MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion

by Rob Bensinger11 min read8th May 2021161 comments

137

Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI)The SF Bay AreaCommunity
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MIRI is moving (with high probability)!

We haven’t finalized a location yet, but there’s a good chance we’ll make our decision in the next six weeks. I want to solicit:

  • Feedback on our current top location candidates.
  • Ideas for other places that might fit our criteria.

I’m also interested in a more general location-optimizing discussion. What are your general thoughts on where you’d like to live, and have they changed any since the hub conversations Claire Wang began in September and November? If a new rationality community hub sprang up at any of these locations, would you be tempted to join? Is there a different place you’d prefer (either personally, or for the community)?

Anything from 'statements of personal preferences' to 'models of how the rationality community might make humanity's future much more awesome' is welcome in the comments.

 

What kind of place we're looking for

Our priority is to find a place where we think researchers will be able to think unusually clearly and well, in line with our December update. Recently, we’ve been looking for a campus or proto-campus (one or more buildings, with space and legal ability to build more) that's:

  • far enough away from urban areas to be maximally calm, quiet, and close to nature; and
  • near enough to urban areas to ensure there are people to see and things to do in driving distance, and to provide access to city conveniences (food delivery, ridesharing, lots of restaurants, etc.).

These proto-campus-type properties seem to be very rare and hard to find. E.g., we heard good things about Madison, WI and spent time looking for a property in the area, but ended up finding zero candidates currently on the market (that weren't falling apart, etc.).

If you want to convince MIRI to move to your favorite city, one good route would be to find a property like this for sale and either email it to Alex Vermeer or PM me (please don’t post specific property options you’re recommending publicly). The best places we’ve found have often been at the outskirts of pleasant, walkable 50k-100k population cities or college towns.

The specific factors we've been looking at fall under three rough, overlapping categories:

 

1. Is this a good place to think?

This is the biggest factor, and includes...

  • Physical environment: How much do we expect this place to make it easy for researchers to go on peaceful walks to think, talk, etc.? The best options will tend to be secluded, close to nature, and safe-feeling. The worst options will tend to be busy and chaotic, or distracting/jarring for hard cognitive work.
  • Social environment: What's the local vibe? If we absorb the local vibes, does this make us better or worse at things? Is there strong pressure in the direction of “it's silly/bad/crazy to try to save the world” or “elites aren't dropping the ball”? If the US, the world, or Twitter suddenly got a lot more socially chaotic, would the place we're in provide a feeling of safety, resilience, and nondistraction? (See also 2 and 3 below.)
  • Usability and scalability: The property has good indoor work and hangout spaces, or spaces that could be easily converted into such in a reasonable timeframe: we want to be able to start doing research here in the near future, without spending 6+ months to get an initial setup in place. The property is also large enough—probably at least 20 acres, and ideally 50+ acres. It's easy to build on the land (and otherwise modify the property), or easy to expand over the years by buying properties within walking distance as they go on the market.

 

2. Is this otherwise a good place for MIRI staff to live?

If we go with the proto-campus plan, we’re likely to start with most staff living in the city proper (possibly with a second office there). More folks may move to the campus as we build it out or acquire more property.

We’re likely to be happier if we have friends and colleagues, community spaces, etc. on or near the campus and in the city, though we don't have a settled view on what size or kind of local rationalist community would be ideal.

Regardless of how many MIRI staff are living on campus (and although our biggest constraint is "can we find a proto-campus for sale here at all?"), features of the city and area will inevitably matter a lot.

  • (Proto-)campus: Access to city conveniences (Uber, UberEats, etc.). The campus is a nice place to live, and close enough to other places staff can live that commutes don't have to be long.
  • City: The city is nice to live in, walkable, fun, and safe. Housing is affordable. The area doesn't feel prone to (present or future) political violence, street fighting, riots, instability, etc. The culture is relaxed and LGBTQ-friendly.
  • Area: Taxes aren't high, and aren’t likely to sharply rise in the future. It seems highly unlikely that the government (at any level) will be very anti-technologist six months or ten years from now. The weather isn’t too extreme. Etc.

 

3. How good is this place socially (and how good could it become)?

This overlaps with 2, since the things that make a city nice for MIRI staff also affect whether other people will like it.

  • We want to mesh well with people who already live here, so we can make new social connections, benefit from the intellectual exchange with people in the area, and recruit people to do research.
  • We want our partners, friends, and colleagues to like it here and have strong job options in the area.
  • We want it to be easy and attractive for friends, colleagues/collaborators on alignment research, and potential hires to visit, and for us to visit them. E.g., places that are close to the Bay and have a major airport will score well here.

 

Our current top choices

Bellingham and Peekskill

We’ve spent hundreds of hours searching through long lists of candidates, and have pared those down to 30 relatively promising parts of the US, including two that look quite good as campuses and three other areas we especially like (but haven’t found a property in).

The two campus options we like (that do the best job of satisfying the criteria I listed above) are near (or on the outskirts of) two cities:

Bellingham, Washington: A 90,000-population town near the Canadian border. Located in between Seattle (80–120 minutes south, depending on traffic) and Vancouver, Canada (65–165 minutes north, depending on traffic and border crossing delays), with Puget Sound on one side and forests and a lake and distant mountains on the other. It seems enjoyably walkable near downtown (adjacent neighborhoods: 1, 2, 3), it feels vibrant and youthful, it's pretty good on crime, and considering all those positives and being on the coast, housing is relatively available and affordable.

It's a bit cloudier than Seattle, which is among the cloudiest parts of the country (something like 35% of the possible sun hours are sunny, compared to 38% for Seattle and 52% for Ann Arbor; this % depends heavily on your source though). It’s especially cloudy and rainy during the winter, though usually the rain and clouds come and go from day to day, and in July and August it’s beautiful almost every day. It’s hardly ever cold and hardly ever hot.

Also: unlike a lot of places we’ve considered, very little distraction/misery from mosquitoes!

(Edit: Removed CDC mosquito map because it's only looking at two species of mosquito.)

The proto-campus we’re looking at is located in a peaceful, wet, quiet forest, full of walking trails. Our current gestalt impression of the city itself is that it’s full of hipsters and hobbyists, plus people who moved to the town for the beautiful environs and small-town aesthetic.

