Why Boston?

by jefftkjefftk2 min read11th Oct 202078 comments


Personal Blog

In college we had a set of signs we posted for common concepts. You might point at the sign that said "lexical semantics" as convenient way to indicate that a discussion had fallen into that particular trap, and we had signs for many circumstances. The sign with the largest impact, however, was "move to Boston". Twelve years later it's worked surprisingly well, and ~85% of my friend group is now here.

I'm also seeing a lot of discussion among Bay Area friends about moving. With the pandemic, fire season, and high rents, it's not surprising! I wanted to expand on a comment I left about why I like Boston.

In no particular order:

  • Boston has a wide variety of industries, many of which are quite strong: it's one of the top cities for biotech, medicine, and education. This variety makes it easier to have friends in a range of fields, there's interesting cross pollination, and there's less risk that a bust in one industry will take the whole city down with it.

  • There are good programming jobs. Many companies have offices here to be more attractive to (especially MIT) students, and I feel like I have a lot of options. Pay is a bit below the Bay Area, but not by much.

  • Good options if you don't want to have a car. Many walkable areas, lots of bikes on the road and decent bike infrastructure, and good public transit (for the US).

  • Minimal natural disasters. Not an earthquake area, plenty of rainfall, easy to avoid flood zones, no wildfires. Hurricanes happen, though they pretty much are only an issue right on the water. Occasional blizzards.

  • Pretty good governance, as illustrated by the pandemic response. I live in Somerville, and we shut down more quickly and have opened up more slowly than most of the US. Masks have been mandatory since late April. School is and has been fully remote, but they're still distributing school lunches. They distributed laptops and hotspots to any families that needed them. Non-pandemic governance seems generally good as well.

  • Queer and poly friendly. For example, MA was the first state to allow same-sex marriage (2003) and Somerville was the first city in the country to issue polyamorous domestic partnership (2020).

  • There are a lot of multi-unit houses and large old houses that are suitable for use as group houses, for people that like that.

  • Good schools. MA is typically ranked top in the country for K-12.

  • Very close to a major international airport (BOS). And you can get there on public transit.

  • Good medical care. The craziness of the US health insurance system aside, Boston has some of the best hospitals in the country. If someone gets an unusual disease and needs specialist care, they can probably get it here.

  • The weather goes through proper seasons, with winters that are cold enough and summers that are warm enough to give real variety. Spring and fall are also really beautiful.

  • The traditional dance and music scene, when there's not a pandemic, is excellent.

  • While housing is some of the most expensive in the country, it's substantially cheaper than the Bay Area or NYC. A 2-bedroom within easy walking distance to the subway and a half hour commute to downtown was ~$2.8k/month pre-covid.

  • There's a nice continuum from relatively urban areas (which of the above is discussing) out into Western Mass / Southern VT / NH for people who want different tradeoffs around density/cost/closeness vs space/thrift/isolation.

The biggest downside by far is housing costs. Other downsides include darkness in winter, cold in winter if you don't like that, and that for many industries it is near the top but not the top.

(I also grew up in Boston, my family is still in the area, and I'm close with them. Even if Boston was substantially worse I would still consider living here for this sort of personal reasons. While I feel like the above is written fairly, I'm probably biased in Boston's favor.)

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I continue to be a strong advocate of New York City. If you think NYC is too expensive (it's cheaper than it was a year ago, and cheaper than SF, and totally Worth It, but yes it's not cheap), Boston is an excellent alternative choice. Right now we're doing our pandemic hideaway in Warwick, NY, about 40 miles NW of the city, but we'll be returning to Manhattan (probably Stuyvesant Town or Chelsea/Union Square area, outside chance of Brooklyn or Upper West Side) in Late Q1 2021. 

A number of strong people have recently clustered in Brooklyn in the Fort Greene area.

If anyone is seriously considering NYC and wants to talk to me about it in more detail, happy to answer any questions.

