The Algorithmic Anarchist

This is a work in progress, short paragraphs arranged alphabetically by title. Changed to A5 format for printing at Lulu in October 2021. This is now a final version that corresponds to the print version as of January 2022. I’m just proofing the print copy and then it will be more widely available,

Some other essays added at the end of the manuscript. If you want a review copy write to me on Twitter.


Why I Hate Planters

First, let me make the distinction between ‘big’ contractor and third party supplied planters and little planters, often made by individuals and small groups.

Hated is probably too strong a word, they have their place, but their place is not ‘everywhere’. Let’s list some of the reasons and then dig in, where necessary, to each one in turn, they are:

  • Hideously expensive
  • Require constant maintenance
  • Tokenism
  • Species limited
  • Do not provide shade
  • Often obstructive for disabled
  • ASB and litter magnets
  • Maintain the Heat Island

So let’s go.

Hideously expensive

As far as we can understand the big planters are in the region of ¬£1500 each. I’m not sure whether that includes earth, mulch and delivery to site or not? That will buy a couple of mature fig trees (good shade but they like water), tens of various kinds of saplings or bushes.

They also, judging by the ones on our streets, don’t last very well, so maintenance or replacement will probably be required at between 5-10 years.

Require constant maintenance

This is not always true, if we choose plants and herbs that don’t require much watering, lavender, mint, rosemary for example. Unhappily, because of tokenism (see next), appearances etc. there’s temptation to choose something pretty and annuals. Bloomin’ Forest Gate, the mini version of Newham in Flower (or whatever we call it now?) is an example. Calendula still busy drying out and dying, here and there round where I live.

Recently I’ve met and talked with a subcontractor circulating with a large water tank mounted on a van, watering some of the large planters. So this point is made.

Also, of course, some of the structures themselves are beginning to split and show age.


Oh look! We’ve done something with plants, it must be green, mustn’t it? Incidentally, I can accept a certain amount of argument about mental health and brightening up, but that can be done without this expensive tokenism.

So often/usually plantered (sic) plants do not contribute to air quality, removing pollution, are small (of necessity, see next Species Limited) and arguments about shade. The most egregious Forest Gate site, so far (though I should make a hit parade) is Kuhn Way, school entrance with its small pretty flowers. Also featuring a few sycamores (as if there weren’t enough in FG already?) in flexi-pave or on the carbon positive (probably) ‘amenity deck’ in planters.

Species Limited

A planter is, unlike bare earth, is finite. So the size of roots and root balls is always limited. Nothing big, shady, substantially pollution negative or particularly fruitful can grow in a planter. Such as a decent sized ‘tree’ for example.

However, in Amsterdam, here is an example of dwarf fruit trees and (a polite notice about taking fruit) at a station entrance. Really nice, but really unambitious.

Does Not Provide Shade

Since anything and everything in a planter is ‘small’, this type of planting is not providing the sustained shade that will be useful as the planet warms up. Research gives 2-3 degrees of reduction underneath foliage.

Worse, without fairly regular watering, ill-considered planting is likely to shrivel and therefore need replacement. Lavender and the herbs that will survive do not need ‘big’ planters either, so there’s a certain illogicality about all this.

Obstructive for Disabled

I’m not sure how much of a problem this is, but it’s mentioned in academic discussions. The profile, positioning and bulk of these create an obstacle to bump into.

ASB and Litter Magnets

Admittedly litter is a pervasive Newham problem, so one shouldn’t pick on the planters. However, we have two or three at the edges of ‘our’ LTN and they are constant recipients of cans, bottles and cigarette butts.

In some cases they serve as late-night convenient level bar tops as well, resulting in loud conversations in the early morning. This last can probably be fixed by making the top edge an angle, rather than flat.

Maintain the Heat Island

Planters leave paving or (worse) tarmac in place. So part of the storage heater for the city heat island is maintained. There’s a slight improvement because there’s no direct sunlight, but removing paving (and especially tarmac, since it’s more or less a black body) is a great deal better. It may even provide a little carbon sequestration too.

One of the measurements that I believe to be useful is square area of paving and tarmac removed, each year. We can invent a factor for tarmac since it’s a great deal worse. It’ll melt soon anyway.


The good is the enemy of the best, but these aren’t even particularly ‘good’. Especially if you believe, as I do, that every decision and micro-decision should have a climate component.

Datamap First Debian Package

Over ten years ago, I wrote a little ‘thing’ for marking and saving records on maps. That was fairly ‘new’ then. For small groups and specific projects, I believe this is still useful, so I’ve revived it and re-written it, using Mojolicious.

There are a number of new features to be added, federation, new languages in the templates and a more general set of parameters.

Meanwhile, the project is here: and the Debian package, tested on Ubuntu 20 AWS and Linux Mint is here:

I realise that it’ll be less popular, but I’m giving up offering native Windows versions of my software.

Cclite2 Preliminary Package

This is now available on Sourceforge at

It’s ¬†based on Mojolicious, Postgresql, a native RESTful interface, JWT direct access, SMS and non-app mobile phone HTML reduced interface. Also a simple test suite. Deeper details and a to-do list at Sourceforge. Better documentation to follow.

Currently there’s only English, French and Spanish templates, but, in a month or so when the set is stable, we’ll add the other languages.

Share and enjoy.