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We have hit peak Silicon Valley: New crazy goal to disrupt entire cities

Y Combinator becomes its own spoof

By Kieren McCarthy, 27 Jun 2016

Comment Ever wondered what would happen if you gave that stoner dude with the far-out ideas millions of dollars?

Well, wonder no more, because like some bad 1980s comedy, we have startup funder Y Combinator's new research arm, YC Research – a venture with reportedly $100m to waste on hare-brained schemes.

Just before the weekend, the organization said it would run a pilot on basic income – literally giving between 30 and 50 people living in Oakland, California, a monthly wage of $2,000 to see what would happen (spoiler: they will spend it).

This week, the research arm stepped things up by claiming it is literally going to reinvent cities. And it is hiring full-time researchers to figure out how.

Not content with wasting money delivering food, cleaning laundry, walking dogs and whatever other nonsense the Valley has wasted millions on the past few years, Y Combinator is thinking big.

And it has a manifesto to prove it: a manifesto that reads like it was written at 3:00am after you and your friends had expanded your minds and realized things didn't have to be this way.

Among the insights:

  • We don't need to build cities near rivers any more, man.
  • The internet has changed, like, everything.
  • Rent is, like, crazy high – let's find a way to build new houses that are really cheap but also super cool.

Of course, all this is couched in Valleyspeak: people "aren't realizing their potential" because cities "don't provide the opportunities and living conditions necessary for success."

Opportunities meaning broader education? Living conditions meaning large, taxpayer-funded estates? It's almost as if Y Combinator has never spoken to anyone at a local council anywhere in the entire world.

But this is Silicon Valley: maybe the millions of people who have dedicated their lives to these issues over the decades simply haven't been asking the right questions. Questions like:

  • What should a city optimize for?
  • How should we measure the effectiveness of a city (what are its key performance indicators)?
  • What values should (or should not) be embedded in a city's culture?

We'll just stop there for a second.

Y Combinator thinks that you can decide what values you are able to embed into the culture of a city – and decide them ahead of time.

There's more:

  • How can cities help more of their residents be happy and reach their potential?
  • How can we encourage a diverse range of people to live and work in the city?
  • How should citizens guide and participate in government?

OK, let's pause again. YC Research is going to figure out how citizens should participate in government.

And it goes on and on like this: affordable high-speed transit (no doubt from being delayed on BART); "should we have human-driven cars at all?" (Spoiler: yes.)

But this is the best: "Can we fit all rules for the city in 100 pages of text?" Answer: No, no you can't.

The brains behind the idea: Adora Cheung of YC Research

Why on earth is Y Combinator wasting its money on something like this? Well, because it has money to waste; because Silicon Valley lives in so much of a bubble that it genuinely doesn't realize that people have been struggling with these issues for hundreds of years; and because the level of arrogance is so staggeringly high that there is literally no opportunity for self-reflection.

All that said, we have a pet theory: this isn't about researching new cities at all. This is just a clever way for someone to get others to fund their trip to Burning Man next year. ®

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