8Said Achmiz3moNote about NYC being too expensive: When people talk about the city being expensive, what they are talking about, primarily, is rent prices. This is the massively dominant factor in NYC’s higher cost of living. And the caveat there is that while rent prices are very, very high in Manhattan, and quite high in the parts of Brooklyn and Queens that are <​= 15 minutes by public transit from Manhattan, as you get further from that, the rents drop. Not to Midwest levels (for example)—no, never quite that far; but they do drop. And many things are actually cheaper in NYC than elsewhere. I own a car and benefit from that fact greatly, but it can’t be denied that car ownership is not at all mandatory in NYC—that’s money in your pocket. Groceries—fresh fruits and vegetables in every variety, and everything else from the basics to ethnic cuisine ingredients—are cheaper than anywhere else I’ve been to, in the U.S. The ubiquitous “99 cent stores” are huge money-savers. Etc.

Well, we've just moved from SF to the DC area, so I guess I should comment somewhere with our thoughts on the decision. To be honest, I think Boston is objectively mostly better for us than DC, but personal reasons -- our own family -- are overwhelming the other ones.

On specific points:

  • Industries -- Boston and DC are similar on this axis, I would say, depending on whether you count government as one industry or many (since there are many jobs in DC that come out of government).
  • Programming jobs -- Boston is much better. DC has lots of programming jobs, but they mostly pay less and/or are for the military.
  • Walkability overall is probably a bit better in Boston.
  • Natural disasters -- mostly the same. No blizzards in Maryland/DC.
  • Governance -- I don't feel all that qualified to comment. Maryland is probably similar; DC has governance problems due to its unique position as the nation's capital, which makes it illegal for it to govern itself in a few ways.
  • Queer and poly friendliness -- I'm not sure how this shakes out. I think Massachusetts is pretty friendly to being gay specifically, but perhaps less tolerant of other kinds of weirdness. When visiting, as someone who grew up in DC, I do fe
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6habryka3moThank you for writing up your reasoning, and for being such reliable organizers! :)

I've lived in Boston, NYC, SF Bay, and Oxford. For me, a big advantage of Boston was that most people I knew were clustered in a small area (Cambridge/Somerville or a short cycle away from them). This is radically different from the SF Bay, where people are spread across Berkeley (where UC Berkeley, MIRI, CFAR are), Oakland, SF (where Open Phil and many tech jobs are) and the Peninsula and South Bay (home of Stanford and many other tech jobs) and transport between these areas is mostly slow (esp without a car). 

London, NYC, and Berlin have the same issue of people living far apart, but it's mitigated by better transport options than the SF Bay. Oxford has the same advantage as Boston. (NB: I was studying in Cambridge and so had more friends in that area. But at the time, many rationalists who weren't studying at Harvard/MIT also lived near Cam/Somerville.)

Why isn't Boston more popular? (even among the VC crowd)? It just self-evidently seems to the second best place to be. I mean, many Harvard/MIT students I know seem to all want to go to the Bay Area after Boston simply b/c much more happens in the Bay Area (and their friend groups and grouphouses are all there) - and I guess NYC takes second place for "amount of things that happen" and it tends have more communities that are radically open/weird. 

Also there used to be the Citadel grouphouse there, but people tend to forget it now.

For lower housing costs, you can also possibly try the outskirts around Boston. I feel Providence is also underappreciated amongst many.

BTW I also appreciate how clean Boston's air is for a major city (there certainly seems to be less car volume here than in NYC or the Bay Area) - https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/massachusetts/boston shows that car traffic contributes less to pollution here than other cities.

5Czynski3moThe second-best place to be is much less good than the best place. Because everyone who thinks it's important to be in the best place and can be, is, as are everyone who thinks it's important to be seen as one of the people who can be in the best place. So you only get people/organizations which either can't move to the best place, or don't think it's important to be in the best place and don't mind that other people will largely infer that they can't move to the best place. Since most things are two-sided markets and which place you are in is a quality signal in those markets, this cuts off a lot of upside potential for the ambitious.
8jsteinhardt3moOn the other hand, the second-best place selects for people who don't care strongly about optimizing for legible signals, which is probably a plus. (An instance of this: In undergrad the dorm that, in my opinion, had the best culture was the run-down dorm that was far from campus.)
4jefftk3moThis was my experience at Swarthmore as well. But I think a lot of that came from this being a dorm that essentially, any student who wanted to live there would be able to get a room. The analogy would push toward choosing a place that has much cheaper housing costs!