Folks seem to come here for good food, breweries, nature, and maybe plays to go to, and to attend Bellingham's (unimpressive) medium-sized public university; or they come to escape things they dislike about the rest of the west coast. Hobbies are a very big thing here: sports, hiking, rock climbing, going to the mountains, kayaking on the sound, etc. There aren’t many jobs here except for the service industry—it’s a town of students, hip retirees, and people working remotely in Seattle or California.

Bellingham International Airport does not have international flights (?!) and is quite small, but does have direct flights to Oakland several times a week.

Peekskill, New York: A small 24,000-person town on the Hudson River, 60–120 minutes by car or 65–75 minutes by train from New York City. (Video tour.) Blake Borgeson shares his impressions of this option:

NYC is our big nearby city, and it seems like roughly the best big city. My picture here at the moment, which I mostly got from Zvi, is that the big way NYC is different from other big cities is it’s more like 10 big cities with 10 different cultures, all of them coexisting in the same place and something between ignoring and welcoming one another. NYC is a place where doing your own thing and bringing your own culture is totally welcome.

Zvi seems enthusiastic about NYC culture’s effects on MIRI. (IIRC, he thinks that New Hampshire and Austin are probably the two best US locations for MIRI in terms of epistemic effects on us, and I currently mostly buy this claim.)

Peekskill is highly diverse and functional-seeming and real-seeming in a way that seems connected to it being near NYC. The folks I’ve talked to who live near Peekskill feel like Vermonters, progressive rural-ish folks, and I like them so far. They treat the land the way I want it treated—like, the nature here is beautiful, we can all agree, and you want to showcase it and preserve it rather than golf course it or English manor it.

Besides diversity and coexisting, the culture of this area feels simpler, more like some decades ago. Life is more straightforward. There’s no angst about finding your calling and finding your hobbies. You grow up, you find a job, you find love and have a family, you take care of your family, you make money to provide for them, and if you make enough money for it, congratulations, you can relax in your country estate with your family and enjoy that.

Hobby-type things seem not quite to fit in around here. So compared to Bellingham, Peekskill has fewer restaurants that I love (though it has some), and fewer places to sample craft beer, and fewer ways for adults to do things like sports (35 minutes driving from Peekskill to the nearest adult soccer league I could find online, for instance).

Some MIRI staff would live in Peekskill, while others live in more rural houses outside of town. The campus we’re looking at adjoins big forested hills with trails winding throughout, little used and with space to wander in nature for hours. A couple of miles on these trails takes you to the Appalachian Trail, if you want to go on longer hikes.

The area has real seasons, with deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall. Winter is much colder than in Bellingham, and summer is much hotter. (Bellingham’s weather is something like Berkeley’s with everything shifted 5-10°F colder.)

Comparisons by weatherspark.com.

A big draw of the Peekskill area for us is that we’re currently a lot more interested in being near New York City than being near Seattle/Vancouver. We could imagine starting a chain of rationalist communities along the Hudson Valley train line, allowing the full range from “very rural” to “very urban” life for people with different tastes. The train itself comes hourly, has plenty of seating (during non-COVID times, it seems you might have to stand for half the trip back from Grand Central at certain times of day), and is nice to ride (more like Caltrain, not the BART).

The campus options we’re looking at in the Peekskill area are also faster and easier to set up, requiring less construction. And there’s a small airport 35–60 minutes north, typically used to fly to Philadelphia International and then connect to another flight.

On the other hand, Bellingham is closer to our connections in the Bay Area, and is a much more exciting town than Peekskill in its own right: more restaurants and grocery stores, more climbing gyms, etc. NY state taxes are also higher.

Both Bellingham and Peekskill are quiet, safe, and relatively affordable (though not stunningly affordable—and as with most places, prices are on the rise):

Data extracted from Zillow. This is not a "sale price," but a Zillow proprietary "home value" number.

Both locations are cheaper than the Bay, have fewer local amenities, have worse job markets, and have (what I'd expect most people to consider) worse weather than the Bay. Homes in Bellingham are roughly 0.4x the $/sqft in Berkeley.

Some of the biggest questions we’d love answered about these areas are:

  • Lyme disease: A potentially serious disadvantage of the Peekskill area, especially for outdoorsy or rural-life-enjoying rationalists, is that it’s tick country. Information like the following could do a lot to influence how good the place looks to us:
    • How common is Lyme disease around Peekskill? (According to this article, the Hudson Valley both has the highest number of ticks in New York state and the highest number of Lyme-carrying ticks per tick. Estimating local prevalence of the disease in humans is very important but seems tricky, since many cases go undiagnosed.)
    • Lyme disease rates are rising fast in the US—up 10x in the last 30 years. Given that, how much should we expect incidence to increase in areas that are already hard-hit?
    • Are there relatively easy, effective, and politically feasible ways to reduce the number of deer ticks in the area? (Examples.)
    • How harmful, and common, are long-term symptoms from Lyme disease?
    • How easy is it to reduce risk of catching Lyme disease, or risk of long-term symptoms? How effective is it to avoid walks, hikes, picnics, shaded-woodsy-areas, etc.? How effective is it to check for ticks with such-and-such frequency, and such-and-such thoroughness or laziness? (The CDC claims, somewhat vaguely: “In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.”)
    • How costly is it in microLymes to have long hair, a beard, or lots of body hair?
    • The CDC claims that Lyme is usually transmitted by nymphs, because they’re tiny and hard to spot during a tick check. How big is this effect, and what are its implications?
    • Is there a weird trick that can basically eliminate the risk of tick bites while walking around? E.g., Alan Eaton proposes “When outdoors for any length of time, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. Wear tall rubber boots that are too smooth for most ticks to grab onto. Apply insect repellent and/or wear insect [repellent] clothing.” How effective are these measures?
    • How effective is it to monitor for symptoms of Lyme, and administer antibiotics early in response to certain triggers?
    • How soon will we have Lyme vaccines of such-and-such effectiveness? Is there a faster option, like bringing back LYMErix or just using the veterinary Lyme vaccine? How likely is it that the vaccines (or some other intervention) will drastically reduce the severity or frequency of long-term Lyme symptoms in people already suffering from them?
  • Uber access in non-plague years:
    • Regarding Bellingham, Blake reports: “At the moment there's not much Uber service—maybe 1/4 of the time during normal hours I can find an Uber there. I am pretty confident (85%?) that this is a COVID effect, with 75% of the students not being around, and that at least during school sessions there will be Ubers, but I still need to check this. I'm less confident (60%?) that Ubers will be readily available after COVID when school isn't in session.”
    • Regarding Peekskill: “Right now there often aren’t Ubers around. A Peekskill local said there were lots of Ubers before COVID, and especially on Fri/Sat evenings when things are busier. “
    • It would be very useful to know exactly how easy it is to get ride-shares in these areas during non-COVID times.
  • How many rationalists might want to live here?

