#2

Some thoughts and life updates.

It’s been a great month. In Ontario, where I live, covid-19 case counts are way down, as are hospitalization and death rates. Despite the rise of some worrisome virus variants, the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us.

My older brother who lives in Vancouver is in town and our whole family went out for dinner last night. That might have been my first time eating indoors in a restaurant in over a year.

“That’s a beautiful thing.” - Lefty Two Guns voice

If you’re new to this newsletter, before going any further, you might want to read the first issue where I provide some background on some of the topics to follow. Otherwise, read on!

some thoughts

I just read Justin Mares’ latest newsletter this morning. You can check it out here. In it, he talks about the “problem stack” and how problems can be solved at different levels.

The example he provides is cancer, which you could spend you life working on as a hospital volunteer, as a doctor providing treatment, as a hospital founder hiring many doctors to provide treatment, as a researcher developing new treatments, as a philanthropist funding research, and so on. As you move up from one level to the next, you have the potential to do more good for more people. You eventually make your way to solving metaproblems, like lobbying for increased federal funding for cancer treatment research, which benefits the whole stack.

This idea resonates with me as it explains some of my motivation for spending so much time on housing policy.

Let’s take a look at three big problems that I think could be addressed to a large degree by liberalizing land use rules and building more housing in our big cities: poverty, environmental degradation, and declining fertility rates. To be a bit more specific, I’ll focus on my city, Toronto.

Housing in Toronto is really expensive, and it’s expensive because there’s not enough of it. The market is extremely supply constrained, and land use rules are primarily to blame. (If I’ve already lost you, read this, this, and this.)

Expensive housing means that Torontonians are spending more of their money on housing than they should. It also means that fewer people are moving to Toronto than otherwise might, and those who aren’t moving here aren’t able to take advantage of our booming labour market.

Meaningfully addressing the land use rules that constrain housing supply in Toronto would lead to lower housing prices and more opportunity through labour mobility for more people from across the country.

A related point is that insufficient and expensive housing means that even those people who work in the city often have to live quite far away. Think about the downtown employees who commute in every day from the suburbs. This contributes to urban sprawl, car travel, and traffic congestion, all of which are very obviously bad for the environment.

Meaningfully addressing the land use rules that constrain housing supply in Toronto would lead to more people living closer to where they work, less urban sprawl, less car travel, and less traffic congestion.

Finally, there’s an emerging literature demonstrating that young people living in expensive housing-supply-constrained cities are having fewer children. It’s not hard to imagine why that might be.

Meaningfully addressing the land use rules that constrain housing supply in Toronto would lead to more living space, more affordability, and (likely) more children.

These land use rules represent a mega-metaproblem. I think that you could do worse things with your life than advocating full-time for their liberalization.

business stuff

August, my digital agency, continues to keep me busy. I started this business in order to work on interesting digital projects for interesting clients while maintaining the flexibility to dabble on side projects, including research projects. I’d like to get to a point where, through smart hires and good systems, it becomes mostly self-sustaining.

We’re not there yet.

Over the past three months, our largest client (by far) wound a big part of their business with us down, and we were left with a 60-70% hole in our monthly revenues to fill. Ouch. I’ve had to get much better at business development. I’m still not very good but I’m working on it. If you have a book recommendation or wisdom to share on this front, I’d love to hear it. Just reply to this email.

Quick updates on everything else I’ve got going on:

All Sorts - I mentioned in last’s month newsletter that we had just shipped 50,000 copies of our first catalogue to select neighbourhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

We’re now working on our second issue, which we want to be 4x bigger than the first, and therefore (we believe) 4x more interesting and 4x more likely to stick around in people’s homes for some time before getting discarded in the recycling bin. Ultimately, we’d love to get to a point where people hang on to their All Sorts catalogues until they receive the next issue—kind of like what some people do with Ikea catalogues.

Blue - We haven’t yet locked in a date for our first in-person Blue event, but we think it will be on the topic of innovation (or the insufficiency thereof). One of my favourite books on this topic is Where Is My Flying Car? A Memoir of Future Past, and I’ve recently been told that a print edition will soon be published by Stripe Press. I think that timing this next Blue event to coincide with the release of the print edition of this book would be really cool.

Skyline - Skyline started out as a proptech conference idea, which was disrupted by covid. We then pivoted to a weekly proptech newsletter, and are now pivoting once again to a newsletter aggregating and covering stories relating to Toronto’s growth and development. I don’t have much to say about that yet but the first issue will be going out tomorrow. Our landing page will be up by noon at skylinenewsletter.com. You can subscribe then and there if that sounds interesting to you.

investment stuff

A couple of years ago, my two brothers and I decided that we wanted to invest in real estate in some capacity. Since then, we bought a detached house in Vancouver, knocked it down, and built a duplex with a basement suite in its place. Here’s a shot of the back unit’s kitchen and living area.

We killed it.

We’ve also completed a land assembly in Toronto, which I will write about in the future.

We’re still not exactly sure where we want to specialize within this broad category but we’ve now found our third deal: a 20’-wide, two storey building on an arterial street in Toronto’s west end that we’ll be improving with two additional storeys and a full-height basement.

We’ve just firmed up on the acquisition, which will close on September 1st, and have started working with a local architect and urban planner on our proposed design.

I think that this will be a fun project to write about in this newsletter for those interested in following along and learning a bit about the process.

good content

This is some of the content I’ve enjoyed over the past month.

  • Article: I really enjoyed this piece by Eli Dourado summarizing the state and promise of geothermal energy. Eli’s one of my favourite writers and does a great job at conveying a positive and optimistic vision for the future. This piece in particular leads me to believe that cheap, clean, and abundant energy is just around the corner.

  • Book: I’ve been reading Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination this past month. What a fascinating man and life. One passage that stood out toward the start of the book described how in 1923, when he was 24-years old, Walt already thought he was too late to the world of animation. “Despite his outward confidence, he was worried about how he would make his way in Hollywood. Though he had brought his reel of Alice’s Wonderland and his drawing implements with him, he was not hopeful about his prospects in animation. He now felt he had gotten into the business too late, that it was too insular, that he would not really be able to break into the big time of animation, which was, in any case, centered in New York.” For reference, this is what animation looked like in 1923.

  • Podcast: I think that I listen to every podcast episode featuring Balaji Srinivasan. Marc Andreesen once described him as the person he knows who has the highest output of (good) new ideas, and that sounds like as good a descriptor as any. I’ve been paying close attention to his ideas since this infamous speech in 2013 on “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit”. His recent appearance on the Invest Like The Best podcast a few weeks ago was great.

  • Video: This fascinating talk on population decline and the end of economic growth was both educational and depressing. The punchline is that ideas, innovation, productivity and economic growth come from people. More people = more prosperity, and vice versa. I don’t think we’re taking declining global fertility rates seriously enough, and Elon Musk agrees with me.

***

And that’s it for now. I hope you have a great, productive month.

Feel free to reply to this email with any comments or questions. I love chatting about everything mentioned above.