation created bottom-up by their own inhabitants, independent of the imposed hierarchies of a nobility, ‘ruling class’, or professional political class. Most evolved some form of mutualist economic model by virtue of simple survival necessity — Capitalism increasingly seen as akin to cannibalism in the context of the global crisis of the age — setting the foundations for the architectures of today’s regional digital platform cooperatives.

Of course, this did not always go well. Many towns and cities simply weren’t in locations that would remain habitable in the wake of Climate Change, fated to be abandoned due to unsustainable infrastructures (the inherently car-dependent and unsustainable suburbs in particular) or destroyed by increasingly disastrous weather events. So-called ‘survivalists’ and ‘preppers’, long anticipating imminent apocalypse and preparing for it as a kind of hobby, began to flee in waves into the remaining wilderness with their caches of arms and stockpiled food and fuel, often as individual families but sometimes in small groups forming ‘homesteader’ tribes that soon resorted to preying on each other, as well as outsiders, as their struggles mounted.

First emerging as a reaction to the fraudulent Energy Crisis of the 1970s (that, inexplicably, never resulted in social constraints on an energy industry in desperate need of it) the Preparedness Movement was built on rising public concern over the fragility of our increasingly tech-dependent culture and globally extent supply chains, promoting rational household emergency preparedness and a revival of traditional practical skills. However, it was soon appropriated by the firearms, sporting goods, and recreational vehicle industries as a ‘market’ to sell specialty goods for household ‘security’, often cultivating marketing narratives preying on middle-class race and class anxiety. American culture, in particular, had long sold society on a fantasy of rugged individualism built on the erroneous homesteading mythology of the frontier era. A common notion of (predominantly minority) urban areas as death traps to be escaped in times of crisis and masculine fantasies of violent, adventurous, post-apocalyptic life were often propagated, leaving the movement easy prey to the influence of white supremacist and right-wing nationalist movements. In practice, these preppers were typically far less prepared for the realities of protracted wilderness living than their hobby led them to believe, tending to disperse in disillusion to join the ranks of other climate refugees once their supplies of ammo and freeze-dried bucket food ran out. But some resorted to raiding nearby rural communities, becoming chronic nuisances for some time. Some national parklands were forced to close due to the hazard posed by their marauding bands. A few such incidents resulted in military responses, wiping out crude settlements with brutal displays of force. But eventually they came to be regarded as unworthy of that expense as greater threats loomed nearer the seats of power.

A few of these groups, better able –by luck or intent– to adopt mutualist support systems and practical farming, did persist long-term and became sustainable communities, eventually joining the networks of other intentional communities. But most, despite their decades of supposed preparation, remained utterly lacking in functional subsistence and social skills that might have let them persist without resorting to cannibalizing each other.

In a not entirely different, but much better funded, approach, a number of billionaires saw in the emergent resilience technology an opportunity to create grand personal techno-utopias in remote havens or even at sea, built on the leverage of their cults of personality and invariably dedicated to their quasi-religious philosophies of Anarcho-Capitalism and Philosophical Objectivism. Corporations also pursued such high-tech showcase communities as business ventures and exercises in ‘total lifestyle branding’. More security-focused versions were created near the old political capitals as bastions for members of the ruling class and other elites as governments grew aware of mounting threats of unrest. These communities tended to function as gated/walled enclaves for the richest of the rich who, of course, were by-and-large devoid of any actual practical skills, and ultimately ended in, at best, costly boondoggles and, at worst, techno-dystopian revivals of feudalism. The ancient author Edger Allen Poe’s dark tale The Masque of the Red Death is often brought up as an allegory for these communities. Once the finance industry collapsed, wealth and property as it was once known became worthless and few of these follies were sustainable without that. As much as their creators dreamed of robot-assisted autarky, technology if the time remained far from such capability and once they had nothing to pay their guards and servants with, their personal gilded cages became uninhabitable.

Some communities succumbed to the influence of demagogues, crimelords, police-turned-warlords, and religious cults. These were among the most militaristic and dangerous of rogue communities of the time and a particular tendency in geographical regions inclined to political and religious conservativism, where demagoguery was endemic. They were often among the first to brashly declare ‘secession’ from their surrounding nations, resulting in swift and violent crack-downs by alarmed authorities until they ultimately became too weak to suppress them. Those that did persist, thankfully, tended to implode through the inevitable derangement of their insular leadership, though this often ended tragically and violently and, while they lasted, they could create much grief for their neighbors. In a few cases, coalitions of neighboring communities were compelled, for sake of their mutual safety, to take up armed defense against these rogue communities. Even with the benefit of the new resilience technologies, the isolated and belligerent community could not persist indefinitely. Thankfully, a new stable and sustainable global order eventually evolved, though a few more benign isolationist enclaves, mostly of religious nature, still persist in some remote parts of the globe to the present day.

The city resurgent as it is reclaimed as a human, rather than commercial, habitat.

An Urban Renaissance

With the Fall the footprint of human civilization began to contract for the first time in recorded history as populations generally shifted inland and northward from traditional coastal floodplain areas now ravaged by climate impacts. Inland satellite towns and cities were suddenly burdened with new roles as urban centers as other nearby cities and towns were abandoned or destroyed. Civilization was compelled to adapt to simpler, sometimes older style, modes of transportation constrained by the reduced scale of the new localized industry, energy, and infrastructures. Many forms of late Industrial Age transport relied on vast government subsidy to create and maintain, the production of cars and airliners long –and deliberately– limited to a handful of nations with the ability to create vast capital supporting titanic factories and over-elaborate logistics. Now transportation had to function within the economic and industrial means of individual towns, cities, and regional cooperatives. Even electric automobile use declined as unsustainable highways went fallow and high-tech batteries became difficult to make, supplanted by revived rail systems far easier to maintain. Meanwhile long distance commercial air travel, unable to fully adapt to renewable energy due to the physics limitations of aircraft and difficult to maintain without the old infrastructures, became untenable for the casual intercontinental travel of the past. Sail-driven ocean liners returned, albeit far more sophisticated than the canvas and wood craft of the ancient past. Even airships made a comeback, based largely on the smaller economies of scale needed with their development as well as their ability to function entirely on solar energy –though at much more modest speeds.

Guided by Resilience advocates and the urban interventionists, the towns and cities that managed to adapt to this transition physically restructured themselves for a more locally-focused mode of life optimizing the well-being of people, always broadening the spectrum of local production, and reducing the compulsions for shipping and travel. Compelled to accommodate frequent waves of climate refugees from both near and far, they reconsolidated property into new regional land commons, recovering space once squandered on automobiles and repurposing abandoned commercial and industrial zones to residential uses. Streets were returned once again to human beings. Suburbs returned to their earlier states as farmland, if not entirely abandoned. The 20th century convention of large ‘zones’ of specialized activity, often linked by highways, was replaced with a cellular configuration of modest scaled independently functional communities and neighborhoods whose inhabitants self-organized under housing cooperatives, assuming responsibility for their management, maintenance, and many kinds of local production. Cities became collectives of such neighborhood cooperatives and other Intentional Communities, in regional super-cooperatives formed of multiple towns and cities linked by select mutually maintained transit routes and communications links.

The nomadic interventionists often set up shop in the many so-called ‘corporate campuses’ and ‘industrial parks’ now abandoned on the outskirts of cities as well as inner-city office towers as failing economies left them vacant. These they cleverly adapted through what came to be known as the ‘art of Jugaad’ (after the Indian colloquialism for frugal and makeshift engineering) creating remarkably self-sufficient eco-villages with renewable energy, urban farming, workshops, and freely-adaptive housing, setting an example for the transformation cities would begin to adopt generally while functioning as incubators of the new culture and skills locals would need to adopt. Where they found the freedom to build completely new buildings, the interventionists would often employ novel, functionally generic, modular building technology using simple, non-toxic, and recycled materials and reusable components with toolless assembly, creating adaptive communal superstructures improving on the flexibility they discovered repurposing commercial architecture.

Though the early Intentional Communities of the late 20th century often tended toward escapism and a somewhat fanciful reimagining of pastoral pre-industrial village life, these new eco-communities were quite lively and industrious in character, having a collective imperative to actively propagate a new culture. Though often criticized — mostly by hold-outs of the old culture — as being ‘new Kowloons’ (in reference to the notorious slum city of 20th century Hong Kong) these quirky settlements came to characterize the new cultural aesthetic and emergent cultural philosophies while being resilient in the face of the frequent change imposed by the turbulent age. They thrived as other communities, still in denial of the unfolding reality, withered and crumbled. Specializing the design of buildings to suit one or another use was realized as fundamentally impractical, as was treating the urban habitat as some collection of such discrete structures developed independently, without regard to surrounding environments and the city as a whole. In this new century, the only constant was change and no building could be expected to have just one function through its lifespan. To design without acknowledging this reality was to doom buildings to rapid obsolescence and the waste and pollution of demolition. What was now needed were ‘new vernaculars’ building on functionally generic design anticipating and facilitating perpetual adaptive reuse.

Cities increasingly adapted their pre-Fall architecture to follow such examples, retrofitting old structures with new structural systems and materials, crowning them with gardens, wind turbines, solar panels, and greenhouses, linking them with ‘sky bridges’ or merging adjacent floors, and creating central social spaces. A new hierarchy of social space with varying degrees of privacy culminated in large public ‘agoras’ (named for the social centers of ancient Greek cities) replacing the ‘high streets’, shopping malls, and other commercial centers of the past with lively social centers focused more on entertainment, leisure activities, and social activity.

