It is still cold here in Toronto. This means that all the snow that got deposited last week is still here. Yay!
Except, it’s choking all the roads and sidewalks. Mostly sidewalks and bike lanes, actually. While snow clearing has made our roads clear of snow, it has deposited all this snow on, you guessed it, our sidewalks and bike lanes.
Unless you do snow removal.
I only learned about the distinction between snow clearing and snow removal this week. 🤯
Pretty cool. If you read my piece on Winter Cities below, you’ll realize that what I describe about Quebec City is their ability to conduct snow removal.
Anyhow. This newsletter is, once again, a compilation of pieces I’ve published this past week for Ship30. It’s been a lot of writing lately! I hope you enjoy.
I will paste the whole essays into this newsletter so it’s easier to read, plus provide links at the bottom.
Day 8: A Loved Home is a Microcosm of a Loved City: An exploratory semi-fiction. (A twitter thread)
1/ The MVP
When you first move out on your own, you get a basic set of cutlery, plates, cups, pots and pans, a bed, a desk or couch... one of each thing, often handed down.
Setup is cheap, meant to get you on your feet.
Same with cities, though not many young places exist today. Search photos of North Americans places 200+ years ago and you get an idea:
cheap wooden shacks along an active route of sorts.
2/ Small bets
Opportunities arise to cheaply add better tools to your starter items.
More kitchenware, a reading chair found on the curb, more sets of bedding on sale, and cute memorabilia from nights out, or trips made.
Our small settlement attracts new residents, grows wider with cross roads to accommodate buildings behind the initial rows. A small grid forms.
Small success means the buildings on the main road can afford upgrades.
3/ Larger Quality of Life bets
You make a targeted investment.
Better baking sheets for the cookie lover; a bookshelf for the bookworm; a sound system for the audiophile. You purge stuff you haven't used for a while, or that ceased to fit.
You're slowly finding yourself.
The town starts vibing with its own lore.
Space is cleared for civic buildings to house sports, arts, and celebration. Monuments for local heroes. An influx of residents increase the footprint of the town, making Main St. more desirable.
Buildings there densify as a result.
4/ Expanded zones of interest
You've improved and optimized one part of your home really well.
Now you look at other areas and think of ways to make them equally attractive and useful to you.
The incredible success of the original town instigates smaller sub-cores to sprout which serves the daily needs of far-flung residents better.
They start a similar process of development to the original core.
5/ Find what sparks joy
Some things are treasured.
Your parents old paring knife from when you first moved out. A tea pot from late uncle. An alpaca wool rug by a local indigenous artisan you found on a backpacking trip.
Other things may get rotated out, but not these items.
Beloved places are connected to many people's life events, and are kept. Other places may change. The character of place depends on who is willing to breathe life into it.
The main aspiration is to cultivate a thousand stewards who all care for this place, as it cares for them.
6/ It works. Now, make it a feedback loop.
Allow for feedback, similar to above, to closely understand needs.
Success is meeting the needs of the user(s) by taking action accordingly.
Discomfort result in contractions of self and humanity, which is a result of inaction.
Day 9: 3 things Quebec City can teach us about being a winter city
Many cities struggle throughout the winter.
These cities are in denial of their climate. They reject this part of their identity, and people here retreat for 4 months until spring is back again. And because they do winter poorly, they give winter a bad reputation.
That said, there are three things that winter cities need to get right to truly embrace their winter identity.
1. They need to be fun
In February 2020, my fiancé and I travelled to Quebec City to experience the magic of Carnaval, a true winter festival. Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in Canada, and the festival takes over parts of the city to stage shows, rides, sculptures, experiences, and activities for winter lovers. When we were there in 2020, these were some of the attractions:
a giant constructed snow slide with gorgeous views to the Chateau Frontenac
A giant ice castle that is the home of the festival's mascot, Bonhomme. Also a stage for night-time concerts.
