The Videographic Bubble

In Scandinavian television productions, the director has a subservient role to that of the screenwriters. Screenwriting is a team activity with the goal of developing a high-quality production. A series/ story typically takes ten episodes (eight to ten hours) to tell. In most episodes the director is a junior staff member learning film/ video as a trade. S/ he functions more as a co-ordinator than a leader. Photo: Kal Visuals/ Unsplash

The pandemic is having a detrimental effect on mental health, because people are being denied the opportunity to socialize. Single people, and single parents with children are some of those having the most difficult times. Yet, there are provisions for people in these categories to form support bubbles, at least in some communities. Once a bubble has formed, the main difficulty is finding something meaningful for the participants to do.

In this weblog post, the suggestion is to work on some form of video project. While it could involve the production of a documentary. Here, the focus is on fictional works. Plan B is to provide an opportunity to work together on a novel, or a derivative work such as a graphic novel. One reason for this focus, is at the end of the pandemic, the support bubble will have something concrete to show for their time together.

If there is any rule, it is to have fun! While doing so, learn patience. Don’t expect any early results. Allow creative energies to simmer, so the full flavour of dramatic energy emerges slowly. Savour it.

The videographic bubble regards filmmaking/ videography as a creative enterprise resulting in a work of art, rather than a commercial product. One of its aims, is to bring to life the scriptwriter in every filmmaker. Does the term screenwriter or filmmaker refer to a single individual? Perhaps in normal times, but in a pandemic it can be more fun to work collectively. Thus, the screenwriter is a collective, that morphs into a filmmaking and acting collective, if all goes well.

Previous weblog posts: In 2016, a more general Filmmaking with a social conscience was published. This was followed by a post on Institutional Cinema Theory. All of this was expected to be operationalized in Lost Tribes of Inderøy, with conceptual explanations in To Hell with Anne! These posts were followed up in 2018 with a Auteur vs Scriptwriting Team. The content of these remains valid. This current post is an attempt to relate it to the current pandemic.

The essence of the videographic bubble is to return filmmaking to small clusters of inspired, local, co-operative groups who make cinema/ film/ movies/ videos for fun, rather than profit. The idea for this weblog post emerged when I started to read an article about a major, commercial film production team, which involved anything but appropriate social distancing during the pandemic.

While, at the beginning of the millennium, there seemed an overabundance of books about digital filmmaking/ videography, far fewer emerge now. Many of those new(ish) books involves drones or weddings. One possibility is that potential guerrilla filmmakers are involved in making short documentaries for YouTube, and that they are less interested in making longer fictional content.

Canadian film producer Elliot Grove (? – ) has provided three useful books: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay (2001); Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-to-No Budget filmmaking (2004); 150 Workouts to Becoming a Filmmaker (2009). Another important writer about alternative filmmaking is the American Dan Rahmel (1969 – ) who has written Nuts and Bolts Filmmaking: Practical Techniques for the Guerilla Filmmaker (2004). Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe have also written, The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook, 3rd edition, (2004). The authors started writing this in 1991, and the first edition was published in 1996. There is also a pocketbook for digital film making, published in 2011. The DV Rebel’s Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (2006) was written by Stu Maschwitz.

Some of these books are now 20 years old. Thus, there is a disparity between the technology used today, and that suggested in the books. These books can be supplemented with more modern works. Even though Bryan Michael Stoller’s Filmmaking for Dummies (2020) is new, the author is looking at mainstream (read: Hollywood) production, so it is not a suitable resource for making budget videos. Fortunately, books are not the only source of information. New videos on the technical aspects of videomaking appear on YouTube every day, and may be the best way to keep up-to-date on technical issues.

A greater problem than technology involves changing attitudes to film making. Here other resources may be needed to discuss these challenges. Eva Novrup Redvall is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark. Her research focuses on film and media production, particularly screenwriting and creative collaboration. She has written, Writing and Producing Television Drama in Denmark: From The Kingdom to The Killing (2011) and with Anne Marit Waade and Pia Majbritt Jensen has edited, Danish Television Drama: Global Lessons from a Small Nation (2020). It latter explores the international appeal of Danish television drama and Nordic Noir in the 2010s. There are lessons that can be learned by videographic bubbles, even if they lack the budgets offered by the DR (formerly Danmarks Radio = Danish Broadcasting Corporation), a public broadcasting company, founded in 1925.