By this time most so-called ‘white collar’ forms of work common in the late 20th century had become, in practice, dysfunctional or obsolete. Thus most of society, particularly in the ‘developed’ countries that had long been expelling their production capacity, needed extensive retraining in actual functional skills as well as long abandoned social skills. It seems bizarre to us today, but most people of the time were generally ignorant of how anything in their habitat worked, how it was made, or where it came from –such ignorance deliberately cultivated to reinforce a dependence on currencies and the corporate controlled Market for survival. The academic institutions of the past were quite unprepared for such a change and new educational facilities –dubbed ‘secular ashrams’ as they were designed to host educators as persistent residents– were established by Resilience advocates for this critical task.

Life in the late-stage capitalist corporate culture of the turn of the century had become dystopian in many ways, with pathological behavior, emotional breakdown, spontaneous violence, and suicide continually on the rise. Many people found new purpose and direction in crafting and maintaining their own habitat and cultivating long suppressed practical skills, getting their hands, physically, into the work of cultivation, production, and creation. Growing, making, and repairing things now brought one respect from the community, not just a ‘paycheck’. (an archaic term for the periodic payment of salary workers, often using paper slips exchanged at banks for currency. A persistent colloquialism even in the era of digital currencies) New open goods designs bore their creators’ own names, not just some company brand. Cosmo-localization –the principle of designing for global use and local production with the digital dissemination of designs– carried those names around the globe, turning once faceless engineers and designers into global celebrities. The need to reinvent and redesign almost everything in the habitat to suit the new production paradigm offered tremendous creative opportunity. Work that was regarded as ‘menial’ in the past saw new appreciation and respect. To be of service to others became a general human aspiration.

The term “acting like a ‘suit’ became a common slur, referring to asocial behavior reminiscent of the commonly sociopathic corporate executives, politicians, police, and bureaucrats of the dismal past. The use of any form of formal dress, uniforms, or other symbols of class or authority fell generally out of fashion as allusion to the Bad Old Days, even where that led to confusion in some situations –though their recycling and repurposing as an ironic fashion statement was briefly popular. They often turned up among street performers who might adopt the old titles of authority such as ‘General’, ‘President’, and ‘CEO’ in parody.

Different, more social, economic schemes were explored such as ‘community time banks’, ‘open value networks’, scrip and token systems in physical and digital forms. But in most cases community sharing through ‘libraries’ (expanded from their roles as curators of books to community warehouses for many kinds of goods including tools, furnishings, and even vehicles. This came to be known as Library Socialism) and forms of open reciprocity and reputation-based social capital at the local community level became the convention by virtue of simplicity, until restored digital infrastructures allowed more use of ‘platform cooperative’ software enabling larger scales of cooperative organization. For a time there was even a revival of local independent commerce and a reliance on small family-owned specialty shops. Though as the new robotic automation caught-up, these would be relegated to activities that retained some kind of social or cultural component as opposed to merely distributing goods, becoming a kind of performance art or social service –as in the case of food service such as cafes and bakeries, repair shops, bookstores, tool and hardware shops, hair salons, tailors, and so on. In society’s own hands, the productivity gains of the emerging robotic automation and design science were put toward actually reducing labor and increasing quality of life for all, not just accelerating the rate of wealth extraction for a few. But even without that, just eliminating that systematic exploitation of market economics left humanity with more personal time and freedom than they’d known even among the pre-industrial cultures of the ancient past.

As society moved beyond the pathology of Consumerism, making more and more for themselves and their neighbors, and learning more and more about how things in their habitat were actually made, yet another great lie of the old culture was exposed; that the true cost of a comfortable life for all could, in fact, be quite modest –this even before the tremendous productivity gains of the emerging robotization were factored in. Communal labor did not mean masses toiling in fields like serfs of the ancient past as proponents of the old culture so long suggested. Rarely improved by the high-tech ‘gadgetization’ of consumerist design, most of what our lifestyles depended on was, in truth, quite simple in nature and cheap in actual materials and labor costs with a comfortable life easily made leaner and simpler still as infinitely reproducible digital goods and media replaced many of our physical needs. There might be less ‘choice’ than in the past, but by and large the variety of consumer goods was superficial, wasteful, and intended to deliberately overwhelm –to create a ‘tyranny of choice’ that paralyzed society with an essential disappointment, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Instead we adopted the endless creative potential in customization and personalization of a smaller number of optimal goods designs –a logic that seems obvious today but was quite alien to many in the Industrial Age, conditioned as they were to weirdly seeking self-expression and identity through some particular choice of mass-produced consumer goods. Many futurists of the past had predicted an imminent era of ‘post-scarcity’ realized through the social dividends of automation. Now it was being realized –not by high-tech, but rational design. The high and perpetually rising ‘cost of living’ in the past had been a willful product of engineered scarcity. A deliberate mass extraction of the very life-force of society for other people’s gain.

The city evolves with emergent renewables technology and a new social paradigm.

But not all could adapt so easily to the new culture, due variously to age, stubbornness, or the psychological legacy of life-long conditioning by the old culture. Such asocial tendency left them dysfunctional in the contemporary culture and cities would accommodate them as best they could, with basic income schemes using old fashioned scrips satisfying the anachronistic compulsion for handling physical money and housing in ‘unmanaged’ neighborhoods increasingly robot built and maintained with cookie-cutter design –not necessarily unpleasant, but rather banal. In general, the urban design of these areas sought to leverage automation to provide as much comfort as they could as economically as possible, defining a baseline quality of life for the civilization. These neighborhoods tended to rely more on machine-made housing and automated maintenance, the lively and social agoras of other neighborhoods replaced with ‘food courts’ offering fast foods and convenience items from robotic kiosks, push-button fabricators, and vending machines. These unmanaged neighborhoods fostered a lifestyle reminiscent to that of so-called ‘retiree’ communities (referring to the archaic post-labor phase of life) of the past, where people spent most of their declining years on passive media entertainment.

Volunteer social service organizations sought to coax more social engagement in these neighborhoods, experimenting with many strategies and hosting various events, but it could be an uphill battle for this segment of society and results were mixed. Even giving people personal robot companions and butlers was tried, these becoming common in elder care. So-called ‘Hikikomori Syndrome’ (shut-in syndrome) was becoming common before the Fall thanks to the chronic alienation imposed on many people by the culture and even in the present day there remains a certain asocial portion of society inclined to such lifestyles. The social legacy of the Industrial Age haunts us still.

Post-Industrial culture thrives as bioregional restoration begins in earnest and civilization links up to form an Urban Web.

Linear Logic and the Urban Web

As the changing climate continued to push people from their homes in ever greater waves of migration and the power of state apparatus to resist this waned, the increasingly independent towns and cities were compelled to address new emergency housing demands on their own. There would be little new large-scale urban construction anywhere until more stable infrastructure networks were re-established and, as the displaced masses fled to them for safety, they would need to devise new approaches to the use of urban space. Though much space had been recovered from that once bizarrely sacrificed to commerce and cars, even this could not entirely meet the demand of such a vast displaced population. There was constant pressure to devise new rapid means of construction and new models for growth. But it was clear the old patterns of development could not continue if there was any hope of curbing the pathologies that had led us to such a dysfunctional way of life and devastated environment. A more sustainable built habitat had to be realized. Nature must have her space! A movement emerged among the cooperatives to establish ‘bioregional identities’ where the natural boundaries of geography and the biomes they hosted would replace the increasingly meaningless and anachronistic political boundaries of the past, establishing a more logical organization for the natural commons informing approaches to its restoration and management. A system of bioregional nomenclature was standardized, slowly replacing both the archaic names of nations and states –with their now often repugnant colonial and political allusions– and absorbing the inter-urban cooperatives to create larger regional cooperative entities, now called Continental Cooperatives.

With the collapse of the national governments, many regions abandoned old property ownership models in favor of land commons, along with old corrupt building regulations, cumbersome property laws, and decrepit bureaucracies in order to facilitate the flexibility to address their emergency needs. This afforded communities a great new democratic freedom in the command of their own fates and living conditions, facilitating a new rational redevelopment of the built habitat and bringing down hegemonies often used to exploit or discriminate against segments of the population –typically on premises of race and class. The Industrial Age atrocity of persistent homelessness and the human degradation associated with it –often deliberately perpetuated as a form of terrorism to control the working class– was quickly put to an end almost everywhere on Earth, even with the great pressure created by climate migration. There simply never was an actual shortage of space or housing to justify it. Just a desire among elites to deliberately create a despised underclass, with all its misery, to control workers, discourage labor organization, and minimize wages through the threat of poverty.

With truly democratic and social management of land came the means to implement grand new ideas about its use and, with the rise of the Bioregionalism movement, came the first general moratoriums on human development for sake of nature restoration. The low-density suburban model of habitation that arose in the era of the automobile was declared an aberration and abandoned almost everywhere, the sprawling masses of wasteful free-standing houses on plots of alien grass surrounded by asphalt removed and the land returned to earlier roles of farming. But this left the critical question of how cities should be allowed to grow when necessary given the continued shifts of global population. A solution emerged in the revival of a 19th century idea; the ‘linear city’ organized along paths of transit and infrastructure.

Though at first limited to only short-lived experiments and some ill-conceived boondoggles, the concept had been frequently revived by futurist architects across the 20th century and in the 21st century a successful large-scale demonstration was inadvertently accomplished by the Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa. Originally intended to create a forest barrier to the expanding desertification of the Sahel region threatening the environment of central Africa, the ‘wall’ had, across the mid 21st century, become inhabited by the labor force creating and maintaining it as well as communities near it, evolving into areas of ‘forest urbanization’ supported by food forests and water catchment systems developed symbiotically along the line of barrier forests originally created. Forest urbanization was not new to the cultures of Africa (being long practiced by the communities at the foot of the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro) and so there was precedent for its revival to maintain the Green Wall. Chains of villages and towns were linked along gracefully meandering parallel roadways/walkways, deliberately kept narrow to resist more than small light local vehicle use and encouraging reliance on a set of parallel light railways powered by local solar and wind systems.

