Showing all posts tagged #cities:


Travel photos are underrated

Posted on 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 ...

Independence for whom?

Posted on 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

Posted on 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 ...

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

Posted on 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

Posted on 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...

For the greater good: the game theory of zoning

Posted on November 16th, 2018

Pro-housing advocates criticize "NIMBYs" as being uncooperative and selfish. However that's not how the so-called NIMBYs see themselves. The difference is a question of the granularity of your analysis. Individualists vs Localists A question I hear a lot is: "Why do NIMBY homeowners support zoning laws? Isn't it in their best interest to allow for the highest and best use so that they can sell their own property for the maximum price? Don't t...

City review: Manchester, England

Posted on November 8th, 2018

Update: A few people have criticized my spending only a single Friday night in Manchester. I meant to highlight the fact that that my experience isn't comprehensive, not to imply I think I have some deep understanding of the place after just one short weekend. However I realize it may have come off as the exact opposite. So to clarify the limited scope of this post: I was in Manchester for a short time, and some specific differences in culture...

Ekistic lexicon: call for proposals

Posted on September 12th, 2018

In a recent conversation, Sebastián pointed out that there is a dearth of words to talk about cities. I gestured to a building while walking around the Fillmore and said "That's some nice urbanism!", and he grumbled that that's equivalent to pointing to a shop and saying "That's some nice economics!". His point was that the word "urbanism" is overloaded, and he's right. We use it to describe everything in the lexical space: concrete physical...

Notes on the streetcars vs buses debate

Posted on September 3rd, 2018

This was originally published in Oct 2015. It's a controversial question whether streetcar (also known as trams, trolleys) or bus rapid transit systems (BRT) are a better investment to solve cities' challenge of offering short-distance transit options. The two offer similar stop spacing, and both share the road with cars. However, they differ greatly in their cost structure, flexibility, and public image. Some notes on the subject... The arg...

A public bus named desire

Posted on September 2nd, 2018

This was originally published in Nov 2015. When I first stumbled across the streetcar vs bus rapid transit (BRT) debate, I was strongly biased towards streetcars. My opinion was largely shaped by the few weeks I spent in Berlin this past summer. While I was in Germany, I relied most heavily on Berlin's friendly yellow Metrotrams. I really only used the U-bahn and S-bahn when I had to make long, cross-city trips, where the travel time differen...

City review: A day in Bangalore

Posted on August 2nd, 2018

I spent Friday, 9 March 2018 in Bangalore, India, the last of the cities I visited that week. Of the five, Bangalore was the one that pleasantly surprised me the most. I had never been to India before, and I prepared myself for an underdeveloped, hectic urban experience. Its infrastructure was substandard, and it was not a sparkling metropolis like Singapore or a viscerally ambitious culture like Beijing, but it had a dynamism and cosmopolitan...

Agglomeration effects (might) change the YIMBY calculus

Posted on July 15th, 2018

Epistemic status: Pretty sure of the structure of the argument (~80%), not so sure of the valence of the coefficients (~60% that agglomeration does not overwhelm the supply-demand effect). Epistemic effort: Medium effort. This idea has bounced around my head for almost a year, and over that time I spoke with several friends about it. Then, I had a long conversation in which I formalized it a bit more, at which point I decided to write it down....

What do NIMBYs, lawyers, and ICE have in common?

Posted on July 11th, 2018

Zoning, occupational licensing, and immigration are all the same problem, just in different forms. They all reduce individuals' ability to move to the places with the greatest opportunity, and a few concentrated interests are overrepresented, trouncing the broader social interest. In the case of zoning, NIMBYs constrain the potential of a neighborhood or region for the sake of their own stability, comfort, and home values. Future residents are...

North American vs Japanese zoning

Posted on May 30th, 2018

I originally published these notes in April of last year in one of my old blogs. These notes come from reading two blog posts from the wonderful Urban Kchoze blog:Urban kchoze: Japanese zoning (here is the annotated and cached copy)Urban kchoze: euclidian zoning (here is the annotated and cached copy)The Japanese system is inclusionary, as contrasted to the exclusionary system common here in the US. The typical zoning form in America is calle...

Japanese street networks

Posted on May 22nd, 2018

I originally published this in May of last year in Idea Collector, one of my old blogs. Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience wandering Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo last May. I'd be curious to learn how it compares to objective measures, models, others' experience, and so on! Epistemic effort: I noted my impressions in bullet-point form while wandering around the cities, then when I returned from the trip I spent ~1h ...

