What is Bitcoin Urbanism?

The first step in understanding the built environment on a Bitcoin Standard.

During the BitBlockBoom conference at the end of August I spoke with many of the attendees. The occasion was my first bitcoin conference and I had a good time. It’s nice to put names to Twitter avatars. Two fellow attendees - Jason and Reed - had seen my twitter profile at one point or another and asked me: what is Bitcoin Urbanism? And, like I shared with them, so I shall share with you. 

To start, the name Bitcoin Urbanism came from a drive-by-blue-check-twitter-troll-attempt to paint me as an idiot. Ancient tribes were often named by their enemies. Bitcoiners have a knack for turning a hater’s attempt to hate into something magical. So that’s what I did. It’s a good name though - so thanks for that. I’m gonna have to change the name of this newsletter (sorry, Grammie).

Anyways.

Bitcoin Urbanism is an exploration of the second and third order effects of bitcoin’s monetary principles on the built environment. In multitude: What effects does a hard, sound money have on architecture? On planning? Building materials? Parks? Sidewalks? Highways? What about your home?

What does real estate look like on a bitcoin standard? To have an idea of where we’re going and the pain ahead of us in the short run, we’ll look at real estate in the US while on a gold standard (commonly referred to as the Gilded Age), how things changed under 100 years of a semi-fiat and full fiat monetary standards, and the difference between the two. (Hint: distorted money produces distorted environments and property rights get obliterated)

We’ll cover the US in particular as it’s the epicenter of the Suburban Experiment but many references will be made to European cities. The Gilded Age’s counterpart in Europe, La Belle Epoque, produced magnificent cities and buildings. Much has occurred since those times. The symptoms of a fiat standard are everywhere and easy to spot. The goal is to teach you to see its effects, and once seen cannot be unseen. To that I say: sorry not sorry.

What kind of symptoms am I talking about?

If you grew up or live in a cookie cutter subdivision, that’s the fiat standard. If you shop at a commercial center with a grocery store and smaller retail stores around it (an anchor center), that’s the fiat standard. If you had to get in your car to drive five miles for In-N-Out, that’s the fiat standard. Attended a public hearing for a new development near you? Fiat standard. Hear gossip of one neighbor suing for blight over one’s distaste in the other's new seafoam paint job (coral door with white trim)? Yep, fiat standard.

Time and the continual survival of the fiat money standard promulgated governments and professional organizations to create codes, standards, and procedures for all things real estate. From inception to demolition all property is affected by some variation of these rules. These codes were general and not overly burdensome to most property owners to start. Given an inch, those who seek to control will eventually take a mile. Those rudimentary regulations of yester-century morphed into the self-immolation of cities who are financially bankrupt, over-parked, politically-driven boondoggles.

The results speak for themselves. For the last 75 years the built environment has devolved from mixed-use buildings to spread out (sprawl) and separated uses (zoning) with limited, single-use applications. Modern cities have become fragile and are susceptible to failure. This would normally be hard to believe but 2020 has demonstrated otherwise.

To make my points for Bitcoin Urbanism, I will argue the backbone of our current real estate malaise is a result of malinvestment via financialization. There are many vertebrae in this backbone: fiat money, the Fed, the Great Depression, HUD, 30-year loans, the “American Dream” psy-op, federal highway funding - the vertebrae goes on. We’ll review each in detail as this newsletter progresses.

Readers familiar with the Strong Towns narrative will find parallel messaging here. Strong Towns nailed the financial diagnosis but misses the ultimate cause: easy money. The traditional development pattern, of which I am also a proponent, has been regulated out of existence by a long, multi pronged, and effective war of attrition.

The economics will be discussed from an Austrian perspective. Other economic models can’t explain bitcoin and either call it rat poison or rationalize that bitcoin will be banned by government. Which is sad. If your paradigms don’t or can't describe reality accurately and account for major phenomena, you might just have a shitty model. Paging monetary Copernicans! The Austrian economic model, to stay with the jab, is monetary heliocentrism. Simply, bitcoin is money.

Finally, real estate left to the free actions of individuals results in fractal, complex systems. No system/habitat/city will be the exact same. The butcher will not always be at the central intersection of a neighborhood next to the pharmacy and catty-corner to the bakery. Different groups of humans will attempt to solve similar, if not the same, problems in slightly different ways. The results do rhyme though. We are the same species after all.

Humans have needs to satisfy and lots to improve. We pursue closer-proximity living as a potential avenue to do so. We don’t want to forget our small town brethren who also make built environment choices. While the concept does have “urbanism” in the name, it will not limit the discussion. Both ends of the spectrum result in human habitats, just of different scales. Human biology at a basic level is a repeating pattern of satisfying various needs. Evolution is written in our DNA as humans and in the bricks of our town squares. 

Given a coercion-free opportunity, humans would still build towns in similar patterns with similar layouts. We would still use architectural forms with the same underlying scales, proportions, features and adornments. The flavor will differ but the underlying fiscal and observable results will be the same. Financial solvency and symbiotic habitats.

Evolutionary biology has made fantastic strides in understanding humans. As a derivative of humans, our built environment exhibits the same evolutionary tendencies. Buildings may evolve faster than people but evolve they do. Put another way: you might not have noticed it - but your brain did.

Time is both friend and foe to humans, money, and biology alike. Choosing which system of money and how to interact with innate human biology - that makes all the difference.

That’s it. That’s Bitcoin Urbanism.

I look forward to this (land) trek and the search for understanding the built environment on a bitcoin, hard, and sound money standard.

For our next installment, we’ll follow the money.

Final shout out to Ryan for the bar talk encouragement to put my thoughts out there.