24 / 58

57 thoughts on “24 / 58”

  1. Old proofreader here: enjoy your writing, found a couple of small things — I believe it’s “compl*e*mentary” neuroses” — where the neuroses complement each other, i.e., they work together, not that they compliment each other, or say nice things. Also “essential” has a “t” not a “c”. (Please feel free to take this as a private message & delete it … I don’t know how to send a private message.) The pic of the older guy sitting & looking at the books that he might take with him is pretty sad.

    1. I appreciate your constructive feedback. Feel free to send more as needed. I could use a good proofreader! I’m editing these mistakes right now.

  2. Yeah, this bunking thing… I have seen it rolling out on AirBnB but as nightly/short-term instead of monthly. Any popular tourist destination where you can pack in some bunks may go this way.
    Here’s a few links just in one area of Paris.
    Now in some cases these are hostels that have just decided to use AirBnB for its reach. But others are clearly apartment conversions. Seems a race to the bottom as they cut out some overheads that a normal hotel has, but then drop their price to compete with their neighbor. Free market capitalism?

    1. Long ago I rented a bunk in a room with eight or ten other people in London. I was a student, didn’t have much cash, and it gave me a place to park my suitcase, sleep, and wash (in cold water in winter) so I could explore the UK. And it was super cheap.
      There’s a place for that kind of accommodation.

      This $1,200 bunk thing is the same, yet different. Where and how exactly do you think the cleaning ladies, dish washers, and gardeners of Silicon Valley live permanently?

  3. I highly recommend doing a little bit of research & relocating. Our country has whipped itself into a total hysteria thinking that the self-anointed superstar cities are the only places with any vibrancy while the rest of America is just an urban backwater.

    I call it the “Manhattan delusion.” 15 years ago, I would visit friends in Manhattan with regularity and they would all moan about the cost of housing & $10 beers & the overpriced deli/grocery stores. But then while at they were at work, I would go sight-see around the city – outside of Manhattan– and just find all these other great places where the beers were more like $3 & the rents were half the price. Areas around Williamsburg, park slope, prospect park. I’d tell them, “you know there’s these other neighborhoods that are also 30 minute subway rides to good jobs, there’s a lot going on, and your rent would be halved.” And they would just look at me like I had 3 eyes. They had totally drunk the kool-aid on Manhattan as the center of the universe.

    I think our entire country is experiencing a widespread Manhattan Delusion, where there’s great stuff everywhere but since it’s not NYC or SF or DC, etc. it’s not even considered an option.

  4. “The last societal correction was the Great Depression and WWII. Before that was the Civil War. “. This is a ‘chicken or egg’ situation. I have heard the case made that the upheavals of those times left an opening for changes to happen. The European colonial system eroded over the next several decades. In the USA there was a successful revival of the Civil Rights movement. Which later expanded to women’s rights, gay rights etc. Not to contend that any of these struggles are over.
    All along there have been conflicts over housing. Lest anyone think that the problems of low to no availability and high cost are confined to areas like S F Bay I suggest they look around. In most cul-de-sac suburbs there are many houses that are shared or rent rooms or garages. The key to surviving the illegality is to keep a low profile.

    1. In my experience the key to having illegal housing arrangements work is primarily about having neighbors who also engage in the same activity. You all cut each other slack. As soon as one neighbor makes a fuss and calls the authorities it all unravels pretty quickly.

      1. Which is just totally backwards. The municipality shouldn’t be enforcing anything beyond basic safety. HOAs should be for all the minutiae.

  5. Johnny,

    This certainly hit the “now I’m depressed” button.

    Here’s another way I look at it. If you take the long view, this is what happens when a society gets very wealthy very quickly. Over the course of history, I’m sure there are many similar examples. Think of our country like a wealthy family. The first generation made the wealth, and often lived simply and frugally. The next generation grows up with the wealth and is focused on spending it and protecting their increasingly-shaky interests. The third generation realizes there’s no wealth left, becomes cyclical and detached and seeks to learn more from their grandparents than parents, while teaching the younger kids what not to do. The fourth generation is broke but learns how to build wealth again.

