The Series Of Events To Design A New City

YC City Project Announced

Earlier this week Y Combinator announced the formation of a YC Research team to design the best possible city given the constraints of existing laws and starting with a clean slate (greenfield site).

y combinatorThe Y Combinator project announcement received quite a bit of coverage, most of it slightly or highly skeptical. I’m sure that didn’t bother the Y Combinator team. They didn’t get to where they are now by following conventional wisdom and shying away from big bets.

Events To Design A City

Looking at the founding of a new city from an events wrangler’s point of view highlights a whole series of events that will be required to design YC City. Here are some of the probable events which seem like they’d be extremely interesting or memorable:

YC ResearchProject Team Selection.  Hundreds or thousands of people will apply for the Cities Researcher positions which Y Combinator will be filling. Applications are due by July 30, 2016. It would be very interesting to hear the last minute discussions where the Y Combinator hiring team reviews the top tier of candidates and selects the people to hire for this unusual project.

Project Team Launch.  After the Cities Researchers are hired and any other project team members are brought on board by Y Combinator, they’ll have a project team launch meeting. Project members will be buzzing with anticipation, excitement and uncertainty. They’ll be given their official mandate to design the best possible city, then the starting gun will be fired.

Finalize YC City Study Design.  The project team will have to evaluate all the aspects of the research project and agree on what the study design will look like. The team will undoubtedly review similar previous studies and urban design books to help shape the YC City study. But it seems likely that innovative approaches will be desired and proposed, so the final meeting where consensus is reached on the design of the study should be a lively and significant event.

Customer Research Meetings.  The entrepreneurial approach of Y Combinator and of lean startups is to make something people want (MSPW) and to talk a lot with the customers. Customer validation is key. However, the product for this YC Research project team is so huge (a city) and so hard to make a testable prototype for that customer research will be challenging to structure and carry out. Figuring out and doing that research to identify something that people really want (and that the city needs to succeed) is the key part of this project. This means customer research meetings will be critical events for YC City.

Project Update Meeting Halfway Through Study.  There will be various milestone meetings to keep the project team on schedule and on track. By the time the halfway point of the study timeline is reached, major decisions may be needed and project adjustments made. It’s likely that this project update will be a multi-day event which will end in a celebration, with potentially new directives and maybe even new project team members.

City Design Criteria Prioritization.  As the research project nears completion, the YC City design criteria will be finalized — and then they’ll need to be prioritized. As with most things in life, the design of YC City will involve trade-offs and compromises. Because cities are quite different from most startup company products, there are certain design criteria where you can’t ship a version 1.0 with the backup plan to quickly iterate and ship version 2.0 to fix the major deficiencies of 1.0. City utilities will be buried in the ground, the city water needs to be safe to drink, fire departments and police have critical roles to play, and transportation needs to be well thought out.

dollar sign greenBecause of the scale of a city, the cost for each of the design criteria will be significant. Tony Hsieh invested several hundred million dollars into upgrading Las Vegas and the jury’s still out on the long term impact of that money. Mark Zuckerberg spent $100 million to improve the schools in Newark, NJ, and my understanding is that not much improved. There are countless other examples of urban improvement projects that spent hundreds of millions of dollars with less than spectacular long term results. Y Combinator hasn’t indicated how big a city they want to build or how much money they expect to invest. They did say, “we think we know how to finance it if everything else makes sense,” but the financials on building a new city will be challenging to evaluate.

For these reasons, the city design criteria prioritization meeting will be a key meeting for the research study team, and that event would be an awesome one to sit in on. This will definitely be a multi-day event, possibly running for a week or longer.

Yes / No Build Decision.  The Yes / No build decision event will almost be anti-climactic after the design criteria prioritization. However, the Yes / No meeting is where the project either ends or moves to the next stage, so it is a critical event.

Events To Build A City

founding of Rome

Founding of Rome

The Yes / No decision will be the end of the YC City research project. If the build decision is Yes, there will be another round of important and interesting events which will move the project from an idea to a reality. A few of the fun or interesting events of the second phase will be:

  • Site Selection Decision.
  • Site Announcement.
  • Zip Code Announcement.
  • First Overnight Stay By City Resident.
  • First Town Hall Meeting.
  • First Parade Down Main Street.
  • First Annual Town Picnic.

I look forward to following the progress of this YC Research project!



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