 

Other candidates

We also feel some pull to strongly consider the following places more, despite so far not finding properties that fit our campus vision very well there:

  • the parts of New Hampshire nearest Boston;
  • the Austin, Texas area; and
  • Reno, Nevada.

I’d currently assign about 50% probability to “we move to the Peekskill or Bellingham area, or somewhere similar, on the strength of properties available there,” and 50% to “we largely give up on the proto-campus idea and move to someplace more like an office building or set of buildings in a city like Reno, not nature-y or lush but still a pleasant, relaxed place for going on walks to think.”

We’re also still open to suggestions of cities and properties, at least for the next two weeks (and possibly longer). Here are a bunch of other places we’ve seriously considered and in some cases visited:

  • West Coast: Bend, OR; Eugene, OR; Issaquah, WA; North Bend, WA
  • Rocky Mountain: Boulder, CO; Fort Collins, CO; Bozeman, MT; Missoula, MT
  • Southwest:
  • Great Plains:
  • Midwest: Urbana-Champaign, IL; Bloomington, IN; West Lafayette, IN; Ann Arbor, MI; Madison, WI
  • South: Asheville, NC; Greensboro, NC; Blacksburg, VA
  • Mid-Atlantic: Rochester, NY; the Philadelphia, PA area (e.g., Lambertville, NJ)
  • New England: the Amherst/Springfield, MA area; the outskirts of the Boston metropolitan area (e.g., Norwood, MA); Portland, ME; Keene, NH; Portsmouth, NH; Burlington, VT
Berkeley, CA and our top 30 candidates, with the top 5 marked ❤️: Bellingham, Reno, Austin, Peekskill, and southern NH.

Although we’ve been focusing heavily on the US in our search, we’re also still interested in country suggestions, if you think Canada or some other part of the world scores especially well on metrics like “unlikely to see a future tech backlash or eat-the-rich revolt that makes it decreasingly attractive to live in.” From our perspective, a higher-but-stable tax rate is better than a lower present rate with a lot of future instability and unpredictability.


As I said at the start of the post, I want to hear people's thoughts about the locations I mentioned (especially our five favorites), and arguments for other locations. Either 'is this a good place for MIRI?' or 'is this a good place for a rationalist hub?' / 'are there worlds where I'd be happy moving here if a hub does spring up?'

I'm also looking for recommendations of specific properties to buy. We've found that criteria like the ones I listed narrow the candidate list a lot, so we may end up giving up on the campus dream. (E.g., if you search for parts of the US that are quiet and close to nature, have Uber/Lyft access, are walkable, aren't extremely conservative, aren't too low-population, are permissive about zoning, have low crime rates, don't have super-high elevation, don't have super-high heat, and have a campus-like property on the market, you end up with a very short list.)


Thanks to Blake Borgeson and Alex Vermeer for reviewing this post, and for doing most of the legwork to help MIRI think through move tradeoffs and logistical details. Any remaining errors are probably theirs, since they did most of the hard cognitive work and I just wrote a post about it.

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I feel pretty bad about both of your current top two choices (Bellingham or Peekskill) because they seem too far from major cities. I worry this distance will seriously hamper your ability to hire good people, which is arguably the most important thing MIRI needs to be able to do. [Speaking personally, not on behalf of Open Philanthropy.]

To expand on this a bit, I think that people with working partners would be the group most likely to be deterred from working at MIRI if it was in either Bellingham or Peekskill. The two-body problem can be a serious constraint, and large metro areas tend to be much easier to find two jobs in. That may be getting better with the rise of remote work, but I do think it's worth keeping in mind. 

5dspeyer1moLess of a constraint if matters are arranged such that living in NYC is practical. Expensive, of course, but no worse than the Bay. It's a long-ish commute, but not too terrible by mostly-empty train (the full trains will be running the opposite direction). Easier still if WFH a few days a week is supported.

I think moving to the country could possibly be justified despite harms to recruitment and the rationality community, but in the official MIRI explanations, the downsides are quite underdiscussed.

RE the NY site, in my experience from living in upstate NY for a time, an hour (or 75min) to Grand Central doesn't seem to match what people think of when they think of "an hour+ to NYC"; it's much worse. When I hear "an hour to NYC" I think "an hour to get to my destination", but if it's "an hour (or 75min) to Grand Central" it's likely at least 1.5-2hrs to my destination, perhaps even 2-2.5, with additional subjective hassle from getting to the train upstate, getting out of Grand Central, and transferring to the subway + walking or uber.  Plus, you are limited to making the trip while trains are running (so, no late-night hangouts then sleeping in your own bed). 

Great point. And this matches my experience as a Long Islander who was "only an hour" away from the city. When someone proposes, "Hey, we should go into the city!", I recall it being met with hesitation more proportional to a hectic 2-2.5 hour trip than an easy hour long ride.

If the nearness to the city is a big factor for MIRI, and it sounds like it is, I think it'd make sense to get more data points on this subjective feeling of how big the hassle is. As well as data points on how long the trip actually takes, because adding up subway + walking + whatever seems very prone to the planning fallacy.

Plus, you are limited to making the trip while trains are running (so, no late-night hangouts then sleeping in your own bed).

I know that for the Long Island RailRoad, it still runs late at night, eg. 3am. It's just that the frequency of departures goes down, eg. to once an hour. I've done the come home at 3am thing a bunch of times.