The most fundamental change in recent decades is to put screenwriting at the centre of the creative process, to use a screenwriting team, and to demote the film director role to that of an activity co-ordinator. For many Scandi-noir productions, director roles are given on an episode basis to junior staff members, as training exercises.

Screenwriting software

Before committing to write a manuscript, a support bubble may want to discuss engaging in many other, and very different activities. Some people keep notes in books, others prefer to use software. There are people who use both. Joplin is one. It describes itself as an open source note taking and to-do application. It is available for Windows, Linux, macOS, Android and iOS. Another similar app is RedNoteBook. It is available on Windows, Linux and macOS, but not on Android or iOS.

Screenwriting programs exist for many different platforms and environments. Desktop applications are commonly available for Macs, but also for Windows and Linux machines. So far, they are elusive for Chromebooks. However, there are web applications that run solely within a browser on any type of machine, and apps that run on handheld devises. Unfortunately, many of these programs are published on a commercial basis and are expensive.

Another approach is to use a markup language. Screenplay, developed by John Pate, is an open-source formatting package for LaTeX, a software system for document preparation that separates presentation from content. Fountain, an open-source plain text markup language, has its origins in two different and non-related projects: Scrippets, developed by John August (1950 – ) and Nima Yousefi, and Screenplay Markdown, developed by Stu Maschwitz.

While it is an exaggeration to say that I used Trelby, I did play around with it, before the project was discontinued in 2012. Today (2021-01-24), I have downloaded it again, and will start to use it once more. Osku Salerma, originally from Finland, developed the program.

It is oriented towards screenwriting with an emphasis on simplicity, elegance and speed. Its screenplay editor enforced correct screenplay formatting, including pagination. There are also some auto-completion and spell checking capabilities. There are Windows and Linux versions available. When version 2.2 was released in 2012, Windows 7 was the most dominant Windows version.

For something more modern there is the Russian KIT Scenarist, another program to create screenplays, formatted to international film standards. It is partially open-source. Collaboration requires the use of cloud (other people’s server) storage, and payments. I will not be using it at the present time, but it is a backup system if Trelby fails to live up to its promise.

A Novel Bubble

Novel can be used as a noun, as in a book length fictional story. It can also be used as an adjective, referring to something new. In this particular case it refers to both, a new bubble for writing a novel. For some groups this might be an easier starting point, than writing a screenplay. In addition, it could morph into different products: what used to be referred to as a radio play or a graphic novel or a ???.

Writing a novel does not need the extensive set of tools required by a screenplay. Manuskript is an open-source toolset for novelists. It offers two writing modes. Simple mode offers only the most basic features. Fiction mode provides additional tools: summary, characters, plot, context, etc. There is also an outliner, that allows incomplete thoughts and suggestions to be organized hierarchically.

There are also some features that may be used less than others. These include the Distraction-fee mode. Then there is the Snowflake novel assistant, that encourages a single idea to grow into a complex whole with complex characters, intricate plots.

Perhaps the most important feature of this is the ability to store files in a folder that encourages collaborative editing, and allows versioning. Index cards are also available to organize thoughts, scenes, chapters, notes, etc.

Ruralization

While there is nothing in this post that restricts videography to specific geographical areas, people living in rural communities have more opportunities to videograph.

First, rural environments provide more locations where one can videograph without disturbance, than in more urban environments. This works both ways. Videographers will disturb fewer people, and other people will disturb the videographers, less frequently. In addition, it is easier to find quiet locations to avoid sound pollution, infecting scenes being recorded.

Second, ruralists have a greater opportunity to work less. One reason for this is that their housing costs relatively less, so they don’t have to work more to pay higher rents or mortgage payments. The videographic skills they learn can also be applied to more commercial uses, such as making advertisements for local companies.

Humans are frail creatures. People need to take breaks. Research has shown that taking a lunch break actually makes a person more productive. A 6 hours work day, and a 4 day work week is probably optimal. It results in a 24 hour work week, something that will soon be implemented in Finland. Work more than that, and major mistakes will be made. In another approach, Travis Bradberry contends that working 52 minutes, then taking a 17 minute break is optimal in terms of productivity. This is similar to the academic hour, that starts at 15 minutes past the hour, to accommodate people running late. It lasted 45 minutes, and provided a 15 minute break. Six of these in a day, optionally divided in two after three hours, with a 75 minute break, should be more than enough work to satisfy anyone.