Boston resident here, so I thought I'd add some more points and further emphasize some things.

  • The bike infrastructure is really good, and rapidly improving. In fact, there's so much bike infrastructure that I want to make the converse warning: if you are a nervous driver, driving around here can be terrifying because of the bikers.
  • The winters can be quite brutal (though they seem to be getting milder). And since Boston is way too far east for its timezone, this means that the winter sun sets very early (think ~4:30pm).
  • New England in general, and Boston in particular, is very lovely. If you like the European town aesthetic, this is probably the closest you can get in the U.S.
  • The food scene is pretty bad -- food which is both good and cheap basically doesn't exist.
  • People here are very young, especially when all the students are in town. Whenever I leave Boston, I'm shocked at how old the people are. 
  • Marijuana is legal here. However, the dispensaries can be inconvenient to get to: none have opened yet in Boston or Cambridge. 
  • I really love living here, and almost everyone I know also likes living here. The exceptions tend to be Californians, though. Did I mention how brutal t
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From what I understand, the case for Boston is as follows:

A. Similar good things

  1. Boston has similar urban amenities of the SFBA (colleges, medicine, airport).
  2. Boston tolerates the rationalist kind of weirdness (queer and poly).
  3. Boston has lots of the activity groups rationalists enjoy (contra dance, kink).
  4. Boston has enough rationalists that it's possible to run weekly events and for people to have their own little friendship groups.
  5. Boston has plenty of buildings that are suitable for large grouphouses.
  6. Tech salaries in Boston are only 10-20% less than the SFBA
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Big improvements (for me -- YMMV):
1. Boston has two of the world's best few universities very close together. (It's hard to live close to Stanford without studying there, and it's a huge trek from Stanford to Berkeley).
2. There's an obvious Schelling point in Boston for where to live (Camberville), while interesting people/companies/organizations in the Bay are in SF, Oakland, Berkeley, and South Bay/Peninsula. 
3. Boston is closer to NYC (and the other big East Coast cities) and Europe. 

I'd guess Camberville is significantly cheaper in terms of overall COL than SF but it has similar big city amenities (concerts, opera, museums, huge diversity of events) that Berkeley lacks. 