Outdoor bars built out of ice, serving hot drinks (some with alcohol too)
A race to cross the St. Lawrence River in a canoe while the river is full of broken ice.
The streets were teeming with activity, from morning till late evening. It was family-friendly, with something for everyone.
2. They need to be functional
Snow can gum things up quickly.
Our flight going to Quebec City was delayed 12 hours because of a snow storm that hung over the region for that long. When we finally arrived at 1 am in the morning, the first thing we saw were snow banks 3-4 meter in height, everywhere.
We were staying in the old city, which has narrow, winding roads. Surprisingly, our Uber was actually able to get us to our destination because enough snow had vanished for us to get through. The secret? Special snow ploughs working 24/7 to clear as much snow as possible. They are equipped with a giant chute that would shoot snow into empty dump trucks behind them. Once full, the dump trucks would drive off and a new one would replace it. The lineup of empty dump trucks were half a dozen down the street.
It was marvellous to see how the Québécois take snow clearing very, very seriously.
3. They need to be indulgent
At the boutique hotel we were staying at, we ordered breakfast delivered to the room every day.
Turns out this breakfast arrives in a little picnic basket, with freshly baked croissants, jams, juices, plates and cutlery, all neatly packed. The room door even has a special hook dedicated to the delivery of this basket. I love croissants, and everything about this experience made me feel bubbly with joy every time we'd wake up to the light knock of the picnic baskets arriving at our door.
A hot chocolate croissant to start a cold morning is indulgent indeed.
Without fun, function and indulgence, the winters can certainly be dreary. Quebec City delivered an unforgettable winter experience, which taught us how joyful a place can be during the winter. Within the three points above lie a winter city's secrets to success.
Day 10: How I used "Spark Joy" to get myself out of my intellectual dark age.
It's been only a few years ago since I was still stuck in a dark age of my mind. I knew I had interesting ideas I wanted to explore, but didn't know how to nurture.
Today, the tables are turned.
I know how my brain feels when it finds new ideas. I'm able to capture and grow them over time, like a nursery. I'm able to connect the dots between ideas, building an every-growing web of knowledge.
What changed was that I became a better thinker through personal knowledge management (PKM).
But until recently, my implementation of PKM was very poor.
My capacity to listen deeply within myself for sparks of joy.
Use Marie Kondo's "Spark Joy" to find what you like - fast
Pick up an object and see if it sparks any joy in you. That's how fast you can start understanding yourself and your preferences. The idea assumes that while your mind will keep on negotiating with itself, you can directly tap into your true feelings about something by listening closely for sparks of joy.
I use this technique to understand what my true interests are.
For example, I knew I was passionate about cities, but I didn't really know why. Only after reading tons of material on cities and noticing what I liked did I discover my more specific obsession: what makes cities good for our souls, and how to establish an urban planning mandate around this?
In my experience, sparks don't lie.
Build your PKM using Spark Joy
Use Spark Joy throughout the process of building your PKM to understand whether something is working or not for your neurologically-unique mind.
Realize that you're embarking on a very personal journey. One where you're trying to build a system based on your unique mind and circumstances.
Apps, workflows, themes, naming conventions.... things that seem to fit others perfectly might not fit you. Use the change rooms liberally until you find something that sparks joy in you.
Once you do, cling to it like gold, and keep on building on it.
Be aware of another sensation - resistance - which signals to you that something is taking a lot of work to do. Be the judge of whether it's good work (thinking hard about an idea) or overhead work (deliberating hard about which folder to save something in).
Spark Joy has helped calibrate my sensibilities to find good ideas and develop good systems that work for me. It's the equivalent of teaching someone how to ride a bike - it is a skill that cannot be given. The skill must be earned by each individual. But, once learned, it's hard to forget.
Day 11: things that will increase the sense of community in high rise buildings
High-rise buildings, for all their density, are sure good at stifling community and culture.
It feels like each unit is designed to be as isolated and anonymous as possible. Like a suburban neighbourhood in a tower form.
