As long as America is a place where a creative entrepreneur like Vinay Gupta can thrive, we stand a good chance of enduring whatever calamities await. BoingBoing has an interesting interview with Gupta, who invented a cheap dwelling called the hexayurt. According to the hexayurt site:

The hexayurt shelter can cost less than a relief tent, is designed to be manufactured anywhere in the world at any scale, from local materials, as Free hardware, to house humans in need. The Hexayurt Project maintains the designs and makes them freely available to you.

To make the simplest hexayurt, make a wall by putting six sheets of plywood on their sides in a hexagon. Cut six more sheets in half diagonally, and screw them together into a shallow cone. Lift the roof on to the wall with a large group of people, then fasten it down with more screws. Seal and paint it for durability. Your basic hexayurt is complete.

This shelter will last for years in most climates and costs less than $100. This basic design can be improved with proper windows, doors, room partitions, stove fittings and other architectural features. More durable materials could give it a very long life. The basic building materials are available within a few hours drive of almost any large settlement in the world and can be cheaply imported in enormous quantities if needs be.

I sure don’t want to live in a hexayurt. But if I were in great need, I would be grateful that such a cheap, sensible dwelling was available to me. And “great need” defines the lives of billions of people living on this planet, and still to come. Gupta’s isn’t a utopian solution; he’s saying that the hexayurt is something to tide people over until they can do better for themselves. He says we can’t possibly hope to raise everybody to the level of contemporary America and Europe. In fact, he says, we ourselves may not be able to go on much longer in this way. We’ve got to start thinking creatively about how to provide the basics. Gupta:

So that’s my vision: get the poor to a comfortable sustainability with sophisticated-but-simple technologies, so that the people who are actually sustainable get a much better standard of living, and as that standard of living rises, as Gandhi envisaged, perhaps we can adopt it by degrees, one by one as the occasion allows, and eventually fix the planet that way.

It may not seem like much of a hope now, but after a really major economic collapse comes through, we might not be able to afford to live at this incredibly unsustainable fossil fueled burn rate. How many of America’s homeless would rather be smallholding farmers with access to first world medical care? We need to start thinking about what’s next, because this is going away. In fact, for many of us, for the fifty million Americans on food stamps, it has already gone.

Creativity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship are hugely valuable resources. Fortunately for us, America is rich in them.

UPDATE: Vinay Gupta turns up in the comments thread to report that he was deported in 2006. Oh man.