Engineers and techies are often misunderstood. They come off as looking cheap when in fact they are optimizers. It is their nature to solve any puzzle that is presented, and the persistent puzzle of life involves getting the most resources while expending the least.

I have a bit of that in me too. That's why my mental hobby for a few decades has been designing what I call Cheapatopia. Cheapatopia is a hypothetical city, designed from scratch to be an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life.

Step one in designing Cheapatopia is assembling the team of visionaries. That's you. I appoint myself team leader, and over the next week or so I will describe the elements of Cheapatopia and ask you to suggest the best design solutions.

Today I will discuss some assumptions. The first and biggest assumption is that the era of ridiculous consumption is over, at least for your lifetime. If we want universal healthcare, and a decent standard of living for the exploding population of seniors, the average household will have to learn how to make do with less. But in doing so, there is no reason we can't be happier at the same time, so long as we do it right.

Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on entertainment and social interaction. If you have that, plus health, safety, and financial security, you might be willing to give up the over-consumption and needless complexity of your old life.

You might also be willing to give up some of the options you enjoy in your current life if the tradeoff is gaining more and better options of a different sort. We'll consider those later.

I believe the next big change in society will involve simplifying our lives, getting rid of the waste and inconvenience that we drifted into, and finding meaning through more social involvement. Cheapatopia would be an engineered city both in terms of its physical structure and in how the citizens participate in it.

For example, in Cheapatopia, no one would ever again hire a babysitter or put their dog in the kennel while they are on vacation. That sort of thing would all be done by neighbors, and you would know those neighbors well.

When you design Cheapatopia, don't assume you would be living there yourself. It won't be for everyone. Don't hold that against Cheapatopia. It's a mental exercise.

Today's design question is this: Where would you locate Cheapatopia, in general terms?

In your answer consider physical beauty, energy, weather, water, proximity to a major airport, natural disasters, and anything else you can think of. And assume Cheapatopians work at home or within the city, so commuting is minimal.

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Aug 2, 2010
This is how we work in Hyderabad, India. I recommend this city(also known for, among other things, nonchalance and off shoring, for Cheapatopia.
Oct 2, 2009
There are many places where people could join hands to acquire an adequate piece of property and put together their Cheapatopia. Like we see everywhere throughout time, different people, in different places, during different times are going to make their home/community/lives in the way they figure is best.

That said, I am looking for others who want to find our little chunk of space with dirt, rocks, trees, and water near Spokane, WA to garden, build, play, suffer, laugh, and grow to leave enough of the natural resources and indigenous knowledge for those who follow us. I have been calling it the perpetual garden. Hit me if you want to start talking about this. I am accumulating my centavitos to go forward on this.
Jul 14, 2009
It is just as important as where the best place to live is, but how about where not to locate Cheapatopia. From a weather and natural disaster standpoint, the east coast of the United States experiences hurricanes in the summer, middle america has the tornado, and the west coast can get earthquakes at any time. I'm thinking the northeastern United States might be the best area weather wise, Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine area. You have a small mountain range abundant lakes, and great views in the fall.
Jul 14, 2009
Social interaction definitely would be enhanced if Cheapotopia had great weather. You don't want to be sweating all the time, you don't want it too cold, you don't want mosquitoes, you don't want it to be constantly raining on your parade. That's why the San Diego area would be perfect, and the biggest chunk of undeveloped land near San Diego is Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base.

Camp Pendleton could be repurposed as the "Principality of Cheapotopia". No hurricanes, no tornadoes, no thunderstorms or snow. Just the occasional brush fire. It would be an excellent blank canvas for the big hippie commune (if I may be so bold).

I can't wait for the next design question, because I grew up in Cheapotopia, MN.
Jul 14, 2009
I think that Cheapotopia should be built along the coast. The constant winds and waves provide opportunities for endless energy. As technology continues to improve these energy sources will become more desirable. Being on the water also makes it easier to bring in goods.

If the city is built within a reasonable distance to an existing airport, a light rail system could be built to take residents to the airport while keeping the environmental impact at a minimum..
Jul 14, 2009
How about a floating city? A few folks mentioned that. Lotsa advantages:
1. City is out at sea (micronation), so creating laws that fit the inhabitants can be done, even if they make too much sense for a govt to do.
2. Can move about as weather demands. Simple: every citizen gets a vote every season, and that's where the city goes.
3. By nature, people would have to live a simpler lifestyle and be more communal.
4. You could set it up minimally expensively. Buy several large container style ships, refit. Bingo - not only a floating city, but large enough for several dozen people with plenty of room.
Jul 14, 2009
City and civilization building as a mental exercise is perennially fascinating. Utopian societies envisioned and sometimes built abound in human history. Most by far, fail in the end. Some elements of these fantasized societies spill over into reality and execution. But it is really that, just as you say an exercise.