+1, I had a similar experience when living upstate in a place that was "an hour+". I did visit the city a few times, but it was a pretty big hassle. Definitely try out the exact commute before drawing conclusions.

8Tyler Alterman1moIt might make sense for MIRI to just rent an apartment in NYC

I personally like Austin, and selfishly I would want MIRI to be either near there or near NYC. I'm not really sure how good a fit it is for MIRI, but here are my thoughts on it.

Sanity/culture:

I think the overall epistemic climate in Austin is probably better than the Bay Area, but it still seems to be absorbing a lot of the illiberal, mostly left thing that's going around lately. Still, I've always found it easy to meet people there who are reasonably sane and not easily blown around by the political winds of the day. There is plenty of grey tribe culture around, and people there are more familiar with red tribe culture than in CA, but it is still mostly pretty progressive.

Weather:

A very common concern about Austin is the hot weather. While I do think it's something that needs to be dealt with, I do not think it is all that bad, as weather goes. Most people who visit find it terrible, even after a week or two, but during the 10-ish years I lived there, I can only remember meeting maybe five people who, having lived there for more than a year, would strongly avoid going outside due to the heat all summer, two of which seemed to be substantially unhappy for it. Of everyone else, my e... (read more)

9Rob Bensinger1moI highly appreciate the level of detail here. Breakdowns of the distribution of long-term impressions of Austin weather are great -- a lot more of an update than a single person's take. I do have to worry that there's a selection effect! People aren't randomly assigned to Austin and aren't forced to stay, so the people who stay (or who are even willing to consider Austin as an option) will skew toward being heat-tolerant. "Better grocery stores than other places I've lived" - Where have you lived, if you don't mind my asking? "If you're looking for places near Austin, but out of the city" - If we moved to Austin, I predict the optimal set-up will have some of MIRI in the city and some outside the city, with one of those groups commuting. But it may be hard to achieve that mostly-optimal-for-us set-up.
6Vaniver1moAustin is the home of Whole Foods, and the typical mainstream grocery store is HEB, which was prepping for COVID in January 2020 [https://www.texasmonthly.com/food/heb-prepared-coronavirus-pandemic/]; Central Market is also pretty good? I think people who really like Berkeley Bowl might not find something exactly similar, but I think they will find things that are adequate replacements.
3Richard Korzekwa 1moYeah, I mostly had HEB + Central Market in mind. I've always found HEB to be more likely to have things I want, and I think they have generally responded well to storms and the pandemic.
3Richard Korzekwa 1moI imagine there is! I'm not sure how strong it is. A lot of people I know were students, so they had some choice about where to live, but only so much and leaving wasn't as easy as it could be. Others were there for tech jobs and were very much there by choice. I'm mostly comparing to Los Alamos, NM and SF/Berkeley. I also lived in some other towns for college, and they seemed similarly mediocre to Los Alamos. I'm kind of meh about Whole Foods, and I think Berkeley Bowl is good, but not worth getting excited about, if that helps. My guess is that living in the city and commuting out of it is less of a bummer than the other way around, but either way, commuting in Austin isn't great. It would, of course, depend on where you are in the city, and you can probably avoid the worst of it by not trying to get to downtown at 9am or whatever. As I recall, driving out of the city in the morning usually wasn't too bad.
4Brandon Reinhart1moI'll have to hit you up about LW meet-ups in the area. I didn't like the ones I attended in Seattle and as a result I became very adjacent to the community. I also have kids, which consume a lot of time. It would be nice to have some grown up friends.
3Richard Korzekwa 1moCool! The meetup does have some parents and soon-to-be parents. I'm not totally up to speed on how the meetups are going these days, since I haven't lived there in over six months, but send me a PM, or you should be able to find it on the LW meetup database :)
2Ben Pace1moThis is a great comment, thanks. (Other people doing comments in this style would also be pretty great.)
2Brandon Reinhart1moI would avoid Waco, mostly because I-35 is so central to the North/South traffic flow there and is so terribly always in a state of disrepair and repair and demolition and re...molition... Waco is also a college town, but it's a very conservative college town. You'll get the college town downsides, but not many of the upsides. The only thing in my mind that is a merit to Waco is that it isn't far from West and in West you've got Kolaches. (I went to Baylor, briefly, in my younger days and soon fled.)
1meta_ark1moSuper-tangential, I know, but there are at least two Austin bakeries that bake a range of fresh kolaches every day, https://www.batchatx.com/menus [https://www.batchatx.com/menus] and https://www.quacksbakery.com/ [https://www.quacksbakery.com/]
1Richard Korzekwa 1moYou're probably right. I only ever went there for bike races, and it seemed generally pleasant. I also knew a couple that owned a coffee shop there and they seemed cool. I can definitely believe that it would be awkwardly conservative for MIRI.

Background: I am a full-time student at Bellingham's (unimpressive) university who has lived in the Bellingham area and will soon be moving back as classes resume in person. My partner is also an AI safety researcher (previously from the Bay area) who would certainly be interested in building AI research and rationalist community here.  

Notes on Bellingham:

  • Yes, there is a much stronger Uber presence during non-COVID times. The absence of students living in Bellingham has impacted rideshares here and will likely pick up again when in-person classes return. However, few rideshare alternates. There are longer wait times than what you would normally experience in most metropolitan areas, but you can get a lift most nights of the week within city limits.
  • Bellingham's nature, outdoor activities, restaurants, community, and culture are excellent. There are small music, arts, and dance scenes here that are quite pleasant and intimate. A great way to connect with locals. People are relaxed and friendly. It's not difficult to feel at home here. As I like to say Bellingham is small enough that you will always run into someone you know and big enough that you can always meet someone new. V
... (read more)
5kdbscott1moHow are the mosquitos on e.g. mushroom hunts?

The target for researchers to "be able to think unusually clearly" personally pushes towards the Bellingham location. That sort of semi-isolation in, for me, one of the most beautiful regions in the US is highly conducive to focused thought.

