Cities in space?

by Ayse
(Eastern Europe)

Do you think it's time to think about cities in space? How would they be planned? How would they be different from cities on earth?

Editors' Reply:
Every once in a while, a community development question brings a chuckle along with it. Our first reaction was to want to say we can't even plan cities on earth yet! Why should we worry about space?

But then we decided to give your question the serious answer it deserves. Well actually, one question at a time.

No, we don't believe it's time to give much effort to thinking about cities in space. If that's an interest of yours, by all means, pursue it.

That's how innovation works in the world. You may create the answer to a problem that we don't really have yet, since we don't have the technology to assure long-term health of human beings in space.

Secondly, how should cities in space be planned? We think that this answer depends solely on what is learned about the physiology and psychology of being able to keep humans in space for extended periods of time.

Obviously the international space station experience has begun to provide some answers about keeping both mentally and physically fit in space, and working and playing in space, but six-month intervals and such don't really lend themselves to city planning very much.

It's too early to know how large of a settlement can be supported in space. We need much more information about producing food in space and disposing of waste, or getting to the point of zero waste, while in space.

Without any knowledge of whether we're talking about a town of 100 people, each of whom need to be supported by X number of square miles of food production, energy production, and recycling space, OR whether it takes fewer or more people to have a viable space city, we won't have a clue as to how to plan cities in space.

What may be behind your question is the opinion some people seem to have that the carrying capacity of the earth has been met or soon will be, and that alternative places for people to live need to be found. That's a serious concern; however, starting cities in space isn't a very easy technical or social problem to solve either.

Will cities in space have to be planned for a large population turnover? Would a city have to be essentially a small group of people working on a few projects, with the workforce changing every few months? If so, what they produce has to be mighty valuable.

However, it's important to know whether you'll have a stable neighborhood, or whether this is going to be a throwaway society where no one, except possibly the commercial sponsors of the space venture, is truly invested in the quality of the cities in space.

Cities in space would differ from cities on earth, at least initially, in that their form and design would be linked incredibly closely with what is needed for human survival.

Although earthly cities also should be linked to requirements of the human body and psyche, we are so well adapted to this planet that we've been able to abuse our bodies with air, water, and noise pollution, and with overcrowded conditions or social anomie on the psychosocial side, and still be able to survive.

The hostility of another planet or moon or space platform will mean that much more attention will need to be paid to the basics of human survival.

When cities in space are technologically practical, inevitably, a pecking order will emerge.

Either it will be a privilege or a sign of being part of the underclass to be part of cities in space.

We suppose it will be the cutting-edge scientists and adventurers who volunteer to go into space, as that has been the model thus far.

But what if cities in space become our alternative prison system, where we send people who just can't adapt to life on earth? That wouldn't be smart, but sometimes we like to put people we can't deal with far away. Cities in space could be the ultimate exile.

We aren't sure it was really important to answer this question on a website about community development, but given the pace of innovation, your question might be very practical in fifty years. Thanks for making us wonder.


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