Joel's Jambalaya #2 - Building Neighborhoods and The Power of Paradox
Hello wonderful subscribers!
It’s Joel, sending an update as the first quarter comes to an end. A lot has happened, and here are a few quick personal and professional updates.
Also, I have tentatively decided to name this newsletter “Joel’s Jambalaya”. Partially because of the pleasant alliteration, and partially because the non-food definition of “Jambalaya” is “A jumbled mixture of things”: A pretty good description of my day to day and mind.
The First Neighborhood
Some exciting news: we’ve received the preliminary approval from the city for our first complete neighborhood in Florence, Alabama.
Because you’re a subscriber to this newsletter, here’s a little preview of the site plan 😊
Current West Village Site Plan
There’s still a lot of design work to be done, but the idea is to get as close to creating a “complete neighborhood” on the site as we can:
A variety of housing types (for sale, for rent, from studio apartment to 3 BR homes)
Lots of public parks, plazas, and recreational areas (dog park and beach volleyball, next to a farmer’s market, anyone?)
Space for neighborhood retail businesses + the ability for those business owners to build wealth by owning the real estate they operate out of
Now we’ve moved past preliminary approval we’ll be sharing these plans more publicly pretty soon.
Formalizing a Development Company
Our first neighborhood is on its way to reality, and another current focus is creating a structure around the company that will actually develop the site. Economically, it will act similar to a traditional developer (fee-based development) but it’s important to emphasize this is NOT a real estate development company.
Mainstreet’s (cue Bob Seger) mission is simple: To make living in a walkable, car-optional neighborhood an option for the tens of millions of Americans who want to, but currently can’t.
It’s not a real estate developer, it is a neighborhood builder.
This is possible only because of 1. A prioritization of design before near-term financial returns and 2. A permanent capital structure that makes #1 possible.
Because we take a long term view, we can build things that others can’t: places that actually feel inviting and lively.
It’s become very clear in the process of trying to create a new, complete neighborhood that real estate development in the United States today is in really bad shape.
No particular person is to blame. It’s a complicated tangle of things, but here are three pretty big issues:
Overly restrictive zoning laws
Municipal institutions hesitant to change and experiment
Developers who build for investors, not residents
Charter cities are an attempt to bring established economic and political jurisdictions from first-world countries to developing countries. I get the idea, but in the United States we have a fairly robust set of national laws, judicial system, etc. The political scale where innovation is desperately needed is at the local, municipal level.
Municipal institutions affect us most in our day to day lives:
Municipal zoning laws and planning departments determine the built environments we live in
Most local governance is slow and opaque - there is very little opportunity for citizen involvement
Meanwhile, cities are the true drivers of growth…everywhere. Nations don’t grow. States don’t grow. Cities grow. If the institutions that guide the growth of those cities are outdated, the resulting growth will be unpleasant to modern citizens.
To address that, we need to experiment with municipal governance through startup cities. More on this in a later issue.
Quote I’m pondering:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller
Thought I'm Pondering: The Power of Paradox
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
It seems most successful & happy people are capable of handling enormous amounts of contradiction. And they have a knack for knowing when certain things are true or applicable. This seems like a good definition of wisdom.
One example is that something may happen that is not the result of your actions - “not your fault” - but it can still be your responsibility to address.
Inverting it, it also seems obvious that the least successful/happy people cannot handle contradiction: things are either true or they are not.
Here’s a great bit from Shane Parish on the same idea:
“The idea is to live in the middle of ideas, believing in them enough to take action but not enough so they become too big of an anchor when something better comes along. More than acknowledging the uncertainty of beliefs you need to embrace it. Keats called this ability “negative capability.” Roger Martin argues that successful thinking involves integrating several different ideas while maintaining the ability to act. It is through the exploration of these opposing ideas, or uncertainty if you will, that we come to better outcomes.”
My goal is to begin sending this newsletter out weekly. The form it will most likely take is:
1-2 Project updates
What I’m thinking about at the moment
A quote or two I like/am keeping in mind
If you know of someone who might be interested in what I’m working on or enjoys this kind of content, feel free to forward this along.
Thank you for subscribing! As always, I love having conversations with people I’ve met online, so if you’d like to talk about any of these projects (or something else you’re interested in), let’s something up! There’s a Calendly link on my website: joel-anderson.com
Until next time,