Third, ruralists have a greater opportunity to play more with others. When people work extensively, there are fewer hours available for social interaction. When they work less, these opportunities expand. Play is necessary to maintain sanity.

Rural enterprises

Reine, Lofoten, Norway, a location overwhelmed by Norwegian tourists during the pandemic summer of 2020. (Photo: Jessica Pamp, 2019)

This is a second instalment on ruralization. It has been in development since 2020-07-14. Work on it was paused on 2020-08-11, but resumed again 2020-10-28. It reflects a state of mind de-stabilized (de-socialized?) by a pandemic during the summer of 2020.

With COVID-19 under-employing and unemploying people as well as shuttering businesses temporarily or permanently, faster than almost any time in the past century, it is time to reconsider what can be done to help people secure their well-being.

Well-being means that people will need access to potable water, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, adequate shelter, education and health care. Entertainment and cultural pursuits will also have to be included, but that does not mean supporting personalities and products promoted by an entertainment industry. Similarly, there will undoubtedly be a need for transportation, but not necessarily using cars or mass transit. Walking and cycling may be preferred. Exercise may be part of one’s commute, or a substitute for it, rather than membership in a gym. The office seems to be a casualty of the pandemic. Yet, there are conflicting opinions as to where it is dead, or just crippled.

On 2020-07-14 Ivanka Trump gave millions of recently unemployed Americans new hope, when she said, “Find something new.” So that is what is being presented here, except that it is actually hard work to find something completely new, so this weblog post will cheat, and pretend that survival/ prepping is something new.

Note: the number of unemployed in the US is difficult to ascertain. Many are trying to define out large groups of people, while others are trying to define in similarly large numbers. Danielle Echeverria writing in the San Francisco Chronicle states that the total unemployment claims filed since the beginning of the pandemic have moved up to 51 million (as of 2020-07-17), and the situation is still not optimistic since the complete reopening keeps being postponed.

Survivalism

With large countries such as USA, Brazil and the United Kingdom having failed to serve the needs of their residents, especially keeping them healthy, As this is being written, these and other countries are experiencing a second (or higher) wave of COVID-19 infections. Thus, survivialism has become a key thought in almost everyone’s mind. Part of the challenge, in some countries, has been the outsourcing of vital elements of pandemic health care, such as contact tracing, and the conflict between doing thorough work, and making a profit. Far too frequently, profits and disease transmission prevail at the expense of health and, even, economic well being.

From the Great Depression that started in 1929, through the World War II and the Cold War, people have given consideration to their survival, especially in the event of war. That all stopped in 1990, when the United States and its allies declared themselves the victors of the Cold War. This meant that the preparedness for war (which incorporates preparedness for other emergencies, including pandemics) was gradually discarded.

Many boomers experienced the Great Depression vicariously, by being a child of parents who had lived through it. They lived in homes with reserves of food and other items that were rotated, but never used up. They were there in case of an emergency. While clothing that had been outgrown would be recycled, old clothes that still fit and not worn out were seldom discarded, but saved in case they came in handy at some unspecified time in the future. This vicarious remembrance of the depression and World War II is something that distinguishes boomers from subsequent generations. Is this what has turned them into collectors (and some into savers), traits some find lacking in the younger people?

In contrast, the Cold War was something boomers (and some Gen Xers) experienced more directly. Wikipedia tells us, “The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.” It was also a period when survivalism/ prepping was accepted practice at every level of society. In the thirty years since the cold war ended, preparation had become a meaningless topic, until the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Yet, once it hit, survival has been a major focus.