    So much of our land use policy, transportation policy, etc, is just a reflection of that, IMO. In the US, it also collides with the long-standing story we’ve told ourselves about the virtues of having your own home and land, which was tailor-made for the car culture when it came along. Wealth meets an ideal of homes and cars, and you create the dynamics and cities of now.

    A new story is being written, of course, but it’s early, it’s often under the radar, and we won’t know it’s own dark side for a long time, either. Because every good idea has a dark side, too, especially when it becomes mass-market. There’s nothing wrong at all with single family homes, cars, or any of American suburbia. But when everyone does it… it falls apart. I’m sure you can find much better analogies.


    Kevin http://www.k2urbandesign.com


    1. If you haven’t see this, it should be required viewing for pretty much everyone. Simply a great documentary that tells how we arrived at our Consumer Society.

    2. If anyone hasn’t seen this, I highly recommend it to help understand how we became such a Consumer Society. “The Century of Self” documentary. This is all four parts together; you can find them separately, in 1 hour installments, as well.

    3. I think your analysis is one part of a larger cycle. And yes, it’s often repeated in history. The larger picture is about diminishing returns on complexity.

      Civilizations expand, capture resources, and build consecutive layers of administrative hierarchies to manage the accumulated wealth. As society encounters problems new agencies, rules, and administrators are deployed to solve those problems. And it works. But over time the layers build and build. You can’t go back because then the old problems will resurface. But the more complexity that’s added to the system the more middle men there are to feed. So long as the system continues to expand things still work. But the moment expansion stops (forget about contraction) the complexity begins to cannibalize the underlying productive economy.

      Conservatives interpret this process as Big Government taxing the population into penury. Liberals interpret the situation as Corporate America sucking them dry. Same coin. Two sides. But neither side of the aisle wants any of the huge organizations to stop providing them with the things that keep civilization functional. Eventually the system crashes and we get a reset. Institutions have no choice but to conform to the smaller resource base. Fun!

  6. Sometimes I wonder if the Bay Area is creating a weird sort of underclass. Teachers and nurses and police officers and bus drivers cannot afford to move to San Francisco. A disturbing number of them end up homeless. But I am friends with people of my generation (Millennials) in such professions: They all live with their parents or in homes provided by their parents.

    Of course, requiring service workers to be children of homeowners is unsustainable. Not everybody has homeowner parents or can stay with them.

    Incremental does not have to be slow. If only a handful of developers can develop, as enforced by our excessively discretionary review process and CEQA shenanigans, then incremental will indeed be slow. But if there are turnkey building solutions that can be installed as of right, tens of thousands of homeowners developing at one time, then incremental can be extremely fast. See: Chuck Marohn’s anecdotes about Brainerd 100 years ago. What worries me is that so few construction workers are available, the underclass effect compounded with union procedures and local hire requirements, that we may not be able to build out of the crisis even if it were legal to do so.

    1. I’m actually going to be writing on the topic of so-called essential workers in San Francisco soon. Stay tuned. As I tell Chuck Marohn, failure fixes itself. Let things fail. That’s a perfectly reasonable strategy.

    2. A better idea is to reduce extreme economic concentration, rather than cram even more people into already overstuffed cities. A couple generations ago, there was much less variation in cost of living, and good jobs were widely available. Some economists estimate this concentration has materially reduced GDP by increasing costs, while discouraging relocation to better opportunities. At least one study showed that except for high wage earners, moving to job heavy cities is a net loss. Partly why job relocation has hit a 40 year low. Or why average working stiffs bail out if they can.

      1. I think this is right. A lot of our problems would be eased if we just had the same tax regime we had in 1960. (Not that it was so great then, just that we had different problems.)

    1. You call them Medici like that’s a bad thing…. You know the Medici came to prominence when the older banking families of Siena fell on hard times. Their time came and went as well. Beginnings, middles, and ends. They left behind some lovely old buildings in Florence though. Perhaps the Apple doughnut might be appreciated by future generations if they can figure out how to replace the curved glass panels as they inevitably age. Not sure the Facebook headquarters will hold up as well. It’s basically a shopping mall – and it will be underwater by then since it was built in a marsh.

