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#7: Launching The Commons

This is cross-posted from my monthly newsletter. I'm the first (but not the last!) person to work full-time on the Neighborhood, an open collective of 200+ builders, founders, researchers, artists and more living within a single square mile in the heart of San Francisco. Our goal is to create an intergenerational campus full of radical agency, inspiring people, and unplanned encounters with friends. Check out past updates at jasonbenn.com.

There are two major news items this month in the Neighborhood:

  1. Our friends Patricia and Adi are on the verge of opening our dream community space inside the Neighborhood called The Commons! I’d describe the vibe as “French salon inside the Griffinclaw common room decorated by whoever did the Singapore airport”. With your support, we’d be able to launch in mid-July. And if we pull this off, that’ll be the MVP of the Neighborhood. (If you’re already convinced, you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-sf-commons, otherwise, read on!)
  2. 28 people moved in the last 40 days! 28 is more than half of our entire 2022 goal of 50. When we set that goal in February we thought it was bold and daring and just might be possible if we really gritted our teeth. Now, I understand why people describe product-market fit as “chasing a boulder downhill”. We’re all gobsmacked and are very, very happy to be suddenly living within the same square mile as so many of our best friends, and very much enjoying the effortless get-togethers and spontaneous run-ins.

Let’s start with The Commons. In Patricia and Adi’s words:

We’re building a multi-purpose space in Hayes Valley featuring a co-working cafe, communal library, event space, and a meditation studio. Along with being a serendipitous place for you to converse or go deep in reflection, we’re hosting events to nourish playful curiosity and exploration. It’ll also be a place you can go on a Friday night to listen to jazz and thumb through a book, as opposed to partying or drinking at a bar. These include group junto dinners, salon talks, essay clubs, contemplative reflections, maker nights, game nights, meditations, creativity workshops, communal art, and much more. The topics will range from tools for thought to urbanism, solarpunk futures to philosophy canons, and creative writing to personal flourishing modalities.

Here’s their gorgeous moodboard:

Where else would a French salon, DynamicLand, and solarpunk coexist on the same mood board? Basically just the Interval — but now we can have one in the Neighborhood!
Where else would a French salon, DynamicLand, and solarpunk coexist on the same mood board? Basically just the Interval — but now we can have one in the Neighborhood!

I’m excited because it feels like the grown-up version of my favorite feature of the Archive: our communal bookshelf. We divvied it up so that each housemate had shelf space, then proudly furnished our respective cubbies with the 5-10 books that had affected us most deeply. It’s where I discovered Tufte from Zain, the Hornblower series from Arram, the Oneida Handbook from Chris, and took my first (voluntary) dive into Enlightenment philosophy courtesy of Tommy. It spoke volumes about what we stood for: that we invest deeply in learning about each other; that we don’t know much individually but are wiser collectively; that we value depth over hot takes. It’s also where we realized that maybe branching out a bit from Silicon Valley canon would be good, and that we probably don’t need four copies of Exhalation by Ted Chiang.

In any case, it reliably sparked great conversations, and I suspect that the same dynamic will live on at The Commons.

The funny thing about this project is that Patricia and Adi wanted to start the events portion of the business first, spend a few months building up memberships, and THEN find a space. They just ran the Third Space Meetup on 3/29, after all. They had imagined embarking on a search for a space like this one starting in August.

The Third Space Meetup, a little over a month ago
The Third Space Meetup, a little over a month ago

But then Rose found the most unbelievable space on Hayes and Laguna, through a chain of serendipitous acquaintances that, I must point out, is the whole point of the Neighborhood (that is, maximizing access to enjoyable, unplanned conversations).

The space is a gorgeous, 4,000sqft, exposed brick and skylight-studded vault underneath the main throughfare of Hayes Valley. It’s on the same block as a Souvla, Wise Sons, Salt & Straw, and Patricia’s Green. It’s basically a philosophy speakeasy, and it’ll be ours.

The four of us knew as soon as we saw it that we wouldn’t find another space this good and inside the Neighborhood for 6-12 months. So we said fuck it, postponed our other responsibilities, and joined forces to make this happen — four months ahead of schedule.

It’s been a delightful collaboration. Rose brings the decisiveness and know-how from running Kickstarters back in her Chirps days. Patricia brings the taste and wisdom (and if you haven’t yet discovered her writing: https://wellnesswisdom.substack.com/p/-wellness-wisdom-vol45-30-pieces). Adi brings the heart and effortlessly gracious hosting talent. And I’m super good at COUNTIF in Google Sheets. We’re pretty much the same.

The up-front costs for The Commons are $60K, which will cover furnishing the space and paying the security deposits. If we pull this off, the lease starts July 1 and Patricia and Adi will be open around mid-July. And then the Neighborhood will throw a Neighborhood-wide rager that is totally unbecoming of The Commons. (Just kidding, they throw down more than me cuz I’m the oldest.)

If you’re able to support by donating, you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-sf-commons. I chipped in $500, because I intend to manifest the fluffiest ottoman to have ever graced my ankles. Whatever ways you can help - including sharing this post, Adi’s, or Patricia’s - it’ll make a difference. We really appreciate it, and can’t wait to see you there.

Much love,

— Jason

P.S.

The space came as a package deal with an 1,800sqft office space next door. Do you know anyone that might be interested in renting it? We’re just trying to break even and are flexible on terms: https://neighborhood-sf.notion.site/An-1800-sq-ft-office-space-in-Hayes-Valley-for-8K-df15920f83a344028ee23c789bdccd15. If you can share this link, or post it to any startup communities, that’d be immensely helpful.