Good urbanism, health and sound money
RootCause Dispatch #16
You may be wondering what urbanism has to do with health and why a doctor is writing a newsletter on the urban environment. Let me explain.
If we want to create a society most conducive to happy, thriving and healthy people we need to look beyond just diet and exercise. We need to consider the environment in which people live, work and recreate — and how this either helps or hinders them live their healthiest life.
What is good urbanism? Think of the old town in any European, Mediterranean, North American or Caribbean city built before the invention of the car. Think old London or Brugge. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cartagena de Indias. Vieux-Montréal. Or any rural gold-rush town built in the 19th century.
When you arrive in these towns, you immediately notice the construction of the buildings — natural, local materials (often stone) in the typical, highly unique architectural style of that region.
The town is human-scaled and highly walkable. There is a town square which is both the geographic and social center of civic life. There are alleyways with cafes, shops and workshops. There are hidden courtyards and private gardens.
There are no large carparks, big box stores, high-rise buildings or four-lane roads.
The hallmark of good urbanism is multi-use dwellings. Shops and residences are the same building – typically the shopkeeper runs their business downstairs, and lives upstairs. This is both highly space and cost efficient.
It feels good to spend time in these urban areas and there is no surprise these old towns are the most frequented by tourists and the most coveted areas to live in. All of these cities were constructed on a sound money standard.
Compare such a setting to the soul-less monoculture of today’s urban planning. For the past perhaps 100 years, but increasingly the past 50 years, the slow, organic and iterative growth of traditional urbanism has been cauterized and sterilized by planning and zoning regulations.
All over the world, the geographical separation of work and home has given rise to a culture of commuting between high-rise urban areas to housing estates and planned communities that resemble the architectural equivalent of a field of monocropped soy.
These pre-planned housing tracts and high rise buildings have proliferated on the back of fiat money and cheap debt. Architecture and urban planning, just like diet, has been subjected to over-intellectualization an the same flavor of ‘expert’ (the intellectual-yet-idiot) as our diet and our money.
As a result, many of us are living in buildings, towns and cities that lack the beauty and function that fills a deep human need.
This form of low-density housing is problematic for a number of reasons, most significantly because it depends on the inhabitants car ownership, and severely limits opportunities of social participation for those too young or too old to drive.
When we consider the land used to fuel this endless surburban sprawl was often fertile farmland at the periphery of cities, the mis-allocation of land resources required to construct these planned estates becomes painfully obvious.
Think about how you feel when you drive past a strip mall or commission housing flats, or sterile central business districts. There is a lack of humanity that is hard to articulate but easy to feel on an emotional level.
The health benefits of good urbanism
From a health point of view, good urbanism promotes a large amount of incidental exercise in the form of walking. Walk to the market, to the square, to the cafe and to the restaurant. Cars are not necessary if your needs are all within walking distance. Walking post-meals is one of the easiest and simple ways the blunt the glycemic effect of your meal for those working to reverse their diabetes and metabolic dysfunction.
Good urbanism promotes community and social connection. People need to feel they belong, feel they are valued and feel like they are connected to other people. Good urban planning allows grandpa to sit in a cafe a short stroll from home, drinking coffee with friends engaging in civic life instead of sitting at home indoors in front of the TV.
Good urbanism empowers the individual and the family. Commerce is hyper-local and predominantly lies in small, family run businesses instead of chain store or big box oligopolies. Profits stay local and empower local entrepreneurs rather than being siphoned off to a corporation based in another state or another country. Self-sovereignty and mental health are inseparable.
Returning to good urbansim
Where to from here? Returning society to a culture of good urbanism requires addressing the #RootCauses of the current predicament. This is a complex topic but as I see it, requires removal of top-down planning by governments (i.e. certain city zoning laws and regulations) that currently prevent people building human-scaled urban environments in most Western countries.
It also relies on long term, low-time preference thinking. In my opinion, this can only be fully achieved by moving from our currently rapidly inflating government currency (that destroys people’s ability to plan for the future) to a sound money standard which preserves their value across time. The digital sound money of the 21st century is Bitcoin.
Urbanism represents another battlefront in the grassroots movement that is seeking to wrest control of critical societal functions such food production (see the Beef Initative) and money from the grips of central planners, governments and bureacrats, who through a combination stupidity, incompetence, arrogance or malice have managed to materially degrade humanity’s standard of living by top-down planning and interventionism.
Going down the urbanism rabbit hole
For those looking to learn more about good urbanism and the push to re-establish human-scaled urban environments, follow the work of @Wrath of Gnon, who has been beating this drum for several years now. His article How to Build A Small Town in Texas is a blue print for re-establishing rural towns towns based on the good urbanism principles that I briefly covered above.
@MartyBent of TFTC has also been hosting some fascinating conversations on the topic of Bitcoin urbanism. Check out his interviews with Kelly Lannan, Charles Marohn (author of the book Strong Towns) and more recently Jamie the Store front guy.
I also recommend Saifedean Ammous’ The Fiat Standard, which briefly covers Fiat architecture (in Chapter 7, Fiat Life), and more broadly enumerates the link between time preference and the process of de-civilization.
I am incredibly bullish on a future of Strong Towns based on good urbanism surrounded by family-run, holistic and regenerative farms supplying the highest quality organic produce to people at a hyper-local scale.
Good urbanism is another important piece of the puzzle as we re-establish an optimal environment for human flourishing.
The Rest Is Up To You….
— RootCause MD
June 17, 2022
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Strong Towns — Charles Marohn
The Fiat Standard — Saifedean Ammous
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