The Great Green Wall demonstrated the possibility of a much more sustainable general model for the human habitat that could function as a restorative force on the landscape as well as providing the efficiencies of a linear constraint on development. Just as it had halted the advance of the Sahel Desert, it could similarly halt the advance of ‘dust bowl’ conditions spreading in many parts of the world due to Climate Change and overexploitation, catalyzing large scale natural habitat restoration efforts. Not strictly a line of equally dense habitation, as its form was much dictated by natural topography, the Wall supported much diversity of lifestyle and culture and eventually proved an important unifying influence on a historically tempestuous region. In time, it would become a major segment of the Urban Reef hosting much of the subcontinent’s population.

Thus there emerged a convention among post-Fall communities to follow this example by constraining redevelopment and new development to narrow corridors along the select transit routes between the surviving cities chosen as the most logistically important to maintain. Intended to keep all personal needs within a convenient 5–15 minute walking or biking distance, most habitation would be concentrated near the center of the corridor, closest to the transit core (used also for power, telecommunications, and other infrastructure) which might run directly along a central street bisecting the urban habitat (in imitation of commercial ‘main streets’ of the past) or to the sides of it, with pedestrian streets, parks, gardens, and sometimes rivers or streams in the center bisecting the urban habitat. (this becoming a convention with later ‘agora’ designs using this common public space) Not strictly linear, these corridors were designed to meander to visually complement the topography, reduced watershed impacts, and accommodate growth patterns of surrounding biomes and were commonly interspersed with ‘wildlife bridges’ to facilitate natural migrations. Growth would be less constrained along the lengths of these corridors where, under the new land commons, there were no hegemonies of property ‘ownership’. There was now a generally recognized fundamental human right to shelter and the use of the land commons. If you had the need, no one else was using it, and there were no other social or environmental constraints, you could simply request the use of space or land for it, though the amount of available space might vary with the local demand.

This linear development approach well suited the trending revival of rail technology, now generally electrified, far more efficient, and far lighter in environmental impact than the vast Gordian Knot of highways of the past. Modern rail technology had an additional advantage in closer integration with the built habitat, free of the noise, pollution, and very large scales of vehicles that had relegated railways of the Steam Age to the fringes of the built habitat. Transit systems could be integrated right into buildings like elevators, giving some homes virtually door-to-door transportation if so designed. Some communities began developing automated Personal Rapid Transit (originally devised in the mid 20th century, but abandoned under the hegemony of the automobile) for local transit and Personal Packet Transit for automated delivery –these now ubiquitous across the Urban Reef. This approach allowed some parts of the transit core to be partially subsumed into urban structures, concealing them from view like subway systems and reducing maintenance. In some areas dual transit cores would come to define the boundaries of the urban corridor between them, with local/regional rail using streetcars and ‘railcars’ (multifunctional self propelled rail cars) on one side, high-speed long-distance rail lines (limited to much straighter and more isolated track paths) on the other, and pedestrian or light vehicle vias passing over or under them.

Thus this new linear urbanism evolved to be predominantly rail based, and over time, automated construction technologies emerged to facilitate excavation for easier deployment of transit systems in subterranean tunnels, supporting straighter paths for higher speeds and more numerous redundant rail lines dedicated to cargo use. This also expanded the use of subterranean infrastructure and the exploration of underground space for an increasing range of uses, increasingly leaving surface areas of the built habitat to just residential use, free of the visual distractions of urban infrastructure hardware people used to have to learn to ignore.

The outer edges of these linear development corridors were assigned uses of parkland, food forests, new sustainable farming, and renewable energy production as buffers between the urban habitat and the restored wilderness landscapes beyond. No longer would we squander fossil fuel on the nonsensical shipping of perishable common food across oceans. Now a solar-electric rail line linked farm to table. Where topography allowed, broad ‘wildlife bridges’ in the form of flowing green archways or intersecting valleys could be built across the less inhabited spans of the urban corridors, allowing for animal migration. Some spans of the transit cores would remain largely uninhabited and used for industry, storage, and energy systems, sometimes lofted above the wilderness on bridges or pylons (these sometimes evolving into inhabited community structures themselves), sometimes put entirely underground or passing through tunnels in the landscape.

Overall this linear pattern tended to produce a habitat providing most residents with very casual walking-distance access for all their daily needs, transportation, and the adjacent wilderness environment, enhancing their quality of life and offering a variety of housing densities and activity to suit their lifestyle tastes. Most places along the Urban Web offered all the conveniences of cities without the pollution, noise, and crowding they were once notorious for. Residence structures were commonly designed to give most every dwelling private views of nature or parks once affordable only to the wealthiest people. If one wished for a quieter lifestyle with an option on more personal living or working space, it could be found along those less developed stretches of the transit core, the compromise being less ready access to the amenities of the cities. Though free-standing housing use was largely abandoned with the suburbs, one might find something similar in these areas. If one craved a night-life and lively social venues, faster access to made-on-demand goods, and access to restaurants and entertainment, it would be found in the remaining traditional cities, but come with the compromise of less personal space. Tending to be more amorphous in form due to legacy architectures, the surviving old cities evolved into the role of transit hubs where transit cores converged on star-shaped superstructure nodes in or near old city centers.

The mature Post-Industrial city evolves its new urban vernacular and begins to merge with the restored landscape.

The Urban Reef

As civilization began to spread along this emerging Urban Web, communities still faced problems addressing the needs of continued inflows of climate refugees. The new sustainable architecture and its materials had limitations in practical scale. It was simply not possible to build to the densities of older Industrial Age cities without resorting to the use of concrete that had long been a major source of carbon pollution. A few carbon-neutral alternatives came into common use, such as geopolymer cements based on inorganic chemistries. These proved particularly useful for high detail architectural 3D printing, but employed scarcer materials and harsh chemicals. And if we were ever to truly reverse the impacts of the Industrial Age on the planetary biosphere we would need a means to capture and sequester vast amounts of atmospheric carbon in stable forms, and ideally do it on a much faster timescale than the geological. Being carbon-neutral would never be enough to reverse the damage done. It was thus logical to look at the built habitat itself as a means to that sequester through carbon-sequestering materials.

By itself, traditional cement contained a large volume of carbon. Made from limestone (mostly calcium carbonate), it could actually absorb carbon dioxide from the air as it cured. But its process of creation through high temperature kilns –driving off carbon dioxide to make calcium oxide that would react with water– ultimately produced twice as much carbon pollution as it could ever absorb. Other chemistries could potentially overcome this as could be seen in nature herself. The natural absorption of carbon by algaes and other organisms using solar energy to form calcium carbonate in their cells is what created limestone in the first place, and is a key part of the biosphere’s natural carbon cycle. This process, however, was not well understood or studied in the past — as, again, the last thing corporations wanted were superior alternatives to products they already sold and had vast capital invested in producing. If such natural processes could be harnessed so as to produce alternative cements without the huge energy overhead and carbon pollution of traditional cement, the urban habitat might become a viable means to actually sequester a vast amount of carbon. But while many cement alternatives were studied by sustainable construction advocates — some even inspired by inventions of ancient Roman civilization reverse-engineered by archeologists — by the early 21st century there was still no practical solution. However, one would eventually emerge from an unlikely source; marine settlements first built as havens for the upper-class.

The dream of marine colonies was popular among futurists across the 20th century. It well suited the comical gigantism common to past depictions of the future, whose ridiculously huge structures and machines were intended to express –with an overtly masculine aspect– the prowess of state and corporation. (ironic in this era of orbital megastructures built largely by microscopic nanomachines) However, practical demonstration of the concept had eluded most proponents due to the practical problem of scale, the hazards of the open sea, the logistics of maintaining connections to the rest of the world, and the paranoia of nation-states over the potential use of floating structures as a means to circumvent laws and taxes or as platforms for military purposes.

But by the early 21st century wealth inequality across the globe had reached such outrageous extremes that there were a sufficient number of billionaires — many owning ocean-going yachts and personal jet aircraft — to allow for small groups of them to actually attempt such grand projects, regardless of their impracticality. As the first hints of unrest emerged around the globe with the start of the Fall, upper-class society became increasingly obsessed with personal security and began to consider the creation of various havens in physically remote locations or isolated nations they hoped would be beyond the reach of an increasingly irate society. Some even founded their own personal space programs, chasing fantasies of space colonization — which, of course, without the leverage of advanced robotics would not even begin to become a practical reality for another century. Some built elaborate underground bunkers as large as towns. Others sought to create their own personal utopias in planned communities, protected by heavily armed private security forces. And some explored making their own artificial island havens on the open sea, presumably out of reach and independent of any society that might eventually turn against them.

The first floating communities began modestly, building on already well developed construction methods deriving from ferro-cement techniques once used in making ships and common to coastal houseboat communities and floating housing developments such as those in the Netherlands and Northwest American coast. Small platforms of ferro-cement and polymer foam, each supporting a single house or building docked to modular marina structures, were created in sheltered bays, lagoons, or atolls creating a habitat similar to ‘gated communities’ on land but using water as an alternative to walls and fences. Such natural atolls and bays needed increasing artificial reinforcement as sea levels rose and coastal erosion increased and they were soon being supplemented by modular floating ‘breakwater’ structures made similarly to the floating home platforms but designed to function as a barrier to waves, their surface features disposable or sacrificial as severe storms might sweep them bare. These wave barriers were first developed for the protection of marinas, mainland coastal shipping terminals, and industrial facilities and then came into increasing use in last-ditch efforts to protect some coastal communities from increasingly destructive storms. They evolved to be increasingly large and robust, relying on more active wave attenuation methods and computer-controlled active station-keeping systems rather than anchors so they could be reconfigured for different weather conditions, reassembling themselves in different barrier configurations as needed. This presented an option to use them on the open sea, creating sheltered lagoons completely independent of natural landforms. But being quite large, they demanded very large volumes of concrete, with its mined materials and carbon pollution, making them too expensive for most coastal protection uses. This, however, was not an issue for billionaires.