Although, I think it trades off with other potential goals, for example: community expansion or access to power. Those of you in miri know better where you are on timeline but research institute in the woods feels like it optimizes for a very particular move and may leave you less flexibility if the game isn't in the state you imagine.  As noted, I lack the information to know whether that's a good or bad bet.

If you prefer a more flexible approach, I'd consider one of the new or old tech hubs: Austin being an example of the former, Boston the latter. Both seem in some ways to be more future oriented than the bay which sadly feels like it's being consumed by a hustler/MBA ethos rather than a creative one. Also, perhaps consider hubs focused around next-gen industries such as biotech (Boston again or maybe San Diego) as there's just a difference in cultural dynamism as opposed to locations very much in exploit mode.

Finally, if you're still co... (read more)

Although, I think it trades off with other potential goals, for example: community expansion or access to power. Those of you in miri know better where you are on timeline but research institute in the woods feels like it optimizes for a very particular move and may leave you less flexibility if the game isn't in the state you imagine. As noted, I lack the information to know whether that's a good or bad bet.

Great point. I too lack the information to really say, but I would imagine that the endgame would be to ~100x the size of MIRI, and that when you're at that endgame you would want to be in a place where you can attract the top talent. Which I've always presumed to be SF or NY, but perhaps not in MIRI's case. MIRI is looking for top AI researchers, and maybe that sort of person, for whatever reason, doesn't prefer a tech hub.

Anyway, I'm thinking that if 100x is the endgame, maybe it'd make sense to optimize for that right now, since moving from one location to another is tough to do, especially once MIRI grows even more. Then again, maybe not. Maybe moving isn't as difficult as I'm assuming. Or maybe it would make it too hard to reach the 100x point in the first place being in a tech hub, although when I write that out it doesn't sound correct.

5Rob Bensinger1moThanks, this is excellent food for thought. I may come back and ask you for more of your models later.
3justin1moOf course. Just let me know if I can be of help.

Moved this comment to a google doc due to the formatting issues: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tq9rY1TCs49XHckWtzOowYz_xHXFnRpOZq8r0lE5JSQ/edit#heading=h.cywpygwwkhbl

9MondSemmel1moFYI, your post seems to be full of missing pictures; all the missing pictures seem to point to Gmail, so presumably they didn't survive being copy & pasted from an email conversation. (If the post isn't missing pictures for you, I recommend logging out of google and refreshing the comment, or looking at the comment from an incognito / private browser tab.)
6habryka1moYeah, they are all hotlinked to some private Gmail context. So I can't recover them. Dragging-and-dropping files into the editor allows you to upload images, so I recommend doing that.
1Malcolm Collins1moI added them later in the thread as individual files and they appear to have worked.
1dlr1mono, they are all still missing.
6Cosmos1moBrief note: the 5% unearned income tax in NH is I believe only interest and dividend income, not capital gains. Obviously having lots of dividend income from stocks would be slightly less attractive, but at least for now most crypto gains are in capital appreciation. As the ecosystem switches more to staking and such and we don’t see huge bubbles maybe that calculus will change.
2Rob Bensinger1moI could see arguments like this changing which areas seem best to us, so I encourage more pitches like this. :) I'll see what Alex and Blake think of your case.
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Some random thoughts...

Cities With Variety

Model: major cities (like Austin or NYC) are fun to live in without belonging to a relatively close-knit community. This is much less the case for most other places. As a result, there's a big difference between Austin/NYC area vs the other top-5 options. Austin and NYC are both places I'd be happy to move to on their own merits; they're fun places to live even without a small community to be with. If a hub started to form in such a place, 80% I'd move there pretty quickly. I'd still be happy with the other top-5 places (>50% I'd move there), but that's more conditional on rationalist community formation. I expect Southern NH or Bellingham or even Reno would be pretty boring without the community.

Unpacking this model a bit more... Austin or NYC are big enough that there's lots of stable sub-communities, like stable communities for various immigrant groups, or groups around various hobbies like dancing or makerspaces. That creates a lot of cultural variety, e.g. in food options, and makes it likely that whatever particular thing you're interested in is represented - like blues/swing dance for me.

Freedom to Build Things

Another model: livin... (read more)

I'd love to make a strong pitch for New Hampshire. There are a ton of people who are ideologically aligned with MIRI in the state. Taxes are low — there's no income tax or sales tax, and the state is actually lowering what business taxes exist. Cost of living is very modest. Boston is a relatively doable drive, providing access to a major international airport and a number of well known universities, and Dartmouth is in state. The state has a low intervention, libertarianish political ethos, and people are quite tolerant. The populace is also reasonably well educated by US standards, and the standard of living is similarly quite high by national standards.

I understand that finding an appropriate parcel of land would be important to the project, but right now the real estate market is very temporarily crazy because of people fleeing Boston during the pandemic; it is likely to cool down soon. I suspect that any one of a number of professionals and amateurs might be willing to help MIRI find a suitable location in any case.

In terms of natural beauty and quiet, the state has a lot to offer. We're currently living on a dirt road in a small town in the southern part of the state where I ... (read more)

Conflict of interest disclaimer: I live in NYC and think bringing MIRI here would be good for our local community

I would point out that being an hour by train from the city is significantly closer than an hour by car.  An hour by train is an hour of relaxation or productive work (your choice), whereas an hour by car is an hour lost.  An hour by train is also reliably an hour, whereas an hour by car puts your schedule at the mercy of traffic.  Finally, an hour by train is accessible to everyone, whereas an hour by car requires possessing a car, being proficient in its use, and being confident of your ability to focus for the entire ride.

Apart from transit, I'd urge you to take weather seriously.  I lived near Seattle for two years, and going without sunlight for months at a time drained me.  (Going without proper storms messed with me too, but that's probably just me.)  I'm told working at MIRI, staring into how doomed we are on a daily basis, can be depressing. Best not to combine those.

I'll also say that I have more confidence in New York's cultural future.  It's hard to estimate the risk that Seattle will develop anti-epistemic happy death spirals like San Fransisco did.  If I had to handwave it, I'd say 30% within the next 10 years.  NYC's sheer size and internal diversity give it cultural inertia.  Odds of something like that happening here I'd put below 1%.

Apart from transit, I'd urge you to take weather seriously. I lived near Seattle for two years, and going without sunlight for months at a time drained me.

