The Orientation of D E C A Y’s Political Views
DECAY’s outlook on human dynamics can be described as “right-wing”, but without stereotypical “right-wing” stances, such as laissez-faire free-market economics or moral traditionalism
DECAY’s left Wing stances on environmental and public health regulations, worker and consumer protections, and a social safety net
The Bearer of “Trad” News
A post American perspective
Futurism and technological progress
Predicting Future Trends
Independent City States
Where Should One Live?
Urban neighborhoods, Sreetcar Suburbs, Retrofitted Suburbs, Small Towns, College Towns, and the reemergence of the village model, where people live in close proximity to where they work, shop and recreate
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and thoughts on the region’s cities, suburbs, and wilderness
The need for a balance between urbanism and wilderness
Retro Futurism and an affinity for 80’s Synthwave
Transcript of interview:
Robert: Can you talk about your basic political ideology and core principles. You mention that you are skeptical of liberal ideals such as progress and equality.
Decay: When I was younger, I was a libertarian and I cared a lot about having a coherent political ideology and a well-supported stance on every conceivable political issue. In retrospect, I was a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect and overestimated my capacity to devise effective solutions to complex problems, while also placing far too much confidence in the efficacy of a priori deductive reasoning from first principles. I now view the world as far too messy for that. Furthermore, I’m grateful that it’s not my responsibility to devise solutions to problems that might not be solvable. There are many political issues that I have no stance on. It’s not as if the establishment ever solicited my opinion to begin with.
I tend to see political stances as rooted in “pre-rational” desires and preferences and to the priority people give to each. There is no basis for a rational agreement over the proper political system, namely because our preferences are often in conflict with each other. The best we can achieve is a precarious compromise.
My interpretation of human social dynamics is Darwinian and Hobbesian. I see humans as locked in a zero-sum competition for scarce resources – particularly resources like the state, public space, and key industries. However, most of us recognize the value of establishing an amicable arrangement with each other so as to avoid an escalation of violence and to enjoy the benefits of projects that require cooperation. This arrangement has historically been referred to as a “social contract”, but I prefer to think of it as a peace treaty. At best, this arrangement can reduce the severity and risk of potential conflict by restricting the ways in which humans can compete for power and status.
I also don’t believe in equality – either in terms of ability or motivation. Furthermore, I see in-group preference – commonly referred to as “tribalism” – as normal and rational. Extending equal moral concern to the entirety of humanity is both foolish and impossible.
My outlook on human dynamics can be described as “right-wing”, but I’m not comfortable with the label, as I don’t promote stereotypical “right-wing” stances, such as laissez-faire free-market economics or moral traditionalism.
I don’t really favor any specific political arrangement, but I’m a value pluralist – I care about multiple political goals that are often in conflict with each other, including freedom, security, order, fairness and even “self-overcoming”, and think that we need to balance them. In this respect, I’m a “centrist”. I do sympathize with libertarianism to some degree, as I hate being micromanaged, but libertarians understate the importance of private or corporate power.
That said, I consider myself apolitical. I’m not an activist, nor am I politically engaged in any way. I rarely even vote, and when I do, it’s typically on ballot initiatives, even though I don’t think that such measures should be decided via plebiscite. I did vote for Trump, but I regret it. I wish I followed my normal policy of not voting for any candidate, but emotion got the better of me and I just had to issue a “middle finger vote” to say FU to the SJWs – a rather childish way of deciding how to vote, I admit. I think one’s interest is better served by understanding the world in order to adapt oneself to it and to take advantage of it – and at best, to manipulate it slightly to serve one’s interests. Of course, when one actually is successful in influencing the world, one often pushes it in a direction not originally intended. My blog is also not intended as political. It’s meant to be practical, but if one wishes to make good decisions, one should look honestly at how the world works and separate it from one’s fantasies of how one wish it would operate.
Robert: You refer a lot to the Black Pill on your blog. Are you an eternal pessimist?
Decay: I’m pessimistic regarding the possibility of generating a perfect social order, and I think even the best possible arrangements that we’re actually capable of don’t tend to be long for this world. For example, social democratic Sweden might have been a fine place to live during a brief window of time, but it was already on a trajectory of self-destruction even before its effects became fully apparent. Nothing good that we create will last, partly due to the logistics of maintaining complex systems and partly due to limitations of our own psychology. If we create something good within a limited context, we become overly optimistic about our ability to scale it up. Or when we become rich, we become too comfortable, addicted to sensory pleasures that don’t actually make us happy, and depressed due to a lack of challenge or purpose in our life. We always want what we don’t have, and when we finally do have it, it ceases to impress us. I recommend researching the phenomenon of the “Hedonic Treadmill”.