The typical architecture of the first open sea settlements was based on large breakwater ring barriers using modular units made at coastal facilities and towed out to sea for assembly. The most costly element of these settlements, they alone could comprise more than half of the titanic costs of these projects and were typically used to host gardens, solar arrays, wind turbines, and helicopter/VTOL landing pads considered easily replaced if destroyed by storms. However, they might also conceal defensive structures housing military equipment for the community’s security. These would encircle a sheltered lagoon hosting an archipelago of individually crafted floating estates based on the simpler static float platforms. Transit among these island estates would rely on water taxis and personal watercraft –ridiculously inefficient as they might be.

This was by no means a practical approach to marine settlement, but allowed the wealthy inhabitants to freely express themselves in the creation of extravagant floating mansions and palaces, often built by the same companies and designers making their luxury yachts. Like houseboats, these were often designed to be relocated should their owners wish to change location in the settlement or move to another, though this might require the aid of gigantic semi-submersible carrier ships. Service staff would be housed in utilitarian hotel-like communal buildings derived from the worker accommodations common to off-shore oil rigs and often based on the use of shipping containers, though these were often considered unsightly to the wealthy inhabitants and they were often relegated to coastal or island locations if close enough. Seeing such workers as likewise disposable, they might also be housed on the barrier rings….

Of course, most of these efforts failed spectacularly, being fundamentally unsustainable despite their common claims of high-tech self-sufficiency and political autonomy. They could produce little more than their own electricity, had huge maintenance costs, and were dependent on fossil fuel vehicles for transportation. Upper-class society of the Industrial Age was chronically prone to what psychologists sometimes referred to as the Dunning–Kruger effect; an inability to recognize the limits of one’s own competence resulting from living in an environment where it is never questioned by others. This was often exacerbated by cults of personality that, in those strange times, tended to form around the more public members of upper-class society as symbols of success for people to aspire to, even if actually ‘earning’ billions in any legitimate fashion was a mathematical impossibility. And, despite being regarded as captains of industry, masters of finance, and high-tech prophets, they were generally lacking in the practical industrial, agricultural, and technological literacy most young people are raised with today as a matter of course. Their wealth relied greatly on a largely automatic self-accumulation integral to financial systems by then operating almost entirely automatically. They also tended to prescribe to political and philosophical ideologies that, designed largely to rationalize their own status and entitlement, precluded the essential capability to truly function in a civil society, let alone the mutualistic cultures necessary with any small remote community –as space dwellers know quite well. And so, if not doomed from the start by poor planning, these communities often imploded through internal conflicts and rivalries leading to their abandonment. A few were actually explosively sunk in place in grandiose expressions of spite. But most ended up sold at a loss to short-lived resort or mariculture ventures or were simply abandoned to drift aimlessly on the Equatorial high seas.

Engineered to tolerate severe ocean conditions even without active maintenance, some of these abandoned structures drifted at sea for many years before floating near land and being appropriated by desperate communities of climate refugees from the shrinking island and coastal communities, increasingly refused entry elsewhere. Asia had long known ad-hoc houseboat communities and many refugees were able to adapt those traditional ways of life to the use of these new structures. Moved as close to the disappearing island nations as they could and still be tolerated, they became something akin to floating Kowloons and for a time were treated as ‘pirate havens’ by governments refusing to acknowledge their legitimacy (it was not unusual for these communities to engage in some degree of what was considered ‘illicit’ commerce in their desperation for survival), but eventually aided by nomadic urban interventionists, they developed into functional independent communities in networks of mutual support that would eventually encompass the vast Oceanic region, establishing the foundations for a regional cooperative that would one day span the entire Equator.

These communities still struggled, however, with the problem of maintaining these gigantic marine structures much as they found them, lacking the access to the vast sources of concrete materials needed to expand them, leading to problems of overcrowding and food insecurity. Despite their amazing ingenuity with recycling or repurposing the vast amounts of plastic waste material commonly found at sea in those days, they needed to find ways to maintain, expand, and improve these structures with new materials sourced from the sea itself. And with many adapting to reliance on advanced aquaculture, they eventually stumbled onto the means to farm their own construction materials through the culture of microorganisms like coccolithophorid algae, diatoms, and engineered bacteria, developing a new class of high performance carbon-dense materials dubbed ‘biocements’ that could literally be farmed like the edible algaes and combined with aggregates made of mariculture wastes like shellfish shells to make durable concrete. These were truly carbon-negative materials with a low embodied energy and a high density of carbon physically outperforming the cement-based concrete of the past.

These new alternatives to traditional concrete not only offered a solution for the immediate growth problems of the marine communities, they also offered a sustainable, carbon-sequestering, building solution for the growing mainland communities of the emerging Urban Web, creating a very valuable export that soon brought a new prosperity and respect to these marine settlements. But the marine community had yet another gift to offer the new global culture. Needing to be much more efficient in their use of space than their original billionaire inhabitants, they had to devise means to make the most of the surface volume of their structures. At the same time the increasingly intense temperatures of Equatorial regions compelled their populace to remain mostly in shaded areas and indoors where cool sea water from beneath their structures (eventually supplied by Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plants –solar power using the difference between warm surface and cold deep seawater to drive turbines or magnetic-fluid dynamos) could be pumped through cooling systems to maintain comfortable temperatures. This technique was also used in their aquaculture, food processing, and for a farming practice known as cold-bed agriculture, allowing temperate climate plants to be cultivated in tropical zones though the use of cooling pipes running through growing beds. Thus they began to adopt a new class of even larger floating structures based on active wave attenuation technology and with a communal architecture inspired by the terraced mountain farming practices of Southeast Asia, the surfaces of terraces dedicated to high density farming, their edges used for habitation sheltered beneath those farming beds, and behind them interior streets and guideways for electric vehicles illuminated by heat-rejecting heliostat lighting, with storage in deeper thermally stable volumes.

This ‘contour-terraced’ architecture well suited the adaptive reuse techniques devised by the urban interventionists for use with obsolete office buildings, their light modular building systems –already inspired by traditional Asian design and the use of organic materials– easily retrofit into the spaces these superstructures created. They, in turn, brought this marine architectural vernacular back to the cities on land along with the new biocements where it soon evolved to general use throughout the expanding Urban Web. With its flowing organic terraced forms, merging easily with natural landscapes, and material analog to coral reefs, this architecture came to be called ‘reef dwellings’ and eventually the overall Urban Web began to be referred to as the Urban Reef.

With this approach the typical urban habitat of the era became a contiguous and functionally generic ‘urban landscape superstructure’, increasingly built by robots under AI design and engineering guidance. They featured broad garden terraces used alternately for farming, individual household garden lots, parks, and recreation space all in vast flowing forms that elegantly merged with the progressively restored natural landscapes around them. Terraces could additionally be elaborately articulated to create varying slopes and enclosures or prominences simulating free-standing buildings to suit more specialized uses or monumental architecture, much like the creation of stacked sculptures made with laser cutters of the past. Intentional Communities, with their inclination to communal architectural themes, could exploit this to create intricately detailed environments reminiscent of cities of the ancient past, the imaginary architecture of fantasy media, and early 20th century Art Nouveau design that many eco-villages had long sought to emulate. Most any regional vernacular or period style could be approximated with the increasing flexibility of automated architectural 3D printing and these new materials. Other areas could be left to more functionality generic yet still elegant parametric ‘geoforms’ devised by AI and intended to compliment surrounding natural topography, with an eclectic spectrum of human habitation discretely sheltered within their terrace edges, canopy sheltered agoras, and parklands. Without the pathology of real estate and finance to suppress their self-expression in the crafting of their homes, communities embraced the delightful eclecticism that had become the convention with the earlier Solarpunk interventionist communities emerging in the wake of the Fall.

Typical reef dwellings would be built by retrofit, having the aspect of ‘townhouses’ of the so-called ‘traditional’ cities of the 19th and early 20th century, though the basic superstructure terrace heights and unit spaces could be individually subdivided and articulated with self-supporting mezzanine structures and facades freely recombined to form larger ‘buildings’ in the superstructure. This was often aided by the use of grids of formed-in sockets along the superstructure surface that supported plug-in attachment of modular utility elements, mezzanine structures, and panels or tiles of finishing materials, all attached with tool-less ease. Sticking to these modular parts, even a solitary person could outfit a home space in as little as a day — eventually making pre-finished housing something of a rarity as people could transport these parts like any furniture and reuse them most anywhere else in the superstructure. The colossal waste typical of 20th century home renovation was unthinkable now.

The rows of varied home facades following the terrace contours became a logical place for pedestrian streets, bordering gardens and farms on the tops of terraces, creating an impression of cozy eclectic neighborhoods even as the terraced superstructures evolved to larger scales with a dozen or more levels in the denser regions. And most homes would, depending on their choice of facing, offer unobstructed views of the garden terraces and natural landscapes beyond or the valley and canyon-like agoras of the inner zones of the reef superstructure. This, of course, has since become a common architectural vernacular among habitats across the solar system, as well as across the Earth.

A phase of aesthetic experimentation and exuberance overtakes the city with the emergence of new architectural nanotechnology.