This is a big problem for me. I think that if we move near Seattle, there's something like a 40% chance I'll just completely bail after the first or second year and be like "well, I guess this life plan isn't for me after all". But I've sort of been keeping quiet about it 'cause as far as I know I'm the only one who's part of the move and has severe SAD. Didn't want to make considerations even more complicated just for my sake. But if people regularly move to Seattle and then develop significant SAD symptoms, that seems really important to know.

Purely for completeness, I'll go ahead and represent the opposite preference: I am noticeably energized by overcast days, and I enjoy rain. Long, unbroken sequences of sunny days feel oppressive to me. I think my ideal week would be overcast 4 days, medium-light rain 2 of those days, and sunny on the remaining 3 days for evaporation & variety.

Of course, I realize that pluviophiles are a small minority, so any community/subcultural hub in a chronically cloudy place will suffer an excess SAD burden.

And it's not just the number of overcast days that is a problem.  Bellingham is very far north-- enough so you get significant swings in day length between summer and winter-- that is great in the summer, it is still broad daylight out at 11pm at night-- but winter days are really short.   Sunset is around 4:30, or earlier, from mid-Nov to mid-Jan.  The sun has gone down before you get off work.    Here is a link to sunrise-sunset data for Bellingham  https://sunrise-sunset.org/us/bellingham-wa/2020/10.        

5Rob Bensinger1moI think I like rain and overcast days (though I've never lived in a place like Seattle or London, so maybe I'm underestimating how annoying I'd find it). Separately, I suspect that my productivity takes a dive when there are fewer daylight hours: my brain wants to say 'the day is over' when the sun starts setting, which is not ideal if that's at 5pm.
9Ben Pace1moSunlight changes my mood pretty significantly, and I’d definitely be sad to move to Seattle for this reason. Though it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker for me.
8habryka1moSame for me. Good weather in the Bay is quite good, and I would probably be willing to 2x my rent to have Bay weather in most places. This more than eliminates any rent advantages of basically any non-Bay location for me.
4Ben Pace1moYeah. I think I'd currently also be willing to 2x my current rent to be able to sustain this level of weather relative to e.g. Manchester (where I grew up).

'Below 1%' is a very small number!

Agreed. I'm quite bullish on NYC and its culture but 1% seems too low.

6adamzerner1moI think this depends a lot on whether it is during rush hour or not. I spent three months commuting ~60 minutes into the city from Long Island when I attended a coding bootcamp. Taking the train during rush hour was always a hectic, very much not relaxing experience. I tried to do work on my laptop, but it was always crowded and awkward and at some point I just gave up. The other people I know who commute into the city say the same thing. On the other hand, if you're taking the train eg. at 1pm or something, that I've found is usually a pleasant experience. PS: On Friday and Saturday nights, it can be quite annoying dealing with the drunk partiers.

Seeing as MIRIans will be working outside the city and having fun inside it (regardless of where they live), they won't be traveling with the rush.

9adamzerner1moAh, good point.
3Rob Bensinger1moYep, 'work outside the city and have fun inside it' is my model, and is part of why I'd expect the train ride to be nice. E.g., I could imagine getting a hotel room and spending Saturdays in the city.
3Rob Bensinger1moOne of my co-workers estimated the cost of 'book a hotel room every Saturday night in Manhattan and thus effectively live there on weekends' at $1,000 / month.

I've been traveling into the city for social reasons and have found good hotels at under $150 / night reliably. You'd want a hotel rather than AirBnB because cleaning fees make AirBnBs bad for one night stays.

I don't think anyone has mentioned Oxford, UK yet? It's tiny. You could literally live on a farm here and still be 5-10 minutes from the city centre. And obviously it's a realistic place for a rationalist hub. I haven't perceived anti-tech sentiment here but haven't paid attention either.

I'd guess it's not easy to change the land use for a farm and that it would be expensive and slow to build a campus in or near Oxford. It's probably easier to move into an existing "campus" (e.g. for a school, training center, residential conference facility). 

Immigration-wise: It will harder for EU people to move to the UK going forward but (AFAICT) easier for people from the Canada, US, Australia and elsewhere. The UK now has a points system for skilled workers (you need a job offer) and a special visa (don't need a job offer) for people in academia research and "digital technology" (which covers fintech, gaming, cybersecurity and AI among other areas). 

8Jakob_J1moImmigration issues aside, I second the choice of the United Kingdom. Having lived in several European countries, the UK probably has one of the strongest intellectual cultures I've seen. The population is roughly that of California and Texas combined, and yet its combined cultural and scientific outputs is on par with the US as a whole (it has received the second largest number of Nobel prizes in the world, and in terms of Nobel prizes per capita it outperforms the US by a factor ~2). However, I would say that Oxford wouldn't be my first choice: * Most great things about Oxford are behind the walls of the colleges - if you are not a member of the university, you feel quite cut off from the intellectual life there. (Even as a member of the university, things are only active during term times, which are much shorter than elsewhere) * Living outside Oxford and commuting in is a pain - the roads are always clogged, even for buses. Commuting by train is possibly only from a few places. I would recommend living near London: * London is a really fun city. Whatever your interests might be, it is quite likely that you will find groups with the same interests as you. Also the food scene is amazing - you could probably find both great restaurants and grocery shops specializing in any cuisine you want. * Public transport is pretty great, much better than what I have seen in e.g. NY. It is common to live >1 hr outside the city and commute in, so there are lots of places in the countryside which are affordable but with a direct train to central London. * The job market is very active, and it shouldn't be a problem for two people to find a job here.

Some reactions:

  • The Oxford/London nexus  seems like a nice combination. It's 38min by train between the two, plus getting to the stations (which in London can be a pain).
  • Re intellectual life "behind the walls of the colleges": I haven't perceived much intellectual life in my college, and much more outside. Maybe the part inside the colleges is for undergraduates?
  • I don't have experience with long-range commuting into Oxford. But you can commute in 10-15 minutes by bike from the surrounding villages like Botley / Headington.
5Vika23d+1 to everything Jacob said about living near London, plus the advantages of being near an existing AI safety hub (DeepMind, FHI, etc).
3TAG1moOr just outside London... [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Grinstead]

I am a current PhD student in Pittsburgh and grew up just north of Bellingham. I like it here a lot, and think it fits most of your criteria. It should not necessarily be your #1 pick, but I think it's a mistake that it's not on the list at all. 