Survivalism, or prepping, means different things to different people. There are a number of different categories listed by Wikipedia: Safety-preparedness with an emphasis on surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and anywhere; Wilderness survival, with scenarios that include plane crashes, shipwrecks, and being lost in the woods, where concerns include thirst, hunger, climate, terrain, health, stress, and fear; Self-defense, with an emphasis on surviving violent encounters, with a need for personal protection and self-defence skills; Natural disaster – brief (typically days to months in duration), with tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes or heavy snowfalls causing problems; Natural disaster – prolonged (2 – 10 years), with an emphasis on weather cycles and crop failures; Natural disaster – indefinite/ multi-generational, potentially caused by global warming or other forms of environmental degradation; Monetary disaster with concerns about the worth of paper money, and a suggestion to replace it with gold and silver; Biblical eschatology, waiting for the return of Christ; Peak-oil doomers, who have much in common with Rawlesians (followers of James Wesley Rawles) who prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. Their northern inter-mountain region includes Washington, Oregon and California, the entire states of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, northern Arizona and north-western New Mexico. They emphasize self-sufficiency and homesteading skills; Legal-continuity, with an emphasis on maintaining some form of legal system and social cohesion. Bio-chemical survivalism, is where the current pandemic would be classified, along with diseases occurring naturally or as part of a weapon system.

The Marmots, not the rodents, but members of a hypothetical family of humans, will be used as examples. Some call Cascadia home, others live in Cooth in eastern Canada, or in Bust Anvil, in the rust-belt in the great state of Forge, a few even live in Ginnunga Gap, where this post is being written.

Jade Marmot – the wrong approach

Jade Marmot doesn’t know much, but that has never stopped him. He carries an assortment of business cards with him, each with a different job title. The one he uses most often describes him as a publicist. He takes facts collected and analysed by other people, mixes them with his own special brand of fiction, then presents them on websites, from which he tries to sell somewhat related products or services. Several of these relate to travel, but when cases of COVID-19 started, visits to these websites declined. In response, he regarded the pandemic as a golden profit-making opportunity. He didn’t have any clear idea of what he would be able to offer. Google is the most obvious place to begin, so that, even if he fails, at least Alphabet Inc (GOOG) will be able to profit from his misadventure. That said, he used the Duckduckgo search engine with a Mozilla Firefox web browser, to find information on survivalism. This led him to the Graywolf Survival website, a typical wilderness survival website, and to its article, Prepping: 10 simple ideas on how to start.

Imagine for a moment, that someone like Jade, with approximately zero prepper experience, no military background, and limited survival skills, tried to set up an alternative website to Graywolf. Jade Marmot Survival, will not become the prepper website of choice, for the pandemic. Wilderness survival is not what most people are seeking. Sensible people who do want wilderness survival tips will stick to Graywolf, because Jade Marmot will be unable to provide the insights they need. Jade’s lack of knowledge about pandemics means that he will be unable to contribute anything of value, to help people cope with an evolving situation. Instead, he will offer them hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug with no documented positive effect on COVID-19.

Is there hope for Jade? A change of attitude can change everything, especially if that change involves a sincere willingness to be of service to others. There are no lost souls.

Honey Marmot

Honey Marmot has been a musician all of her adult life, performing live at clubs, not just in the village of Harmony, but other places near Cooth. Yet, with bars and restaurants closed, opportunities to perform ceased to exist. Unemployed, Honey started to devote more of her time to cooking, and – as spring arrived – to gardening.

She also noticed that with restaurants being closed, many people were having a hard time feeding themselves, choosing to buy junk food rather than making something nutritious.

As a musician, Honey was used to being part of a band. She did her thing, while others did theirs, and in a spirit of co-operation, the collective result was always something bigger and better than any of them could do alone. Contacting a few close friends, they were able in very short time to set up the Harmony Food Collective. It quickly evolved so that some people who had space for a garden, were able to grow crops. Others were able to use the ingredients produced to make nutritious food at a local church, producing 1 500 meals for the needy each week. Yet more people were involved in the distribution process, using an assortment of feet, bikes and cars.

Vernon Marmot

Vernon is a complex person. He grew up in Bust Anvil, in the state of Forge. It was a place where boys aspired to be quarterbacks, and mothers expected daughters to become cheer leaders. Early on, Vernon adopted the name Slime, in order to hide what he described as a peculiar characteristic. While refusing to try out for the football squad, he did attend a trade school, became an automotive mechanic, and started working at T’s Garage.