Robert: You also write for Brandon Adamson’s blog, which is described as “Left of the Alt-Right.” What attracted you to his blog and where do you disagree with the right wing including the Alt-Right and NRX?
Decay: I get along well with Brandon. He has similar cultural preferences as I, in addition to being easy going and non-dogmatic about political and social issues. Like him, I’d say my cultural and aesthetic preferences are “very white” or European in origin, and I also dislike the the establishment’s quest to demonize all things white and Eurocentric. That said, most elements of culture and aesthetics that I appreciate aren’t traditional or old, but rather new and “degenerate”. I don’t relate to the alt-right’s fondness for Nazi Germany, Vikings or crusading medieval knights. My worldview is for better or for worse rooted in the modern world, as that’s where I derive my “lived experience” from. I do not root it in an idealized – and possibly false – conception of the distant past. I also appreciate that Brandon isn’t a purist and maintains a good sense of humor. In addition, I do tend to agree with his post-American perspective, in that I think the ideology of “Americanism” is completely dead. Whatever direction we move in will be a break from the past.
Originally, the “alt-right” basically referred to any politics informed by HBD or race realism. Even Taki Mag and Unz Review fell under this banner. As a person who thinks that race is real and that it matters, I of course think that both political and personal decisions should be informed by this. Steve Sailer has characterized political correctness as a “war on noticing” – effectively an assault against pattern recognition. I of course think it’s insane to make political decisions while ignoring general trends in different population groups out of a quasi-religious commitment to the fictitious concept of equality.
However, the alt-right eventually calcified into a single rigid ideology, namely white nationalism. I do not see white nationalism as even remotely tractable in North America. The United States is far past the point of no-return in terms of being multiethnic, and the question of whether this is good or bad is moot. Most white Americans do not strongly identify with their racial or ethnic background and are only weakly ethnocentric at best. At least least half of white Americans think ethnocentrism is morally wrong. The majority of whites – including myself – have acquaintances, friends and even family members who aren’t white, and aren’t about to stab their immediate connections in the back for the sake of a political abstraction. Even if whites still compromised a supermajority, which they don’t, there would be very little demand among whites – either “normies” or elites – for a racially exclusive nation. Even if there was, the process of attempting to deport tens and millions of legal citizens would likely lead to civil war, which I don’t think most people have the stomach for. I have zero confidence in the prospect of “peaceful mass deportations”. As far as Balkanization or secession goes, I put that in the “conceivable but I’m not going to hold my breath” category. (I also like the geopolitical advantage that comes from one political entity controlling an entire continent surrounded by two massive moats.) I think it’s in the interest of the various groups who inhabit North America to establish an amicable arrangement with each other. The prevailing narrative is indeed anti-white, and I think we do need to push back against that, but not to the extent of advocating mass removal of established citizens of other racial backgrounds. I’d be in favor of freedom of association for organizations smaller than a certain scale, but I still don’t think most people would consciously discriminate upon race. They’d likely discriminate on “merit” – meaning whether or not somebody acts in accordance with their preferences – and the consequence would look something like *partial* segregation. I personally get pretty sick of progressives hand-wringing about the unbearable whiteness of craft brewing and disk golf, but I wouldn’t opt for explicit racial exclusion either. I’d prefer to let the cards fall where they may. If certain interests end up being racially homogeneous by happenstance or due to average racial differences, fine. If they don’t, also fine.
I’m not worried about North America ending up like South Africa, where whites face a very real danger of a “hard genocide”, involving slaughter (as opposed to the “soft genocide” that white nationalist refer to when pointing to gradual replacement). (I hope white South Africans manage to escape to Australia, as staying is a losing battle.) I suspect the U.S. will end up like a English speaking version of Latin America, with more money but a similar level of dysfunction. Again, it’s not ideal, but we’ll adapt to it. All Latin American populations have large white populations, and the racial dynamics in those countries are far more fluid and less hostile than in South Africa. I’m not promoting this “LatAmization” model, but I don’t think we have much of a choice. I think it’s not far off from what we already have.