But, it doesn't have to be this way. I've lived in apartments all my life and here are five ways to increase the sense of community of a high-rise building.
Customizable front door and mat
Like a profile page with a name, background pic and avatar, someone's front door can say a lot about its residents. Allow for door customizations, door decorations, mats, and name plates. Give the option to install a door bell. A front door experience gives a lot of personality to a space, and can make the hallways rich with life.
A random service directory
Maintain a directory where people can list services and specialities that they offer. A phone repair shop, a hobby cake baker, or an eager babysitter could all be living in your high-rise building . Also, you can create a directory for borrowing power tools, books, and other speciality equipment that is rarely used.
An online chat group like Facebook
As much as I am reluctant to admit this, Facebook groups for a building are a great way to stay connected to current ongoings of a high-rise community. Whether you are giving stuff away, need a cup of sugar, or wondering about when the new ice cream place down the street is finally opening, it is quite cool to be part of an active online group that's only made up of residents.
A large communal living room
Similar to an airport lounge or hotel lobby, make a place where people can go to get a break from their own abodes and sit in an immensely comfortable and spacious environment to relax. Connect it with the lobby, to activate a thoroughfare. And now with WFH, these kinds of spaces make high-rise living worth it.
Community leadership programs
While the previous tips may not require too many resources, it does require leadership. With training and a dedicated mandate for activating high-rise communities, a leader can be great for facilitating the needs of the unique community. Every place is different, and that's the challenge and the beauty of it.
Building events and competitions
A giant lunch potluck, a drawing contest for the kids, mural painting in the fire exits, unit garage sales and clothes swaps, workshops... The sky is the limit here.
There is a lot of potential wrapped up in high-rise communities. I hope that as we live in more of them, we learn to get better at designing them and facilitating within them an ability to develop a strong sense of community and belonging.
Day 12: Can crypto solve NIMBYism?
I think there is a way to ameliorate the chasm between NIMBYs and their opponents, by incentivizing NIMBYs to be proactive in helping solve problems on the neighbourhood and city level.
NIMBYs have a strong perception of "otherness". It is rooted in something very primal: the protection of one's territory from others. While I understand the idea, many of us on the other side are trying to address urgent problems which NIMBYs are currently incentivized to disregard.
I think Web3.0 can help solve this incentive problem. (Wait, really?)
Yes. Here is the idea that has been germinating in my head over the past couple of weeks: a city-based crypto currency.
🚨Caution: bleeding-edge theoretical ideas ahead!🚨
Minting the coin
The municipality makes all its residents holders of a Neighbourhood coin (NBHDcoin), which is linked to a fuzzy geographic fence based on your residence within a block.
Everyone gets one coin: renters, home owners, babies... anyone who resides there. If you move out of the city, you lose your coin.
Holding NBHDcoin means you have part-ownership of a whole city block. Your part-ownership gives you stakes in the success of the block. Your "ownership" zone weakens the further away it is from your block.
Coin value is linked to how well the block is doing from a community-building and urban economics point of view.
How coin value is affected
These are some of the ways I imagine coin value to be affected.
Urban economics: Coin value increases the more income (tax over ops/maintenance costs of infrastructure) the block generates for the city. This will incentivize block members to collaborate and find ways to integrate new density into their own block, which they can do on their own terms, or with assistance of developers.
Affordability: Coin value is negatively impacted by high property values of a place. Rising property values are related to increased desirability of the block, which is great, and it will cause more people to want to live here. This creates short supply. To keep your NBHDcoin value from tanking, create more supply with your neighbours.
Strong community: Coin value increases the longer that you and your neighbours on the block live in the same place. Your tenure signifies your investment in the long term wellbeing of the place. The block's cumulative tenure signifies similar commitment of your neighbours.
In essence, the idea is to incentivize behaviours that allow for bottom-up response to big problems that we've been unsuccessfully trying to solve from the top-down.
