The last few months have seen me on more than a few airplanes: Lisbon in October, Malaysia in December, and just yesterday I returned from more than two weeks in Vancouver. I don’t know about you, but every time I travel I always ask: “could I live here?” Buried in that question are all sorts of personal assumptions and comparisons.
Vancouver is a pretty easy one for me. I lived there for four or five years in the past, have many good memories, and a small group of resident friends and family. I love its multiculturalism, but wish it had better weather. Although I have visited a few times in recent years (ie you may recall my adventure picking up my electric car) this time was the first that I spent in East Van, infamous for its large unhoused population and as a new front for gentrification. It put me in mind of how cities around the world can feel.
Compare, for example, Kuala Lumpur. This is a highly developed and populous city in a youthful country that has seen decades of continued development. It was fascinating to be in a country “on the up” (yes, this is very broad strokes) especially coming from Japan which has been on a slow but steady decline for the past 30 years or so. KL has the standard signs of a developing city: lots of ongoing construction, shiny “modern” buildings and fancy condos side-by-side with older buildings from a previous generation that may or may not be slated for destruction… yet. While in Vancouver I stayed in a new tower which felt like an island relative to the surrounding neighbourhood. It struck me how similar the experience was… almost like I was merely in a colder KL. (And I deign to call KL “developing”?!)
I suppose all cities are in a constant state of development. Even in Kyoto hotels are popping up everywhere to support mass tourism, displacing families from the downtown core to “bedroom towns” on the other side of the mountain. (One difference is here “old” can often be valued and protected… but somebody still has to pay!)
Is it just a subjective ”feeling”? KL, and Malaysia as a whole, feels like it is getting better (once again, broad strokes… KL suffers from a lot of urban development sins), whereas many North American cities feel like they are crumbling. A friend told me that it is way worse in the UK — at least in Canada the narrative is “we know this is broken, we should fix it!” whereas post-Brexit Britain just seems to continue flogging itself. In Japan the feeling of decline is incessant. The economy has suffered from deflation or very minimal growth for more than a generation. Yet the physical and social infrastructure remains so much better than Canada. Despite being so clean and well-maintained, Japan feels “behind” in a number of categories: technology, stagnant wages, deflationary prices, only 19% of people have passports… there are so many indicators but I am not sure which ones are key. What makes a city great and competitive? It seems like fewer and fewer are serving all their citizens equally.
I have no answers. Sorry! I am just in a reflective mood. Recently I have been investigating how remote workers can be successful and listening to interviews with ”location independent” people I’ve heard a variety reasons people pick a place to live, even for a short time. Remote work introduces a whole other level of criteria (not to mention privilege!) for choosing where to live. More often than not, the choice is but an illusion and you gotta go where you gotta go.
Sorry to end this missive on a downer. I hope things are good wherever you are,
Nothing this month. I have three drafts on the go, but working long hours during the Vancouver retreat I was too wiped to finish any.
A collection of albums from Kuala Lumpur and Melaka for which I still have to write a travel report Link →
While in Vancouver we had a dweb event at The Internet Archive Canada office, which is a gorgeously restored heritage building. Thread →
Here are all my pics from Vancouver Photos →
Direct action in the housing crisis Link →
An important essay making the rounds about the future of the Internet Link →
SIDENOTE: If you haven’t seen Everything Everywhere All At Once, do yourself a favour and watch it! Go in blind! (But also note that it is unfortunately not for kids)
Governing The Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action by Elinor Ostrom (17% Complete)
A while back an essay out of Aeon reminded us that the concept of the “tragedy of the commons” is false, referring to Ostrom’s classic Governing the Commons. At my company we decided to do a reading club and close-read this foundational text as we consider our work building open protocols for common betterment.
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