Yet, under a hyper-masculine exterior, Vernon/ Slime had a secret life. His peculiar characteristic was a passionate interest in fashion. He not only subscribed to GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), and Dark Beauty Mag, but avidly read the works of DCB Pierre (1961 – ), including the latest, Meanwhile in Dopamine City (2020) a satirical dystopian novel about Lonnie, a widowed sewage worker, struggling to raise two children in a time of unencumbered digital innovation. In order to avoid being seen entering shops at the Fairlane Mall, he bought a Bernina 790 Plus sewing machine so he could make his own clothes.

Starting out with Steampunk fashions, he soon realized that Dieselpunk might be more acceptable in the circles he frequented. Tailoring punk fashions may not be on a freeway to fortune or even fame, but for Vernon/ Slime that is of secondary (or lower) importance. These activities are necessary to help him keep his sanity. In time, he will learn that others appreciate his values, and his blue Hush Puppy shoes.

Repair Cafe

Through the power of imagination, visualize the personas presented living in a small rural community. Import the people mentioned above, and find a few others in the local community with attitude, and a new infrastructure will start to emerge. It is not just what is present in the community that will propel action, but what is missing.

Once something basic, like a food collective, is started, people will notice other needs that are not being met. There is an obvious need for a Repair Cafe. With a use and discard mindset, products get used and discarded, even before their productive life is over. A Repair Cafe encourages consumers to have poorly performing products fixed by community technicians, so that these products will have a longer longevity.

Different people can take on different tasks. Jade actually has some positive attributes. He became obsessed with woodworking. Owning a range of tools, of various types: manual, mains electrical, battery electrical, as well as pneumatic, for different purposes. He is able to help people with their woodworking and basic construction needs. While Honey spends most days growing and cooking food, she finds time to ensure that the Repair Cafe has the ingredients it needs. Since Vernon thrives with textiles; weaving, knitting and sewing in particular, he is been able to help people with their clothing related challenges.

Tools are a means to an end. They are less interesting in themselves than the processes used to make and repair things. Both are necessary prerequisites to manufacturing and repurposing products and providing services in rural areas.

While a Repair Cafe, and similar institutions, provide a framework for people to work together, it is not essential. Individuals, working alone, can make an assortment of products, and provide any number of services for themselves, their families and for others.

Activities

In Norway a shed (or similar structure) of up to 15 square meters = 161.4587 square feet can be built without a building permit. This means that it is possible for families to build themselves a greenhouse that could provide much of the food needed for their family. It is also possible to add an additional 15 square meters to an existing house, again, without a building permit. For many families this expansion will be necessary, for two adults (and up to several children) to have sufficient office space to work from home.

Among the more positive benefits of the Internet is that it provides opportunities for people to develop relationships with others who have similar interests, to access knowledge and to learn new skills. Learning how to build sheds, or made additions to a house, or to grow fruit and vegetables in a greenhouse can be provided by videos and other materials found on the Internet. There are also numerous forums where assistance with problems can be found, and insights shared.

These are not perfect resources. Recently, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), had a major story (in Norwegian) about an older, male paedophile using sophisticated technology so that he appeared to be a teenage girl. Unfortunately, there will always be people on the Internet trying to take advance of others. Thus, it is a resource that has to be used cautiously.

In particular, with respect to computing issues, some users focus on telling people what they have done to solve a particular problem, but not why or even how. This is not pedagogically sound. I suspect that these advisors lack the necessary knowledge/ insight/ foundation to give such advice. They are simply offering a formula that could result in a solution, but often doesn’t. “Well, it worked for me.” is not a particularly helpful statement, It does not lead anyone to a better understanding of the situation.

Regardless of the advice being offered, it is useful to fact check it, using up to several sources. The Internet does not offer any guarantees.

Another problematic area involves Facebook. Their business model is based on segmenting and clustering people based on attitudes, which is determined by the posts particular people like, or avoid liking. Clusters are based on sets of mutual likes. Information/ propaganda is presented that reinforces current (prejudicial?) attitudes. Thus, information is presented that closely mirrors the current world view of any particular user. Alternative world views are avoided. To counter this, it is my hope that people will spend less time on Facebook, and more time in forums dedicated to their special interests. To find these one can search with that specific topic, followed by forum and, optionally, a location such as a country, province or state. For example, knitting forum canada. One link provided information on 35 Canadian blogs and websites.