AMA, but, for starters:
 - affordability. Pittsburgh is cheap. It is cheaper than Detroit, but somehow nicer. I own a house as a PhD student and that is not terribly unusual. (I do not know anything about the property market for an entire campus, though.)
 - pleasant environment as a research scientist. I bike to my office through a beautiful 400 acre park. The city is eminently walkable and I don't own a car. It's not as pretty as the Puget Sound (which is exceptional), but the city is in a forest-hill-river ecosystem and there are more than enough places to go on contemplative bike rides, trail walks, etc. There are a bunch of other technically minded people in the city who are interesting to talk to, although it is of course smaller than Boston or the Bay Area. 
 - positive culture/governance. My sense is that the political climate here tends pragmatist and positive-sum. Overall it feels sane here, and while the cit... (read more)

A potentially serious disadvantage of the Peekskill area, especially for outdoorsy or rural-life-enjoying rationalists, is that it’s tick country.

I looked into this more: Peekskill Lyme Incidence

Strongly suggest southern New Hampshire.

My grandparents are from Peekskill, I've lived most of my life in NYC, and spent the year before last in the Bay. 

southern New Hampshire is close to very high end small towns like Exeter and Portsmouth. It's is somewhat reminiscent of the structure of the South Bay, but with a very New England feel. Peekskill is much more run down in comparison.

I can't speak to Bellingham, but in as much as you are interested in Peekskill or a non urban setting, southern New Hampshire is an extremely good choice.

Would be eager to help you gather more info about it.

I second this, New Hampshire is awesome, and Portsmouth has a very South Bay feel to it. It’s a really vibrant community, and the nature is beautiful. Pawtuckaway park is one of my favorite hiking spots. Also super close to Boston. Highly recommend New Hampshire!

Empire State of Mind

I want to second Daniel and Zvi's recommendation of New York culture as an advantage for Peekskill. An hour away from NYC is not so different from being in NYC — I'm in a pretty central part of Brooklyn and regularly commute an hour to visit friends uptown or further east in BK and Queens. An hour in traffic sucks, an hour on the train is pleasant. And being in NYC is great. 

A lot of the Rationalist-adjacent friends I made online in 2020 have either moved to NYC in the last couple of months or are thinking about it, as rents have dropped up to 20% in some neighborhoods and everyone is eager to rekindle their social life. New York is also a vastly better dating market for male nerds given a slightly female-majority sex ratio and thousands of the smartest and coolest women on the planet as compared to the male-skewed and smaller Bay Area.  

Peekskill is also 2 hours from Philly and 3 from Boston, which is not too much for a weekend trip. That could make it the Schelling point for East Coast megameetups/conferences/workshops since it's as easy to get to as NYC and a lot cheaper to rent a giant AirBnB in.

Won't Someone Think of the Children

I love living in B... (read more)

I'm glad this topic came up. I'm planning on taking the next year to explore different locations and the following year to buy a house, so it's been on my mind. Here are some thoughts:

  • I've found it useful to watch these Driving Tour of City X videos on YouTube.
  • I sense I'm in the minority here, but I really am not a fan of cars due to the tail risk of death. In 2018, there were 11.18 deaths per 100k people, or a 0.01118% chance of dying. If you value life at $10M, 0.0001118 * $10,000,000 = $1,118. I could see the convenience of cars outweighing this cost. But, a) a MIRI researcher is having a hugely positive impact on humanity, and so the value of their life, I would argue, is many orders of magnitude larger than a standard life. And b), if you think there's a decent chance of humans figuring out life extension, I think that means life is way more valuable than the standard $10M. Eg. $200k/year * 50 years gives you a value of $10M, but if you think there's a 10% chance of eg. the singularity happening and that leading to an extra 100k years of life, now we're talking about an expectation of something like 10k years. And those are years that hopefully will be really, really awesom
... (read more)

This is a strong downside to Texas. It is very hard to get around without a car. You might be able to live in downtown Austin without a car, but that's a pretty expensive part of town. And once you want to go anywhere else, you'll want to drive.

Downtown Austin, btw, is not good thinking territory. It's super crowded. I mean crowded. I mean, many streets are simply not accessible for driving on because they are so packed with drunk college kids. It's fun and frenetic, but it's an attraction not a lifestyle.

Houston? San Antonio? Dallas? All cities with their own vibe, but they are not walking cities at all. Texans have vast tracts land and boy o boy do they USE it.

Seconding this.

While it's possible to get around without a car in some spots of most cities in Texas, your quality of life and ability to visit others, go to interesting places, etc. downright sucks* unless you have a car. Additionally, the moment you leave the big cities in Texas (and even in them in some parts), the culture gets very religious and conservative, very quickly. Also, the state government and legislature is fond of going on crusades against the big cities from time to time, because they think the big cities are too progressive / liberal. Furthermore, everyone has guns. This is not an exaggeration**, unless you're on university or government property, or in a few very very progressive / particular locales, you can expect that the majority of people you see are armed, and that a majority of people or more keep a gun in their car while driving. People get shot during road rage incidents. Liberals and progressives frequently own guns too, it's not just conservatives. Avoid Waco, you really don't want to relocate there.

Though, despite those things, Texas is probably one of the better places in the US for things like local political control, low to no state taxes (correspo... (read more)

I'm both up voting you and commenting because I used to live (more than 4 years) and continue to monitor (in a very real time way) the DFW Metroplex. Then, I moved to Southern California, so I've kind of made the MIRI move in reverse.

Beware of motivated reasoning when it comes to things in TX that you think will change for the better soon. For example, if you had listed Dallas as a possibility, I would be warning against counting on improved DART service.

If you find a positive attribute in a particular area of Austin, make sure the other positive and negative attributes about Austin still apply; things can be quite different as you move around the state. Administrative boundaries (e.g. School attendance boundaries) may surprise you.

