Remote work will break the US monopoly on global talent

November 8th, 2021

Remote work is creating a new economic niche, and countries that put in the work to fill it will finally be able to compete with the US to attract talent. This is the once-in-a-generation opportunity for small, stable countries to grow, diversify, and up-skill their economy. The United States has been the #1 target destination for immigrants for generations. It has a mythical reputation as the place where anyone can go from rags to riches. It'...

Urban sprawl is a tragedy of the commons

November 4th, 2021

We tend to choose larger homes than we want our neighbors to choose. The result: sprawling development that doesn't match what people actually want from their communities. People aim to maximize access and space when deciding where to live. All things equal, most people like living in places with easy access to their day-to-day life. It's nice to be able to walk your kids to kindergarten, and it's easier to keep a social life when many of yo...

My questions about Próspera, answered

August 30th, 2021

I recently visited Próspera, a Honduran startup city. I had a ton of questions and figured others might too, so I wrote an FAQ to share what I learned: Próspera FAQ This FAQ is intended as a reference, covering the basic facts and current status of the project. My hope is that this document will help startup city builders learn from the path Próspera is carving. It covers a range of topics:infrastructure in Próspera and its neighborsHonduras'...

Podcasts & conferences I've spoken at

August 26th, 2021

I haven't done a great job of tracking these, so this list is non-comprehensive. I'll try to keep it updated. If you only listen to one, I recommend the talk I gave at Config (which is highlighted).Devon Zuegel, creator of GitHub Sponsors (Aug 2021) – Sourcegraph podcastCities with Devon Zuegel (June 2021) – Metamuse podcastThe City Guide to Open Source (Feb 2020) – a talk for Config, Figma's conferenceThe making of GitHub Sponsors (Nov 2019) ...

OWD #5: The evolution of urban utopias (guest episode from Caos Planejado)

July 10th, 2021

Alain was interviewed by our friend Anthony for a Brazilian urbanism blog called Caos Planejado, and we thought it would be fun to cross-post it here. They discussed Brazilian cities, municipal financing, what it was like to live in NYC in the time of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, how urban planners' thinking has evolved over the course of Alain's long career, and lots more.RSS · Apple Podcasts · Spotify · Overcast Alain was interviewed by our...

What are startup cities for?

July 2nd, 2021

While the startup cities industry is still small, it is already quite heterogeneous. Each project has its own distinct set of goals, motivations, and scope. However, this diversity isn’t fully captured by the vocabulary we use right now. To help myself create a mental map of the industry, I’ve grouped these motivations into 5 categories. I’ve also included examples of places that personify each motivation. (Some of those examples wouldn’t sel...

Field notes: Miami

April 21st, 2021

These field notes are a bit different from previous cities I've explored, because unlike those, Miami is my home! So this post partially serves as a life update—I moved to Miami Beach from California a few months ago, and I'm excited to share my explorations with you. What makes Miami special – A few things that stand out to me about Miami.Expectation vs reality – Miami is not just the set of Spring Breakers.Neighborhoods – A quick lay of the ...

OWD #4: Supersonic planes, levitating trains, & electric automobiles

December 23rd, 2020

Mobility is central to living in every city. In this episode, we discussed how different communities tackle the question of transportation, and how culture shapes how different transport technologies get adopted.RSS · Apple Podcasts · Spotify · OvercastMobility is central to living in every city. In this episode, we discussed how different communities tackle the question of transportation, and how culture shapes how different transport technol...

On bounties

October 12th, 2020

Michael Kaminsky recently emailed me an interesting post he wrote about bounties in open source, and I took the opportunity to write up some thoughts that had been swirling in my head for a while. You can find the (lightly edited) response I sent to him below. ~ Bounties are great for well-scoped, low-context work. For example, bounties work can quite well for things like penetration testing, because it's fairly clear what the objective is (sp...

Topographic theory of flaking

August 16th, 2020

Natan Gesher sent me the following email after reading my post about why flaking is so widespread in San Francisco, and I thought you all might find it interesting too: I saw your blog posts about flaking and wanted to share something I've observed from moving around a bit (four years in Manhattan for university, then two years in Jerusalem, five years in Tel Aviv, two years in San Francisco, three and a half years in Manhattan, one year in S...

OWD #3: Disney World & other underworlds

August 15th, 2020

Every place has some dirty secrets, even Disney World. We all have to get rid of waste somehow! In this episode, the Bertauds and I discuss methods of sanitation and waste management from around the world, and how these hidden systems shape our cities. RSS · Apple Podcasts · Spotify · Overcast Every place has some dirty secrets, even Disney World. We all have to get rid of waste somehow! So in this episode, the Bertauds and I discuss methods o...