As for NRx, Mencius Moldbug is among my greatest intellectual influences, but primarily for his analysis of political systems, and not for his proposed solutions, although I do wonder if his “solutions” (e.g., Formalism, Patchwork, etc) were actually intended as thought experiments. If so, I do find them entertaining and engaging, even if I don’t think they’re likely to work in practice. I agree with Moldbug’s obliteration of the public/private distinction that libertarians use to differentiate the state from profit-oriented businesses, and I also refer to them generically as “corporations”. See my blog entry “On Corporations: Momentary Anarchist and Neoreactionary Convergence” for further elaboration on this topic. I also agree with his analysis of caste structure, and how the ruling caste prefers to side with the underclass over the productive professional classes. The bloger Spandrell (AKA Bloody Shovel) elaborates on this further with his concept of “Biolenism”, which states that the productive classes make for unreliable and disloyal subjects because they’re sufficiently resourceful that they don’t really need the assistance of the elites, who often just get in the way. The elites prefer to cultivate support from the most dysfunctional elements of society, who would have no hope of status elevation without state assistance. Moldbug’s concept of “Exit, not Voice” is also appealing to me, as I see all governments as oligarchies where nobody who dissents from the narrowly prescribed Overton Window has any significant influence anyway. “Grass roots rebellions” only succeed if a powerful faction within the establishment looks favorably upon it. Sometimes, the only option is to relocate to a polity whose rules and culture is more favorable.
I do respect Nick Land, and enjoy his tweets. However, I haven’t been able to get through his essays, even though I can read Moldbug’s equally long-winded and cryptic pieces. Go figure.
I do not relate to the Evolan “traditionalist” intellectual circle that co-opted the NRx label, nor do I think they have any useful insights. Post-Moldbug “NRx” is an entirely separate school of thought that only bears faint relation to Moldbug.
Robert: A follow up question. What issues do you identify more with the left on?
Decay: I don’t favor free-market capitalism. I think capitalism has been very effective at generating unprecedented wealth, but it does cause externalities – as does every human behavior, up to and including the act of taking a shit! – which I think need to be reigned in. As long as a market economy remains dominant, I do favor environmental and public health regulations, worker and consumer protections, a social safety net, etc.
I’m also a bit of a greenfag, and favor conservation and energy efficiency measures that reduce our resource footprint. I also look favorably upon population decline, which is apparently a “left-wing” perspective when applied to whites but “right-wing” when directed at anybody else.
I’d be okay with giving Universal Basic Income a try, although I think many of the proposal’s supporters are a far too sanguine about what it will accomplish. While it will insulate people from the worst forms of poverty, it will not give their lives purpose. The ethnic underclasses in Europe already enjoy an equivalent of UBI, and we don’t see them using their stipend to write symphonies or work out a new interpretation of quantum mechanics. That said, I am fine with guaranteeing a minimum standard of living to everybody, provided that we can do so without encouraging the most dysfunctional members of society to reproduce. I’d favor distributing a flat amount *per adult*, and not increasing the amount per dependent child.
Robert: What economic system do you favor?
Decay: See above. Most countries have convened upon a mixed economic model, which seems like the most adaptive model under present conditions. If it wasn’t, something else would have proliferated instead.
Robert: You have written about traditionalism and it’s limitations. With the obvious exception of groups such as the Amish do you view traditionalist especially those active online as LARPing? Is it important to have some form of connection to the past?
Decay: Yes, I’d say that no post-agrarian generation has lived a “traditional” lifestyle. Technological change has required each of them to deviate from the lifestyle of that of their parents in order to survive. There is little intergenerational continuity in terms of culture. Each generation effectively practices a culture somewhat alien to that of the last. That said, this cultural change is sufficiently gradual that we have maintained some connection to the past. We still speak English, although it’s not quite the same English as that of our grandparents. There are also certain human universals. We still wear clothing, listen to music, transport ourselves from one place to another, have sex, etc. We have a conception of the past, but its both positively and negatively mythologized in our minds, given that we weren’t actually there.
Twitter trads don’t even qualify as LARPers, as the first two letters of “LARP” stand for “Live Action”. If they dressed as knights and participated in mock battles, that would be LARPing. If posting “Deus Vult” memes counts as LARPing, it’s low-effort!
Robert: You state that you have some level of skepticism towards long term technological progress. Are you a Luddite to some degree?
