My year-2000 letter to the Positive Futures (PF) list, at 08:54 4/12/2000 +1300, had:

This is an attempt to bring people's attention to the goal of visualising and discussing how to work towards a future NOT dominated by current US culture.

... [since the 1950s] ... people in the developed or OECD countries were seduced into accepting greed, constantly having more, as a worthwhile goal in life.
  It didn't have to be that way. We ... could easily have chosen to continue attempting to draw a balance between one's momentary individual desires and the general good.
... I'm saying that we still have a chance of working towards a nearly-visible goal: what the USA (and the rest of the world) would have been like in 2010-2015 if the alternate route had been taken.

{The whole of that essay is at: }

Here are some of my December 2002 thoughts on
what living in a sustainable future could be like.

On Dec 05, 2002 06:24 PST, Jill Bussiere wrote to PF (title: "Re: paying attention to The Important Things, still important in 100 yr.") {at: } :-

David MacClement wrote {at: (or via: )} :-
> Actually, most people on earth will have to be living in cities (if not now then very soon), so the typical "small group" will be those living in a condominium (jointly-owned apartment building).
[Jill wrote: ]
  Can you tell more about this statement? How and why do you see this coming about? I am not challenging your statement, just wanting to know more of what you are thinking.
- Jill
{In: , I replied: }

As usual, the situation will be complex, e.g. I'm not saying all will be living in cities.

There are two parts: 'living in cities' and 'living in condominiums'.

The 'living in cities' is just an extension of current trends; for some reason (strange to me) almost everybody likes to have other people around them, not just in the hope of earning enough money to provide food etc.

With 50% more people in the world in the next 50-75 years, and little more "empty land" (i.e. no owners), where else will these people go?

Second part of my statement: 'living in condominiums'. This can be debated. It follows IMO from my view that people work best in small groups where each knows the other quite well, so in a city environment the people you feel some connection with, are those under the same roof with you.

The debatable part is whether we'd build 'condominiums' rather than in the favelas or slums which are currently where most people attracted to cities go to sleep at night.

I still have a little hope for the world as a whole; in fact I have much more interest in the fate of all the other living things than I have for the fate of humans. So my prediction of what would still be important 100 years hence assumes that humans won't have spread over 50% more land than is presently occupied, i.e. that some wisdom will become obvious that gets people to build upwards rather than outwards.

Without reliable cheap electric power (and that could come, if renewable electricity sources like solar panels and storage are widespread), building heights will likely be of limited height: 3.5 floors up and 0.5 floor down, so you can easily use the stairs.

This fits European cities of more than a hundred years ago before electricity was widely used, and is common in many cities still.

So my guess is that apartments (the building owned by one person or corporation) or condominiums (jointly owned by those living in it) will become a very common part of all cities, not just the cities where these buildings are common now.

I can give other reasons for this style of building (e.g.: least outer surface requiring insulation, for greatest number of occupants whose activities and body heat help to keep it warm in winter), but basically it's only my hopeful guess.

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My Positive Futures post: "future living, in condominiums/ apartment buildings", {at: } is:

We had a thread : "A chronicle of the decline in US rural life" on one of my lists where, on 10 Dec 2002 15:30 I said:

This is about a possible "chronicle of the rise of a better rural life"

A friend sent Steve Dougherty's review of E.B. White's writing about 48th and 49th Streets New York City:  
which had a description of the sort of living I've been visualising for a sustainable future:

  .. recalls Peggy McEvoy as we walk among the flora and fauna of Turtle Bay Gardens, the private enclave on East 48th Street where she grew up. "Yet here in the Gardens, it was magical, like another world."
  An urban oasis, verdant with plant life in spring and summer and enclosed by 10 150-year-old brownstones on East 48th Street and a matching row on 49th, the Gardens have been home to succeeding generations of artists, writers and other creative folk.
  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Leopold Stokowski and Gloria Vanderbilt, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Mary Martin, Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Thompson and Hemingway's editor Maxwell Perkins maintained apartments here. Katharine Hepburn and Stephen Sondheim are the best-known current residents. Kurt Vonnegut lives across the street.
  I have come here not to ogle celebrities, but in search of a willow tree that was once celebrated by another former resident, the essayist and author E. B. White. In the closing paragraph of his classic 1948 ode to Manhattan, "Here Is New York," White cast "a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire," as a symbol of hope. "In a way, it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete and the steady reaching for the sun."