The Rhizome Revolution

Across the era of the Fall much technological development was slowed as economic infrastructures failed and communities struggled simply to survive amidst the numerous crises of the time. Society had to learn new sustainable ways of meeting daily needs and working civilly together toward that, in spite of resistance from many remnants of the dying Industrial Age culture and the dogged persistence of its many delusional beliefs and institutionalized shibboleths. But toward the end of the 21st century the new culture had come well and truly into its own and, spurred by the continued need to address the impacts of ongoing climate change (that would ultimately take centuries to fully play-out), as well as the new personal freedoms realized by a society freed of the systemic exploitation of the past, a new technological Renaissance emerged and once again began its inexorable march toward what earlier futurists had dubbed the ‘Technological Singularity’; the idealized point when the pace of innovation might reach a kind of ‘escape velocity’ leading to the almost instantaneous realization of an ultimate super-civilization encompassing our grandest dreams. Key to this notion were the technologies of machine intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. And, of course, these have since proven to be extremely important to civilization in the present, though as these things tend to turn-out, not in quite the same ways originally envisioned. Singularity was often associated with the emergence of some breakaway machine super-intelligence, which never did quite turn up even with the advent of ‘artilects’ equivalent in sentience and personality to human beings. The most common mistake of the futurist is to overestimate the near-term and underestimate the long-term. And, with its fantasy and dystopian inclined society, futurists of the turn of the 21st century were at least as prone to this as the compulsive optimists of the early Industrial Age.

Turn of the 21st century science fiction commonly depicted nanotechnology in a rather peculiar way, as something akin to the magical genies of ancient mythology. This was based on a notion called ‘utility fog’; a form of swarm robotics composed of clouds of microscopic nanorobots under collective control and magically creating things out of thin air. And, given the common mentality of the age, every such notion had its dystopian mirror, in this case the notion of ‘gray goo’; a runaway nanorobot swarm that, it was feared, might turn rogue and begin to molecularly disassemble everything around it to remake into more of itself, destroying all life. These ideas seem laughably quaint today, but their persistence in the culture much delayed research and development of the technology by sending it down blind paths or creating unnecessary public fears.

Today we commonly recognize nanotechnology and biotechnology as close parallel fields based on the common understanding that biology is the original nanotechnology, both sharing similar limitations, and most innovations and engineering solutions in nanotechnology have been found through biomimicry. And this is most well demonstrated by the history of the now common general purpose utility material known as NanoFoam, the realization of the Rhizome, and the general transition from a mechanistic to an organismic technology across the civilization.

Early nanotechnology was limited to use in small containerized systems known variously as nano-labs or nano-foundries. Inside their hermetically sealed tanks, ultra-pure inert hydrocarbon fluids were maintained in which early nano-mechanisms could function protected from the free-radical ionic molecules common throughout the ambient environment and which are akin to landmines to these microscopic machines. Trying to design nanomachines to be themselves resistant to this makes them too bulky to be very useful. (hence why utility fog proved infeasible to realize, though many short-lived microscopic robots suited to ambient fluid environments have become common, particularly in clinical applications) But limiting their use to such ultra-clean fluid containment tended to limit the technology’s use to fabricating things at small or microscopic scales, which was useful in microelectronics and devices that could be made into similarly tiny modular packages but precluded products of large scale or use of the technology in an outdoor environment.

Application-specific nanoprocessors akin to the microchips of electronics overcame some of these issues, leading to systems similar to earlier 3D printers using such nanoprocessor chips as ‘toolheads’ like the extrusion or milling heads of earlier machine tools. But these early nano-production machines were still generally quite cumbersome. They required vast stores of stock materials in fluid mediums packaged in bottles or paper cartons like old fashioned computer printer ink, all plugged into storage racks with complicated tubing manifolds. There was a lot of waste material as only a small portion of these stock fluid mediums was actually being used in any products, the rest needing to be expelled later in some stable form rather than vented as more CO2 to pollute the air. For a time it was often said you could spot the neighborhood nano-hackers by the barrels of diamond sand they would put out with the trash. (soon commonly reused in new concrete) Using such technology at large scales meant building ridiculously large and complex production machines in dedicated factories, which threatened to drag things back to the pathology of the Industrial Age and its speculative production. Getting nanomachines to do work at larger scales was going to need a very different approach.

Of course, Mother Nature had solved these problems long ago. A seed as small as a grain of rice can grow into a vast redwood tree. A microscopic mammal egg cell can grow into a blue whale. All through biological nanomachines working in a very unstable ambient environment. The key to this miraculous ability lay in the logic of the architecture of the biological cell, which works with matter in a very different way from human beings.

Through most of human history, we have made things in variations of three ways;

-Subtractive production where we get some mass of material and cut it down to a desired shape with various tools. Shaping things from the outside-in.

-Additive production where we add materials to something until it is formed into a desired shape, as in the case of pottery or 3D printing, shaping things from the bottom-up, or compressing material in molds or forms.

-Assembly of parts made by the other two means into larger assemblies based on mechanical, welded, or chemically bonded connections.

Limited to manipulating material at a molecular level, individual cells have the same problem of containment for their nanomechanisms to protect them from a hostile ambient environment. They also have the complication of being blind and unaware of their production processes, with very limited means of sensing the environment until they developed into multicellular organisms with complex nervous systems and elaborate sensory organs. And so life evolved to create a hierarchy of selectively permeable barriers between outside and inside environments; the flexible semi-permeable membrane of the cell exchanging molecules with the outside by osmosis, tissues made of many cells, various kinds of skins, shells, and skeletons protecting and supporting those, and eventually special organs for the ingestion and digestion of outside materials in some isolated internal volumes. And so living things consume or absorb matter from the outside environment, internally isolate it for protection, break it down to its useful molecular components, distribute them in fluid mediums though internal channels or vascular systems, internalize them within their cells, and use them to self-replicate those cells, forming into large scale shapes by guiding that cellular replication through parametric — algorithmic — processes mediated by the expression of genes in each cell. Life makes things, basically, by becoming things, forming itself from the inside-out. A fourth mode of fabrication.

Human synthetic nanotechnology learned to do this by looking at the examples of the largest single cell organisms in nature. Simple organisms like the Bubble Algae, Valonia ventricosa. A single-cell plant as large as a human fist that is basically a bubble of thin but tough and elastic membrane filled with cytoplasmic goo and the many organelles that perform the life-functions of the organism. It absorbs the materials it needs from the water around it by osmosis through its semi-permeable membrane to be dispersed in its internal fluid and used by its organelles. Also, the giant-sized single-celled marine organisms known as Xenophyophorea which are akin to giant Amoeba but absorb minerals in seawater to create a protective rigid shell around themselves called a ‘test’ surrounding their soft membrane, out of which they project pseudopods through tiny holes to collect detritus and microorganisms. These tests have elaborate parametric shapes aiding to strengthen them and collect organic detritus from the seawater. These are the largest in a class of animals called Foraminifera which are generally much smaller and form simpler, tiny, multi-chambered shells that commonly make up the vast deposits of limestone on Earth –which we would one day reuse as concrete to build our cities.

Following these examples from nature, nanotech engineers of the mid to late 21st century began to explore the design of nano-foundry systems that could produce expanding flexible membranes as temporary processing containers, enclosing objects made inside them and growing in size with them. In this way these systems could conserve the volume of processing fluids they needed while supporting fabrication of larger-sized products in more varied shapes. These were, at first, simple balloons of fluid that would inflate from a special port on the machine to rest on top or beside it. They then evolved to be semi-rigid for more durability and came to be called ‘chrysalises’ after the chrysalises made by caterpillars for protection as they change into butterflies. To further improve efficiency, chrysalises were made to increasingly conform in shape to that of the finished products through the use of rigid, microscopic, internal scaffolding structures using space-filling space-frame topologies that supported the membranes from the inside. These scaffolding structures aided the mobility and control of nanorobots my indexing the volumes of working space and allowed projects to suspend various elements in space as they were fabricated from the inside-out. They could also host temporary ‘synthetic organelles’ functioning as computers or tiny factories mass-producing molecular micro-components and nanorobots. It was soon possible for a chrysalis to contain all the needed support systems for any production, as we as a stockpile of materials. Eventually, these chrysalis membranes evolved into more elaborate skin and tissue-like systems with active elements in different layers or larger organs akin to that of animals and plants that could freely switch between flexible and rigid states, produce various textures, create various embedded mechanisms like radiator or evaporator fins for thermal management, indicator lights and information displays, and interface ports for additional plug-in support devices –all completely self-recycling once a product was complete.

Adding so much capability within the chrysalis itself also led to the invention of multi-material molecular packaging where a single working fluid medium could carry many different kinds of materials that could be sorted out and extracted on-demand as part of a production process. This allowed working fluid to be more readily recycled and easily stored, replacing the large batteries of many kinds of stock fluid materials with a single common supply of mixed materials that could be stored in a single tank and piped around a production facility or a community like a municipal water supply. This was dubbed NanoSoup and eventually became a common means of transporting materials around the globe, through the infrastructures of the Urban Reef. A solid form called NanoAspic could be used to more densely store materials for long periods in rods, blocks, or spools similar to those used in some past 3D printers, their contents indexed by molecular tags. This is well known to space dwellers as Cargo Beamships built from enormous NanoAspic beams are commonly used to ship asteroid materials across the solar system.

Chrysalis structures could not only be used to make things but also recycle them. Much as an amoeba envelops another organism to ‘devour’ it. A nano-foundry could slowly grow a chrysalis over some waste item — such as the abandoned hulk of a old car, for example — and then use its molecular machinery to neutralize free-radicals on it and take it apart, molecule by molecule, like an animal digesting food, reducing its matter to packaged molecules that could be carried away in NanoSoup to be used for something else. Dedicated systems for such recycling were devised and put to use on the many vast toxic landfills left by the Industrial Age.

