Strategy for building the Neighborhood

Written 2021-12-22, now outdated

The goal is to build Florence in downtown San Francisco. It’ll have two main features: your best friends within walking distance, and a culture that makes you 30 IQ points smarter. Concretely, it’s a collection of coliving houses and single-family homes in close proximity in central San Francisco.

High level strategy. In January, a small group of enthusiastic friends (so far: Rose, me, KJ, Taylor, Tina, Michael, Arram, Josh) are going to make a final decision on the location (see +Choosing a location for the Neighorhood). We’ll also build a list of 200+ great first residents. Then we’ll contact them and help them move if they’re interested (more on this below). By the end of 2022, I think we’ll have something like 4-8 houses, with anywhere from 1-10 residents in each. The word has already started to get out, with people asking me where to locate the coliving houses they were planning anyway.

Small group of organizers. The small group choosing the first batch of residents is a pragmatic choice for the Neighborhood’s first phase of growth. Instead of having to write out exactly what a great resident looks like before we even know what the Neighborhood’s culture is, a small group of folks should just meet in person and discuss recruiting until we’re roughly calibrated with each other. Once the organizers are calibrated, we’ll each be able to unilaterally add people to the Discord, which will make it much easier for recruits to participate in or found a house. This strategy will yield plenty of candidates for our early phase without having to build consensus for every recruiting decisions with dozens of variously calibrated people, which we all know is a major pain in the ass. One lesson from Genesis is that residents are quite happy to delegate important decisions about the community to a small group of leaders that they trust.

But what if someone I don’t like moves in? The bet is that this just doesn’t matter as much in a neighborhood setting as it did in coliving. In coliving, you’re kind of obligated to maintain relationships with each of your housemates. You have no such obligation to your neighbors.

Helping people coordinate houses

There are a few key blockers to starting a coliving house:
  1. Finding a house
  1. Finding your housemates
  1. Believing you can fit the project into your life; running your house smoothly

We can reduce each of these barriers:

For 1, I’ll become a local real estate expert. Concretely, this means checking Zillow very frequently and sharing the top 10-20 best leads every month in the Discord. If it seems like it’d help, I’m also open to befriending local realtors and learning about opportunities before they hit the market, knocking on the doors of the very best houses to meet the owners and learning if and when they’ll go on the market directly (given an average 15-20% renter turnover and a 5-10% homeowner turnover per year, this is actually a reasonable strategy), and/or consulting with people 1 on 1 to decide on specific homes.

For 2, we’ll manage a Discord. If we collect everyone that’s values-aligned and interested in participating in the Neighborhood into a single forum, then it’ll obviously be much easier to fill a new coliving house! And it’s pretty low commitment to join a Discord, so lots of folks will be able to join and lurk until they’re ready to move. Importantly, houses will also be fully in control of their own recruiting. Every house will be able to advertise themselves on all the ordinary channels, without having to vet their housemates with Neighborhood organizers (any housemates added this way and not already in the Discord will be added). The role of the organizers is mainly to make sure that the houses are founded by values-aligned people - folks we admire, love, and respect - but after that, the neighborhood will evolve in diverse and surprising directions, kind of like college.

For 3, I’d like to write or curate a community handbook. It’d describe community best practices, so that our friends’ houses (and others) can avoid repeating our hard-learned mistakes.

Spreading the word

Rose and I are targeting a move by end of February. That’s when our sublease at Crest is up. We want to live with a group of mostly best friends in a small house of 5-7ish people.

Building word of mouth through events. Kanjun and Josh will be hosting lots of events at their office and hosting space in Dolores Heights. Word about the Neighborhood spreads quite easily! People are often quite excited within a few minutes of talking about it. It’s a much, much easier sell than coliving. It works for people that would have never considered sharing a kitchen/bathroom, or who don’t like the idea of living with the opposite gender.

A larger kickoff event. After a couple months, we’ll do a larger kickoff event. At this event we’ll gather as many aspirational residents as we can fit into the space, pitch our vision and culture, and funnel excited people into the Discord so they can coordinate houses. I’d love to see multiple people pitching specific visions for their dream houses or cultures: I’d love to see e.g. Taylor pitch the Tools for Thought warehome, Kanjun to pitch the community library and coffeehouse, Marco to pitch a garage makerspace, etc. For my part, I’d love to pitch a vision of the neighborhood as a “scenius generator” and the kinds of events that might create that. We’ll host the event in the early afternoon so that interested folks can stay afterwards for culture and vision brainstorming exercises.

An emergent culture

Similar to the Archive. The culture of the Neighborhood should emerge from its residents, but my prediction (based on the people we’re planning to invite to found houses) is that it will be similar to the Archive: warm and loving, earnestly passionate, intentional, growth-minded, and borderline-psychotic self-efficacy. For more on how we might steer culture through inspiration instead of by fiat and create an environment for “scenius”, please read my Twitter thread on the topic

Houses are sovereign. Member houses will be fully sovereign entities, with their own cultures, governance, and recruiting; they’ll be responsible for attracting the people and creating the spaces and events that project the cultures they want. Some houses will love the scenius idea and host lightning talk events, others will be fun and organize volleyball teams, others will design for co-parenting and might decide to franchise a Montessori school, still others will build something that totally surprises us. The only thing we need to get right up front is the location and the house founders: everything else we can build as we go. This design makes the whole community quite antifragile: individual houses can disband without every member having to leave the broader community, houses’ empty rooms will get filled more easily by virtue of association with the Neighborhood, best governance practices will spread virally, etc.

As a platform for many possible cultures. Think of the Neighborhood as more of a “platform”, on which member houses and residents will build their own “apps”. A densely connected social fabric within walking distance is a rich canvas that creates many possibilities!

Closing thoughts

The Neighborhood is the most resilient community format I’ve encountered in all my years studying community. This format is also inclusive of residents that want to start families, and co-parenting becomes significantly easier when those you trust are within walking distance instead of a drive away. It also allows for greater diversity while lowering social obligation, enabling you to have a broader network of acquaintances while also enabling you to stay close to your best friends that otherwise wouldn’t have wanted to live in community. And we’ve got momentum - people can’t wait for us to build this.