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Russian Monocities: The Future?

Monocities, cities where a single factory employs nearly 90% of the working population, and which provide apartment heat, water, town electricity, and which also, btw, support the entire small business sector for the entire town, telephone sanitizers, run-on sentence groomers, etc, are having trouble in Russia lately. Lessons from monoculture, lawn gardeners and agribusiness? But outside of Ragle Gumm’ist or Second Variety Dickensian self-spawning AI driven factory worlds, they are pretty interesting as a living phenom.

Monocities in Russia came about during World War II, when Stalin evacuated factories in the path of the advancing German forces to small towns in the Ural mountains. The most well known cities were “Tankograd”, AKA Tank City, which manufactured Tanks and Katyusha Missile launchers, and Zlatoust, for ballistic missles. Kind of like China Lake for American Engineers in the 50’s, but colder. (great read, btw: Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake, required reading for anyone trying to learn design law #13). But recently, the economic turmoil has led to bankrupt factories, now apparently kept functioning only by the worker citizens just plain going to work for no pay, just to keep the heat on in their houses and electricity available. But there is some unrest building:

“The monocities are a source of considerable social tension,” said Yevgeny Gontmakher, a sociologist at the Institute of Contemporary Development in Moscow. “The government, so far, isn’t thinking about this enough.” [Bloom$berg Link]

The fascinating thing about the design of such cities is how, even though monoculture can be seen as a dangerous position due to over-reliance on singletons, from another perspective, one in which a means for sustainability, (ie, workers can utilize the factory even in the absence of a market use, for the utility and use-value it provides them) might be possible from a design perspective. (yeah yeah social engineering…) Maybe the fear of monoculture that derives from biological and evolutionary studies, if certain market assumptions and restrictions are ignored, allow for self-organizing utilization enough to bring the “monoculture” concept closer to a “sustainability” function. Only dead metaphors go with the flow.

January 6, 2010
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