#1: A new understanding of community

Hi! If you're getting this, you must have signed up for my ~monthly newsletter (this is the first one). I'm one of the cofounders of the Archive coliving house in SF and am taking a 1-2 year break from AI engineering to research and build a community that lasts for decades.

A month ago, I finally admitted to myself that I ought to be working on community and quit my job. So what have I been up to since then? A reasonable question. Here are some highlights:

  • We shut down 279-283 Dolores St RIP. Archive SF has had a glorious 5 years and we ended it in style (I come on around 4:05). Some housemates want to downsize and focus, some want to travel, and some of us want to find a better (and smaller) house. The house will most likely go to Edyfy and become a 20BR house where 50 college dropouts will sleep in bunkbeds, which I think is dope.
  • Brainstorms with the SF Planning Commission. They've been meeting with a few SF coliving people because they're interested in making the planning code more coliving-friendly without enabling developers to get away with "unliveably" dense plans (which, for the record, I think would be fine. Which I shared). They're smart, open-minded, and trained to think in terms of numbers and ratios. Unfortunately, it's probably impossible to assess if a house is a community without investigating social dynamics. One thing that all sides liked was loosening restrictions to make it easier for houses to modify their interiors (like removing a wall to open up a common space). Also, one of the three commissioners wants to live in cohousing someday!
  • Meeting a California State Senator. I also spoke on "The Future of Community" to a crowd that included a California state senator?! Trust me, I'm as surprised as you at these opportunities.
  • A variety of learning clubs. Scenius Club, in which Andrew, Priya, Daniel, Jean and I study the patterns underlying famous collaborative groups of history; Cities Club, in which other members of South Park Commons and I talk about urban economics, innovation in housing, and compare cities from around the world; a Writing Club with Anna and Amanda; and the School for Social Design, in which I learn from Joe Edelman (a protege of Bret Victor and one of my favorite thinkers) how to help people articulate their values and design social institutions (houses, events, conversations, voting structures, etc) that help people live accordingly. This has been most of my time.
  • Self-therapy with IFS. I tried talk therapy but it just didn't seem that helpful. So instead I hired an IFS coach to teach me to do therapy on myself. It's been effective and occasionally surreal. One time, by discovering the existence of bodily tension with an emotional valence and asking it the right question, I spontaneously burst into tears?! I've now done around 10 sessions. The goal is a) to identify and fix the subconscious, dysfunctional patterns of behavior by various parts in my psyche, b) increase my capacity for complex, intuitive judgment and c) increase my trust in and responsiveness to that judgment.
  • Changing my understanding of community. Last month I thought that if you just put a bunch of values-aligned people in a house together, then community would naturally emerge. On reflection, I no longer think that's sufficient. I now think community is something closer to a series of shared experiences and trust that your futures are intertwined. So I've been focusing more on hosting events. Maybe community is built one great conversation at a time. I suspect people are starved for this kind of experience. Last Thursday I organized a Jeffersonian dinner with Julia Bossman, scheduled for 7-10:30pm, and everyone stayed until midnight and a few stayed til 1:30am.

Independent research is pretty awesome, but it isn't all sunshine and kittens. This is by far the least structured and accountable my life has ever been, and the adjustment has been a little strange. Instead of cultivating discipline (like I did throughout my 20s), I follow my curiosity. Instead of setting goals every week, I've taken to identifying high- and low-leverage activities so I can compute a gradient update for my life. And instead of trying to force structure onto my life, I'm learning to embrace ambiguity. It's weird that I could stay in bed all day if I wanted and nobody would even found out... until now, I mean.

Questions I'm currently broadly curious about:

  • How might we organize a community around events/shared experiences/great conversations, in which cohousing/third places are just bonus features? What are the advantages and disadvantages relative to cohousing?
  • How do we condition real inner growth -- the growth of virtue -- without externally incentivizing it? (If you're responding to an incentive, then you can only simulate virtue; authentic virtue can only be intrinsically motivated.)
  • When work is not tied to place, how and where will people choose to live? What pockets of location-independent living exist today, and how are they doing?
  • What did Archive SF do well, and what did we do poorly? How long SHOULD coliving houses last, anyway? What lessons do we have for other houses?
  • More futuristically: how will people build meaningful lives post-scarcity? What pockets of post-scarcity exist today, and how are they doing?

What seems like it's missing from my list of curiosities? What do you wish I was exploring?

Thanks for reading! I've rounded up other snippets of thinking on my website, if you're curious.

Congrats on reading this whole email, from Brooklyn,

— Jason

PS: comments can go on this public FB post.