Chrysalis systems could be grown not just as skins or shells enclosing things but also as branching networks like the branches, vines, and roots of plants that could penetrate earth like the mycelium of fungus, absorbing and gathering materials from the soil to transport them off in a vascular system of NanoSoup like sap in a tree. This could be used to remove toxic materials from waste sites or perform mining activity without causing any surface disruption that might harm the environment. Even geothermal power could be tapped, using vast branching fractal arrays of thermo-couple roots –now a key energy source for the Urban Reef. The many and vast toxic waste sites left in the wake of the Industrial Age could at last be cleaned in this way and restored to use by nature.

It was quickly realized that if you could non-disruptively remediate and mine the earth with such synthetic root systems, you could excavate using a chrysalis’ scaffolding to define the shapes of spaces desired and exude a solid lining around them in the same manner as those tests of Foraminifera, allowing one to grow underground tunnels and complexes with complete automation. Using thin earth probes akin to hypodermic needles, one could chemically mark a trail for these root-like networks and define the boundaries of excavations from the surface, then place a nano-foundry in a pilot hole to begin excavation by sending out roots to find and follow the chemical markers in the earth. Once the path of growth was established in the root system, it could then grow an expanding chrysalis ‘tuber’ — not all that different from potatoes and carrots! — that would expand until it reached the desired size and shape of an excavation, forming a hard biocement shell to support itself.

This proved a hugely important application for the technology, allowing for the general automation of underground infrastructure construction for the growing Urban Reef without the complications of surface disruptions or demolition. It soon became cheap and easy to move most of civilization’s utility and transportation infrastructure underground, with little human labor and little to no impact on nature. Some communities even began to use this capability to create underground villages in areas that had, by now, become off-limits to human development. Generally, by this time, free-standing houses had become rare and very little permanent architecture was allowed to be built in places that had been designated for natural habitat restoration. But by growing structures underground like some giant ant colony, it was possible to live immersed in the natural habitat, with easy access to the environments on the surface, yet without causing the impacts common to past forms of construction. In fact, this could be used to aid the restoration of legacy biomes that climate change had made impossible to sustain, by supporting plants and sometimes animals with an underground infrastructure providing moisture, nutrients, and even cooling after the fashion of the cold-bed agriculture used by the marine settlements. Many of the first subterranean towns were designed for this purpose. This was the first hint of our built habitat’s eventual role as a planetary symbiote.

Over time such innovations led to a progressive miniaturization and portability for the hardware of nano-foundries while the scale and sophistication of objects they could make increased even to that of whole buildings. The nano-foundry and chrysalis stopped being regarded as separate tools in themselves but rather a kind packaging. One could obtain a small pre-programmed ‘seed pod’ for a large product, such as a building, bring it to a desired location, plug it into a NanoSoup supply port, or even into the ground, and activate it there to grow into its full form. Once complete, any remains could be composted or recycled into the local NanoSoup supply as with most trash and sewerage. Some seed pods could rely entirely on energy and materials from the ambient environment, putting out leaves and roots to collect materials and then completely dissolving when a project was complete — albeit a slower process then relying on a municipal materials supply. As is well known today, this capability proved immensely useful in reestablishing space development, allowing for facilities of any size on asteroids, moons, and planets to be self-grown like plants from seed pods easily transported by tiny spacecraft launched with electric-powered alternatives to the rockets of the past.

Some products began being designed with internal cavities where the organelle elements of a nano-foundry and some materials could be indefinitely stored and later activated to perform repairs or upgrades on the object, even as it was in use. Such a capability had long been a dream of engineers, particularly in the field of aerospace. This led to the eventual cognitive leap that the distinction between the nano-foundry as a means of production and as an end-product in itself had become so blurred one might as well regard them as two states of the same thing, made from the same mostly carbon high-strength materials. And thus the notion of a ‘general purpose utility material’ emerged; a programmable smart-material that remade and recycled itself into different things as needed. This was dubbed NanoFoam.

NanoFoam, which could be distributed in functional pods as small as a peanut, was basically a chrysalis with a dense internal diamond scaffolding skeleton, a skin tough enough for most common uses, and internal cells for all the mechanisms of the nano-foundry that could be communicated with by wireless digital link or a plug-in port. And it would, depending on the software loaded into it, transform into any object or machine desired while still retaining an internal NanoSoup vascular system and those internal nanosystem cells with the means to repair, re-fabricate, or recycle itself if given different software. This was not an instantaneous process, of course, but rather akin to the growth rates of plants and animals –though still rapid enough to compete with most other methods of fabrication for anything not strictly needing mass-production.

This idea proved to be yet another worldchanging revolution for our civilization. Every human being could now carry the sum total of the civilization’s industrial potential in their hand, or even within their own bodies as NanoFoam could create prosthetics every bit as complex and functional as living limbs and organs and fully compatible with living human tissue. The design of things in our habitat shifted in general from the mechanistic to the organismic, with architecture, vehicles, robots and machines becoming very plant or animal-like –’zoomorphic’– in design, following naturalistic parametric design algorithms that optimized the speed of such nanofabrication. We evolved from imagining human civilization as a collection of artifacts and discrete systems to one contiguous, smart, living medium that could perpetually evolve with our changing personal and collective needs while coexisting with the natural environment.

Soon NanoFoam was being used to replace the heavy biocement structures of the Urban Reef and all its underground infrastructure. It could assimilate these structures in place, without demolition, permeating and recycling its materials like a fungal mycelium growing into a fallen log. The built habitat became a synthetic super-organism, growing its own NanoSoup vascular system and digital nervous system to monitor its internal integrity and external environment, putting out leaves to collect solar energy or serve as thermal management, sprouting a root system to gather geothermal energy and materials, connect its separated parts, and help care for plants cultivated on it surfaces, forming underground ‘nodules’ and ‘tubers’ to store materials and energy, host digital processing nodes, or conduct various forms industry.

A distributed machine intelligence embedded into the structures of the Urban Reef made it self-maintaining, learning from and adapting to the natural environment, constantly communicating with its inhabitants, and even guiding the design of its superstructure using associative design and procedural engineering –wherever humans themselves were not interested enough to take the reigns of design themselves. With such technology, the creation of large complex structures, once impossible even with the aid of automation of the mid 21st century, came into the reach of small communities and adhocracy groups.

The Urban Reef became a vast synthetic organism and, as its root systems grew into the surrounding landscape, we taught it to adopt a symbiotic relationship with the natural environment around it. We created a vast environmental sensor-web, extending from the foundations of the Urban Reef thousands of kilometers through the earth around it, creating what came to be called the Rhizome (after the natural rhizome in forest floors) serving as both an essential infrastructure for our civilization and a support system for the natural biosphere beside us.

Wherever this Rhizome reached, we could establish communication and infrastructure as well as sense the state of nature. Through this web, we learned the chemical language of the natural plant and fungal rhizomes and could communicate with them, albeit in simple aways, giving nature herself a new kind of consciousness. We could literally listen to the songs of birds and whales and the calls of animals all over the globe at once. We could deploy and control disguised animalistic robot drones that would interact with various animals, subtly monitor their behavior and health, learn and use their own forms of communication. Human society now had an awareness of, and connection to, the state of nature unlike anything ever imagined previously. We had literally plugged our collective consciousness into the Earth.

Of course, such NanoFoam-based Rhizome systems are now the basis of all settlement across the solar system, permeating the planets and asteroids and linking most every spacecraft and space structure into civilization’s collective network of information and materials. We grow living spacecraft like strange fruit from the branches of tree-like space stations. We grow space habitats like gigantic versions of the moss balls people once cultivated in home aquariums. We deploy space solar power systems like gigantic flowers. We literally seed worlds like the legendary Johnny Appleseed, growing and tending our cosmic civilization like gardeners, bringing the universe to life.

Today NanoFoam has become not only the primary medium of our habitat, but increasingly a part of our own bodies. Most people –especially those living in space– have adopted various NanoFoam implants and prosthetics as basic health maintenance aids and means of personal digital communications. In the past such ‘cybernetics’ were visualized by Science Fiction as deliberately mechanistic, employed for shock-value to evoke a sense of dread or horror at the merging of man and machine. But now technology is largely indistinguishable from living matter and invisible when applied to the body. Many of us now carry the capabilities of the most advanced hospitals and medical labs of the past right in our own bodies, along with all the means to communicate on the Internet and operate within its myriad virtual environments without the various worn contraptions of the past. With the many varied biomes of Earth, some have employed this technology to adapt their own bodies to accommodate novel new lifestyles immersed in the restored forests, plains, and seas, perfectly comfortable in environments that would have killed our ancestors. Others adapt themselves to suit the latest fashions or their personal aesthetic tastes and fantasies. The human race is physically diverging into myriad forms and lifestyles, now joined by our recently emerged digital children, born of advancing machine intelligence, and inhabiting a vast virtual habitat hosted across the Rhizome infrastructure and merging with the physical world wherever the Planetary Symbiote can reach. At last overcoming the trauma of the past centuries of mass delusion, we are arriving at a peace with our planetary parent and carrying the seeds of life out into the universe.

The the urban habitat as reef ecolog, merging into the Planetary Symbiote at the height of the NanoFoam and synthetic biology era, the global climate crisis, at last, a fading memory.

Lifestyles of the Urban Reef

Like its natural namesake, the Urban Reef hosts a vast diversity of life and lifestyle. There are many regional variations in character and climate across its extent superstructures and it remains in constant evolution –a perpetual conversation between its inhabitants and the natural environment mediated by its distributed intelligence and expressed through its ever-changing architecture. Whether one seeks the lively nightlife and entertainment of populous cities, the simple daily rhythms of agrarian living, the intellectually focused environments of professional communities, the solitude and contemplation of wilderness, or exotic modes of living unimaginable in past, there are places on and around the Urban Reef to suit.