8jefftk3moThat's a pretty good summary! I'm not actually trying to make the case for moving the main rationalist hub; I actually think it's pretty likely that the hub cannot be moved, at least not intentionally. Instead, I'm trying to describe why people might consider moving here as individuals.
3bendini3moAh, that makes more sense. I think if you'd posted this last year I would have assumed you were making an individual case, but the recent interest in moving the hub away from Berkeley made me think otherwise.
-1Czynski21dThese are backwards. Cold winters are a lot easier to work around than sticky summers. (A fireplace is simpler than an air conditioner.)
2Said Achmiz21dEr, what? This seems completely backwards to me. Putting in an air conditioner is as simple as buying a unit online, installing it into a window, and plugging it into a wall outlet. Putting in a fireplace (!!) is… actually not possible at all, for most people (e.g., anyone living in an apartment). What does it even mean to say that a fireplace is ‘simpler’…? I can’t map that to anything even remotely relevant to the question of whether I can have a fireplace in my apartment or not. (And the answer is definitely ‘not’.)
4habryka20dWhile I don't think this is super relevant, space heaters are pretty easy to buy and use and fulfill the same purpose. Agree that fireplaces seem like a giant pain to install, and are often not feasible.
2Said Achmiz19dSpace heaters tend to be rather worse at heating a space than air conditioners are at cooling it. (They can also be fire hazards, though that’s not strictly relevant to effectiveness per se.) But yes, a space heater is an option. Note that aside from the (in)feasibility and (massive!) expense of installing a fireplace, there is also the fact that as a renter, you simply wouldn’t have permission from your landlord to make such modifications to your apartment.
-1Czynski16dWhy are you still hung up on the utterly irrelevant question of whether it is practical to install a fireplace? No one but you has claimed that matters.
6Raemon16dUm, we are talking about whether you should move to Boston or not. Whether you can install a fireplace seems way more relevant to me than how conceptually simple fireplaces are.
-3Czynski20dFireplaces are thousands of years old, because they are very simple. The most complex part is arranging air flow to not choke the room with smoke, and even that was present in prehistory. You can explain every aspect of their operation to a five year old, and if they're a bright five year old, you won't even have to repeat yourself later. Air conditioners are less than two centuries old, because they are very complex mechanisms. No comparably-effective simpler technology exists, especially not for humid places. Many intelligent adults have some difficulty understanding their operation. (In hot, dry places adobe, for heat capacity, and windcatchers [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windcatcher] for active cooling, are pretty good low-tech tools, though still discovered well after the fireplace, definitely not explainable to a five year old, and maybe 20% as good as AC at best.) Creating heat is so simple you can and will do it by accident. Moving heat is a difficult, precision operation. This has obvious practical consequences for the comparative difficulty of the problems; it's much easier to fix 'too cold' than 'too hot'.
8Said Achmiz20dThis is all completely irrelevant to the question of whether I can have an air conditioner and/or a fireplace in my residence. You do see that, right? You were responding to a comment about practical considerations relevant to living in a certain city. The question at hand is: what is, in practical terms, easier to deal with: hot summers, or cold winters? Everything you’ve written in your latest comment has zero bearing on this question. The comment is plainly a non sequitur. And your first comment was simply wrong, as, again, the matter at hand concerns the practical considerations, which are as bendini summarized them (and as I elaborated on). What I would like to understand, and am hoping you might explain, is whether you disagree with my assessment of the practical considerations (and if so, on what basis), or, if you do not disagree, why you believe that your first comment makes sense as a reply to bendini’s.
1jefftk16dFor comparing potential cities and climates, the simplicity of the mechanism of adjusting the conditions to human preferences is essentially not a consideration. Cost matters, convenience matters, and I could be convinced that the simplicity of the methods people actually use matters. But fireplaces are irrelevant since essentially no one in Boston is using one as their primary method of heat.
0Czynski16dCost and convenience are almost entirely determined by simplicity. The fact that a fireplace is much simpler than an AC is directly causally linked to the lower cost in money and inconvenience of fixing the respective problems they address. Whether you actually use a fireplace is immaterial.
5jefftk15dIf we knew very little about the level of technology in a society or how expensive things work, sort of reasoning might make sense. Fireplaces are simple, heat pumps are not, so we might expect that dealing with excessive cold might be easier than dealing with excessive heat. This is not at all the situation in which we are having this discussion. The actual mechanisms that people use for heating and cooling are much more complex than the simplest devices capable of the job, and the cost and convenience of cooling relative to heating has changed massively as technology has improved. If you're trying to figure out whether Boston is a good fit for you, I still maintain fireplaces are irrelevant.
1Czynski15dNot really, no. That's the point: the problems retain their natural relative difficulty. The complexity suggests certain properties about the relative situation, and those properties have remained true.
1jefftk15dThe problems have not retained their natural relative difficulty, which is why the introduction and falling costs of Air Conditioning have led to large migration to the Sunbelt.
1Czynski14dThat doesn't follow. The sun belt became habitable because it got easier to fix, but that wasn't asymmetric in difficulty, just asymmetric in relevance; the difference between 'pretty easy' and 'very easy' matters much less than the difference between 'really hard' and 'a little bit hard'.

Paul Graham also supports Boston

If you are CEO of a venture-backed startup, where would you move your company to outside of CA?

PG: Boston.

He is even more effusive in his essay "cities and ambition" (which incidentally is quite relevant for figuring where rationalists should want to live):

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder. The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer. What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to.


