Friday, March 5, 2010

Daniel Boone and the Megalopolis

I've been thinking quite a bit lately, about the world of 3650 or thereabouts.

Since I'm making some moderately non-pessimistic assumptions, I figure that people won't be any stupider in the next few thousand years than they have in the past. Also that we'll have around 780,000,000,000 people on Earth by then.

Not a typo. And not, really, all that much more than the 6,790,062,216 or so we have now.

Overpopulated? That depends on your frame of reference.

Daniel Boone and Manhattan's Lower East Side

Although Daniel Boone apparently didn't move each time he could see the smoke from a neighbor's chimney,1 I suspect that he'd not feel at home in the Washington, D.C. - Boston megalopolis.

I lived in San Francisco, a few decades ago, mostly in an area that was between five and 15 levels deep, apart from streets and sidewalks. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the end of a peninsula with a sizable fraction of a million other people.

My children grew up in a small town in central Minnesota: the population topped 4,000 recently. I love it here, too: but the ambiance is very different. And some of my kids are acutely uncomfortable even in a relatively lightly-developed area like the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.

A great deal depends, I suppose, on what you grow up with. But then, I grew up in the town that's across the river from Fargo, North Dakota: and I loved living in a rather built-up city.

The appeal that San Francisco had for me were the opportunities to directly experience the micro-cultures in the city. I lived on the edge of Chinatown (the real one: not that tourist strip), where folks don't have the Western aversion to bright colors on buildings; I could - and did - walk or take public transport to book stores, museums, art galleries - you get the idea. To manage that sort of activity here in the upper Midwest, I'd have to have access to my own aircraft - and even then I'd be eating up too much time going from place to place.

Yeah: There are advantages to having a lot of people in a small area. We're social creatures, and there's a lot of energy generated when we're able to meet each other.

The Internet has helped me keep in contact with the world: I 'drove' around the lower east side of New York City earlier this week, via Google Maps. It's not the same as being there, of course - but I was able to take a good look at my surroundings, which I wouldn't have been able to if I were driving. And I could move a whole lot faster than I could, walking. Or driving, for that matter.

Back to New York City, ca. 3650.

My, How You've Grown!

The megalopolis we know today has grown. North America has what's essentially a new mountain range, running from Florida northwards: several miles high in most spots.

And yes: That'd have an effect on weather patterns. My guess is that there'll be 'reverse wind farms' here and there, forcing winds 'uphill' to maintain what we think of as 'normal' climate. Weather control? I suppose you'd call it that.

New York City itself would be one of the higher areas, I suspect. It's an excellent natural harbor: and ocean-going vessels would still be a reasonably efficient way to transport large volumes of material. There'd probably be more than a hundred times as much traffic, though: so we're probably looking at offshore port facilities, too.

How would I feel about living in a city that was essentially one building, several hundred miles long by about three miles deep?

Today, I live in central Minnesota, where water is a mineral for a large part of the year: and I'm not a winter sports enthusiast.

Don't get me wrong: I love it here. But the prospect of living inside 24/7/365, in a place that'd 'feel' like the Mall of America, with climate-controlled pedestrian access to analogs of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Grand Ole Opry, Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Plus whatever people come up with in the next sixteen centuries?

If I did a 'Buck Rogers,' woke up in that era, and wound up living near the east coast: I might find it a bit crowded. Also extremely exciting.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

All those people will eat. I've mentioned this before.

I don't think today's sewer system could handle the load of a three-mile-deep New York City. But then, I don't think that Rome's system, two thousand years back, could handle the volume that contemporary systems do: and the Romans were good engineers.

The point? People aren't stupid. We adapt. When what we're doing doesn't work, we improve our methods, or develop new ones. Some of us do, anyway. Others complain and wait for someone else to fix things. That's a different topic.

I really don't think we'll be dumping all that waste into the Atlantic. Remember: all those people are going to want to eat on a regular basis. That sewage just about has to get treated and sent back west to the farms.

Disgusting? I don't think so: but then I live in a town where we can tell when someone upwind has turned their manure bed. Let's get real: Everything on Earth has been eating recycled, ah, stuff for hundreds of millions of years. All that's different about my world of 3650 or so is that we're managing the process a lot more than we are now.

Those farms won't look like those quaint old fields you see in 'visit Ireland' brochures. Think a greenhouse, many levels deep, with "sunlight" generated locally for all but the top level. Livestock? that'd be elsewhere, but not too far away: you don't want to have to haul silage any farther than you have to.

Horribly artificial? Artificial, yes. Horribly? That's a matter of taste. I think Ord ("The Dream") wouldn't like the world 16 centuries out - at all. Or today's world. Me? It'd take getting used to. But then, my ancestors would have had a few adjustments to make, if they'd been taken out of Roman Europe and dropped here in 21st-century Minnesota.

Where's all that energy coming from? Well, that's another topic, for another day.

And I haven't even gotten into the specialized gourmet/recreational business of free-range cattle.

More-or-less-related posts:

1 "Daniel Boone: Myth and Reality," Gregory McNamee, Encyclopedia Britannica Blog (October 23, 2007).


  1. "in a relatively lightly-developed are" I think you meant 'area.' And, yes, I do find The Metro uncomfortably crowded.

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader. :P

  2. Brigid,

    Oh, yeah: Thanks! Found & fixed it.


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