The primary mode of social organization, and primary political unit, in contemporary culture is the Intentional Community, which can be alternately virtual and formed through social networks and cooperative platforms on the Internet, or physical and centered on specific places serving chiefly as a place to live and work. Most people are typically members of many such Intentional Communities, encompassing their personal interests and career pursuits, and shifting freely among them through life as those interests evolve.

Intentional Communities, working as part of bioregional cooperatives, manage most of the habitable space on the Reef and the physical communities they cultivate are typically focused on the purpose of simply living well and fulfilling their inhabitants basic needs at a neighborhood level. But many do have some common interests or ‘missions’ that premise their formation and become the focus of their local culture and the facilities they create and share. (as well as information commons they create in the global digital ‘cloud commons’) These communities may often be more inwardly focused and located in parts of the Reef that feature some enclosure in its geoforms; inner valley areas, canyons, apses, caldera-like formations, and sometimes large domed or tensile structures intended for climate control.

Some are ‘professionally’ focused; the archaic term once referring to for-profit vocations but now referring chiefly to career pursuits involving advanced skills and knowledge that rely on a community organization to curate and accredit. (the medical professions a key example) These career-oriented communities are typically global in nature with many physical locations often referred to as ‘secular ashrams’ or simply ‘ashrams’, and assuming, despite the religious roots of the term, many of the educational roles commonly associated with universities, science and engineering institutes, and artists’ communities of the past. They are often designed with what is called a ‘campus’ aesthetic –a semi-secluded low-traffic habitat relating to the monasteries and cloisters of ancient religious orders intended to create an atmosphere of serenity and contemplation. Others have a more industrial aspect, as relates to their work in physics, engineering, or the creation and communal use of large specialized machines such as kilns and foundries, particle accelerators, radio telescopes, mass launchers, drydocks, and the like.

Many communities are recreational in nature, relating to hobbies, fandoms, aesthetic themes, and sports or leisure activities. The physical communities they create often have fanciful architecture or specialized facilities complementing these interests, sometimes seeking to simulate habitats from historical periods or the imaginary environments found in media. They may create environments akin to live-in resorts or theme parks intended to be shared with the public, the inhabitants adopting roles as hosts and performers.

Many areas of the reef are considered ‘unmanaged’ residence where the overall architecture has been left to associative design AI, now very highly refined by centuries of accumulated building experience, while individual dwellings are left to their inhabitants to freely personalize independently. These conform most to the traditional contour-terraced reef dwelling vernacular, with row houses (sometimes of plug-in design) along broad terrace edges facing wilderness and inner valleys hosting more public activity. They, nonetheless, tend to arrive at some common aesthetic trends despite their eclecticism and though some less dense habitat areas tend to attract the more asocial members of society, they still tend to inadvertently realize some social identity and local culture, with neighborhoods self-identifying by terrace level, geoform features, or inner and outer reef zones. A similar approach to community architecture has also emerged with some of the first ring habitats developed in space.

Though most communities are open and inclusive by nature, some are more exclusionary or cloistered, employing the most enclosed forms of architecture with some isolation from the main Reef superstructure or even taking to remote locations and occasionally going, literally, underground. This can be simply in the interests of their subculture –intended to filter out the distractions of outside culture– but it has occasionally gone to pathological extremes requiring outside intervention. Demagoguery and cultism still persist. In a few cases communities may have a religious focus, but this has become rarer in modern times given the regressive roles of most organized religions in history and particularly during the Fall, leading to their subsequent cultural decline.

As previously mentioned, Intentional Community life typically revolves around a communal public center, often called an agora, intended for socialization, communal activity, and entertainment. These are typically located in inner valley areas of the superstructure, in designated central atrium spaces, on lower level terraces, or sometimes large-span internal spaces and along internal avenues. They are often co-located with transportation terminals. The more gregarious the community in character, the larger and more convenient the access to these spaces tend to be. They have many variations in design with much competition in this for pride-of-place, some modeled on the ‘town squares’, ‘high streets’, ‘main streets’, and ‘arcades’ of the distant past, others more like parks, gardens, greenhouse winter gardens, or sculpture gardens, others lounge-like and featuring community buildings referred to variously as civic centers, community ‘halls’ or ‘lodges’, ‘longhouses’, and even ‘palaces’. Enclosed agoras are often created in the deeper internal volumes of the Reef superstructures and are particularly common to regions prone to extremes of cold, hot, or otherwise inclement weather. They are often compared in aspect to the enclosed ‘shopping malls’ of the 20th century, though the closest thing to such consumer activity today may be the local design galleries where aspiring local designers seek to exhibit their novel goods designs to encourage public adoption.

Agoras typically feature some access to public dining facilities such as cafes and restaurants, ‘food courts’ with automated food service, community kitchens, and in a few cases large communal dining halls called ‘langars’, harkening back to the dining halls originally created by Indian Sikh communities and evolved for use in mass refugee relief during the Fall. They also typically feature access to public services such as clinics, schools, and cosmetic care and common goods and groceries offered from kiosks and simple convenience shops, walk-in workshops for small goods fabrication (most goods obtained by automated home delivery) and ‘coworking’ spaces where local individuals and Adhocracies may reserve temporary office or studio space for their activities. In the recent past libraries for physical media as well as shared tools and appliances were common, but on-demand production and comprehensive recycling has largely supplanted this, though many persist out of tradition. Likewise, these areas once often hosted large ‘merged space’ facilities for VR and ‘teleports’ for telepresence (virtual travel and work using remotely controlled robots, well known to space dwellers), until neural interfacing became sufficiently common to obsolesce them.

In some denser urban areas, agoras can be so large and host so much of daily activity that individual dwellings are comfortably reduced to a bare minimum in size, akin to so-called ‘tiny homes’ and ‘rabbit hutch’ apartments of the pre-Fall era, or larger versions of the ‘capsule hotel’ pods used chiefly as a place to sleep. (invented in Japan in the mid 20th century, and still in common use on railways, ships, spacecraft, and in hostel accommodations for digital nomads) Without the pathological compulsion of Industrial Age corporate labor dictating where people can and cannot live, and much less of the compulsion to ‘thing-fetishism’ and the hoarding of personal goods, people now live where it best suits their comfort and lifestyle inclinations, and often on a seasonally migratory basis; a practice known as ‘mobilism’ that much reduces the energy overhead of human comfort.

A great many communities have extensive urban farming facilities, which are often aesthetically integrated with their agora spaces in some fashion as an expression of civic pride. Horticulture is still commonly regarded as a therapeutic activity and many older people of the present, who still recall life during the Fall, have spent many hours working side-by-side with neighbors in such communal farms, before the advent of comprehensive farm automation and direct food synthesis.

Many communities are nomadic in nature, premised on what is known as ‘existential nomadism’ dedicated to the idea of seeking an authentic life through the experience of the traveler or stranger. This phenomenon originated in the 20th century, enabled by the increasing ease of world travel for upper-middle-class society. Today it is facilitated by the physical lifestyle minimalism offered by telecommunications, the digitization of personal property, and the ‘ephemeralization’ of common goods through on-demand production and recycling. With quality of life now largely defined by the access to digital media, accessible right within one’s own ‘headspace’ through implantable personal digital interfaces, and most common goods freely available on-demand everywhere, the compulsion for a permanent dwelling or much in the way or physical possessions is much reduced, compared to the consumerist past where people commonly hoarded so much junk they often couldn’t fit it all in their own homes and had to rent personal warehouse space to store it. Global mobility and shelter are now universal human rights and it is quite feasible to live comfortably in more-or-less constant travel, fully digitally connected, sampling all the experiences the world might have to offer. Young adults typically wander extensively in search of a career ‘calling’ or favored lifestyle and home, testing their affinities in different ashrams and communities. But many find this journey itself to be the destination and continue a nomadic way of life, with constant change of vocation. Experience is the commodity people most strive for today.

In this era of comprehensive automation, broad personal freedom, and steadily increasing lifespan the focus of life is largely on the creative, the social, and the experiential. Futurists of the 20th century were much concerned about the impact of a life without jobs with the advent of Total Automation –though the market economy had no difficulty eliminating that possibility, finding no end of novel ways to subject 20th century society to a ‘grind’ for cash that made the lives of ancient feudal peasants seem appealing. Thankfully, there are no more jobs and no more pathological compulsion to work for mere subsistence. But there is no shortage of work for those who want it, and most people do, this now motivated by a quest for personal satisfaction and an actual contribution to society, be it in terms of civilization’s progress, creative expression, or simply the sharing of pleasure, amusement, enlightenment, and joy with others. Thus an economics based on these truly human values has emerged. One where the flow of surplus resources to pursue these activities –what used to be obtusely abstracted in the form of financial ‘capital’ wielded largely by class elites– is digitally mediated by semantic computing platforms that have realized a continuous awareness of the collective intentions of society and thus direct those resources appropriately and automatically. Often referred to as the Digital Tao, this system, now fully integral with the planetary Rhizome, monitors the channels of public communication across the civilization, assigning a priority to the various needs, desires, and interests of society and thus a weight of relevance to personal and group activity as it relates to that, opening flows of resources through the infrastructure wherever people engaging in that activity may be. Similar systems have been employed across the solar system, though many in-space communities are still small enough to not need such technology.

Most activity on Earth is conducted through organizations known as Adhocracies which may be cultivated within intentional communities, but are just as often formed outside them, wherever some number of people come together to pursue a shared idea or goal. Thus these groups assume a role similar to the corporations of the past, and sometimes refer to themselves as such, though the only ‘profit’ they pursue is the appreciation of society, and the social capital that accrues. Generally, given the leverage of robotic automation, these groups are much smaller and more ephemeral than the corporations of the 20th century. The more technical the nature of their activity, the larger, more structured, and ‘rule bound’ their organization tends to be. And these are more likely to be centered in the so-called Secular Ashrams where large specialized facilities can be created.