As of this writing, Cambridge seems to be the intellectual capital of the world. I realize that seems a preposterous claim. What makes it true is that it's more preposterous to claim about anywhere else. American universities currently seem to be the best, judging from the flow of ambitious students. And what US city has a stronger claim? New York? A fair number of smart people, but diluted by a much larger numbe

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2Czynski3moLike most of Graham's essays on non-startup topics, he extrapolates well beyond his data and confuses his map for the territory. I like the essay and the framework, but it's mostly bunk; you could make similar arguments completely shuffled around by examining a different subculture of each city and cherry-picking different examples.

Pretty good governance, as illustrated by the pandemic response.

Third worst state for deaths (all expressed per million population) in the US. 
If MA were a country it would have the worst death rate.

Compare MA (1,391 deaths per million) to Taiwan (0.3 deaths per million, none for months) with no lockdown. MA is 4,000 times worse. "Good" is not a word that has any applicability here. I would suggest "disastrous" or "catastrophic" would be more apt. Even Australia at 35 is 40 times better than MA. 

I notice a lot of places are delusional about their 'great' covid response.

When I say good governance, I'm comparing to the US as a whole. I agree that many countries did better with the pandemic. Comparing a state to a country, though, is kind of silly when the country can shut its borders but the state cannot. Additionally, you've picked two island countries to compare to, which have additional advantages in securing their borders.

Still, within the US Massachusetts has one of the highest death rates. The other similar states are NY, NJ, and CT, and these deaths primarily came from poor control of the outbreak at the very beginning. My understanding is that this was primarily a failing at the national level, where the US had incredibly limited testing capacity due to a combination of poor choices at the CDC and counterproductive pressure from the White House. The coronavirus got ahead of us, and the whole Northeast corridor was pretty hard hit. Where I am giving the Boston area credit, and especially Cambridge/Somerville, is in the level of local response. The state and these municipalities weren't going to be able to fix the testing problem and it took longer than I would have liked for them to realize that the CDC was not going to be filling it's role, but once they did their response was very good.

Okay, a few months later, and I was wrong. I do think we have decent governance, but our handling of the pandemic has been crummy even in situations where we should have been able to do better.

6jsteinhardt3moMany of the factors affecting number of deaths are beyond a place's control, such as how early on the pandemic spread to that place, and how densely populated the city is. I don't have a strong opinion about MA but measuring by deaths per capita isn't a good way of judging the response.

What's the rationalist scene there like? Meetups? Socializing?

6Samuel Marks3moThe SSC meet-up during Scott's meetups everywhere tour drew over 140 people. So there's a bunch of rationalists, but not any hubs. (Though there is a group house in Cambridge that runs LW meetups.)
5jefftk3moThere's a local LW group, and before we had kids my wife and I would go most weeks. We also host (in non-pandemic times) a monthly EA dinner.
3Alex K. Chen3moIt used to be much more active and frictionless (the Citadel), but the Citadel got evicted sometime late 2016/2017.

As another Massachusetts native (from the exurbs, not the Hub of the Universe), currently living in SF, I agree with most of this. However, you're seriously underrating the significance of blizzards. Even in ordinary times without global warming driving the extremes higher, blizzards sufficient to shut down the subway for a day or two were roughly annual. Now you get even worse storms every year or three, and that may increase. Hurricanes also have increased in severity and frequency IIRC (nope, checked, that's false; neither severity nor frequency has inc... (read more)