Decay: I wouldn’t apply the “Luddite” label to myself, especially given the unfortunate amount of time I spend on the internet, but I do think there are many instances in which a simpler technology is superior to a more complex technology. For example, the broom is a simple technology that dates back millennia. I almost always prefer cleaning with a broom over the more technologically sophisticated vacuum cleaner. The broom is quiet, less expensive, less likely to break due to fewer moving parts, and altogether less clunky. Stairs are another ancient technology, which I almost always use instead of the elevator – provided I’m not moving furniture or any other heavy object – given that they are faster when climbing five floors or less, while also providing exercise. Walking down stairs requires no more effort than walking on flat ground.
I try to purchase “buy it for life” items, which tend to have very few moving parts. However, these items are dependent upon advanced materials technology and precision machining, so I’d hesitate to call them “low tech”, even if they’re based on an old concept.
The most sophisticated technologies that I own – namely my PC and my smartphone – are both surveillance tools of the deep state, although I’m actually more concerned about the results of my employer or peers discovering my blog than the NSA (who almost certainly have data on it, but probably don’t care). In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that I’ve changed the way I use the internet. I no longer use it to engage with strangers – certainly not to debate! – but mainly use it to interact with a small number of IRL and online friends. Even the blog and Twitter account are meant primarily to reach out to like-minded people, not to change the minds of strangers.
Robert: On your blog you state that you do not believe in nationalism. Do you see the future as a series of independent city states or tribes and diasporas competing for power?
Decay: Predicting the future is difficult, but I suspect that the United States of America will officially exist for the remainder of my lifetime. It’s possible that its control over regions and municipalities might weaken. Local and state governments are already defying the feds by legalizing cannabis and declaring “sanctuary cities”. Because of this, more and more people seem to be producing their own cannabis. They’re making use of modern machinery, like this rosin press, to grow their own cannabis extracts for recreational purpose, whilst others may be more interested in the medical marijuana industry. Due to the new equipment, we’re also seeing a rise in businesses managing every aspect of cannabis production, including retail seed to sale, which has led to economic growth in these regions and helped change the landscape and perception of cannabis, and are backed by the research and activism of groups such as Cannabis Talk Network, alongside many doctors who are increasingly keen to allow the general public access to the health benefits of the drug.. All of this is done in defiance of federal stances in many instances. We’re also seeing the formations of “megaregions”, which are capable of going behind the back of the federal government in order to strike up agreements with foreign political entities. This could portend the rise of the city-state in response to the waning influence of an increasingly overscaled and dysfunctional federal government. I do get the impression that the feds are less capable of accomplishing impressive feats in comparison to a half century ago. I’m not confident that it could build the interstate highway system from scratch. It has lost control of foreign countries that were once puppet states, and it’s record of winning wars within the past half century is fairly lackluster. That said, I don’t think municipalities are very functional either. New York City took a decade to build two miles of the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, now regarded as the most expensive subway line in the world. I see less efficacy on every organizational level of society, both public and private, and I’m not entirely sure what the result of that will be in 10-20 years, beyond the probability that society will be less of a well-oiled smooth functioning machine than it was a half century ago.
Robert: If we have independent city states do you predict they will be futuristic sci-fi metropolis’s or more Luddite and agrarian? Or perhaps both?
Decay: I don’t anticipate them being “futuristic” in the sense of being the space age cities envisioned in 1960s science fiction (e.g., with flying cars), but I also don’t expect a reversion to complete agrarianism.
In the realm of urban transportation, I do think that the technologically simple modes of conveyance will triumph over technologically complex ones. Cycling and walking are faster and more efficient in cities above a certain population density than driving, not to mention being lower maintenance. Due to bulky geometry, the car is not an efficient means of navigating densely populated urban areas. However, public transit isn’t much better. The process of building out public transit is slow, given that it’s managed by bureaucratic municipal governments and corrupt contractors. It can’t be built fast enough to service all the potential routes that the population demands. Once it is built, people of means generally opt not use public transit, as doing so requires entering a confined space with the types of people one would never voluntarily invite into one’s house. Transit doesn’t take the majority of the population from their point of origin to their desired destination without requiring time-consuming transfers. This problem is worse in North American cities, where planners superimpose transit over cities and suburbs originally built around the automobile. Trains and buses are often delayed. Maintenance and operating costs are high. The system decays faster than it can be upgraded.
I think we are in the early stages of seeing the reemergence of the village model, where people live in close proximity to where they work, shop and recreate. Even the sprawly suburbs are establishing mixed-use centers – sometimes by repurposing former malls – where people live within 15 minutes walking distance of the businesses they frequent, if not directly upstairs from them. These apartments and condos are renting and selling fast at high prices, indicating the presence of pent up demand for this kind of development.