Last minute update: Sea Shanties

Living in a rural community, does not mean that one has to forego the company of like-minded souls. During the pandemic, people – even in the most densely populated of cities – have felt isolated. Thus, it is interesting to see one unexpected trend that has emerged on TikTok, the social media site that Donald Trump attempted to ban. Some attribute Glasgow area postman, Nathan Evans, of starting the trend with, Soon May The Wellerman Come. For information about this project, and more, see this Guardian article.

Others have followed through, such as The Longest Johns, a Mass Choir Community Video Project. Five hundred people submitted their versions of Leave Her Johnny.

End Notes

  1. If some subscribers find an essence of themselves in this weblog post, it is probably not a co-incidence. I have deliberately tried to portray some of the positive work being done by others during the pandemic, while fictionalizing lives. Genders, and other identifying characteristics, have been changed. No prizes will be awarded to anyone for identifying: Cascadia, Cooth, Bust Anvil, Forge or Harmony. Ginnunga Gap is not just Cliff Cottage, but also the workshop (former garage) at Vangshylla, Inderøy, Norway. (63° 50′ 31.08″ N 11° 05′ 26.57″ E)
  2. Not impressed with the humour here? Fortunately, there are two types of people: the many who do not appreciate this humour, and the others, who don’t believe it is humour. Choose one, none or both. We are living through a pandemic, and for better or worse, humour has become a survival mechanism.

Ruralization

Inderøy, in Trøndelag County, Norway, is my Amenia, in New York, USA, my Bournville, in Worcestershire, England, or my Powell River, in British Columbia, Canada. These are, in their various ways, manifestations of the Garden City movement. These places are mentioned, because much of this weblog post involves the name dropping of people who have contributed to my understanding of the importance of the rural environment, along with some of the books they have written, and the concepts they have developed.

I will begin with a distant memory of a monologue by landscape architect, Clive Justice (1926 – ). During dinner he berated the people present, for regarding agriculture as a benign intrusion on nature. Creating farm fields while destroying the natural environment was not something that should be done unless it was absolutely necessary. That dinner was probably held over fifty years ago, and other people who were present may have had completely different memories from the event.

The firm of Justice & Webb, landscape architects, worked on many divergent planning projects, including the village of Gold River. The site of Gold River is in the traditional territory of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht peoples on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the 1860s Chinese gold miners were attracted to the area, and started panning for gold. The name Gold River first appeared on maps in 1871. In the early 1960s the Tahsis company logged at the mouth of the Gold River, before building a pulp mill there. The site was chosen because of the flat delta land, deep-sea access for freighters, and an adequate supply of fresh water needed to make pulp. With a population of about 1 500, it is too small to be considered a Garden City. Yet, some might regard it as an almost ideal retirement location – apart from the rain!

The nominal starting point for the Garden City movement begins with the publication of Edward Bellamy’s (1850 -1898) novel, Looking Backward: 2000 – 1887 (1888). It tells the story of Julian West, who sleeps for 113 years, waking in 2000, to find a transformed America, that has become a socialist utopia. Guided by Doctor Leete who explains life in this new age, including reduced working hours, low retirement age, an almost instantaneous delivery of goods and free public kitchens. The book discusses problems with capitalism, the nationalization of industry, the use of an industrial army for production and distribution and the free delivery of cultural products and experiences.

A more practical start for the Garden City movement begins with Ebenezer Howard (1850 – 1928), an English urban planner, with the construction of Letchworth Garden City in 1903. Before this, Howard had written To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), which described a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together. Howard was inspired by Belamy’s book to include the benefits of both the natural, rural and urban environments while avoiding their disadvantages.

Howard was also an advocate of Georgism, also called Geoism, proposed by the American Henry George (1839 – 1897), and described in Progress and Poverty (1879), a book that investigates the paradox of increasing inequality and poverty amid economic and technological progress, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies, and the use of land value tax (rent capture) and other anti-monopoly reforms to resolve social problems. After deciding against gold mining in British Columbia, George worked as a printer and sometime journalist for the San Francisco Times. Georgism was only one of a number of alternative economic systems proposed over the years. Two others that have been influential were the Social Credit movement, and Technocracy.