6Zvi3moImportant corrective to the pedestrian dynamics. You do not check to see if the cars are capable of stopping for you - you assume that the cars will keep going straight at their current speed. Only if you can cross safely under that circumstance do you cross. Assuming the car will actively change what it is doing is a way to get killed. And it's super frustrating when it is clear that a car will be well past you by the time you reach them, then you start to cross, then they slow down, and now you have to stop too because you don't know if it's safe. This happens all the time outside of the east coast, and even happens in small towns in the east sometimes, and it's maddening. Also note that you can do what SF people do and wait for the light even when no cars are coming, I mean, if you think your life is too long and you want to give away some of it for no reason and never get it back. As you do. You can eventually cross that way.
3jefftk3moHmm, I feel like there are actually two different modes? In one of them, yes, you assume the car will continue on at its current speed, and you start walking expecting to pass ahead or behind it. On the other hand, when there's enough traffic that you would have to wait indefinitely with that method (and there's no light etc) there's a mode where you stare at the car and start walking out, and then they slow down to let you cross. You do this with enough leeway that if they don't see you (or are a jerk) you still have time to stop before you would get run down?
1Czynski2moIt is my experience that in Massachusetts cities (and even semi-urban towns), only attempting to cross if you will make it without the cars slowing down is only possible when waiting for the light. If you wait for the light, you then have the luxury of only attempting to cross if no car will interrupt you at its current speed and heading. Enough drivers treat red lights as guidelines that pedestrians must assume that all drivers will, so this is a nontrivial requirement. (I'd say 'imagine NYC except everyone's a taxi driver', but last I was in NYC that was nearly true already.) It's unwise and uncommon to go full Schelling - i.e. performatively blindfolding yourself and then walking backwards into traffic - and it is normal and advisable to leave substantial safety margin, probably 3x-5x the technical minimum stopping distance, rather than assume they will detect it instantly. But you essentially must have to dare them to blink first, or you'll never get to cross.
3steve215220dI spent 4½ years in my 20s in Berkeley CA and pretty much the rest of my life in Boston, and it never occurred to me that Boston had more mosquitos than Berkeley, until I read this post a couple months ago. I mean, yeah it's true, it's just that the thought hadn't crossed my mind. That's how little the mosquitos impact my life. :-P Everyone's different!
2Czynski20dWhat that primarily means, probably, is that you are not tasty to mosquitoes. This is an axis along which people differ but not the one you probably meant.
3Alex K. Chen3moI'm rarely a typical example of anything, but I never noticed anything in the dimension of prudishness or rudeness (I grew up in the Seattle area, now live in Boston). Also there definitely are some communities of "weird people" in "Camberville" (as they call it) too, though they perhaps don't define the predominant culture [I think it's easier for people to feel like they're out of place if they too weird]

I noticed the prudishness, but "rudeness" to me parses as people actually telling you what's on their mind, rather than the passive-aggressive fake niceness that seems to dominate in the Bay Area. I'll personally take the rudeness :).

7maia3mo... huh, is that the thing that makes it mysteriously easier for me to talk to people from the East Coast?
3Czynski2moSeems plausible. I put after the prudishness part but I could definitely be misentangling that. And, well, you are someone who is one of my best friends on the West Coast. (Well, was. RIP Delmarva.)
2jefftk3moOn the other hand, when I've been in the Bay Area walking around with friends, if we get to an intersection where the light is against us and you can clearly see there are no cars, I'll be halfway across the street before I realize that my friends are still waiting for the light to change.
0[comment deleted]2mo
1Said Achmiz3moThese are actually very large benefits of the East Coast over the West Coast. (Humidity and mosquitoes are definitely terrible, though.)
1Czynski3moIn what way is the prudishness a benefit?
-1Said Achmiz3moIt leads directly to their being fewer PDA and otherwise overt sexuality. I prefer that, hence the prudishness is a benefit.

I know that Boston has prestigious hospitals, but I'm unclear how to usefully compare the health they deliver.

One thing I can compare is the ease of getting blood tests. Most states allow residents to order blood tests via privatemdlabs.com, Life Extension, etc. But MA is one of the states that prohibits that, meaning that if you want tests that an average doctor thinks are unneeded (as I often do), it can be costly and time consuming to find a doctor who will sign off on them.