Robert: You have written a lot of about urban planning and architecture. These issues are crucial but are often ignored by political bloggers. What got you interested in these issues? Was it just dealing with day to day quality of life?
Decay: Yes. Truth be told, I have never actually owned a car. I generally only drive to actually *leave* the city in order to access hiking areas and smaller towns. Driving always struck me as a stupid way to get around in the city itself, not to mention an enormous money pit. During the earliest stages of my adult life, I was dependent upon public transit, but I never actually enjoyed using it, due to the factors I mention above. I soon transitioned to riding a bike as my main mode of transport, and found it to be the fastest way of getting around within urban areas. On a bike, I could fit through tight spaces, avoid traffic, dismount and walk if necessarily, and always find a parking spot. However, I did have to contend with many urban and suburban areas optimized for cars, which I saw as inefficient and not very pleasant to be in.
I’m not totally opposed to suburban sprawl, particularly those who genuinely prefer that form of development. However, I think the fact that mixed-use developments command high rents suggests that the there is greater demand for urbanism than there is supply. I think we would have less sprawl if we had a sufficient number of moderately dense and walkable settlements to satisfy existing demand for them. Every sizable metro area with a growing economy has been undergoing a multifamily construction boom within the last five years, in which numerous mixed-use projects have been built in the central city and suburbs alike.
Robert: Do you think the main reason that right wingers are hostile to urbanism as well as mass transit is because they equate it with diversity? Hence the whole White Flight phenomenon to the suburbs.
It’s purely tribal. Consider the bicycle, a neutral technology with no inherent political orientation. The mere act of riding a bicycle doesn’t make any statement at all about one’s politics or world view. However, conservatives associate the bicycle with liberals, as a tribal marker. Therefore, many of them hate bicycles and cyclists and want to run them off the road. When they see a cyclist, they see a tribal enemy. I think they regard urbanism the same way. There is nothing inherently anti-conservative about it, but they dislike it because liberals like it.
The issue of global warming is similar. No stance on global warming is either inherently liberal or conservative. Both stances are descriptive, not prescriptive. One either thinks that it doesn’t exist, that it exists but happens naturally, or that it exists and is caused by humans. None of those positions demand a particular set of policies. Most people don’t even know much about the subject, and yet they feel compelled to take a side so as not to be branded a heretic by their tribe.
These days, I actually encounter far more leftists who hate new urbanism, namely because the construction of six-story mixed-use apartment buildings equates to gentrification in their minds.
Robert: On your twitter feed you advocate for “a walkable mixed-use condominium village with 6-story apartments w ground floor commercial, cars restricted to a ring road with parking garages, and a surrounding city wall with mounted laser turrets. All the amenities of a city, minus the bullshit.” In America it seems that only major metropolitan regions have vibrant urban life. However in Europe you do find this with the smaller Medieval era cities. Some with populations around 50k. Is that the model you would adapt?
Decay: I tweeted this because I personally dislike the leftist politics, bureaucratic waste and street level dysfunctionality of big cities, and yet I also have no desire to live in sprawlsville. It would be good to have a development that combines the best of both worlds while excluding the worst.
I think your statement that “only major metropolitan areas have vibrant urban life” is less true now than it was ten years ago. There are numerous small towns within an hour’s driving distance of the city in which I live that are in the process of developing all the same amenities as the city itself. It’s a gradual process, but many of these small towns now function as commuter villages in relation to the big city. Many of these towns’ residents once lived in the big city, and even though they longed to escape the hustle and bustle, they still want craft breweries, cafes and yoga studios in the center of the town that they fled to. Mixed use apartments and townhouses are beginning to sprout up, albeit on a smaller scale than in the big city.
One reads many articles on the “death of small towns” in the U.S., but this is less so the case among small towns located within an hour and a half drive of any large and prosperous city, particularly in the increasingly popular mountain states. These towns enjoy the advantage of being near a major city, a hospital and an airport, while still being uncrowded and surrounded by green space.
Small cities in the U.S. are definitely sprawly in comparison to European villages that date back to the Middle Ages, but some are in the process of densifying.