Yet, Howard was not alone in his aspirations. Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932) was a pioneering town planner, a Francophile with roots in Scotland. His contributions include the introduced the concept of region, and invented the term conurbation. Later, he explained how neotechnics could remake a world freed from over-commercialization. He was influenced by Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), explaining the evolution of society using Spencer evolutionary biology’s metaphors, and Frederic Le Play (1806–1882), using Le Play’s analysis of the key units of society as constituting Lieu, Travail, Famille (Place, Work, Family), but changing Family to Folk. Both Geddes and Le Play regarded the family as the central biological unit of human society.

The English planned city that I am most attracted to is Bournville, near Birmingham. In the early twenty teens, I had even arranged for twenty pupils and myself to visit it, a nearby Cadbury factory, and several other facilities including the Lode Lane Jaguar/ Land Rover plant in Solihull. However, these plans were scuttled when the pupils decided they would prefer to visit southern Spain. Since the school could easily see that there was no real educational purpose to this proposal, they didn’t get any school trip in the end.

Bournville village started in 1893, with George Cadbury’s purchase of 0.5 km² of land close to the Cadbury works, with the view of creating a village that would ‘alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions’. By 1900, the village consisted of 313 Arts and Crafts residences on 1.3 km2 of land. These houses featured traditional exteriors, modern interiors and large gardens. They were designed by William Alexander Harvey. These designs became a blueprint for many other model villages. Currently, there are 7 800 houses on 4 km² of land with 0.4 km² of parks and open spaces.

Lewis (1895 – 1990) and Sophia (1900 – 1997) Mumford bought 5.5 Ha of property in Amenia, along with a house and a remise/ carriage house/ cart shed (later modified into a garage) in the late 1920s, originally as a summer residence. By the mid-1930s, and for the rest of their lives, they lived there permanently, apart from sojourns for teaching purposes. This experience of living in a rural area influenced Mumford’s thinking about cities.

Among Mumford’s circle of friends was Frederic Osborn (1885–1978), who was influential in the British garden city movement, especially his direct involvement with Welwyn Garden City.

Another friend was Clarence Stein (1882 – 1975), who was intimately connected with the North American garden city movement. This found expression in the British Columbia city of Kitimat, a town that came into existence in 1951 after the British Columbia government invited Alcan to develop an aluminum smelter, including a dam, a 16 km connecting tunnel, a powerhouse, 82 km transmission line, a deep-sea terminal in addition to the smelter. Stein was engaged by Alcan to design/ plan Kitimat so that it would attract and retain workers. Stein’s design separated industry from the residential community, with large areas for expansion. The design featured looped streets surrounding a mall linked with 45 km of connecting walkways. With a population of about 8 000, an area of about 242 km2, it is located on the coast in a wide, flat valley. At 54 N 128 W, it represents an almost ideal retirement location – apart from the snow!

The third and (in my opinion) best retirement location to be mentioned here is Powell River. With a population of about 13 000 people in its 29 km2 city, and 17 000 in total throughout the area (occupying about 800 km2) it is a comfortably sized small town. It provides a Mediterranean climate of the warm-summer type (Köppen: Csb), not normally found so far north. Its historic townsite was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995, “recognizing the exceptionally well preserved early 20th Century planned community, rooted firmly in the Garden City Design Movement and the Arts and Crafts philosophy.” It is home to the Patricia Theatre, Canada’s oldest continuously operating theatre, built in 1913 and rebuilt in 1928 a Spanish renaissance-style which gave it good acoustics. It also hosts the first credit union in British Columbia (dating from 1939).

Trish and I visited Inderøy in 1979, at the age of 29 and 30, respectively. We moved there permanently ten years later, at the age of 38 and 39. The question many ask, most notably myself on numerous occasions, is why? Once again, it is a location that provides the benefits of both the natural, rural and urban environments while avoiding their disadvantages.

This reasoning comes into conflict with the two most important answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. The answer may be 42 (at least according to Douglas Adams, 1952 – 2001) but according to Geoffrey West (1940 – ), author of Scale: the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies, the most important urban number is 115%. To understand it better, some people may prefer the TED talk explanation.

This answer uses an exponential function where x is raised to the power of y, often written x^y, but better understood using pizzas. Say that a city of 10 000 people has one pizzeria. In a culturally similar city of 20 000 people (a doubling), there should not be two pizzerias, but 2.2191, if fractional pizzerias were allowed. At a population of 40 000 this becomes five (4.9245) pizzerias. At 100 000 it is up to 14 (.1254), This magical number comes from: finding the increased population ratio: 200 000 / 100 000 = 2. Then using this population ratio, the current number of pizzerias, and the magic number: x^y is x to the power of y = 1.15.