Continuous urbanization in Japan

Posted on May 21st, 2018

I originally published this in May of last year in Idea Collector, one of my old blogs. Epistemic status: This is a quick write up of my personal experience wandering Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo last May. I'd be curious to learn how it compares to objective measures, models, others' experience, and so on! Epistemic effort: I noted my impressions in bullet-point form while wandering around the cities, then when I returned from the trip I spent ~1h ...

City review: A day in Jakarta

Posted on May 21st, 2018

I spent Thursday, 8 March 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Of the cities I visited during this trip, Jakarta was the one I disliked most. I try to be as positive as possible on the internet (it's just too easy to be negative), but in this case it would be ingenious. The parts of Jakarta I explored were unpleasant and a bit depressing. If Las Vegas and Mad Max had a baby... The main thoroughfare felt more like a highway than a street. This combine...

Scale-free travel

Posted on May 7th, 2018

Cities are fractal. You can always go a layer deeper and there’s just as much complexity. Following this principle, I sometimes think it might make sense to just stay in San Francisco my whole life and explore the infinite levels of that fractal. It’s cheaper than interstate or international travel anyway, and according to this framework you get the same amount of interestingness no matter how many levels deep you go. The catch is that whe...

Singapore and the international community

Posted on April 20th, 2018

A while back Daniel Frank emailed me about the essay I published about Singapore, and he was skeptical of the idea that the international community would act as a deterrent against authoritarianism in Singapore:First, I don’t think this applies to most countries (for example, look at the muted Western protest to changes in countries like Turkey and Poland). Secondly, I specifically think doesn’t apply to Singapore. The two most influential n...

A day in Singapore, Part I: Urban identity

Posted on April 19th, 2018

Epistemic status: My personal impressions from wandering the city for a day. Very likely that I'm missing important nuance in lots of places. If you notice a gap, please let me know! I'm so curious to learn more about Singapore. This is more of a diary entry than a worldview. Not sure how to put a confidence interval on that. 🙂 Epistemic effort: I jotted down notes throughout the day in the city and wrote up this post without lots of editing...

What would SB 827 mean for California?

Posted on April 17th, 2018

California's housing crisis is not a new problem, but for the first time there's a proposal facing the state legislature that could make a dent: Senate Bill 827, known as SB 827. The bill would change zoning around transit to allow for mid-rise housing. To get a sense of its potential, some friends and I created renderings to illustrate what the bill would make possible. Here's one of them: You can find the rest of the renderings plus more...

City review: A day in Saigon

Posted on March 22nd, 2018

I spent Tuesday, 6 March 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. I like the city’s pre-war name better (not a political statement—I just think it’s prettier ☺️), so I’ll use that throughout the post. Most of the signs around town used "Saigon" rather than HCMC, and some of the locals I spoke to called it that too, so I think it’s kosher. As with Beijing, I was also excited for the food, to get a sense of daily life, and of course ...

City review: A day in Beijing

Posted on March 17th, 2018

I spent Monday, 5 March 2018 in Beijing. The urbanist nerd inside of me was thrilled to see China’s capital. I’d read so much about its astounding growth and change in the past few decade—finally a chance to see it firsthand! I was also excited for the food, to get a sense of daily life, and of course to build my mental map of the city. My key takeaway is that Beijing is an epicenter of cultural and technological change, but the experience ...

Singapore: Sovereign City

Posted on March 7th, 2018

Epistemic status: Highly uncertain, asserted with ~40% confidence. Low enough that I didn’t publish this piece when I originally wrote it in May of 2016. But a recent first trip to Singapore reaffirmed the intuitions in here. Even if the argument is wrong, I think it’s wrong in interesting ways, and I want to start a conversation about it. Plus, since originally drafting this essay I now have the concept of "epistemic status" in my toolset (h/...

Bike share face-off: JUMP vs GoBike

Posted on February 19th, 2018

A few weeks ago, JUMP Bikes launched a pilot of 250 bikes in SF. Their fleet is dockless and electric, and I’ve been skeptical of the hype around both features, so I was excited to give it a spin. My experience with GoBike, which by comparison both has stations and is human-powered (for now), has been fantastic. I’ve used it nearly every day (sometimes multiple times a day!) since signing up last spring. I evangelize it to anyone who will lis...