Where to build it? Anyone that lives most of their lives in a crowded urban setting have no real idea of the vast expanses of unoccupied landscape in this country. Driving across this great nation it is easy to spot vacant land, areas where no crops have ever been grown with the occasional grazing of cattle. These empty spaces have many of the attributes required to qualify.

The main source of energy would be the sun. Water and other resources are available with an abundant supply of renewable energy. Proximity to infrastructure would not be an issue. These could be efficiently built from scratch. If you need and airport, build one. Need power lines, put them in. The idea is to build a city that has a zero carbon footprint. That could be done almost anywhere except in swampland or high mountains.

But each community should be unique and offer something that others do not have. Franchiszation is ruining this country. Many are sick of them and seek non-franchise Mom and Pops wherever they travel.

This city could have a theme, a focus, a special attraction that would invite tourist or others to visit. Patent and trademark each one to avoid cloning. Obviously, you do not build a snow ski lodge in the Mojave Desert but a great dude ranch theme or desert paradise would work.
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Jul 14, 2009
Just out of curiosity...does ANYONE on this blog want to live in Cheapatopia?

Surely if you value social interaction and a simpler cheaper life, you would move to a rural area or small town and enjoy greatly reduced land costs and taxes, cheaper and better food (locally grown, maybe in your own garden), and more community-mindedness (often out of necessity, but still present). Opportunities for barter? Many, once you get to know the people in your area, made easier if you join a local club or charity organization. Not enough culture or elegant shopping suit you? That's why TV and the Internet reach practically everywhere. Got a bad case of hillbillyphobia? Stick to the larger small towns and stay out of the Appalachians (darn, now that lady with the stick up her hiney will write another letter decrying the slurs against the Appalachian peoples).

Seriously, Scott, you're trying to reinvent the wheel here.
Not that it isn't entertaining.

Jul 14, 2009
Scott you can count me out. I don't even like watching my own dog. I sure as hell am not going to watch the neighbors dog or babies just because they want to go on a cruise that I can't afford. I'd prefer the neighbors not try to talk to me either - and to the ones directly next store on the left side (you know who you are!) - quit having noisy parties in your backyard late at night while those of us that work early are trying to sleep!
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Jul 14, 2009
Yeah. Its at the beach! Free entertainment. The beach is in a zone (like the Eastern US or North Western Europe) that has a warm off-shore current that keeps down heating costs in the winter.

There are also large rivers flowing into the see so that water availability is never a problem (like areas of the Eastern US, or Pacific NW). I live in Northern VA where we just pull water out of the Potomac so there is never a drought.

Cheapotopia probably also has a Mediterraenian type climate to keep heating/cooling down.

So, with all of that. I think we're in Bordeaux, on the coast. A bit foggy in the winter but the wine is wonderfull! On Google-Earth "Lacanau-Ocean" looks nice.


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Jul 14, 2009
Leaving aside my rejection of many of your premises (such as universal healthcare paid for by we young folk, to slightly improve the quality of life for the aging boomers who screwed everything up for the past 40 years, which will necessarily diminish our own) -- it is impossible to create a cheap place where everyone wants to live.

The reason? Econ 101 -- supply and demand. If Cheapotopia were a great place to live, people would flock there, driving up demand, and driving up the cost of living. And the more conveniences you add to it, like airports or water, the more the cost would go up, because people will pay more for those. Even if you limited the population via a law (unlikely you could get away with it), you'd have people on waiting lists, people who want to sell their stake and turn a huge profit, people who want to pass the house on to their kids... I suppose that if they couldn't do any of these things, they wouldn't go there in the first place, but then, who'd want to live there when it is so obviously inefficient to them personally, economically speaking? Other than, say, people who are bad at math.
Jul 14, 2009
San Diego.

Pleasant mild weather (lots of sunshine, not much rain), very low heating/cooling cost, lots of geographic recreational areas nearby, beautiful beaches, beautiful harbor. Currently cost of living is high (though not outrageously so), but that's largely due to real estate cost, which can be dramatically reduced with high-density housing. High-density housing allows for high neighbor interaction with little or no transportation cost. Strategic parks throughout the city with barbecue pits, softball fields, etc, can replace the usage of land for a house. High-density housing has much lower energy costs as the heat/cooling from one apartment radiates to the adjacent ones.

I've never lived in San Diego, but I've often wondered if I'd be happier moving there.
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Jul 14, 2009
Someplace I wouldn't miss when the residents of Cheapatopia started cannibalizing each other, and it had to be fire bombed.
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Jul 14, 2009
I would say somewhere around the west end of Lake Geneva. Inconveniantly, the ideal location is already occupied by Geneva. But it's a great location - warm, but not too hot, in the summer; you can live without domestic air-con. Snows enough in the winter to be fun, but doesn't stay long enough to get fed up with it. A big lake for your water needs. Lake and mountains for recreaction. Great scenery. Flatter land to the west for arable farming, and dairy/beef/sheep can be farmed happily in the foothills of the mountains. No natural disasters. Excellent international airport. And in Switzerland, stuff just works like it should.

