Urban Planning in Space Colonies

In the next few years our species is going to build its first cities in space and one of my great fears is that when they do, the cities will grow organically based on the utilitarian needs of the first settlers. Building cities from scratch comes with the wonderful opportunity to create something beautiful and streamlined without having to cope with the legacy issues of existing structures. Having old-timey tastes and being a strong Jane Jacobs-believer, my view is that extra care should be taken to ensure that whatever cities we build are bike-friendly, pedestrian friendly, have lots of green space, have water features , many public buildings, that all buildings are canvasses of artistic design and not merely utilitarian coverings with life-support and scientific instruments. As I’ve written before, urban design and human topography are major contributors to our moral and our mental health. That if a community is designed to be interconnected and interdependent then we won’t have Durkehim’s Protestant depression rates and people will be happier and healthier. Not to mention the limited resources on the moon, Mars, other natural bodies, and the O’Neill cylinders that will be residential space stations. 

Energy is going to be as precious a resource in space as it is on Earth, if not more so. There are ways to create energy, lots of them. Solar, geothermal, nuclear, wind in some places, sublimation/boiler turbines (in places like Mars and Triton, the temperature hovers around the sublimation points of CO2 and Nitrogen, a magnifying lens of sunlight could create perpetual, artificial, geysers like the natural ones there. Despite the many ways of getting energy out there, they still are all harder than what we do on Earth, for the most part. Therefore, designing pedestrian-friendly and bikable cities will be very important there, as well. Not having cars almost, at all. With intercity transport done by high-speed rail on ground. Obviously, that wouldn’t work for the O’Neill Cylinders or interplanetary travel. Yet, we could create a world without highways.

Sports leagues, a film industry, indie bands, culinary competitions, chess clubs, religious services, debating societies, and much else will have to fill the perimeters of the social container shortly after those settlements are founded in order to have the healthiest society from the start. The psychological harm done by not having a thick culture from the beginning will have lasting effects and create social ills that may be very difficult to reverse. In watching series like The Expanse , as relatively accurate as it is in portraying the physical realities of space colonization, it fails to address the social and anthropological realities of building cities and countries from the ether and what has to be done to keep them well and funcional. And physically, it does very little on the urban design of the cities. It isn’t known whether parks or community pools are typical features of a Martian city or what musical genres are popular in the various regions of local space or new ethnic cuisines that have emerged from the disparate cultures. Very little scifi does that, actually.  

These ideas aren’t typically thought about and space colonization is dreamt of as domed, utilitarian, settlements rather than vibrant, metaphorically verdant, places that people will want to live full with the physical and social civic institutions that make life healthier and more pleasant when they exist here. As a political scientist, the alienation, spiritual and emotional vacuity, and isolation caused by suburbia, the internet, and Rawlsian liberalism were the poisons of liberalism and we would be very stupid if were planted those very flaws in the new societies we set to craft. The people who do this, plan space colonies, are STEM people with little background in sociology or psychology and the idea that civic institutions of culture, art, morality, mutual support, ritual, and the like are needed for the human psyche is not on their radar.  Scientifically, we know that if people don’t have those things that not only will they be miserable and depressed but also fascist. 

I greatly fear that in the societies that will spring in the coming decades of this century the next that the planners of institutions of those societies will transplant the same mistakes from Earth to there and that we will have to fight the same battles with pandemic-level mental illness and political movements of people struggling to be special and loved and to do that committing crimes against humanity.The social and psychological scientists have to reach the STEM people who plan these settlements before the plans are finalized to ensure that when we recreate society elsewhere, we create a society of happy, healthy, people with good values, and liberal politics. 

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