Brad Marcoux on City and Community

In 2008, likely in India, someone made the decision to pack up their life and move. Or somewhere in Kabul, Ghaziabad or Beihai, a baby was born. That one person tipped the balance from rural to urban, and for the first time in human history, more of us lived in cities than not.

This grand demographic change sprang from economic necessity, but the result is community. Because when we arrive in a city, we meet our neighbours, we eat together, and we talk. And as Toronto inaugurates a deeply polarizing mayor, I’ve been thinking about how cities work (and don’t), about community and about how we can find ways to get along.

Brad Marcoux is a socialist, liberal, pseudo-elite who really does like lattes, and then ruins a perfectly good stereotype by feeling “meh” about biscotti. He lives in Toronto with his beautiful wife and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @nometa

Brad’s five links

1. Detroit’s beautiful, horrible decline

Like New York’s near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, Detroit’s woes are a cautionary tale and a reminder that even great cities can fall if they’re not tended well. Detroit is now slowly on the mend, with the emergence of urban gardens, Moth story nights and new bars and restaurants. These are pictures of the ashes before the phoenix and a reminder to take care of the cities we love, because they can slide away so quickly.

2. Triumph of the golden rule

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: You and your partner in crime are arrested, and if you both keep quiet, you both win. But can you trust her, or should you rat her out and cut a deal before she does the same to you? Community groups are rife with snack-sized versions of this dilemma. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to stare down your nemesis over his or her home-baked choco-chunk brownies at the fundraiser next week. Turns out that cooperating on the “This Pedestrian Crossing Will Save Humanity for Eternity” petition really is the way to make sure you win the epic “Battle of The Speed Bump.” We all knew that, of course. But now it’s been proven. With math.

3. You were doing it wrong

Digg, Reddit and dozens of other sites do what Metafilter does: share links and information. But Metafilter puts up two little barriers: no commenting until you pay a one-time $5 fee, and no posts until you’ve made at least five comments. Turns out barriers create investment, and as a result, it’s everything a community should be: raucous, thoughtful, funny and truly amazing. The “Ask Metafilter” section regularly inspires me to shout “You’ve got to hear this!” to my wonderfully patient wife. There were a dozen posts I considered including, but none were as fun as this one. You’ll get up and check your plastic-wrap boxes on the way to stare at your car’s gas gauge.

4. Our phony economy

Economists talk about pollution as an “externality,” and arguments about social programs and transit get reduced to dollars and cents. We’re punch-drunk on the left: Why can’t we explain how important these things are? I love this article because it explains why the issue isn’t the money; it’s the measurement. Or, put more eloquently: “By the standard of the GDP, the worst families in America are those that actually function as families–-that cook their own meals, take walks after dinner, and talk together instead of just farming the kids out to the commercial culture.”

5. Left vs right

Information is Beautiful is complicated questions and overwhelming numbers made lovely. This particular post helped me to understand why people on the right think like they do…kind of. The site is completely absorbing and visits can eat entire days.