Chautauqua: an idea embedded in a place

July 22nd, 2020

I want to tell you about the place I spent summers growing up. It's called Chautauqua Institution, and it's one of the most special places in the world — and not just because I spent my childhood there. Chautauqua is special because it is an idea embedded in a place. The place is a small town in western New York, on the edge of the Great Lakes. Chautauqua's human-scale streets are lined with lovingly-tended gardens and charming Victorian cotta...

OWD #2: Vanished in Guadalajara

July 8th, 2020

Alain and Marie-Agnes raised three children while living their nomadic lifestyle. So in this episode, we dug into how their role as parents shaped how they experience cities. Join us as we roam Bangkok, Guadalajara, Sana'a, Paris, Port-au-Prince, NYC and beyond!RSS · Apple Podcasts · Spotify · Overcast Here's the full transcript. You can also find it with synced audio here. If you'd like to correct any errors in the transcript, let me know an...

The silence is deafening

July 2nd, 2020

Imagine you're at a dinner party, and you're getting into a heated argument. As you start yelling, the other people quickly hush their voices and start glaring at you. None of the onlookers have to take further action—it's clear from their facial expressions that you're being a jerk. In digital conversations, giving feedback requires more conscious effort. Silence is the default. Participants only get feedback from people who join the fray. T...

OWD #1: Tea time in Yemen

May 7th, 2020

I'm starting a podcast with my friends, Marie-Agnes and Alain Bertaud, who also happen to be the most interesting couple I know. Over the course of this first conversation, we traveled all around the globe for a whirlwind tour of the adventurous life they've led together.Audio · Photos · Transcript RSS · Apple Podcasts · Spotify · Overcast As I mentioned in my recent post, I'm starting a podcast with my friends, Marie-Agnes and Alain Bertau...

Digital vs analog error correction

May 3rd, 2020

The purpose of this writeup was to summarize something interesting I learned recently, to make sure I understood it. I figured others might find it interesting, too. ~ ~ ~ Digital signal processing corrects for errors better than its analog counterpart. This is one of the reasons why modern electronics are always digital. Concretely, let's say you have a digital component that expects either 0V or 10V, and it outputs the same value it receiv...

OWD #0: Welcome to Order Without Design

April 30th, 2020

I'm starting a new podcast called Order Without Design with the most interesting couple I know: Alain & Marie-Agnes Bertaud. This project is an extension of their book, Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities. With its focus on economic theory, you might not realize that this book is the product of the adventurous life these two have shared together. This podcast series is my excuse to hear and share those stories. Join the three of u...

Book review: Against the Grain, by James C. Scott

January 1st, 2020

The book that etched the deepest grooves in my mind last year was Against the Grain by James C. Scott. It explores how the unique characteristics of grain-based agriculture shaped the early history of states. While I did learn many interesting historical facts and trends from the book, what stood out to me most was Scott's emphasis on epistemics. When he pointed to the archaeological record, he wouldn't simply cherrypick a basket of facts tha...

Book notes: Against the Grain, by James C. Scott

January 1st, 2020

Here are some notes and quotes that particularly stood out to me from each chapter of Against the Grain. This isn't a summary of the book. It's mostly for my future self to refer back to (and thus probably missing a lot for someone who hasn't read it), but the tidbits are so interesting that I figured I'd share it nonetheless in case it's remotely helpful to someone else. You can read my more coherent review of the book here. Introduction The...

Unconventional strategies for practicing Spanish

December 26th, 2019

Language skills are highly multi-dimensional*, so while learning a language, it's important to come at it from lots of different directions. Here are some of the tricks I've used to practice Spanish that I haven't heard so many other people use. (They're likely useful for other languages too, of course.) (1) Translate past writing you've already published in English One fun exercise is to take something you wrote in English, translate it t...

Vacuum tube nostalgia

October 21st, 2019

Music enthusiasts will tell you there's nothing quite like "tube sound", the warm, rich sound quality that old vacuum tube amplifiers bring to the music played through them. And they'll pay top dollar for it! Once considered obsolete, vintage vacuum tube amps now sell at a premium, because audiophiles want to reproduce the harmonic distortions this old tech is so famous for. This now-beloved distortion was initially seen as a bug, not a featur...