Steve Dougherty continues:
  I wanted to know if the tree survived as a symbol of hope, or if, in its demise, it bore out the woeful fear of White's final sentence: "If it were to go, all would go this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death."
  I had another reason for visiting White's Turtle Bay neighborhood. My grandmother lived on that same lovely block on East 48th Street when I was a kid. It was there that as a boy from the provinces Rochester, in western New York State, qualifies my dreams of one day living in the city were kindled during summer vacations and holiday visits.
  The tower on the southeast corner of Third Avenue occupies territory that had once belonged to the west wing of my grandmother's building, which had been cleaved in half to make way for the high-rise. My grandmother's apartment on the fourth floor of the east wing was spared in the cleaving.
  the heart of the block looks much as it did when my grandmother and White lived there. Halfway down the south side of 48th Street is a slender town house given a wry, knowing personality by a stone cherub that perches on the cornice above the entranceway, winged and wearing a bemused smile, its chubby legs crossed at the knee.
  Directly across the street from my grandmother's building stands a celebrated architectural landmark. Its designer, William Lescaze, must have been dreaming about South Miami Beach ...
  To the east of the Lescaze building are the 10 south-facing Turtle Bay Gardens brownstones, each with a black iron gate and basement entrance. Add carriages and gas lamps and you would think you had arrived at Mayfair during Victoria's reign. Step into the Gardens themselves accessible through private residences; entrance by invitation only and you're transported to an ancient evening on the Mediterranean.
  Fed by the underground stream, the willow has stood there for well over a century, predating the 1919 conversion of the matching rows of tenement brownstones to the Gardens and even the brownstones themselves.

In the above 10 Dec 2002 15:30 letter, "rise of a better rural life", I said:

If small regional towns could be built up to attract (back, for some) enough people, the cities could remain in the same land area and build upward (I said: three-and-a-half-floor max height) to keep the growing population within easy walking-and-cycling reach of almost everything needed.

I don't know what size those brownstones are, but if they were built around the middle of the 19th century, they were probably designed before electricity was common and therefore don't have elevators. Just two-and-a-half to four stories high, as I was proposing for future living.

I've talked about living on US$5,500 per person (that figure is a fifth of the year-2000 median individual income in the USA); clearly that's not possible currently for one or two people in a building except for extremely rural fading towns there. But I believe the sort of life in old Manhattan described by White and Dougherty fits very well; half to a dozen people living in a brownstone, and sharing amenities like the Turtle Bay Gardens. Not exactly communal living, but having some of its characteristics.


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Re: the $5,500 per person per year, in USA.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: David MacClement
> Sent: Friday, December 06, 2002 12:41 PM

> Of course, there is more to it (!), specifically including the evident point that OECD people in general, and Americans in particular, dismiss the possibility of reducing their individual income and spending to one fifth of what it is now. ...
> So I don't think dropping a single-person's income and expenses, in the USA, to one fifth of the US average (median, in this case), is totally impossible; it's just seen as too much of a risk.
>("single-person": I don't include the care-givers in families, when talking about dropping to one fifth; raising a family is truly expensive, even when done as frugally as I did with our three youngsters. And they didn't like it!)

At 15:56 6/12/2002 -0600, A friend wrote, on a list I'm on:
David, once again, what would that dollar amount be? I'd like to see how impossible that would be.

( I'm saying here that the "one fifth" is a very rough guess, based on my memory of a bar graph from a year or two, showing how far US incomes are above the world average.}

I put "median income" (without the quotes) in the IRS home-page general search slot; got the first 10 hits & chose:,,id=102886,00.html , which has:

Tax Stats at a Glance

Summary of Gross Collections by Type of Return

Type of Return


  Gross Collections

(FY 2001)         of Returns       (Millions of $)
Individual income tax  [1]          129,783,221            1,178,210
Corporation income tax [1]              5,491,464               186,732
Employment taxes [1,2]            28,899,069               645,961
Gift tax [1]                304,079                   3,958
Excise taxes [1]                765,021                 52,419
Estate tax [1]                121,715                 25,290
Individual Returns
Median adjusted gross income, AGI (TY 2000) [3]  $27,355  

So of 130 million individual taxpayers, 65 million pay less than $27,355 and the other 65 million pay more than $27,355. (in Tax Year 2000)

If my rough guess of 1/5 would bring the richer Americans' incomes down to a median US income that would allow the world to live sustainably, then:

the "single-person" income would be US$5,470 per year.

I'm quite interested to find that that is at about the top end of what I guessed back at end of November (in a letter to that list, title: "Social Security"), where at 17:18 27/11/2002 +1300, I said:
To me, there's a very simple answer ... and that is a universal minimum income of between US$2,000 and US$5,000 in the USA, and something less ... in New Zealand.

How does five and a half thousand dollars gross, seem to you, given the other things I said:
- Single person, not parents of a family, {and in the letter my friend was responding to:},
- if the person is in the USA, then some of the larger "intentional communities" could provide the support-network US governments don't provide (that so many other OECD governments do), such as basic medical care so "health" insurance doesn't need to be paid.

As someone who has lived for ten years on less than a fifth of even that (outside the USA, admittedly, but a factor of five more than makes up for this), I see US$5,500 as eminently livable. In conditions between what I live in and those I list above at least, and possibly in present inner-city communities where there still is real community.


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