New and Old #97
Friday roundup and commentary
Perhaps the biggest potential toll of the rapid-delivery craze is what it could do to all of us as consumers. Regardless of whether these start-ups take root everywhere, they already seem destined to have an effect on the broader consumer mindset about when we should expect our deliveries to come. Faster delivery has a way of making the rest of life seem irritatingly slow, and in America, that practically constitutes a mortal sin.
This is kind of what I’m thinking about when I write about “cultivating contentment.” Chandler writes, in particular, about how once a new standard of speed is set, you can never really go back. Which means, from my point of view, that you’ve permanently lost the ability, as a person and as a society, to be content with something less (but still perfectly satisfactory). I think this is something very profound, and it’s the main reason why I’m sometimes resistant to upgrade or improve my personal stuff.
Read the whole thing, which also goes into the business (or lack thereof) of all this. It’s very interesting.
The trouble is that quantum computers will not revolutionize everything.
Yes, they might someday solve a few specific problems in minutes that (we think) would take longer than the age of the universe on classical computers. But there are many other important problems for which most experts think quantum computers will help only modestly, if at all. Also, while Google and others recently made credible claims that they had achieved contrived quantum speedups, this was only for specific, esoteric benchmarks (ones that I helped develop).
This is a subject I know nothing about; I just found this piece shared, I think, at a link aggregation site. But it’s interesting and is a very good type of article—something that credits a trendy area of science or technology but cuts through the hype.
If you want to talk honestly about quantum computing, then you also need the conceptual vocabulary of theoretical computer science. I’m often asked how many times faster a quantum computer will be than today’s computers. A million times? A billion?
This question misses the point of quantum computers.
Huh. Can’t say I understand this much better after reading, but maybe that’s me!
Owens is writing here about the idea in housing circles that poor neighborhoods should maybe be exempted from liberalized zoning, to fend off gentrification. He covers data showing that this is probably not how gentrification works. But there are also a lot of values at stake in these discussions, and here are some of his:
It’s kind of an open secret that residents in low income areas don’t really care what the zoning ordinance in low income communities are. Your average Black, South Asian or Latino homeowner and/or contractor that wants to convert their home into a multifamily is going to do it without a permit and regardless of what a zoning ordinance says — provided nobody snitches.
The lack of zoning adherence actually is bad because it causes homeowners to have to rely on shoddy contractors who make dubiously habitable spaces. This is the current situation in Oakland for example, where people are living out of garages as second units without any plumbing and electrical lines that don’t meet safety standards.
There’s also an element of criminalization that bothers me. Houses inspected with illegal multifamily units means working class homeowners are subjected to fines and possible removal or condemnation if the home isn’t made zoning compliant. I’m not comfortable turning working class communities into criminals for adding an extra home or several that weren’t allowed on some silly-colored document downtown.
In other words, liberalizing zoning means the freedom to do more things with your own property, without the risk of fines or other punishments. Which is an apt view, because zoning was found constitutional based on the state’s police power. Interesting.
Read the whole thing. There’s a lot here, and a lot of engagement with actual findings on the ground regarding housing and zoning.
Sprawling and car-dependent cities have grown more rapidly than dense ones for decades and are far more affordable. The pandemic, meanwhile, showed they will expand even more rapidly in the future. By contrast, the climate-driven demands for density and transit are just the most recent version of a solution that has long been searching for a problem. Advocates will continue to search. In reality, sprawling cities are more environmentally sound than their dense counterparts and will become even more so as technology evolves.
Instead of warring against sprawl and cars, planners and environmentalists should recognize how the green spaces of suburbia, allied to autonomous electric vehicles and green single-family homes, can provide both the affordability and sustainability most Americans crave.
There has been much discussion of the benefits of density, of which there are many. If there weren’t, nobody would live in Manhattan or San Francisco. These cities allow many people, especially young, high-productivity singles and those who work in business services like finance or law, to congregate and learn from each other. Economists call these benefits “agglomeration effects.”
But too many advocates today ignore the other side of the coin, known to economists as “the demons of density.” These include things like congestion, crime, and, of course, pollution. Such problems explain why, as technology has evolved, people try to get more of the benefits of living near each other—the agglomeration effects—without the problems of living directly on top of one another.
As you might guess, I disagree with basically the entirety of the arguments here, as well as the framing (e.g., treating as baseline facts the very questionable notions that cities are for childless strivers or that density itself causes crime). However, I take this to be a pretty good case, such as there is, for sprawl. So it’s worth a read to see what that argument looks like done well.
Thank you for reading! Please consider upgrading to a paid subscription to help support this newsletter. You’ll get a weekly subscribers-only post, plus full access to the archive: over 500 posts and growing. And you’ll help ensure more material like this!