Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

HOME TEAM, a DEMO project making poor homes for poor people

At midnight on Saturday - maybe an hour or so later if it's a big party night - Team A moves into position on the Berkeley hill just above the University. They start digging furiously, level two, maybe three, rectangles about 14' by 22', for the cottage floors. They trench two feet deep around the outside and install the plumbing and wires. Then add vertical foam plastic boards before filling the trench. These insulate the floor as thermal mass to help warm these passive solar bungalows.

By the wee hours the dirt floor is leveled. Sacks of quick-set cement are added and roto-tilled in situ for a quick setting soil concrete(1). The floor is then sprinkled, screeded, trampled, and rolled, to quick-set in just a few hours. The floor surface looks like crude tile, tilted slightly toward the door for easy hosing down. Notice the cost of the floor so far includes only the cement and additives, plus appropriate refreshments.

Two or three bungalows will be finished by noon on Sunday - a small step for humankind. Team A, mostly organizational UCB MBA whizzes, has planned ahead, tested the soil, surveyed the area, planned everything. They chose the site with the help of Team B - more on those folks later... .

One of purpose of this HOME TEAM DEMO project is to show that poor people should be able to have cheap quick homes. A second point is that such homes can be ecologically virtuous. A third point is that community is a crucial element in the quality of life - but more on that later.

Water supply is a difficult but solvable problem. For this DEMO, it might be easiest to hook up a half inch poly pipe to nearby Lawrence Hall of Science, store the water at the site in drums or an old water tank, and tube it from there to the homes.

Sewage is easy. The more sophisticated homeless may prefer composting toilets like the famed Swedish Clivus Multrum, but ordinary folk find regular pottys more homey (2). The sewage goes into a small septic tank where nature purifies it, under our technicians watchful eye and nose, then on to the orchard. The gray water' from the sinks and showers goes directly to the gardens.

The A Team organizes the construction crews while the B Team handles public relations. B has already outlined the entire public relations program. B provides a film and production crew to document the entire operation. B also, coordinates liaison with the University, since DEMO is conspicuously and elegantly placed on the lovely hills just above U. C. Berkeley Campus overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Team B agents have infiltrated the Campus Police and other law enforcement agencies to alleviate any stress or anxiety DEMO might elicit. The University Administration has been cued to delay action, at least until Monday. B has also collected an assortment of activists to cheer and block as necessary - peacefully, of course.

By dawn on Sunday, construction Team A has finished the slab and it's firm enough for what little action is needed inside the bungalows. Wall foundations are made of preserved 2x4 plates, fastened firmly to the ground with old water pipes.

A Team moves in with a truckload of prefabricated walls and roofs. These walls are common 1 inch foam boards with 1x3s glued on their edges, all numbered for quick assembly. These walls are very inexpensive and insulate to R12 - plenty good enough for Berkeley's mild climate. Walls are pre-painted in modest earth tones to blend in with the landscapers and gardens.

A Team's roof is equally light and inexpensive. DEMO's architects have an assortment of designs, but arched thin plywood with steel wire bracing makes a very light and sturdy roof. Ceilings are made of the same insulating foam panels. Windows are a carefully selected assortment of recycled windows, probably from Urban Ore, a local recycling firm. Single panes are OK for modest Berkeley climate, but recycled windows can easily be doubled with glass or cheap mylar.

Naive readers might point out that DEMO breaks all building codes. Surely freedom means the ability and opportunity to act as long as the freedoms of others are not unduly impinged. The building codes have grown over their long history into a hodge-podge of demands by the building industry to keep the prices up, secure their personal interests, and to keep common citizens helpless and dependent. But modern technology offers the opportunity to provide housing for one tenth, perhaps one hundredth the common cost. These DEMO bungalows will cost about a thousand dollars for each resident. Surely poor people should have the right to live in inexpensive homes.

Therefore, most crucial is Team B's UCB Law School crew. With agents coordinating and advising every crew and reaching out to many civil and public groups, B brings comfort and security to the entire HOME TEAM. Isn't that what law is for?

This first DEMO project gets all the publicity, but it can be little more than a demo. Even B cannot prevent "red tag" by clerks from the Building Department - prohibiting anyone from actually moving in. B's camera crews finish the first chapter of their TV drama with this elegant cluster of little homes and gardens - all red tagged and forbidden. B's Law crew might protect DEMO for a while, claiming it is an Object Of Art protected by the First Amendment. But, while fuss is made over DEMO, Home Teams C, D, E, F... are already in action building serious BIG DEMOs, lovely little communities in many places, on public land, empty land, even legally owned land.

No offense to Jimmy Carter's HABITAT FOR HUMANITY and their wonderful work building modest homes for the semi-poor, and doing it legally. But their projects lack sufficient attention to human needs for organic community. By their specialization, Habitat may neglect this crucial component of the quality of life.

If we build it, they will come. Please consider a more objective approach. Transcend the subjective expression of wants and choices that most people seem eager to express. What they decide to select to remember to assert is a hodge-podge grown from their peculiar psychohistory.

Instead of indulging personal preferences, ask "What is a good environment for children?" Security, nurturing, and lots of attention. What's good for depressed seniors? Being needed, as well as securely supported. For tired mothers and harassed fathers? Plenty of help and mutual support. For youngsters and teens? Plenty of good things to do.

The Cohousing and Ecovillage movement is already well developed, as their many journals and publications document. They have proven that even rich people need not be as alienated as they can afford to be, but instead can live in supportive and enriching social environments. HOME TEAM's DEMO makes it tempting for ordinary folk and easy for the poor and homeless. ...

Back to the construction: Warm water is solar heated by primitive inexpensive `bread box', an old water tanks in a windowed box. This may limit warm showers to the afternoons, but augmentations can be arranged for cloudy periods. Cooking is simply done with a propane camp stove. They are better than the stoves of most of humankind, and certainly adequate for Berkeley's gourmets.

The electrical system is the most expensive component of DEMO. A few hundred dollars for a simple photovoltaic solar charger and one deep-discharge battery is enough for modest lighting and communications. Double or triple that if possible. A twelve volt system is safe and simple, good for old automobile radios and lights. A small invertor for another hundred dollars makes 120 volts AC for small common household appliances. But toasters, hair dryers and other high wattage devices are inappropriate - they take too much juice, contribute little to the quality of life, damage the hair.

Quality of life is the underlying issue. If the resident citizens can transcend the compulsions of status competition and the insecurity of self image, many will find DEMO's lovely comfortable homes quite adequate. But quality of life is far more dependant on community than our phony individualist tradition admits. The essence of a successful DEMO is an elegant, hi-tech village, a lovely place to live, a safe place for children, an enriching environment for all concerned. Since the cost of such a life, given its extremely modest investments and the inherent productivity of its gardens and shops, means that this deeply luxurious living needs very little input of money. Technology enables us to live well cheaply.

As BIG DEMOs proliferate, the economy shrinks, as the quality of life improves. Living becomes extremely inexpensive: housing costs shrink, gardening supplements diet, leisure and community improves cuisine. Therefore, jobs are much less necessary as a way of making what little money is needed. And our tragic school system will be simply ignored, displaced with real learning and global information. Superficial economists will freak out when the GDP drops ninety percent.(3) As the economy shrinks, the quality of life improves.

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