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Incubating new ideas in cities

A couple of days ago I wrote about a documentary series called Real Scenes. It’s a fascinating series that examines the electronic music scene in a bunch of different cities from New York to Berlin to Tokyo. 

What’s fascinating about these films is the inside look it gives you into how these “scenes” develop. Berlin, for example, is absolutely on fire right now. It has a thriving startup scene and a reputation for being a major force in the world of electronic music.

How did that happen?

The documentary leads you to believe that Berlin was able to establish itself as, arguably, the techno music capital of the world by having lots of empty buildings and nobody cracking down on squatters after the Berlin Wall fell. Quite literally, the scene appears to have started as a result of illegal techno parties being thrown in abandoned buildings. 

It’s a perfect and perhaps extreme example of Jane Jacobs’ famous line that new ideas require old buildings. The rents are simply too high in new buildings for anything experimental. Landlords naturally prefer to rent to triple-A tenants who will pay the highest rents. And who can blame them. 

But just like there’s tremendous value in incubating new startups before they’re even close to turning a profit, there’s obviously value in empowering new ideas, new concepts, new retailers, and new businesses to flourish within cities. 

I’m not exactly sure how that could be done in the context of new developments, but it’s on my mind right now as a result of some discussions I’ve been having with some incredibly smart and ambitious people in this city.

So today I’d like to turn it over to you. How could we make it so that new ideas flourish even in new buildings? Since investment naturally drives up rents, does that mean it will always put pressure on those crazy instigators who just need cheap space?

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