In my tweet, I might have been half-joking regarding the laser turrets, but I was suggesting an exclusive high-security master-planned village built from the ground up. Consider the possibility of a new residential development established on a 5×5 block street grid, in other words 25 square blocks. Each block has an apartment building with anywhere from 100-200 units. (Some buildings have fewer units because the units are sufficiently large to support families.) Each block contains 150 units on average. Such a village would contain 3,750 units. Let’s suppose that the village averaged 3 inhabitants per unit. This village would have a population of 11,250 people, all living within a 7-10 minute walking distance of any given point in the village. Each apartment building would house businesses on the ground floor, and the population would be sufficient to support a supermarket, a hardware store, an electronic store, a bakery, along with numerous pubs and restaurants. The village would be privately owned, and only those with an arrangement with residents or those doing business there would be able to enter. The village would contain both a central public square, along with a ring of parkland surrounding it, which could itself be encircled by a wall. I don’t see this as utopian, as it would just be a more compact and walkable version of existing master planned private communities.
Robert: Are you familiar with the concept of an Arcology where an entire community is in one single structure? Is that similar to what you advocate?
Decay: Yes, I’m familiar with the arcology from playing SimCity as a kid. My idea is somewhat similar, in that it would function as an enclosed community that accommodates housing, shopping, recreation, along with some level of economic productivity. (I suspect many residents would likely still need to commute to work.) Arcologies are different in the respect they house all functions within a single enclosed structure. I suspect that construction and maintenance costs of an arcology would be higher, given that they function more like a mall or airport with a residential component, complete with elevators, moving sidewalks, monorails, vaccum tubes, etc. I’ve talked to Brandon enough to know that he’d like to live in the Logan’s Run dome, minus “Last Day”! I do see it as cool, but unnecessarily complex.
Robert: You grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. What are your favorite cities, towns, and wilderness areas in the Bay Area? Would you say the region has a good balance between urbanism and open space?
Decay: The Santa Cruz mountains and Marin County host the best wilderness areas, given the presence of old growth redwood forests. The mountains surrounding the Bay Area have served as a natural geographic barrier to development, but Bay Area cities have been resistant to densification due to political factors. Property ownership is geriatric – houses are owned an occupied by retired empty nesters, while even the most high earning millennials and Gen Xers are forced to rent. The only (partial) solution is to build mixed-use apartment/condo buildings and townhouses close to CalTrain and BART stations and on vacant lots in historical downtowns. Suburbs are in the early stages of doing this, but they started a bit too late – and some not at all. Redwood City and Walnut Creek are two examples of suburbs that have moved in the right direction, as both got started early in rapidly filling up their downtown areas with six story residential buildings with ground floor retail. Places like Palo Alto, on the other hand, resist building even modest four story buildings on a downtown vacant lot, surface parking lot or abandoned strip mall. Residents react as if a skyscraper was proposed on their residential cul de sac. The cities most amenable to new urbanism seem to be those that are neither too wealthy nor too poor. Cities like Oakland are full of leftists and anti-gentfrication activists, whereas Palo Alto is full of NIMBY establishment types. Both make the construction of a simple downtown apartment complex more logistically challenging. I’m not even suggesting that apartments should be built in exclusively residential areas. I’m not opposed to zoning – if we eliminated it, it would likely be replaced by private covenant communities. However, downtowns are a perfectly appropriate zone to accommodate at least moderate residential density.
Robert: You wrote an article “Where Should One Live?” What are the core factors when looking for a place to live and do you have a personal preference for any of these models?
Decay: Yes, I’d actually prefer something a little bit larger than the master planned mixed-use village model that I suggested, which might be more to my tastes when I reach retirement age. A city of 100,000 people would hit the sweet spot for me right now. In ten years, I might prefer something smaller. I care less about the total population of a city than I do about other factors, namely: short travel times between home and work/amenities, relatively narrow streets that don’t require one to make a mad dash across to beat the walk light, decent sidewalks and bike paths, and easy access to nature. I’d also like the city’s economy to be sufficiently prosperous that the atmosphere doesn’t feel depressing or dangerous, but not so prosperous that I can’t afford to live there.
Robert: Is it the ideal to have access to both wilderness and a walkable downtown area? Both the Peninsula and the Lafayette/Orinda area in the Bay Area epitomize these qualities the most. Is that a luxury since most places that have these qualities have high real estate prices?
Decay: Access to wilderness and a walkable downtown is certainly my ideal. Lafayette and Orinda specifically are luxuries due to their location in the Bay Area, but that model can be exported to less expensive locales. Every major metro area in the country has numerous small towns within an hour’s drive. There’s no reason why they can’t mimic Lafayette, and I’m already seeing many such towns in the process of doing so.