Handcraft is still highly prized in modern culture –likely more so than ever in the past– and many people pursue such skills for the simple pleasure of it and the comforting daily routines they develop around it, sharing their products in the communities in which they live, even though most machine-made goods people actually need are free. And many kinds of service activities are treated similarly. Bakeries, craft shops, barbers and salons, tattoo/body art parlors, cafes, restaurants, and langars are operated for the pleasure of it as a kind of public performance for an audience of locals. Not all these are open routinely, with some requiring pre-arranged appointments and a certain local status in reputation.

And, of course, the arts in all forms are of great significance to the culture. In the 20th century, public entertainment and news media were very much tied to the market economy as venues for product advertising, leading to perverse and incestuous relationships with the corporate culture resulting in constant exploitation of the media for social manipulation and political influence. The so-called ‘fine arts’ were also subverted and perverted to suit the financial and social interests of elites. But near the end of the 20th century there emerged an increasing number of amateur venues for media production and dissemination enabled by personal computing and Internet technology which emancipated much of this activity, though there was a constant battle between forces seeking to open and expand this and forces seeking to capture, enclose, and monetize it. Today, all media is independently produced and freely accessed with global –indeed, solar-system-wide– reach, the only difference between amateur and professional production being the size and sophistication of Adhocracies formed to produce it. The most sophisticated media is produced in Intentional Communities dedicated to the craft and with ashrams serving as live-in studio complexes. These are sometimes referred to as ‘Cinecittà’ in homage to the famous 20th century media complex of Rome Italy. There are several of these on each continental bioregion, constantly competing for the civilization’s eyeballs.

The most exotic lifestyles on Earth usually involve communities dedicated to some form of collective role-play, period lifestyle re-creation, or immersion in wilderness environments, often aided by use of transhumanist technologies and biophysical augmentation intended to make harsh environments more tolerable. The tragedy of environmental degradation and the atrocities of the Fall left many with a lingering cultural guilt or disillusion about civilization and society they sought to assuage in unusual ways. In the past this might motivate one to aestheticism and retreat from society to solitary life in the wilderness –ironically, often without much regard for the impact their own presence might have on the local environment. (in that confused era prior to the Fall, it was common for self-professed environmentalists to paradoxically rationalize their use of heavily polluting all-terrain vehicles based on a perceived personal ‘need’ for living near wilderness to escape the urban environments they often erroneously demonized…) Or it might motivate a life of activism and the work of environmental conservation, which also afforded more personal experience of the wilderness in the role of caretaker. But for some even this was not enough. A darker aspect of early environmentalism was a demonization of humanity itself, frequently characterized as a planetary disease with some extremists even calling for voluntary human extinction.

In the 17th century there arose among the intellectuals of the Romantic movement a notion of native people as inherently innocent and uncontaminated by the pathology of a western civilization they saw as increasingly corrupt and amoral. People, in their primitive, uninhibited, ignorance living in a natural state of grace as the Romantics themselves longed for and felt had been taken away by the pathology of the Enlightenment’s ‘reductionist’ worldview and the modern obsession with money and wealth. The roots of this idea are quite ancient, with the folklore of many past cultures featuring various examples of ‘wild men’ thought to live in a special state of grace with nature and sometimes imbued with magical powers or mystical knowledge as a result. Dubbed the ‘Noble Savage’ this idea evolved into a common trope in literature and theater for a time, long influencing how indigenous people were depicted in popular culture (once they had been sufficiently subdued by colonizers…) before the essentially racist undertones became apparent to more modern people. (though it might be applied in variation to any ‘rural’ subculture deemed innocent through a lack of formal education) Yet in many ways it persisted in the culture, particularly in early Environmentalism –much influenced by Romanticist thought– and the belief systems of the so-called ‘New Age’ cultural movement emerging in the late 20th century, with its penchant for casual cultural appropriation and revival of mystical practices. While there was certainly a great of practical knowledge to gain from indigenous cultures and traditions, some activists of the time advocated a general abandonment of civilization and return –regardless of the likely toll in human life– to a primitive agrarian lifestyle in imitation of native cultures they scarcely understood, but assumed to be inherently more sustainable and authentic by default.

Such sentiments have persisted even to the present day, emerging in the notion of discarding association with humanity itself through some form of intentional evolution as a means to a kind of absolution of the human race’s dark environmental legacy and a recapturing of an imagined lost state of grace. Key tools for this are the technologies of biophysical augmentation now allowing increasingly extensive modification of the human body, enabling a portion of society to not only seek a new level of immersion into the wilderness environment but also to distance themselves, in identity, appearance, and physiology, from the human race itself.

Transhumanism has long been considered chiefly in a functionalist context, restoring or providing new ability; replacement limbs and organs, built-in medical intervention, gender affirmation, life extension, interface to telecommunications, adaptation to the conditions of space, and superhuman physical performance. But, in practice, its development has actually been driven at least as much by aesthetics. By the ancient human desire, as long expressed in fashion, to improve sex appeal, conform to ideals of beauty, and alternately express one’s individual or group identity. This has converged with this notion of transcending humanity, along with the means to more comfortably inhabit the natural environment without the contrivances of the built habitat. And thus a variety of intentional communities have formed around the cultivation, as a hobby and lifestyle, of non-human identity through role-play and the application of cosmetic and functional augmentation allowing people to live in nature as freely as wildlife, or at least assume appearances symbolically implying such a deep union. These aesthetics often derive from the cultural legacy of ancient folklore and mythology, remixed in more modern fantasy media, the exotic features of the various legendary beings like elves, faeries, fauns, and ‘were-animals’ expressing their special relationship to nature and, again, representing another reinvention of that Noble Savage ideal. And this also has additional roots in the fandom tradition –long predating the Fall– of ‘cosplay’; costuming and role-play inspired by characters in popular media, which has persisted as a popular hobby to the present.

A number of these role-play communities can be found among the islands of the Equatorial Archipelago, where the ocean isolation offers the freedom to craft habitats and lifestyles to suit the wildest imaginations. Within these communities the craft of cosplay has gone beyond mere costuming to a common use of the most advanced cosmetic surgery as well as various bio-synthetic prosthetics allowing individuals to radically modify their appearance to suit their desired personas. They also employ elaborate techniques of stagecraft, illusion, and prestidigitation (ie. ‘stage magic’) to simulate the magical powers often associated with their personas. Some of the most advanced technologies of both nanotechnology and stagecraft have emerged from these communities, cultivated simply for the pursuit of this elaborate role-play.

Even more radical communities have taken the use of transhumanist technologies further in order to adopt casually nomadic lifestyles in the actual wilderness itself –including biomes hostile to human life generally. Eschewing much of the aesthetic concerns of the more role-play-focused communities, these folks employ the cutting edge of human augmentation to make their bodies largely immune to the harsh conditions of even more extreme environments so as to live freely and comfortably with little to no shelter or other physical possessions. Calling themselves ‘Naturists’, they have abandoned the Urban Reef entirely to live with little more than the clothes on their backs –if even that. Their skin has been made to withstand extremes of temperature and sun exposure and their stamina and limbs adapted to walking for days on end with little rest. Their bodies extensively augmented by NanoFoam implants, in the harshest conditions of Summer and Winter they can even cocoon themselves like caterpillars in personal protective enclosures and enter a state of hibernation while remaining connected by wireless or Rhizome telecommunications and mentally active in the virtual environments of the global Internet. Though typically living seemingly solitary lives, they are often well connected to dispersed communities linked by wireless digital telepathy and are usually well aware of each other’s locations and activities even across the globe. With these abilities they can remain quite integrated with the larger society at their convenience no matter how physically isolated they might be.

The most unusual members of this community, using some of the most advanced and extensive forms of augmentation, are those who have adopted continuous living on the open sea, adapting themselves to lifestyles akin to marine mammals, in the water itself. These folk tend to be more gregarious than other Naturists, living in loosely organized ‘pods’ that wander vast areas of the sea together and employ a variety of synthetic animal robots as assistants. Here, where telecommunications is less reliable and food sources scarcer, they employ neutrally buoyant sea towers growing like marine organisms suspended at or just below the ocean surface as communications centers, farms, and communal gathering places. Some aspire to future colonization of the various water-worlds speculated to be in other star systems.

Typically, Naturists regard themselves as self-appointed caretakers of the wilderness they inhabit, thus justifying their choice of lifestyle, and they commonly collaborate with adhocracies working in the fields of wilderness restoration and wildlife management. Though humble in most ways, they do consider themselves the most advanced form of human beings with the closest, deepest, connection to nature possible. Time will tell if this is actually the case as they remain relatively few in number and rarely observed by most of society.

The Dance Continues

As the extraterrestrial civilization expands and our first forays toward neighboring stars begin, Mother Earth remains the cultural heart of our ever-growing and diversifying society. And through our new relationship with nature as a Planetary Symbiote, we have succeeded in reversing the damage of a pathological Industrial Age and achieved a true harmony with nature that will catalyze the seeding of life across the galaxy. Though space offers countless opportunities and experiences, so too does our planetary home. Futurists of the Industrial Age often feared our civilization would end in a crisis of banality where everything that could be known was known, every song that could be written sung, every story told, everything human beings could do automated away, leaving us to fade away like the fabled Lotus-Eaters in a hedonistic haze. Yet Mother Nature never did let us relax. We have yet to run out of things to discover, make, do, experience, and become. Our restored home world remains as vibrant and flourishing as ever, continuing the dance of evolution and culture, science and technology, forever creative and novel.

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