How to members benefit from high value NBHDcoin?
If your NBHDcoin is highly valued, it's because you've contributed to creating surplus value within the urban ecosystem that more than covers for your own costs.
Members enjoy lower taxes, more pension, discounts at community centres and services they've helped create and carry the costs of due to YIMBY behaviour. They're also subject to much less Land Transfer Tax if they choose to move their primary residence.
PS. I wrote this to start a conversation!
Do you see a problem with using crypto in this way? What parts do you think could work? I'd like to hear it.
PSS. And you know what? I believe a pre-web version of this vision already exists.
In some parts of the world, they're called housing co-ops. I lived in one in Norway as a child called OBOS. The co-op mandate, member benefits and incentives are very similar, especially with co-ops like OBOS who own and run a critical mass of properties in a city. Maybe I'll write more about this another day.
Day 13: Ode to my favourite urban sound of the night
There is one particular sound that, when I hear it, immediately transports me back to past me's from decades ago.
The sound is a very urban sound, in the sense that the origin of the sound is a contraption that only can be found in cities that grew to a certain size, and saw it fit to install this piece of infrastructure. While the sound does happen throughout the day, it hits me the most when I'm in bed at 1am in the morning, the apartment and the city is quiet, and I'm trying to fall asleep.
In my drifting consciousness, if this gentle urban sound penetrates the block, the walls, and somehow makes it into my ears, my mind conflates present with past, and I could be lying half-asleep in any of the cities that I've ever lived in.
This sound is the gentle rumble and squeak of a tram.
It has a round and resonant vibration, with a slight hollow echo from bouncing off buildings before arriving in my ears.
I feel I could be sleeplessly lying in my bed in Amsterdam, as a young undergrad student living what I knew was going to be some of the best years of my life in an amazing city and country.
Or I could be back in Oslo, a teen in a bunk bed below my sleeping brother, the late subway trains in the distance rumbling their way along the steep hillside one last time for the day.
I am so delighted that I currently live in a place in Toronto where I can hear this sound. It brings me indescribable longing and comfort, and connection to my past self.
I think in Portuguese this sensation is called saudade.
Day 14: What D&D can teach us about note-taking
I'm preparing for my first ever Dungeons & Dragons session as a Player (as opposed to Dungeonmaster), and the information overload is real.
It is a mindboggling amount of information that is contained in this world. The history, the lore, the races, classes, the mechanics - so many details have been thought out so players can easily join a campaign by picking and playing from a plethora of ready-made items. Yet, a player's character is rich with backstories, unique skills and abilities that give them a leg up in certain situations, and do you know what's in your backpack?
Keeping track of all of this information (from world events to contents of backpocket) is a venerable challenge.
As a result, the only thing other than good roleplaying abilities that players would definitely benefit from is good information organization.
So of course, being the PKM geek that I am, I open a new vault in Obsidian.
I search this in Google: "Note-taking for D&D players"
And what I find shouldn't be shocking at all, but it is:
D&D enthusiasts have developed very useful PKM systems that frankly can work just as well in the real world.
Example: A D&D campaign can run over many many sessions, which translates to days and months of playing.
A note-taking template I found suggests various categories of things to record each session: People. Places and shops. Groups. Cities, Towns, and Geography. Quests and Tasks. Events.
Then, it suggests that every time a session ends, you copy over important information from your notes to an index, which you place in the front. If the entry in the index already exists, add to it. This way, 6 months from now when you return to the tavern your campaign first started at, you can easily retrieve the details of the owner and find more relevant information about that encounter by looking back at your original notes.
In other words, playing D&D sounds like a splendid way to practice basic PKM habits and information organization skills.
7 Days, 7 essays! Phew.
If you made it all the way down here, you’re awesome.
We’re halfway through Ship30, so there will be two more weeks of this. Thanks for sailing along with me on this interesting journey of short-form, daily writing.
As always, stay safe and stay curious.