Showing all posts tagged #cities:


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 ...

Building a personal map

Posted on March 17th, 2018

I love the feeling of building up a mental map of a once-unfamiliar place. Last week I traveled to several cities that I’d never visited before (Beijing, Saigon, Singapore, Jakarta, and Bangalore), so March has been full of this sensation. I joked with friends that I was "training my neural net". I’d read a lot about two of the cities (Beijing, Singapore), knew a bit about one (Saigon), and knew close to nothing about the others (Jakarta, ...

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...

Re: Flaking

Posted on February 13th, 2018

Dan Wang emailed me with some interesting additional hypotheses regarding the question of flaking that I raised last week: I liked your piece on flaking. When I moved to New York, I found that flaking declined dramatically. So I think that any piece that talks about flaking in SF has to explain why it happens less in NY. Here's what I'd offer: SF is made up more of tech people, who like to spend long periods of time on their own, and aren't o...

Special snowflakes and canonical examples

Posted on February 9th, 2018

I’m proud to be a beginner! But when it comes to the concrete steps of learning something new, I often feel undue shame about my approach. At first, I thought it was a fear of not knowing things or, more likely, a fear of other people seeing of me as a beginner. This doesn’t add up though. I don’t hesitate to ask questions when I’m stuck, and I pride myself on my love of picking up new skills and learning new things. In fact, going from zero ...

Why is flaking so widespread in San Francisco?

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

In an email exchange with Brian Lui, he asked me an interesting question about the rate of flaking in San Francisco: I had a brief question too. I've read that the rate of "flaking" in San Francisco is really high, because everyone is so busy and there is so much to do. But then I thought, wouldn't that lead to an extra strong norm against flaking, because your time is too precious to get flaked on by someone? Apparently this doesn't happen an...

Subsidizing Suburbia series

Posted on July 30th, 2017

Subsidizing Suburbia: A forgotten history of how the government created suburbiaFinancing Suburbia: How government mortgage policy determined where you liveExempting Suburbia: How suburban sprawl gets special treatment in our tax codePaving Suburbia: How federal projects reshaped your community around the automobile (coming soon!)Zoning Suburbia: How single-use zoning is responsible for your 45-minute commute (coming soon!)

We Should Be Building Cities for People, Not Cars

Posted on August 19th, 2016

The way we live is shaped by our infrastructure—the public spaces, building codes, and utilities that serve a city or region. It can act as the foundation for thriving communities, but it can also establish unhealthy patterns when designed poorly.For decades, San Francisco’s waterfront was dominated by the massive Embarcadero Freeway. The Ferry Building was hidden in the shadow of a grungy overpass, and the double decker highway blocked reside...

Book notes — Walkable City

Posted on July 29th, 2016

Notes from reading Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck.Core argument: A walkable city is not just a nice, idealistic notion. Rather, it is a simple, practical-minded solution to a host of complex problems that we face as a society, problems that daily undermine our nation’s economic competitiveness, public welfare, and environmental sustainability.The American health care crisis is at its heart an urb...

Google Maps Convinced Me to Ditch My Car

Posted on June 30th, 2016

I am always a little embarrassed when people find out that I had a car in college. I'm a transit geek after all, and I always encourage friends to take public and on-demand transit rather than generate congestion and consume parking spots. Despite all this, I drove multiple times each week last year, because I felt like it was my only real option to get to places I needed to go around the Bay Area. Now, I rarely drive anymore, and I've become ...

The Death and Life of American Company Towns

Posted on June 29th, 2016

Google feeds its employees well. No Googler's desk is further than 150 feet from a "micro kitchen" stocked with goodies, and the campus is dotted with over 20 restaurants and cafes. Everything on the menu is free of charge to Googlers and their guests, and it includes specialities like creme brûlée and fresh handmade sushi. The perks of working at Google extend far beyond the free food and snacks. Google HQ contains a bowling alley, bocce ball...