Robert: There are the street car suburbs which were built in the early 20th Century. These places also have the benefits of having access to major cities, their own downtowns, and parklands, while one has the luxury of being able to own a single family home. What are some examples of successful streetcar suburbs? In California I can think of Pasadena in LA and Palo Alto in the Bay Area. Both very high priced.
Decay: I’ll use an example from a metro area that I do not live in. Coraopolis and Sewickley, Pennsylvania, are now suburbs of Pittsburgh, although they originated as small towns. Coraopolis is a bit more downmarket, whereas Sewickley is posh. I don’t believe either still have a streetcar or light rail connection to Pittsburgh, if they ever did, but both have a main street complete with bars, cafes and restaurants. Everything in town is within walking distance, and you don’t feel like you’re in danger of being run over while walking around. Houses are listed in Coraopolis for less than $150k.
Robert: Since there is a shortage of affordable street car suburbs one trend is retrofitting the post war car oriented suburbs into walkable communities based on the street car model. Are you optimistic about this trend and can you think of an example of a successful retrofitted suburb. I guess Walnut Creek in the Bay Area would be a good example.
Decay: It’s certainly better than strip malls. Milpitas is a good example from the Bay Area, which is currently building numerous high density apartment complexes near the new BART station. King of Prussia, PA is also doing the same thing near its mall. Many Seattle suburbs are becoming increasingly urban near their core, most notably Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. I’ve read articles about various exurbs that have converted old malls into downtowns by adding a residential component. Lakewood, CO and Liberty Township, OH are two examples. These developments would not be among my top choices in terms of places to live, but if I were forced to live in any of these suburbs, I’d opt to live live in one of their neo-downtowns.
Robert: Is the article you mention that it is great to live near a forest. You mention the town of Bergen, Norway. In the United States much of our forest wilderness is in either remote areas or ultra expensive areas such as Marin County in the Bay Area. If you want to live near a forest do you have to make the choice between living in a very expensive area or a very remote area removed from amenities?
Decay: No. Not yet anyway. Removed from amenities, no. Removed from California, yes! The mountain states are becoming more expensive, but are still cheap relative to California. One could live in Spokane, Boise, Ft Collins or Missoula, and enjoy both close proximity to nature while suffering no lack of gourmet coffee shops, craft breweries and hippie grocery stores in one’s neighborhood. Once those cities become too popular, cities like Twin Falls or Butte might be good options, as their downtowns are also host to SWPL amenities, albeit in lower concentrations.
Robert: You also mention college towns. College towns are unique in America in the sense that they have compact walkable downtowns similar to what you would find in Europe. Do you have a favorite college town and what are the pros and cons of living in one? What do you think of Berkeley and Santa Cruz in the Bay Area?
Decay: I’m a fan of Boise, Idaho. Idaho is becoming a lot more popular and is in the process of attracting numerous California escapees, but it’s still extremely cheap by California standards. Furthermore, the city is in the process of rapidly building mixed-use apartments and hotels throughout its downtown area. It started building early in response to increased demand, in contrast to Santa Cruz, which is resistant to new construction.
I dislike Berkeley because I find the leftist presence insufferable, particularly when combined with NIMBY opposition to the construction of anything new, even downtown – an appropriate location for density.
I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of both Santa Cruz and Monterey, but I think the downtowns of both cities are underutilized and full of vacant lots, when they should be full of construction cranes.
Robert:As far as large cities go you mention that downtown areas tend to have too extreme density but you favor the residential areas in major cities. Can you give some examples of vibrant, livable urban neighborhoods. Would you say North Beach and the Marina District in San Francisco are some good examples?
Decay: I do think that much of the human race responds negatively to overcrowding, as we aren’t adapted to such conditions. I’m not opposed to places like Manhattan existing. My misanthropic side doesn’t want the masses of humanity pervade the entire landscape and am glad that dense cities exist to contain them! However, I personally would never live in Manhattan, and I think that many others share my preference. Crowding triggers a stress response, as people to compete more fiercely in order to take care of daily tasks in a halfway efficacious manner. I prefer a population density that is sufficient to generate demand for amenities within walking distance, but that isn’t high enough that I’d have to endure a pedestrian traffic jam while walking to the supermarket.
North Beach and the Marina are probably good examples of the density level I’m referring to, although I personally would not opt to live in SF.
Robert:Finally we get to small towns which are the favorite of traditionalist. While small towns have charm and access to wilderness many of them today are either economically decimated or retirement destinations where most of the young people and families are leaving for economic opportunities. What are the benefits of small towns and can they become economically viable again in a post agrarian society?
