Essay No. 1: You want to live in the city?

  You want to live in, or near the city? You think there will be work, amenities, access to central entertainments? You may be right, but do you realise what a huge chunk of your income will be spent on suburban living?

Whether you are renting or own your accommodation, 90% of your mail will be bills; hardly a week goes by without some bills, which will be for far more than you would consider spending on yourself.  The drain on your resources is enormous, we are all being milked by organisations that have us by the short-and-curlies.

The concentration of us in high-density living is equivalent to battery-farming, and it’s not just the suburbs of the world that are being leached of funds, whole countries are in the grip of global business which cannot be controlled or restricted by governments.

If you feel overpowered by the constant and seemingly unavoidable outlay undermining your income, it is worth considering for a moment the cause of this woe. Bear in mind that this is a planet-wide syndrome, working-folk in all city-suburban communities are suffering.

An article in The Guardian Weekly, 6-6-14, by Gary Younge gives great insight into this condition, and I can only see one escape from its clutches: an escape that is probably impractical, impossible, or merely fanciful for most of us.

Governments around the world have privatised and sold-off most or all of their country’s assets, the assets we use on a daily basis: gas, coal, oil, petrol, diesel, ores of iron, aluminium, all the rare metals, the list is endless. The giant companies that process this raw material into the products we must buy are out of reach of governments, for the most part, and though a trickle of royalty drips into insatiable local coffers, the bulk of enormous profits, which we pay for, disappears into the ether of shareholders and company executives.

Most of the main transactions we make, week by week, are to to businesses sending profits to international shareholders. Banks, transport, even universities are not necessarily owned by, or in, the countries in which they operate.

Read Gary Younge’s piece; a government which attempts to extricate itself from this octopus of outside monopolies will have it’s economy ruined and its people destitute. The unseen landlord will debase the currency, cut off the power, finish trade and collapse all infrastructure.  What he doesn’t venture so far as to surmise is the possibility of a government rising from the ashes of a totally wrecked economy, whilst retaining all its assets, becoming the holy grail of society: not just by the people, but for the people, the profits of a country’s labour and resources staying within the country and available for trade.  A highly unlikely outcome, but worth dreaming about.

So, escape, in the mean time, because extrication from beneath our profiteering global landlords is never going to happen, because, as a country, we’d all have to agree, and when has that ever happened?  Escape means not living in the city.  It means being as self-sufficient as possible.  It does not mean growing veggies and keeping chooks, though that would help, and be a cathartic link with reality and the great outdoors, away from the screen.

One advantage of the technologies of the recent decade is the achievement of two of the most important factors in self-sufficiency: the generating of electricity and access to world-wide communications.  Anywhere.  Isolation from high-density living is no longer isolation.  This takes money, of course, and is consequently unavailable to most of us, but, if you’re thinking of buying a house…….make sure it’s in the bush, with no sewage-disposal, power, water, or land-line phone available, or garbage collection, or postal delivery; all these ‘services’ imply either direct cost to the householder, or costs encroaching in the future.  Any supply other than that self-generated is equivalent to taxation.  Once outside services are allowed in, the rateable value rises and the bills multiply.

The nitty-gritty of self-sufficiency is another essay, but eminently doable.  The advantage is a tremendous saving of hard-earned cash, the disadvantage is a possible lack of work for some trades.  Many on-line and computer-based jobs can operate anywhere.  The essence of the proposal is the avoidance of the grip of global monopoly in every-day living, as far as possible.  You would be amazed at what can be done.

My own fantasy, never achieved of course, but still a lovely idea, takes place in the country I call home: Australia.  There are many neglected and almost deserted outback settlements in Australia, the populace drifted away due to mine closures and other events. The real-estate is almost free, or at least very cheap. I picture a group of like-minded folk choosing their particular places in the settlement and starting a mass re-building and restoration project, including the pub, of course.  Could it be done?

These are the criteria: Low rates, tank water, satellite communication, solar power and hot water, bulk fuel purchase, quality building insulation, waterless separating toilets, etc.. No communal living; each dwelling a separate entity as in the city.  Once established, the renovated settlement would have to fend off rate rises and ‘services’.  Ha ha, great fun. Establish a library, shops, restaurants, sports facilities, anything needed or volunteered, and none with connected services: no infrastructure to build or maintain.  Each property- owner fills in the potholes in the road adjacent.  No communal responsibility other than to be normally reasonable. Among the communal benefits, if agreed, would be bulk purchases of essential items, in other words, a co-operative; fuel, solar equipment, building materials et cetera bought by the community at bulk prices.

‘Taking over’ a deserted settlement eliminates a mass of expensive bureaucratic work; the grid of roads and subdivisions already exists, but, importantly, all services are disconnected.  Titles can be researched and amazed owners contacted for unexpected sale. In order to eliminate future profiteering by outsiders, the entire settlement must be purchased in one action by the new community.

If the original settlement is completely derelict or razed, it matters not. A survey will quickly re-establish boundaries.  Each separate subdivision will be issued to the new owners by lottery initially, and the titles re-assigned accordingly; any later combination taking place by swap, sale, or agreement, as in any suburb.  This initial process will be critical; the first of the occasions when a joint pooling of a bank will further the new community.

A little exploring of the concept will uncover a bristling of problematic spines.  For example; what of the founding-members who put in the initial stake, but take no further part, never becoming settlers?  By default, they become investors, diluting the energy of the committed.  At this point in my proposal I draw the line at further imaginings, for were a group to actually set out along this path, a massive covenant would have to be drawn up to cover every possible outcome, a normal, and not a frightening process, but a necessary one, one which could take place over many exciting meetings both practical and sociable.

The success of such a venture depends, at its very base, on the irrevocable title of the individual members, to the land they will own in the settlement, for better or worse.  All the rest is simply decision-making for the benefit of all.