Not ideal for renewable energy though - mountains disrupt the wind too much for wind turbines down low, and it's too difficult to !$%*! turbines on the top of the mountain. For solar to be really viable you need somewhere as hot as a desert, and it isn't. Not sure if you could get a viable hydro-electric from Lake Geneva, or maybe by creating a reservoir by building a dam half-way up the mountains?

I wonder if there is a similar situation somewhere in Eastern Europe, where things are cheaper and not already so developed. Maybe Bulgaria or somewhere like that?

BTW I just LOVE this exercise, can't wait to read comments and contribute to the next ingredient!
Jul 14, 2009
It's too hot where I live..so further south.....Australia, I recommend the mid North Coast of NSW, about 4 hours drive north of Sydney.
"Perfect" climate, good rainfall, gorgeous beaches & inland nice hills.
Regional airport already that connects multiple times a day to Sydney Airport for international.
But you'd never want to leave.
Jul 13, 2009
Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Jul 13, 2009
This is the most interesting comment thread I've read in a while.

To the people sticking to Scott's request and posting their ideas for places, keep it up! Some good stuff there.

One thing that I think some people are forgetting or didn't pick up on is that this a one-off or small solution. It is not a proposal to take over the world or the country. Scott said it wouldn't be for everyone, so if you didn't like it, you wouldn't live there. I imagine if this sort of thing does come to pass there might be different versions catering to different tastes. Kind of like the 'Burbclaves' in Neil Stephenson's Snowcrash and maybe along with the dystopia that represents, unfortunately. Still, the point is that this is a thought experiment to provide good living standards for less money and that it would be voluntary.

To the health care debaters, also some good stuff but please take a look at this if you have the time:


The (usually partisan) debate tends to be mostly centered on the question of state-funded or private-funded health care with a small amount of discussion around universality independent of funding (mandates, etc). Most people in favor of more government funding will say that it will reduce costs drastically while those on the other side say it will not do so or not much and will degrade the quality greatly. The article linked above shows a third way of understanding today's health care costs and what might be done about it. A really, really, good read, in my opinion. I can't recommend it enough.
Jul 13, 2009
Could you create a floating island that rides the currects of the pacific and allows for cheap travel anywhere around the pacific rim so long as you syncronise it properly with the currents? Of course, your fresh water and your susceptibility to weather would be problems that need solving. Tidal energy might allow you to power the island and buffer the waves at teh same time.

Failing that. Perhaps we could build on a gigantic pie situated in the sky :
Jul 13, 2009
The island of Oahu in Hawaii is a nearly perfect place. Weather, naturally is excellent - the temperature varies between about 65º in the "winter" months and 85º in the "summer" months, it's usually sunny, and even the rain is not all that unpleasant. There are few thunderstorms. You can drive from one end of the island to the other in an hour or less - if Cheapatopia were located near where Mililani is now (somewhat in the middle of the island), you could get to Honolulu International Airport in a half hour or less. Oahu has some of the best quality water in the entire US - in fact, the Board of Water Supply offers tours of a natural cave that goes through the aquifer, and you can hold out a cup to catch water dripping from the ceiling and it is good to drink (and I mean that in both quality and taste.) The only problem with water here is the potential for shortage. There may not actually be enough aquifer to support another large city here, and the water might have to come from a different source. Currently, most energy comes from standard coal power plants, or garbage-powered plants, but solar energy is on the rise. And as for natural disasters, there are no faults, just a hot spot over a hundred !$%*! away, so no strong earthquakes. There is potential for tsunamis, but if the city were in the middle of the island, it would be safe unless half the Big Island falls off - in which case the entire island will go under a wave half a mile high. And theoretically, Oahu is vulnerable to hurricanes, but it hasn't been touched in years. The closest a hurricane has come in the last two decades was hurricane Iniki in 1992 which turned and hit Kaui instead at the last minute, and only brushed us.
Jul 13, 2009
"Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on entertainment and social interaction. If you have that, plus health, safety, and financial security, you might be willing to give up the over-consumption and needless complexity of your old life. You might also be willing to give up some of the options you enjoy in your current life if the tradeoff is gaining more and better options of a different sort. We'll consider those later."
-- Scott Adams

"Community, Identity, Stability."
-- Official motto of the World State in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

The civilization in Brave New World was considered a utopia to some. However, Huxley quite effectively demonstrates the dangers of communitarianism, a heavy state presence, and tyranny of the majority.

Cheapatopia could be worked upon and tempered until it looks perfect as a concept, but like so many wonderful concepts, it would never be practical in realitity. Where would one find a large number of people fitting all the criteria the society and its moral codes would require? How would one make sure those people are compatible? How would this nation interact, compete, or conflict with other states? What would happen to citizens who don't share the same beliefs or morals as the society requires? What if a citizen simply prefers solitude to communal activities; would he be an outcast?

Unless, of course, you're just baiting your readers. In that case, DMD.
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