I met Michael David Lipkan a few years ago at the Solar Fiesta (New Mexico has a fiesta for everything), an event primarily aimed homeowners looking to install rooftop solar panels, but which also included things like an electric car race, a solar oven cookie bake-off, and educational panels about sustainable architecture, climate change, and other green topics. Michael's presentation on Linear Cities gave me tons of ideas about how solarpunk cities could look and work. So when I started planning the Solarpunk Anthology Translation Kickstarter, I tracked him down to ask if he'd be willing to offer a concept consultation—my hope was that a couple of solarpunk writers might take advantage of his vast knowledge to better inform their own worldbuilding!
Below, please enjoy a brief interview with Michael David Lipkan, in which we talk about sustainable technology, and what kinds of conflicts might still arise in a solarpunk world.
Sarena Ulibarri: There’s a ton of information about sustainable cities on your Imagine Cities website! Can you break down what you think are the most important principles for a sustainable future city?
Michael David Lipkan: Perhaps the most important principle for building a sustainable future city is the ability to live close to the food supply. That idea is integrally linked to many other systems that are part of the processes or supported by the processes that provide food for the citizens.
Renewable energy in all its variety of forms should be integrally linked to the performance of the city. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass conversion are high on the list of renewables we should be using.
SU: Have you seen/read any science fiction movies or books with cities that look like the future you envision?
MDL: I have not read or seen any books that are like the kind of city I envision for the future. As a child I remember reading a story I believe, by Isaac Asimov, about what I call glidewalks. Airports use glide walks to speed passengers along their concourses. Basically, they are moving conveyor belts that people can walk on. I believe we should use many more of these kinds of devices in the future.
SU: Stories still have to have conflict to be interesting, even those set in beautiful eco-friendly cities. What kinds of new conflicts do you think might arise in this kind of a future world?
MDL: I believe certain kinds of conflicts will probably be inevitable despite the humane and eco friendly nature of any city we build. That is because there are conflicts that are a result of emotional disturbances and are not controlled by rational thought.
By reducing design-provoked stress, we make the city easier on our emotions. For me, overhead telephone poles, power lines, and advertising signs have been stressors throughout my life. In the 1970s, main arterial streets packed with business signs seemed like an artist’s nightmare of mismatched juxtapositions of form and color. Hot parking lots, non-point source toxic pollution cocktails caused by environmental contamination, and noise are a few more.
I like to think we can build egalitarian cities in the future. Individual wealth and power would be determined by using a standardized, comprehensive test of mental acuity and physical health. From first grade on, students are taught that doing well in school is paramount to future success in life. This is made believable since pay would be determined by comprehensive test scores and not a person’s job or occupation. The extreme gap between the highest and lowest paid people is reduced enough to cause a universal sense of economic justice. This reduces crime.
Despite efforts to help everyone believe the “Comprehensive Test” is fair, some may believe otherwise and steal to gain more wealth. The concept of self determined pay I am suggesting works within a controlled economy. Simplifying all manufacturing to the point of greatest workability aims to reduce ridiculous variety of similar products while mass producing higher quality for any items made. This is an egalitarian principle.
Healthcare is a right achieved by nationalizing healthcare for all. Healthcare should not be about making profit. That is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. Additions to the Constitution encourage the consolidation of all healthcare providers. There is no greater reason for government to exist than caring for the people.
Crimes of passion will probably be more difficult to control than greed. The “Seven Deadly Sins” may be with us until enough social control factors are put in place. (Better healthcare for all reduces this probability.) Regardless of how close we come to building a “Justopia” (a portmanteau of justice and utopia) there will probably always be some who think they know better and prefer using violence instead of discourse to get their way.
SU: When did you first become interested in sustainability and alternative energy?
MDL: I have been concerned with concepts relating to sustainability since I was very young. I grew up believing it was wrong to be wasteful. When studying Physics in college I came to believe linear cities could help avoid much wasted energy in our transit systems. That epiphany started a schema in my mind that has grown with me as I learned about new problems. Nearly every problem from global warming to solving world hunger can solved or at least mitigated by building linear cities.
SU: What are some of the newest developments in sustainable technology that you’re most excited about?
MDL: There are many sustainable technologies that should supersede existing practices because they do more with less or accomplish a given job with better results. Higher quality with less muss and fuss. (Less entropy with similar results.)
Vertical farming techniques, under cabinet drawer refrigerators, electric automobiles, water desalinators, 3D printers, modern cell phones, LED TV’s (not LED backlit LCD TV’s), battery storage technologies, geopolymer bricks, light field photography, high speed computers, are an extreme understatement of sustainable technologies worth developing. Nearly everything we do or use as a tool can either be improved upon or eliminated as we consciously evolve toward the future. Everyone plays many parts as the future unfolds. The ideal society encourages everyone to be the best they can be.
Originally from Charles City, Iowa, Michael David Lipkan now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After visiting Arcosanti, an experimental eco-village in Arizona, he became profoundly aware of the dysfunctional nature of our cities, and has spent more than thirty years thinking, writing, creating images, and finding answers to correct our city problems. He is a board member of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association, and is the author of Imagine City: Dream the City Sustainable and Farming in the Sky, both available for free from the iBookstore. Find out more at www.imagine-city.info