This series of numbers continues, so that a city with 400 000 people has not 40 or 46 pizzerias, but 53. Yes, this involved a rounding to the closest whole number from the calculated result of 52.9, as does the calculation for a city of 800 000 people, which ends up with 122 pizzerias, when the calculation yields 121.67.

These extra pizzerias are regarded as an advantage because they increase choice. Then, along comes COVID-19, and these same cities face the negative consequences of this number game. Following the logic of the first example (but without any science), if a city of 200 000 experiences 23 deaths, then a city of 100 000 (half the size) will experience 10 deaths. In this case it is more advantageous to live in a smaller city. Some people might be astute enough to understand that it might be better not to live in a city at all.

My response to Geoffrey West is that people do not need more choice, but less. Tranquillity and simplicity are two of the most important virtues to be valued, if only because it gives people more time to indulge their interests, including the enjoyment of the natural environment, and craftspersonship.

Some of the most important books of the twenty-tens are about economics and society. These include: Rutger Bregman’s (1988 – ) Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek (2016), Thomas Piketty’s (1971 – ) Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) and Capital and Ideology (2019), as well as Kate Raworth’s (1970 – ) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (2017). Bregman’s and Raworth’s ideas were discussed in a Keywords weblog post.

Full disclosure: I have not actually read any of Thomas Piketty’s major works. However, my dear wife Patricia has read the entirety of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and I have received the benefit of breakfast summaries of its content.

I have read Raworth, and she writes: “Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.” (p.

So much for the necessary theory. The next step is to operationalize it. On 2020-04-08, The Amsterdam City Doughnut was launched by Raworth and others, including Janine Benyus (1958 – ). This turns the Doughnut into a tool for transforming Amsterdam, downscaling the Doughnut to a manageable level.

Even the metropolis of Paris is undergoing a form of ruralization. Anne Hidalgo (1959 – ), re-elected as mayor on 2020-06-28, made the creation of the “ville du quart d’heure” – the quarter-hour/ 15-minute city – a pillar of her campaign. This concept was developed by Carlos Moreno (1959 – ), who believes the core of human activity in cities must move away from oil-era priorities of roads and car ownership. To do this “We need to reinvent the idea of urban proximity. We know it is better for people to work near to where they live, and if they can go shopping nearby and have the leisure and services they need around them too, it allows them to have a more tranquil existence.” Moreno’s chrono-urbanism involves or having leisure, work, and shopping close to home, especially “changing our relationship with time, essentially time relating to mobility.”

Paris, as the quarter-hour city’

This plan has been criticized for its urban planning policy that favors cycle paths at the expense of cars, and its proposal to make Paris a “100% bicycle” city, with new bicycle paths created by transforming parking spaces. It also wants to create new links between the Paris itself, and other cities in Greater Paris. Under active consideration is the creation of urban forests, on the forecourt of the town hall, the Gare de Lyon as well as behind the Opéra Garnier. In addition there is a proposal to create two large parks, one in the Bercy-Charenton district and another in the 15th arrondissement. To pedestrianize the centre of Paris, traffic in the first four arrondissements will be strictkly limited. It also promises to make the canteens 100% organic and to develop two large vegetable gardens in the woods of Vincennes and Boulogne. Hidalgo wants to transform the gates of Paris into squares, starting with the Porte de la Chapelle. The share of social and intermediate housing is to increase to 25% compared to 22.6% in 2020. Hidalgo is very critical of Airbnb, which she accuses of depriving Parisians of housing. To ensures that the city is clean, its budget will be increased from 500 million to one billion euros per year.

The weblog post will end with a quotation from Lewis Mumford that inspires reflection: “In the name of economy a thousand wasteful devices would be invented; and in the name of efficiency new forms of mechanical time-wasting would be devised: both processes gained speed through the nineteenth century and have come close to the limit of extravagant futility in our own time. But labor-saving devices could only achieve their end-that of freeing mankind for higher functions-if the standard of living remained stable. The dogma of increasing wants nullified every real economy and set the community in a collective squirrel-cage.”