On [there being more than] liberty

September 9th, 2019

Recently, Ayaz Matin sent me an email asking the following question:When I was looking at your website I came across these words: Individual liberty is the single most important value that society should uphold.I’m more utilitarian and communitarian now.I still believe we should be extremely skeptical of sacrificing individual liberties for the sake of a greater good (in practice if not in theory), but I no longer hold liberty as sacrosanct.Th...

Markets in everything at the Duomo

August 11th, 2019

You're not allowed inside the Duomo with your shoulders uncovered. We learned this the hard way. I was wearing a spaghetti strap dress (it's 92℉/33℃ and humid here in Milan), so they stopped my little group at the entrance, after we'd already purchased 3 tickets. Luckily, we only had about 15 seconds of frustration. I said "Ah that's a shame", Sebastián responded "Oh I'm sure there's a shop around here somewhere", Tyler said "Markets in eve...

Contemplating calendars

July 10th, 2019

My friends say that my calendaring practice is atypical (and mock me incessantly for it). They're not wrong, but I'll contend that most people underutilize this ubiquitous tool. A calendar is not just a reminder device for keeping track of external events. Used right, a calendar can be a full-fledged tool for thought. For me, it's a dynamic journal with a wide range of useful, meaningful, and surprising perks. Here are some of the more idiosy...

Travel photos are underrated

June 9th, 2019

I snapped many photos while wandering Haifa last week, as I always do whenever I see something new or interesting while exploring a city. I was with my friend Tyler, who conspicuously does not take photos while exploring a new place. I asked him why, and his answer was, "It's a distraction, and I can find better images online." The first half of his answer really resonated with me. I too find it distracting to document something in the midst ...

Google Docs' sheet-of-paper metaphor

May 12th, 2019

For ages, I've wondered why Google Docs still clings to the sheet-of-paper metaphor when lots of its users never print out most of their documents. Of course it does make sense for "Print layout" to be an option. Many people do print docs, and students make up a huge portion of the users. What I find strange is that Google Docs imposes this UI—you cannot escape the sheet of paper with its edges and isomorphic physicality even if you're just c...

OSS lazy-loads governance

April 7th, 2019

A special characteristic of open source software (OSS) is that you don't need institutional support to get started. It's interesting to compare this to physical infrastructure, like dams or railroads. Before you can begin those projects, you need upfront capital, permits, rights-of-way, environmental impact reviews, community hearings... and so much more. By contrast, all you need in order to begin a digital infrastructure project is an inte...

Independence for whom?

March 23rd, 2019

I recently spent a day at Sea Ranch, a strange and beautiful place. Sea Ranch is a planned community with a distinctive architectural style: simple timber-frame structures clad in wooden siding, and gardens all planted with native flora. The Sea Ranch Design Committee enforces strict design rules on all 1,800 homes along that 10-mile stretch of the Northern California coast. The result is a cohesive, calming aesthetic unlike anywhere else I've...

Cities reading list

February 9th, 2019

Many people have reached out asking what books have been most impactful in shaping my views on cities. I've written and rewritten answers enough times that I figured it's most efficient if I just write it up one time here and share the link. 🙂 ~ Order Without Design by Alain Bertaud Reason to read this: Offers rigorous yet humble models for how urban systems work. This kind of analytical rigor is incredibly rare in urbanism! This was one ...

Empathy for the Devil

February 3rd, 2019

I. Loan application Before serving time for mortgage fraud, Toby Groves seemed like the last person who would get into that kind of trouble. His older brother had been sentenced for the same crime twenty years earlier, and Toby had seen how it destroyed his family. He swore he’d never make a similar mistake. Then in 2003, the company he’d founded ran into problems. Out of a sense of responsibility to his employees and their families, Toby to...

Re: For the greater good: the game theory of zoning

December 30th, 2018

Jake Auchincloss emailed me about my recent post For the greater good: the game theory of zoning and made the constructive point that a homeowner's mindset is "situation-dependent, not ingrained". At the end of the post, I had written that "Individualists and Regionalists are odd bedfellows". Jake pointed out that there may be tension at the abstract level of the Individualist-Localist-Regionalist framework, but that in practice people don't o...

Field notes: London, England

December 26th, 2018

I was in London for a conference for a few days in late October. The city was lovely, an unexpectedly nice place to wander. I came in with low expectations, expecting a drab, grey metropolis congested with traffic and filled with suited financiers scurrying from place to place. What I found was an agglomeration of charming urban villages, each with their own specific flavor. They were pedestrian-friendly, spotted with parks, and draped with tr...