Work is Over, If You Want it

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, Tor Books

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, Tor Books

Advance review of Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

As more and more people lose their jobs to robots and computers, and more wealth gets collected among fewer people, the day may come when people just exit the system. This is the near future that Cory Doctorow envisions in Walkaway.

If you can use a 3D printer to print any small plastic object you like and have been able to do so for more than a decade, how long will it be until looms can 3D print you any shirt you like, or a food printer will be able to string together proteins to make you whatever you’d like to eat? If you can print whatever you need, whenever you want it, why would you worry about a job or money?

100 years ago, advances took workers off of farms because more efficient practices made them unnecessary, today factories close in droves, not just to because jobs move abroad to cheaper labor markets, but also because they’re replaced by machines better suited to dangerous, our simply grindingly boring work. Today, as self-service kiosks have already begun to replace waiters and machines often do a better job of diagnosing diseases than doctors do, the future of little-to-no human work as William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

So what does a world of walkaways look like? People who want to live off the grid today are associated with tents and outhouses, but Doctorow looks a little further in the future and sees scavengers living more richly than any “normies” who are still buying copyright-protected goods and trying to participate in the larger society.

Walkaway, makes you wrestle with the ideas in it. The society Doctorow imagines sometimes exhilarates and, other times, horrifies. The book pulls you through like a thriller and but it also offers all the best qualities of a book of future philosophy arguments in the tradition of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Star Trek.

Doctrow’s world is too close to the real world to be a fantasy, instead, it’s a compelling world–I want to live in now. Doctorow starts the book with the aphorism “Live like it’s the first days of a better world,” I suppose its good advice, for those who wish to be the creators of a more just society, but I’d just rather live somewhere nearer the middle days of a better world.

Everyone at the Gym is in Better Shape than You

imgresPeople are inherently good at comparisons. If you look at a pile of eight bottle caps you will not know how many are there unless you count them, but if there is a stack five bottle caps next to it you will immediately know which pile is bigger.

Relative size is very important to us and it makes sense when you think about how important decision making is for survival. If you’re trying to pick a place to sleep between two options it’s more important that you pick the safer of the two places than that you quantify the exact difference.

But, thinking comparatively has downsides.

The reason the people at the gym are in better shape than you is because they are the people who spend the most time at the gym. If the people around you are in better shape than you are the chances are there is at least a correlative effect between where you are and your physical health. By the same token if your friends are all smarter or richer than you, you may be putting yourself on the road to becoming smarter or richer, or you’re a waiter at a fancy restaurant.

Writing Around the Web

I’ve done a lot of work around the web lately, but very little of it is on this blog.


You can find my work at Planetizen where I wrote:

Who Moves And What it Means For Growing Cities

Lessons in City Planning from the Mexican Corner Store

When Will the Trucking Industry Electrify?

You can also find my podcast Work Friends here or on iTunes.


I’d Rather Play for Free

Free MusicMusic is infinite and freely available. So if you’re a small band it’s hard to get someone to take a look.

If you an admission fee for a small band’s concert, you will win that band no new fans. Who is the consumer that pays for live music from a band they’ve never heard of? That person is a chump.

That’s why it’s my solemn goal to play as many free shows as I possibly can with my band The Push Push.

I do not hate money. On the contrary, I love money. I’d be happy to pass the hat at any show. But charging even a nominal fee for a concert is really counterproductive, because it keeps people from coming into the show in the first place. The artist can’t control many of the most important aspects of a concert. How much you enjoy a band has a lot to do with the audience: how familiar are they with material, how do they react to the venue, do they jump up and dance and, importantly, how many other people are attending? Read more

New Podcast – Work Friends

Untitled drawing

I’ve started a new podcast with TJ Bartczak. We look at typical water cooler conversations, funny stories and hopefully give you some interesting topics to talk to that one person in the office that you seem to have nothing in common with.

Please check it out if that sounds interesting.

Cook County Loses More than 10,000 People, Most in Nation

City SkylineAccording to the Census Bureau Cook County lost 10,488 people, more than any other county in the nation. Counties in Texas, Florida and the Carolinas grew the fastest.  Much of the population change likely took place between 2007 (when the last census took place) and 2010, since then estimates of the city’s population change have flattened out.

For a more in depth investigation of what these population changes mean for the country overall, I recommend Lyman Stone’s article How Migration Changed in 2015.

Great Urban Planning Content From Around the Web

Purple House 001

Photo by Kaylynn Deveney

There’s mountains of writing on cities, planning, and transportation written everyday. I’ve collected links to some of my favorites, feel free to add yours in the comments below.


10,000 Single Women in Chicago

Single women in Chicago outnumber single men by about 10,000. According to census data, and a fascinating map from Richard Florida’s, the odds are very much in the favor of single hetero/male Chicagoans. Cities with more single men than women include Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas-Ft. Worth which both have approximately 40,000 more single men than women.

Single Ladies

Top Ten Cities for Parks (Chicago Didn’t Make the List)

Washington_Square_Park_Fountain,_ChicagoParks create more beautiful and happy cities. Open green space in urban settings has a positive effect on the happiness of the city dwellers, which has been documented in study after study. Further, as CO2 traps, they make cities healthier.  Cleaner air benefits everyone, but its effects are particularly acute for seniors, children and asthma sufferers.

So how does Chicago compete with the rest of the country in open space and parks?  According to Parks Score, not horribly, but not too well. While Chicago (ranked 12th) is not able to break the top 10, it does stand close to the top. What causes that disparity? In part, it’s the challenge of having so many small parks. This distribution makes parks accessible to large numbers of people but it’s also more expensive to manage. So although Chicago ranks high in park spending, the city doesn’t boast as much parkland as its greener counterparts. Read more

Where People Walk and Bike to Work

I was surprised by this table from an article in Fast Coexist, listing the top cities for walk and bike commuting. It would have been impossible for me to guess that Boston would top the list, and I’m surprised to see Baltimore above more trendy cities like the rapidly growing Austin TX.

Overall, it’s striking to see how little weather seems to effect the walk/bike commuting percentage. The statistics seem like further proof of the power of design and infrastructure to get people on their bikes. I’m glad Chicago made the list but it’s a little embarrassing to be so far behind frigid 400,000 person city of Minneapolis.


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