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From Home Owners Associations to Gravity Wells
Who gets to decide who can do what? Also: the camera work in Succession, music NFTs, & Deep House.
Whether baited or not, this tweet did the rounds this week, talking about the value of Home Owners Associations (HOA).
People rightfully dunked on him. God forbid, you want to plant some veggies on your front yard?! Right?
That being said, this comment underlines something I think about a lot: who gets to include or exclude others from doing something and how is that achieved? Complaining about (or celebrating) HOAs probably underlines one the most persistent political fault-lines.
I’m, personally, quite YIMBY. Build more and don’t let a few people stop others from doing that. Cities would thrive way more if we were more flexible on not excluding mixed-use and denser developments. One of the prime example of this is Japan. Zoning policy is set at the national level, which means that local communities can’t decide to exclude certain uses in their own neighbourhood. So, this can either be seen as granting freedom or taking away freedom. For some, like Nick above, an HOA is the freedom to exclude for the sake of that small community. Certain individual rights (like planting some veggies in your yard) can and would impede on that community’s enjoyment of their neighbourhood (according to him).
Another framing of this axis comes from Vitalik Buterin: the bulldozer vs vetocracy.
Bulldozer: single actors can do important and meaningful, but potentially risky and disruptive, things without asking for permission
Vetocracy: doing anything potentially disruptive and controversial requires getting a sign-off from a large number of different and diverse actors, any of whom could stop it
In Japanese housing policy, one can “bulldoze” a lot more because the national legislation permits it. Whereas, in many western countries (ht), there’s currently a lot of dismay over the vetocracy stopping new and much needed developments. A few people can block new developments. The inverse, is that we also don’t want a Robert Moses separating neighbourhoods to build awful highways.
How do we resolve this tension? Sam believes that instead of vetos, we should trigger votes (for example).
In these cases, the key is to restrict the ability to vote and trigger a vote to the people who we think are significantly adversely affected by the development. The reason is partially to do with economic efficiency – we want some kind of proxy for the negative externalities – and partially to do with politics – if we tried to remove everyone’s ability to veto, we’d face the same problems that every postwar government that’s tried to liberalise planning has faced. As was once said of taxation, we need to pluck the goose to obtain the most amount of feathers with the minimal amount of hissing – our goal is to exclude the “cheap talk” NIMBYs from the process, while still letting the highly motivated ones take part.
The struggle, as he points out, is how do we figure out then, who gets to participate in votes when developments impact them? He also points to Coase, which asks a similar question, but for firms: what is the optimal size of a firm?
I like to take my cues on these solutions from physics. I previously wrote on a theory of the firm that comes from the Celestial Roche Limit: the point at which celestial objects break apart from gravitational pull. In the case of a firm, it then presents the point at which it’s optimal for firms to merge.
Economic Roche Limit1 = Radius of the Primary Firm / (2*(Output of Primary Firm/Output of Secondary Firm))^1/3.
Economic Roche Limit2 = Radius of the Secondary Firm / (2*(Resources of Primary Firm/Resources of Secondary Firm))^1/3.
In other words, choosing who gets to decide on what happens could be done in a similar way. One thinks about externalities like gravity. Another formula I posited, was Gravity Georgism. Who gets to benefit from land value taxes? Distribute it by proximity.
I don’t remember where and from whom, but when I posted some of these ideas, someone presented the same idea, but for voting. Anyone can vote, everywhere, it’s just that their impact is lessened by distance from the impact. Theoretically, a person in South Africa could vote on a development to pass in a street in London, but the power of the vote will be very small. It enshrines democracy as a broader consensus mechanism that’s not defined by arbitrary borders. Everything is connected, after all.
So, yes, my vote is: let Nick’s neighbour get a damn veggie garden.
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The Viewer/Listener In Stories
I loved Succession and really enjoyed this video essay going deeper into specifically the camera work in it and how it creates a sense of presence for the viewer.
This is what is sometimes remarkable about excellent storytelling: when small details like who to focus on, matters. It’s also a topic I think about frequently in storytelling: the presence of the reader/viewer in the story. I find that sometimes the viewer is represented by a character. For example, in Succession, besides the camera, it’s Greg. Another example: in my debut novel, Rulo, is the less smarter brother who jokes around a bit. A lovable goofball of a character. Because the novel has a lot of technical systems, I used Rulo as a proxy for the reader. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, and through him, I can tell the reader what’s important or not, while still dishing out the technicalities of the systems within the city of Gridlock.
There’s plenty examples of this in stories: characters (or other tricks) as proxies for the listener/viewer. Do you have any examples that come to mind?
Music NFTs are Dead?
People aren’t really buying music NFTs anymore. This is also in part due to the broader NFT market having lost steam. I’m still a believer in the long-term value of digital collectibles and I think the current struggle is figuring out how to use this format to engender and solidify the connection between the fan and the creator. Music NFTs in its current format has always felt awkward to me. NFTs are a primarily visual medium still and music is majorly being commodified on platforms like Spotify. Collecting songs-as-NFTs feels like an awkward round peg in square holes. For the current format of the medium, it feels more apt to see the musician as a vessel for performance art. The interesting NFTs or collectibles from a musician is not the songs, but perhaps, things like a snippet from a live show, or a behind-the-scenes Stealcam. Phase 1 of NFTs is/was characterised by it being a primarily visual medium whose context was marketplaces and speculation. Phase 2 will evolve out of this into broader context and provenance creation (that’s native to the format). I don’t necessarily know what that will look like, but I think we’ll get there eventually. :)
Computing Distance of A City
I found this an interesting thought. Cities are bandwidth gravity wells. Network effects that only work within a certain range. My heuristic: the computing distance of a city is where its e-hailing apps are not reliable anymore.
Think of any other ones?
The Aperiodic Spectre
There’s a singular shape which one can tile with that will not form any periodic regions of any size. In other words, it does not form repeatable patterns. The Spectre is one that results in aperiodic tiling with only translations and rotations.
It’s a good reminder that sometimes things that look orderly can ALSO be chaotic at the same time. Sometimes that dichotomy feels like an illusion. I feel these recent aperiodic monotiles hold some fundamental truth about how we think about life and society: a metaphor to be reused in various life situations. Whatever it is, I’m not sure. I guess, if there’s no pattern to it, maybe there isn’t. The fundamental truth is… is that there isn’t any? 😅
Boet Quality - Magenta’s Room
This week’s track is one I found on TikTok. Stellar deep house energy from a fellow South African. Play it out to a good sunset!
(also, nothing says gravity wells in homes like deep house… right?!? 😂)
Also. Hey friends! It’s been 6 months of writing this newsletter and I still enjoy it every week. We’re at 200 subscribers and 3 paid subscribers. Thank you for the support. One thing I’ve been wondering about, is due to the broad spectrum of ‘scenes’ I share weekly, whether it doesn’t make sense to split some of the articles/posts across more articles. For example, in this newsletter I talk about home owners associations, storytelling, and music NFTs. Maybe, each section needs its own post, for legibility and sharing. In other words: more shorter posts during the week, instead of one big article a week (and many different things within in).
I’m leaning towards wanting to split it into more articles, but need to figure out what that will look like and what that cadence it will be. I’ve built a good habit of making time for this newsletter each week, so will then need to figure out how to change that.
For now, I’ll continue with one weekly bumper post. But, if you have any feedback to share, let me know! Not going to lie, I feel this is always the problem with what I do: too many things that are trying to find their own place. 😅
Have a great sunset!
See you next week.