Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Live Labs

Tyrell: You were made as well as we could make you.
Roy: But not to last.
Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you. You're the prodigal son. You're quite a prize!
Roy: I've done questionable things.
Tyrell: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!
-- Blade Runner
And so it ends. Live Labs has finally succumbed, absorbed into Bing, just shy of five years since its creation. It was a wild ride, and the world is better for what we accomplished. Of course we wanted to do so much more, but there's only so far you can push before the world pushes back.

Having been through this before, with MetaCreations, I can say with certainty that the ideas and culture we formed during that brief time will reverberate throughout the industry for years to come. We've had our incubation, now it's time to spread our wings, both inside the company (much potential to be mined in Bing) and outside (the path I chose earlier this year). And so it begins!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Value of Neighborhood Cafes

A healthy city needs fractal scales of activity. There is the main downtown which supports things that benefit the entire region, then there are the neighborhoods that orbit it, each with their own set of sub-neighborhoods that orbit them, all the way down to the block level. If every time I wanted to partake in public life I had to go into downtown, it would severely impoverish my quality of life; I'd spend an awful lot of time in transit, and I'd never connect with my local community.

As it is, I'm quite fortunate. There's a park in front of my house that serves as a meeting place for my immediate neighbors; there's another park nearby that draws folks from my sub-neighborhood; further away, but still within walking distance there is a neighborhood "downtown" with restaurants, a library, etc. Also nearby is a light rail station that will take me to the big downtown for the city. I have easy pedestrian-oriented access to all these levels, and each one enriches my life and strengthens the bonds of community, each in their own way.

As great as my local parks are, I wish I had a cafe or a pub nearby; a public living room for the immediate neighborhood, where I could hang out and pass the time with the folks I live near. I've lived in places that had such a thing, and it's always been one of the highlights of my life there. We have such places in the nearby neighborhood downtown, but that's far enough away and serves a large enough scale that it doesn't really serve the purpose for my local community.

Unfortunately, the current zoning structure doesn't really support this kind of healthy sprinkling of cafes (and pubs and bodegas) throughout otherwise residential spaces. People worry about the extra traffic, the noise, the "unwanted element". It's just this kind of thinking that keeps us all locked in our own personal fortresses, making it harder to connect with the people around us, making it harder to form the kind of heartfelt neighborhood bonds that can truly support us in good times and bad.

There is a fine example of such a neighborhood cafe (not in my neighborhood, unfortunately), the Volunteer Park Cafe, but unfortunately it's currently under fire from a few folks who don't want it in their backyard. In order to stay open, the cafe needs to change its zoning (originally grocery... long story) to restaurant. If you'd like to help them out, here are a couple things you can do (but act quick, the deadline is October 13!).

Even if the Volunteer Park Cafe is not for you, I urge you to think about ways you can encourage that sort of place in your own neighborhood; we'll all be better off for it!