Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Just Up, But Also Down

In Isaac Asimov's Robot City 3, Refuge by author Rob Chilson, spacers Derec and Ariel end up hiding out on Earth. Ariel is very sick with a virus the spacer civilization knows nothing about, and is in fact, a death sentence for them.

Little did they know that Earth was her salvation, as the overpopulated civilization they assumed was backwards and prejudice against anything progressive was very advanced in healthcare technology and treatments. Looking back it made sense, for both the reader and the main characters.

Not only were they advanced in healthcare, they were also advanced in population management. With 8 billion people to house, feed, and keep clean it's a big task. One they accomplished by making a big planetary-level cultural transition.

They moved underground.

When it came out in the late 80s this very concept was shocking and most people believed it to be too radical. "Never happen," my own stepdad said when I exclaimed this as the answer (at my ripe, wise age of 13). "People need open space. No one will want to be restricted inside like that." He was very insistent.

Oh how a lot of things have changed, in just a quarter of a century. Yeah, we're not quite to the point of extreme as Asimov's future Earth world, where people are frightened of the "above ground"...but we're well on our way to being comfortable inside for the majority if not our whole day.

A report just came out from the Federal Highway Administration revealing young drivers 19 and younger dropped over 18% to less than half the age segment and people under 30 make up only 22% of drivers since 1998. Adding to this shift, Gartner research firm found 46% of drivers aged 18 to 24 would choose Internet access over a car. Article HERE.

So, if they are not getting drivers license, how are they getting around? Well, studies indicate that almost half are socializing via internet routes (FaceBook, Instant Messenging, Twitter, etc). If they are getting together, it's using the increasing transportation network (subways, transits, and whatnot). The levels of these two factors depends on the size of the city they are located in.

This trend fits perfectly in the end state of Asimov's world. As people shifted inside, they next shifted down. In overpopulated countries all over the world, there are already underground living/working/consumer communities going down several levels. To be exact, 26 countries have started to turn to underground city concepts in answer to overpopulation.

The shift to underground living answers another need of a heavily populated world. Food production. With people living underground, it leaves the surface available for the production to feed billions of people. Fertile ground, which is now used for subdivisions and city blocks, could be enough land to feed areas where agriculture development is unattainable.

This would be an answer to hunger.

I know it'll be centuries before humans are comfortable living underground to the extent of Asimov's future Earth, if they ever get there. And there are mounds of issues to overcome like high earthquake zones and water and waste infrastructure barriers. And some will never feel comfortable in the "mole" environment.

But then again, that's how Asimov's world ended up with Spacers and Earthers, wasn't it?

So, what do you think about the underground concept? Do you think we'll ever to the extent of Asimov's Earth world? Why or why not?


  1. Interesting post! I'll have to read that book...I may have read it so many years ago. Hmm.

    Underground homes like hobbit houses, built into hill sides etc are supposed to be easy to heat and cool.

  2. Underground houses are common in desert areas (eg Star Wars Tatooine, which is a real house in (I think) Libya. We have them here in Australia, too. Cheap insulation. So it's viable and sensible - but yes, there are many problems to overcome.

    I prefer the notion of sustainable cities, built with green belts for food production. But maybe that's because it's more 'comfortable'. I'm a tad claustrophobic.

  3. You should when you get the time Melisse, it's an interesting read and the author does a good job expanding on Asimov's robot world.

    I love watching the "Extreme Homes" shows where they showcase hobbit houses, cave houses, and whatnot.

    Greta, I have watched shows on those Australian underground homes. Very fascinating. We have sorta underground homes in the middle part of the US which were popular in the 50s. I think they've been replaced over the years though, which is dissapointing.

    I like the idea of the sustainable cities. Have you seen the Japanese mall with the floor that generates power from customers walking on it? I'm not sure if it's installed yet or still just planned, but little things like that add up.

    Who knows, maybe the underground city would be large enough to feel open. With artifically generated parks and other green areas.

    There's not a single answer so maybe there will end up being a mix of underground cities and sustainable above ground cities.

  4. Very interesting post. I'm thoroughly happy indoors, although some sunlight does improve the mood from time to time. I think our society could easily move underground, whether it would be good for us or not. Humans tend to do all sorts of things that are terrible for us physically or psychologically, and then find new ways to adapt. Are you working on a new book idea with this? If you are, it would be a great read!

  5. Oh my goodness, Patty, you are so right!

    I would love to do a story with that as the primary setting, but haven't yet. I do tease around the idea in a couple of my books. Each one overcomes the obstacles in a different way.

    In Revelations of Tomorrow the crew stops off at a small planet that's been carved out and the core has a naturally "lit" core so the world is bright and happy.

    In the second they visit a desert planet where the people have mined into the natural underground cave networks. This civilization is dark and dank and quiet.

  6. In Coober Pedy in the north of South Australia people live underground - there's even a 5 star hotel up there, so you might want to check it out using google. I saw it awhile ago on the 'net.. Also, people are living in houses that are set in the sides of hills, with grass/gardens on "roof" as further insulation. These are generally designed with the Permaculture principle. There's one near where I live. You see the front entrance and windows, but the rest of the house is in the hill. Fantastic insulation - stable temp.all year round. You might be able to find links to earth/underground houses, etc., using permaculture sites (I have a link at my web page). Cheers

  7. Ooh, thanks Astrid! I'll check it out. I stopped by your website and will make it a favorite to explore further later on.

    I do love those colonies that live underground. Hopefully the idead will spread to larger populations.

    Thanks for stopping by!!

  8. A great post! In one of my stories, I have characters living in a military complex underground. Similar to Cheyenne Mountain, only in Canada. While doing research for the story, I learned people who worked down there for long periods of time had to take vitamin supplements, especially Vitamin D, to prevent various diseases.

  9. Well, if we're supposedly in danger of another ice age as a result of global warming, moving underground might be the only option aside from freezing to death. If there was no alternative, I'm sure the majority would adapt to it. And if we ever get out into space and colonize other planets - Mars perhaps - we'll have to live inside a small complex for some time.

  10. This is such an intriquing post. I was just watching a movie the other day where a guy was obsessed with building an underground shelter for him and his wife. Eventually, the wife grew distant from him because she thought he was nuts. Then he developed an entire new set of friends who shared his obsession. I have to admit, I was really engrossed in the film. It's fun to read about this in Sci-Fi books or to watch futuristic movies, but in reality, I wonder how the human body would react being underground for long periods of time. If I don't have sunshine, I feel like I am literally going to die. Seriously! And scientists have done studies on how the shorter days in Winter and lack of sun-filled hours can contribute to a sort-of depression in many peopole. I'd like to think I'd adapt and do what I have to do to survive, but I wonder...