Decay: To reiterate, I think small towns that are located within an hour and a half of an airport enjoy an advantage, namely because they are effectively suburbs, even if they aren’t formally part of a metro area. Many of these towns have fiber-optic internet and are ideal for telecommuting.
Isolated small towns can do well if they’re close to popular outdoor destination spots. Jackson, Wyoming and Ashland, Oregon are good examples.
Robert: Do you have a favorite architectural genre of American architecture? Traditional 19th Century Architecture? Art Deco? Mid-Century Modern? Contemporary architecture?
Decay: Not really. I don’t actually know that much about architectural design. I think more in terms of the function of a development and less about how it looks. However, I’m not a complete modernist – I do care about aesthetics, but don’t know much about the different movements. I do like art deco, and wouldn’t mind seeing a revival. Again, I know nothing about it, but it looks cool. I’m not a huge fan of the typical design of mixed-use developments, but they are better than what they replace (e.g., strip malls and vacant lots). I don’t really care if a six story apartment is ugly if it’s replacing a used car lot. I do tend to like the developments that use brick siding. Brick facades have a timeless look to them, and I suspect that buildings that use brick facades will age better than those made of glass.
Robert: What are your thoughts on Retro-Futurism ranging from Steampunk to Dekopunk to 80’s Retrowave?
Decay: I do listen to synthwave. Carpenter Brut and Perturbator are the standout artists of the genre, probably because both have diverged from the constraints of the genre and are carving out a more unique sound. Most other synthwave artists produce music I find pleasant to listen to and yet somewhat generic. I often listen to a synthwave mix when I’m in the process of cleaning or trying to get some work done. I generally only get hooked on music with vocals. Most synthwave is instrumental, but there are a number of tracks that use female vocals, and I tend to like those the best. When it comes to pop music, I always preferred female vocals, and that dates back to the 80s. I love artists like Blondie, The Go-Go’s, Pat Benatar, Laura Branigan, the Bangles, Bananarama, etc. I’m not sure why I prefer female vocals – it’s probably a sex thing. Gunship is probably the best vocal synthwave band I’ve heard, although I wish they’d ditch the male vocalist and keep the female vocalist. I’d also recommend the Greek artist synthwave “Kristine”, who sounds straight out the 80s.
Steampunk never drew me in – seems like a dork subculture. I’m not familiar with Dekopunk.
Robert: I noticed you use Italian Futurist imagery on your Twitter handle. Do you have a strong affinity for the movement and aesthetic style?
Decay: Futurist art definitely resonates with my aesthetic tastes, but again, I don’t know much about the movement. That said, most elements of culture that I appreciate aren’t old or rooted in ancient tradition, but relatively new. I grew up in the 80s, and the vast majority of music, film, television and even video games that I enjoy are either from that period or reminiscent of it. As you mentioned earlier, I also grew up in the Bay Area, which had no traditional features to speak of, particularly not with respect to architecture. Most of the cities weren’t built out more than one or two generations prior to me. The suburb I grew up in was full of fruit orchards when I was a kid, so much of the city was built within my lifetime. The culture of my childhood revolved entirely upon the concept of progress – Transformers, Star Wars, new wave and synthpop music, heavy metal, bmx bikes, skateboarding, professional wrestling, Knight Rider, Nintendo, etc. “Newer, brighter, faster” was the pervading theme. While I no longer believe in progress in the absolute sense, the culture has stuck with me to this day. Futurism resonates with me in part because I never felt like I had much connection to the past. I sought a sense of meaning by visiting medieval city centers in Europe, but I felt like I was visiting a museum of the dead and was left unsatisfied. I’ve also realized that I actually feel more “at home” in a rootless cosmopolitan city characterized by modern design, where I feel like a semi-permanent hotel guest. Perhaps that’s sad, but it’s what I’m adapted to.
I’d consider myself a “futurist”, because we don’t have any traditions to rely upon that are actually applicable to present conditions, the main exceptions being simple technologies and the English language. We might also be able to derive wisdom from the words of certain philosophers of the past. However, the culture of the future will have to be new, given that it must adapt to conditions that are also new. That said, I don’t think “new” necessarily equates to increased technological complexity. Complex systems eventually break down due to waste and excessive points of failure, and we might end up opting for simpler ways of doing things. I don’t think we will completely abandon any existing technology in the next 50 years, but we might reduce our dependency upon them. I do not foresee us colonizing the galaxy.