Cities are remarkable things. They grow organically; they survive despite wars, famine, and disease. They persist through hundreds of generations and constantly evolve to adapt to changing circumstances.
One aspect that’s never changed about cities, though, is their impact on the environment: they’ve always been net-negative, taking out more than they put in. This week’s article wonders: how can cities become regenerative? How can they contribute more than they take?
This week’s article
Cities are responsible for 70% of our carbon emissions, and by 2050 some 70% of the world’s population will live in them. How can we make them not just more sustainable, but truly regenerative?
This week’s five interesting links
Paul Ford summarises the modern disease: not just of buying stuff, but buying stuff for your stuff:
“Years ago, I asked a friend what kind of case she planned to buy for her shiny new flip phone. She paused, a little offended. ‘I don’t like to buy stuff for my stuff,’ she said. Those words drilled directly into my hippocampus, never to depart. She’s right! I thought. Don’t buy stuff stuff! So simple! I have tried to keep to that principle ever since, and it has gone about as well as you would expect. Sure, I might spend $1,000 on a tech-giant-controlled smartphone, but I only do it every three years (nods sagely) instead of every two. This is how we win.”
Ford isn’t just taking aim at the easy targets, the shiny trinkets of consumerism:
“I have come up with a personal Theory of Stuffness, a way to structure and understand my local stuff ecosystem, especially the digital stuff. I divide Stuffworld into the Object, the Enhancements, and the Experience… The Object is the phone. The Enhancement is the Spotify app. The Experience is that of listening to music. In the past, you might buy a record player and spend 10 years curating a collection of really good jazz albums. You’d read the liner notes and learn new things over time, boring your friends in the process. Now you pay a fee, and some approximation of every bit of recorded jazz is just there on every device that plays sound. It used to take a lifetime of reading reviews and trips to the record store, or going to jazz clubs, and a ton of money. Now the cost approaches free. This is the Great Stuff Discontinuity. You just parachute in, like my kids playing Fortnite.”
Leo Robson thoughtfully pulls apart Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest:
“The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson has various things in common with his work of the past fifteen years, an unignorable run… Like its predecessors, Licorice Pizza takes place at a carefully presented historical moment (Southern California in 1973), and derives key details from an existing source, the early life of the producer Gary Goetzman, here given the surname Valentine… Yet for all the continuities, the recourse to dependable methods and motifs, what defines the new film – and makes it such a monumentally frustrating experience – are properties not previously evident in Anderson’s body of work: obstinate optimism, conceptual muddiness, and a near-total lack of stakes.”
A few months back I linked to Robin Sloan’s take on web3. As a thoughtful person and a seasoned technologist, his view was nuanced and interesting.
Well, the same is predictably true for Moxie Marlinspike, the legendary cryptographer and technologist who, among many other things, invented the Signal secure messaging app. As someone who shares many of the same aims that the crypto world ostensibly has, and who’s been around for several attempts to revolutionise the world through technology, he’s well worth listening to. He also put his effort where his mouth is, getting more involved than most people in the underlying technology:
“To get a feeling for the web3 world, I made a dApp called Autonomous Art that lets anyone mint a token for an NFT by making a visual contribution to it… I also made a dApp called First Derivative that allows you to create, discover, and exchange NFT derivatives which track an underlying NFT, similar to financial derivatives which track an underlying asset.”
His crucial observation is that web3 doesn’t actually decentralise what it promises to, and for reasons that are structural and inescapable:
“it seems like we should take notice that from the very beginning, these technologies immediately tended towards centralization through platforms in order for them to be realized, that this has ~zero negatively felt effect on the velocity of the ecosystem, and that most participants don’t even know or care it’s happening. This might suggest that decentralization itself is not actually of immediate practical or pressing importance to the majority of people downstream, that the only amount of decentralization people want is the minimum amount required for something to exist, and that if not very consciously accounted for, these forces will push us further from rather than closer to the ideal outcome as the days become less early.”
Derek Thompson neatly summarises the tension many of us are feeling about the coronavirus in early 2022, effectively splitting us into two tribes.
The tension is between “vaxxed and done” on the one hand, who think:
“For more than a year, I did everything that public-health authorities told me to do. I wore masks. I cancelled vacations. I made sacrifices. I got vaccinated. I got boosted. I’m happy to get boosted again. But this virus doesn’t stop. Year over year, the infections don’t decrease. Instead, virulence for people like me is decreasing, either because the virus is changing, or because of growing population immunity, or both… As the coronavirus continues its unstoppable march toward endemicity, our attitude toward the virus should follow a similar path toward stoicism. COVID is becoming something like the seasonal flu for most people who keep up with their shots, so I’m prepared to treat this like I’ve treated the flu: by basically not worrying about it and living my life normally.”
…and “vaxxed and cautious” on the other, who instead say:
“Why on earth would we suddenly relax measures now, during the largest statistical wave of COVID ever recorded in the U.S.? We shouldn’t treat Omicron like any old seasonal flu, because it’s not like any old seasonal flu. It’s likely deadlier for those without immunity and almost certainly several times more transmissible for everybody else. We have no idea what the effects of Omicron on long COVID will be, but evidence of lingering symptoms should make us wary of just letting tens of millions of people get needlessly infected. Moreover, the health-care system is already worn down and at risk of being overloaded. Record-high caseloads are societally debilitating, creating long chains of infections that are bound to reach some immunocompromised people and the elderly, thus causing needless death. For all these reasons, we should take individual measures to throttle the spread of this virus.”
An interesting connection from Marie-Pierre St-Onge. Having too little sleep causes you to over-eat:
“Our work showed that reducing sleep by about four hours per night, for four nights, led to an increase in eating, amounting to about 300 calories per day (the equivalent of one McDonald’s cheeseburger). The cause, we found, is increased activity in the reward centres of the brain specific to food, along with alterations in hormones that control feelings of fullness. In other words, people who sleep less feel hungrier, and tend to crave foods that are high in sugar and fat.
…but poor diet also causes you to sleep poorly, creating a vicious cycle:
“Our studies over the past seven years have shown that eating more fibre and less saturated fat and sugar during the day results in deeper, less disturbed sleep at night.
“In the end, bad sleep and poor diet can be a vicious cycle: lack of sleep leads to poor dietary choices, which in turn causes low quality sleep.”
It’s easier to fix your diet than to magically improve your sleep, so St-Onge recommends starting there. #