5Czynski3moIf you have a weird case, the prestigious teaching hospitals are very good for your outcomes. I probably owe 30% or so of being alive to the fact that Emerson Hospital didn't dismiss my self-reports of stabbing pain the night before I was supposed to get a hernia fixed as being a weird patient self-reporting about the hernia badly. As a result, they checked for and found appendicitis, and a serious case of it, which I was told (afterward) was probably life-threatening. However, if you check into the hospital without anything seriously wrong with you, you run a decent risk of them finding something less serious wrong with you, which can be pretty bad for your quality of life. (This led to my great-grandmother's rapid decline between age 100 and 105.) In general, New England's culture is very much "nanny state". Experts are presumed to know what's good for you better than you do, whether they're doctors or legislators. (New Hampshire mostly excepted.) I'd expect this to interact poorly with the high level of education in the state, but it seems stable so I guess not.
1Zian3moYou can look at the data from the Leapfrog Group and CMS.

The bitterness of the pill does not prove the effectiveness of the medicine in it.

MA is third worst state for COVID death in the US. Third, after NY and NJ - and unlike NY and NJ, MA does not have an excuse of having NYC in it. Against that background, the claim that MA has good governance (re: COVID) requires extraordinary proof. 


2jefftk3moSee https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/B9E6HQgEb3PKuDaWW/why-boston?commentId=TEnDMjAJRtMvRGXN9 [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/B9E6HQgEb3PKuDaWW/why-boston?commentId=TEnDMjAJRtMvRGXN9]

Here are my notes for "Why (and why not) Montreal": https://bit.ly/AISMontreal Note that my notes are not directly about comparing to other cities. ex.: I'm not saying Montreal > Boston; I don't know

This is in terms of AI safety, I also have a more general one about best city for personal survival, but it's pretty drafty

1Kenny3moI liked the notes, but they're hard to interpret (for me). One example being me not appreciating how cheap 400-600 CAD "per person" (in what I'm assuming is shared housing) is for different plausible incomes by profession. If NYC housing costs are 150% of Montreal, but so too are salaries, then Montreal isn't really very much "cheap for a big city". There does seem to be a good bit of AI work tho, and research too; that's interesting!
2Mati_Roy3moI see what you are saying. But either MIRI won't decrease salary, in which case rent will be really cheap, or it will, in which case they'll have more AI safety progress per dollar (or so would the simple surface level analysis say)
5Kenny3moAhhh – I didn't know MIRI (or similar groups) were allowing people to work remotely. I think Robin Hanson might be on to something with respect to the looming importance and significance of remote work (e.g. it will effectively create a much larger, more global, labor market) so I'd expect MIRI-like organizations to have to be willing to pay those still-high labor costs regardless of where people live, i.e. rent would be pretty cheap in Montreal (compared to SV or NYC or even Boston).
3Mati_Roy3moI was talking about MIRI moving to Montreal with all employees, not about remote work
1Kenny3moOhhh – what's the context of that? A past possibility? Or just a hypothetical?
3Mati_Roy3moThe context of my comment is this LessWrong post. The context of writing the Google Doc is just me that wanted to pitch Montreal to EAs in general.
3Kenny3moThanks – that makes sense!
1Kenny3moLike for a 'zombie apocalypse'?
3Mati_Roy3monnnooo, for the real world
1Kenny3moI'm confused then. "Personal survival" seems like a 'avoid early death' metric whereas 'personal flourishing' (or something similar) would include typical 'quality of life' measures. Disaster is a recurring part of "the real world" too and some places are more or less dangerous than others in that respect. That seemed to be what you were getting at.
3Mati_Roy3mo'early death' seems redundant, but yes the other analysis I was referring to focuses on avoiding death, not personal flourishment. this includes: proximity to state of the art biostasis services, lifelogging-friendly laws, high paying opportunities / low cost of living & low taxes, good healthcare system, survivalist community, low murder rate, online grocery shopping, good air quality, etc.
4Alex K. Chen3moThis really depends on many factors such as social connectedness (where your connectedness may be higher where most of your friends are, or where it's easiest to make new friends). The highest longevities in the US are the "ski resort" counties [high altitude may play a role in this] in Colorado, but they're too expensive for most. Boston is significantly more disaster-proof than the Bay Area - one of the most disaster-proof of the major hubs outside of Europe.