      1. I still think it’s most likely that either California or the feds end up building some facsimile of the Reber Plan, or a dam across the golden gate.

        There are some very important public assets that are basically at bay level (SFO, Oakland airport) as well as private ones (the entire SF financial district).

        Everything here in red was built on landfill:

        But maybe that’s over-optimistic.

        1. Damming the Golden Gate is tricky. It could be done like the bridge itself as a government funded WPA make-work project under Roosevelt.

          But the bay is part of a larger fluid dynamic. Sea water enters twice a day at high tide and fresh water from the Sacramento delta (which drains the entire central valley from Redding to Bakersfield) exits at low tide. Keeping the sea water out also means keeping the delta water in…

  7. Silicon Valley was expensive, by Boston and New York outer borough standards, even back in the 1970s. That’s one reason, of many, that I never considered moving there even though there were all sorts of computer and technology jobs available. (One other reason was that Silicon Valley was a crappy place to live, and the commute from San Francisco would have been a burden.) The no new housing laws, of course, have made it much worse.

    I live in the Seattle area now, and we’ve been having our own technology boom, but even as prices were rising it was hard to miss the myriad rental properties being built in South Lake Union and elsewhere. There were tens of thousands of units. While rents were rising dramatically in some areas, they were still relatively sane. A friend of mine who was renting decided to continue renting though she could afford to buy. Now prices are actually falling a bit. Amazon, one of the big drivers, has filled in all of its office space and is spreading out to other cities.

    Not every city has a South Lake Union area, centrally located and underdeveloped, nor does it have voters who have approved an ambitious transit plan. While there are challenges, the city is increasing zoning density along transit corridors. I’m sure the inside politics are bloody as good intentions get squeezed through the grinder, but it’s nice to see both the forces of blind development and their counter-forces offering some hope. (The higher minimum wage has probably helped too.)

    1. I expect the Bay Area to follow the usual historical trajectory of the growth, plateau, and decline. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.

      Over the coming decades there will be financial corrections, the tech economy will mature and diffuse as all industries eventually do, and an earthquake or two will disrupt the infrastructure and lower property values enough that people and commerce will migrate away. That’s a long incremental process.

      Only the best pieces will be preserved. That’s not much in my opinion. Who’s going to exhaust themselves trying to save the condo clusters of Foster City, the beige stucco tract homes of San Jose, or the strip malls of Fremont?

  8. The San Francisco Bay Area is living through a Gold Rush moment, a perfect storm of global and local factors that can’t be solved easily. It’ll all settle down eventually, perhaps even soon. The YIMBY movement has made great strides, local governments are slowly allowing (some really ugly), mid rises to go up and the economy will cool off like it always does.

    It’s pretty much a lost cause at the moment. It’s been sad to see SF turned into a transient island for high achievers to get notch on their resume. Then once they burn out or want to buy a home, off to Austin they go.

  9. It’s absolutely about housing and transportation and NIMBYs and rent control and infill development and all the other (not always little) things. In anything approaching a sane housing market, people like your niece and your friend should be fine. There are other people who would have trouble even in a sane market, but those two particular housing problems are solely from housing policy.

    These stories say something about the Bay Area, because getting this bad is pretty unusual historically. A friend of mine is about to graduate from a masters program and wanted to move to the Bay Area, which I said was a great idea because the Bay Area is great (even though I will miss him). I did not realize how bad it’s gotten. I may have to reconsider my recommendation.

    1. I’m going to politely disagree with your assumption that the housing situation in the Bay Area is an historical anomaly. It’s actually pretty close to the norm over most of history around the world. The “natural” state of “civilization” is for wealth to concentrate into very few hands (Pharaoh, Emperor, King, General…) and for the majority of the population to have to struggle to survive on crumbs. The real anomaly was the mid twentieth century Pax Americana. We’re now returning to “normal.”

      If we want to see how this ends by looking back at history we can expect political upheavals and revolutions – and not the Hollywood romanticized kind. These things are ugly.

