Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My Home Town

". . .Buffalo, you're my home."

I think I heard that dubbed into the "Dirty Water" song once, in place of Boston. The lake died on my watch, and that shaped everything about my future. I kept diving underneath Lake Erie's waters and sailing on their surface until I'd blown my youth. Now while Australia is taking the brunt, I am forming a vision of a Buffalo that everyone will be escaping toward. Here's how it goes:

In the background of this piece of speculative fiction are some items of actual fact:
  • Anonymity is gone by virtue of facial recognition.
  • Real ID is required to board planes and, perhaps soon, trains and busses.
  • People who can't afford to - or don't want to - live in gated communities now guard their houses by various sorts of Ring-type surveillance devices - cameras on doorbells, that sort of thing.
  • Police have access to what is recorded by those devices.
  • Amazon wants to be allowed inside our doors (car and house) so that doorstep thieves can be stopped.
  • Autonomous cars are right around the bend. They would already work well within a defined perimeter, along well-defined routes. Especially if there were no human-driven cars.
  • Our current oil-based economy is not sustainable. This includes transport, heating/cooling, and food production among other things like plastic production.
  • Our current privatized credit-score system is perfectly poised to be transformed into a Chinese-style social-credit system (Hmmmm).
  • Block-chain is fully ready for deployment at any level of sovereignty. from self through city to state.
Those should be enough to get us started.

Buffalo will declare a car perimeter, near the edge of which parking may be free. Zip-type cars will be available for treks into the wild, and rich people can keep their cars there if they want. Perhaps parking will be available within the perimeter for a while, but for its true cost, which will creep rapidly upward as parking spaces are reclaimed for residences according to the iron law of highest and best use.

Inside the perimeter will be various forms of mass transit, including autonomous public passenger cars for those who wish to afford door-to-door or (autonomous) bus-to-door or private service. All will reflect the true, carbon-adjusted and pollution-adjusted (meaning inclusive of all externalities now foisted off on "the public") cost/price.

(OK, so here's the only really controversial part) All land within the city will be appropriated by eminent domain on behalf of the city and immediately leased back to current title holders according to true infrastructure cost per square foot. Lease costs will be uniform throughout the city based on square footage. 

The cost of title purchases will be financed by a one-time wealth tax calculated against the market value of land at some algorithmically determined frozen point in the past, before this scheme seemed real. The wealth tax should be mildly progressive based on length of ownership such that long-term title holders would realize a greater portion of the city-funded windfall than recent flippers. The tax would be weighted against non-real-estate wealth, to ensure that the wealthy will preserve their wealth and the poor will not lose it all. A slider from real-estate wealth to other.

Rent for those who can't afford ownership will be controlled according to proportion of land use (e.g., each floor of a four-story building would be assessed 1/4 the cost of the land-footprint lease) combined with amortized value of improvements.

Air-rights and underground rights could not be bought and sold (except perhaps by the municipal government).

Building codes will require carbon-negative energy consumption and materials production for all new construction. 

Power generation and transmission will be a public utility, and as such a partial source of public revenue.

Power as provided within the perimeter of the city will be carbon-negative. Burlington, Vermont has already achieved carbon-neutrality, based on heavy reliance on biomass. Carbon negativity would be determined by provenance of power generation along with carbon/sequestration-credit trading.

Waste will not be exported beyond the city perimeter except for positive carbon-weighted revenue. As such plastics could not be exported unless and until they become more valuable as waste than their purchase price (once peak oil is more tangibly traversed). 

In the short term, single use plastics would be prohibited within city limits. Bulk non-packaged food would be encouraged by the overall tax/price structure.

Electrically powered transport vehicles (road or rail) will be allowed to penetrate the city perimeter along well-defined and limited routes which connect to distribution terminals inside the city.

Apart from cars, there will be no barrier or obstruction to entry by pedestrians, bicyclists, and Class1 eBikes etc. 

Facial recording will be accomplished prior to entry through all locked doorways. Such recording is considered public surveillance, encrypted until identity is requested, perhaps by police, and decrypted by court order. Disguised faces will be denied entry.

Public disguises would be welcome or even encouraged (Hmmmm).

Tax revenue will be based largely on power consumption and land leases. Power consumption (not only the power generated by the public utility), is assessed against all transactions which entail power use, including all tangible goods, food, and more. Taxes should be calibrated such that long-distance shipped factory processed foods would be more expensive than locally grown organic foods.

Farming within the city permeter would be encouraged by remaining untaxed and lease-free. Thus rooftop farming would not entail a land-lease expense. Successful farming would be assessed as land improvement for transactional purposes, at a rate commensurate with (carbon adjusted) housing construction costs.

Electronic transactions will be taxed indirectly upon receipt of goods by transport hubs within the city, according to manifests of embarkation/debarkation.

Goods "imported" personally through the transit perimeter at city limits which are not carried on the person would be transhipped to transit hubs, or to one's domicile (temporary or permanent) if provenance is established at entry. Provenance will be electronically recorded upon exit or purchase outside the city permeter. Barter would be taxed upon entry.

Providers of connectivity/communications services will be assessed for tax purposes according to power consumption within the city perimeter. 

Use of public transit will require face-scan, and payment will be processed according to successful identification or by cash. Anonymous out of town visitors will either pay cash or have some form of Real ID attached to their credit. Admission to public transit is not restricted.

All citizens of Buffalo will own (protected by blockchain) a set of data held in trust by municipal authorities. That data trust will include all banking, credit, voting, and medical data for each citizen. There will be no back-door access by anyone inside or outside of government at any level. Banking regulations may need to be adjusted. Access would be granted at the point of transaction with such entities as doctors offices, hospitals, retail purchase, cash retrieval, door entry, voting and so forth.

See how I slipped that matter of door entry in there? Sly of me, eh? Mechanical keys will be superfluous, of course. Public transit doesn't have doors as such, just paywalls.

Speaking of keys, surveillance of any sort will be encrypted to prevent access by any entity inside or outside the government without court order. Surveillance is only allowed in "public" spaces, in which case the information is held in public trust, with no presumption of privacy for anyone. Identifiable individuals as revealed by court-ordered decryption cannot be publicly identified without a subpoena. 

Entry of firearms or firearm analogs will be prohibited except according to the following provisions:
  • The gun must be identified by a machine readable RFID or equivalent technology.
  • The gun must be locked against use by any but its owner (perhaps by facial recognition by a paired iPhone-like device or something similar).
  • Penalties for concealed carry of weapons not constructed according to the above restrictions shall be steep - tantamount to attempted murder.
Explosives are prohibited in any form. 

In my imagination, the city of Buffalo will become a preferred space for living by reasons of convenience, safety, cost of housing, and availability of great food (already there!).

Carbon-negative and pollution-negative industry should feel welcome there, also for reasons of low land (use) cost and low taxation.

Current non-profit and therefore tax exempt entities might be allowed lease-free occupation of existing structures, and might be afforded some sort of calibrated wealth tax reduction against the value of the deed buy-back by the city. Buffalo currently faces property-tax shortfalls from non-profit ownership itself premised on a larger population within city limits. Services now provided by hidden subsidy to suburbanites could be more fairly assessed by the new tax structure.

Ready to move in?? I am. I mean I was. Will. Be ready.

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