  10. I don’t know what to say about your 58 year old friend other than, by that age, you should have learned how to make things work out. But whatever else he may have screwed up, he at least had the sense to pick good friends. Bless you and the friend in San Jose, humanity hangs it’s hat on that sort of community.

    But for your 24 year old niece, I think I do know the root problem. It’s this: “An internship in the right place has the potential to jump start her nascent career. There’s also the opportunity to rub shoulders with the kinds of people that could alter the course of her personal life”

    Over-centralization restricts opportunity to limited places, and those places are ex-pen-sive. Sure, there’s always some differentiation, but in a better society, the difference in opportunity between Menlo Park and San Berdoo wouldn’t be big enough to justify $1,200 / month bunk beds.

    Good luck to both of them.

  11. $1,200 a month for one of four bunks to a room.
    That is insane.
    When I rented in the city I found the single self contained bedsits attached to regular owner occupied houses to be the best value and most peaceful by far.

    1. Supply in this case is artificially restricted. It’s not what anyone would call a “free” market. Artificial scarcity works really well at driving up prices.

        1. In a theoretically free market supply is allowed to expand to meet growing demand. In this case no new homes or apartments are permitted to be built. So the market adjusts by rationing the existing housing stock with ever higher prices. It’s a “problem” that no one who benefits from the system has any incentive to fix.

          1. I see. So the local property owners are making it their own little communist country with it’s own rules. This is why the free market needs to be allowed to operate and rules like that should be outlawed.

            1. One man’s right to maintain the character of their neighborhood is pitted against another man’s need for affordable housing. Guess who wins that tug of war?

  12. I am waiting for Steve Schultis to chime in. Springfield – or at least parts of it – would probably meet your 24/58, and even 8/80.

      1. I left Pittsburgh, PA 20 years ago but my sense it that it still meets your criteria, too.

        My own little town (Northampton, MA) doesn’t, quite – a little too spread out and too expensive, with limited rental options. We are moving in the right direction with infill development and downtown apartment buildings going up, but the thing about incremental development is, it’s slow.

        1. The Pittsburgh area is still pretty cheap. Not so much in the most desirable areas, but overall yea it’s not bad.

      2. Come to Massachusetts. In addition to Springfield (and the Pioneer Valley), there’s Cambridge/Somerville. I’m in the process of moving my daughter (age 23, also a recent graduate) to a nice Cambridge $2600 2 bedroom apartment ($1300 apiece for her and a roommate) that is within walking distance of public transportation and shopping/restaurants/entertainment and one stop away from Kendall Square (tech) and Harvard Square (education). Downtown Boston is 20 minutes away without a car. No, it’s not Silicon Valley and yes winter sucks, but you have to ask yourself what makes you happy – a bunk bed in Paradise or a whole life in a different location. #24/58 #8/80. (Note: for someone her age, Boston is a really fun place, not to mention home to World Champions in three professional sports – Patriots, Red Sox, and (soon to be) Bruins 😉

    1. I suppose I didn’t only because Springfield so obviously qualifies as 24/58.

      This world of which you speak ($4,800 for a bedroom per month) so eludes me.

      My brother (64 at the time and retired) needed some money but couldn’t get a decent job in Seattle(!). In Springfield he got an insurance job with full benefits making a good salary in just a few weeks and was installed in an $800 a month one bedroom apartment with exposed brick and beams and such soon after.

      Closer to the “24” end my ex son-in-law turned 1 1/2 of med tech training into a full time job at Baystate Medical Center (a “top 50” hospital) in no time. Finding an affordable place to live, not a problem.

  13. Another interesting post Johnny…perhaps in the Chinese proverb sense…we live in interesting times. I’m comparing and contrasting your niece with my niece (Army>degree>good job with very good benefits) Incidentally, she messed up her wrist snowboarding this winter, but the army continues to take very good care of her. If Menlo park doesn’t pan out, who knows…

    Can you explain that murphy bed to me? Is the brass bed really attached to the rotating buffet type thing? And is there really a seemingly impossible pass-through or is it an illusion accomplished with mirrors?

    1. Re: Murphy bed.

      The china cabinet is supported by a central brass pole. The cabinet rotates and disappears into the wall cavity while the bed (in the vertical position) comes to face the room. Then the bed folds down and rests horizontally. Does that make sense? And yes, there’s a mirror above the drawers and below the upper glass cabinets that gives the illusion of a pass through.

  14. I don’t think there really is any answer for the Bay Area. At least within our lifetimes or our generation. The trends are actually going in the wrong direction. That said, there are indeed plenty of places in the US where your 24/58 rule is easily met, if not your 8/80 which is much harder. Plenty of mid-size cities around the country like Spokane, Grand Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Rochester, etc. where there are reasonable combinations of economic opportunity and cost of living. Can you find internships in the most high-end tech fields? Probably not. But there are universities and opportunities and people of all ages going about their lives.

    I think back to the way things used to be in say the 1950s when my parents were starting out. There was simultaneously more and less mobility. People were less afraid to move across country for new jobs and opportunities. But at the same time, there was less thought about the need to HAVE to go to NYC for that finance internship or Silicon Valley for that tech internship. People tended to do more with what they had locally in terms of education and jobs and such.

  15. Each societal correction was planned by the masters pulling the strings on us the puppets. Time to break that cycle.
    As much as I hate f##ebook I do hear of cases how it’s helping to connect ordinary compassionate people with those they can assist, directly, no middle man. Resurrecting connections that once were common.

    1. Yes and no. How do you define “the masters?” It’s more about a circulation of different kinds of elites over time.

      Tsar Nicolas II and the Romanovs ended up dead in the Ural Mountains. The Russian monarchy was replaced by “The People.” That worked real well…

      Marie Antoinette and Louise XVI lost their heads along with plenty of lesser nobles. The people who replaced them in power were different, but no less authoritarian.

      The founding fathers in colonial America struggled with slavery and kicked the can down the road. The Civil War ended slavery, but Jim Crow legal segregation, violence, share cropping, and anti-miscegenation laws created a parallel version of slavery for another century. The civil rights movement dismantled those institutional structures and then white people up and moved to the suburbs and recreated segregation by other means…

      It’s not all about “the masters.” It’s mostly just regular people acting like extra smart primates.

      1. Yes, I take your point, all has been just an endless cycle. I’m wanting people to wake up and be better than that. Some accountability would be useful.☺

  16. Wow, I had a little wander via Street View around that Menlo Park area. Looks kinda like a semi-rundown suburb you find everywhere instead of a secret street of gold mines. Fascinating info Johnny, I never knew it was that challenging.

    1. The neighborhood isn’t bad. I talked to the neighbors. Mostly second and third generation Central Americans. That little corner of Menlo Park wasn’t good enough for rich white people, but the gardeners, maids, contractors, and plumbers colonized the modest tract homes and manage to pay the bills by packing extended families in cheek by jowl. It works. There’s just no room for more.

  17. The society and culture we live within is rotten to the core. It’s all the little things that add up to the situation(s) you describe so regularly in the blog. We can group it all generically and say “Capitalism” (or some other generic, economic description). It really goes beyond economics though. We’ve built this world over generations and it is slowly being built into the noose that will hang us.

    It’s no one thing. Economic policies at the national level, the state level, the city level, the neighborhood level all contribute. But the social policies we pursue contribute even more IMHO; the educational policies add to the confusing mix that is our modern society. There are others as well; those come to me off the top of my head (the usual suspects, I suppose). We simply have too many issues across too broad a spectrum, all made more damaging by human nature. They are not fixable; they have to collapse. Collapse brings simplicity and smaller scale. That alone will improve the situation greatly.

    1. Be careful what you wish for…

      We’ve been here before. There’s a cycle to these things that plays out about every eighty years or so. The last societal correction was the Great Depression and WWII. Before that was the Civil War. Before that the Revolutionary War. Every eighty years or so… We’re due for another correction. Fun!

      1. Oh yeah, the correction is a lot like resetting a broken limb. No fun at all…. I think the trend in society is a realization, at some extremely high levels, that recognizes the “societal correction” time frame and is trying to beat it through globalization/centralization. Unfortunately, that is exactly the wrong way to go about it. Centralized control and management is a huge part of the problem.

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