Strongly recommend looking into sources of expected life expectancy and healthcare costs for all locations being considered.

3pmetzger1moI think you will find that most of the more livable places to live in the United States require a car. The places that truly do not require a car are quite expensive to live in comfortably and often have other drawbacks as well.
4Shea Fisker1moI completely agree with your points about cars, but I don't think Portland is in the running here. I am wondering what other areas may be most walkable, livable without a car. The US is such a car-centric place, that it's tough. Europe would obviously be much better for that.
9adamzerner1moYeah. That hit me when I was watching those driving tour videos. They say that places like Portland are really bike friendly. But looking at the Portland video next to the Amsterdam one, there was no comparison. The streets were filled with bikes in Amsterdam, and there were actual bike lanes everywhere there. From what I could tell, the issue is that the places that are truly walkable and livable without a car are all major cities, and those major cities are all super expensive to live in. Eg. NY and Boston. If anyone knows otherwise please let me know!

I think southern NH (especially near Portsmouth) ticks a lot of your boxes here. Easy access to gorgeous walkable nature, very good legal and cultural climate, some fun little cities on the coast, very convenient bus access to Logan as well as Cambridge/the Red Line (I used to commute into MIT every day), a preexisting somewhat aligned cultural movement to tap into in the FSP, etc.

Honestly I think I could go down the list of priorities and make a case for each aspect but I think the best case to be made for the area comes in seeing it first hand. If anyone wanted to come see the region I can promise you'd have plenty of options for where to stay, people to meet, and places to see.

3Rob Bensinger1moWe've spent some time visiting southern NH recently, and may do so again as part of picking a destination. :)
3Naomi1moPlease let those of us here know when you do come and we'd be more than happy to show you around or help with your search! I'm originally Australian, was in NY for 8 years then South Bay 1 year, and sea coast NH is by far my favorite so far for many reasons. 1 hour from Boston is also a huge plus.
2Rob Bensinger1moThanks! I appreciate the offer, and I'll keep it in mind.

Potential metrics which may be helpful to consider (from a previous location search for me to live): Minimum sunlight per month, months under 200 hrs of sunlight, days above 90F, days below 32F, snow/rain days per year, violent crime level, property crime level, number of internet providers, average speed test result of internet providers, top advertised speed of internet providers, quality of healthcare, attends religious services at least once per week, rate of cigarette use, rate of alcohol use, rate of binge drinking.

Some of these are direct metrics on experience (ie number of days where climate makes being outside less pleasant), others towards the end of the list are more proxy metrics of concrete data that may give some indication of general level of religiosity/stress/need for escape in the local environment.

Given your described desiderata, I would think that a slightly more rural location along the coast of California ought to be up there. Large properties in Orinda are not that expensive (there are gorgeous 16-30 acre lots for about 1million on Zillow right now), and right now, for better and for worse, the Bay is the locus of the rationalist and EA communities and of the tech industry; convincing people to move to a pastoral retreat 1hour from the city everyone already lives in is a much easier sell and smoother transition than convincing them to move across the country. (I recognize that MIRI is doing this in part because of thinking that it's bad for the Bay to be that, but I think the Bay community already has at least four distinctive sub communities with different values and norms and priorities, and a campus in more-rural California could form a distinctive one while not disrupting all existing social bonds.) I know Bay zoning is notorious, but that's much less true as soon as you're out of the Bay proper, and all of those properties emphasize in the listings that you have total flexibility about what to build on that land. Other nearby properties are often also for sale. ... (read more)

I'd like to note that Texas is passing strong restrictions on abortion. They've passed a "heartbeat bill" banning abortions after six weeks, and it seems likely that they'll pass a trigger bill outlawing abortion almost entirely, contingent on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade. 

I'm not a Supreme Court expert, but I know people who are sincerely worried about Roe v Wade being undone. This would be a pretty big deal breaker for my fiancée (and by extension myself). From what I read, the Supreme Court will make a Roe v Wade ruling in the middle of 2022.

Does this factor into your considerations? I feel like this would be a pretty big deal for the rationalist community at large.

As a non-American: If the problem just applies to Texas or to Republican states in general, are there substantial barriers to getting an abortion in another state (for rationalists)? I have heard that argument made often online for why passing state level abortion bans is ineffective.

1devils_rights_advocate20dFrom what I understand, it's difficult enough to get an abortion as it is. Clinics are rather rare, insurance doesn't always cover it, there may be mandatory waiting periods and counseling, etc. I don't think it would be impossible to still get one, but the added inconvenience is not trivial. At minimum, a big increase in travel time and probable insurance complications. But if someone here knows more than me, I'd very much like to hear it.
6Adele Lopez21dThis would be a deal breaker for me too.

We recently moved to Reno, and I think it does better on some metrics than others.

It’s much more affordable and free to build if you want to do your own custom thing. Prices are rising a lot because folks are fleeing CA to move here, and that makes the locals unhappy (and could generate future tech blow back potentially), but being able to build more housing will eventually help. I could see traffic becoming an issue eventually, but right now there isn’t anywhere in the city that’s >30 drive away, which is mind blowing to me! Since it’s much easier to build here, and find large swaths of property (though securing water might be a bottleneck, need to look), I suspect you could buy a plot of land for MIRI and get a developer to custom build a campus and lots of housing.

I just checked Uber/Lyft and they’re very sparse. No idea if that’s pandemic-related. In general if you’re going to live anywhere outside a major city, you’ll have to have people willing to drive sometimes, period. We get other services like food delivery, etc, just fine. You might not get restaurants delivering if you’re really far away. (Note: others here have told me they don't have a problem with ridesharing, bu... (read more)

Two things to be cautious about re Bellingham:

  1. the % 'overcast' incidence is much higher than the % 'measurable precipitation' incidence. I lived in the area until I was about 30 and the number of days when I literally never saw the sun, or a scrap of blue sky was very high, especially during the winter.  People with any tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) should avoid Bellingham, indeed, the entire Pacific Northwest.  
  2. Winters seem colder there than you would expect from the actual temperature.   Just like high humidity makes heat seem hotter, high humidity makes cold seem colder.   I've never heard anybody make the comment 'yes, but it is a dry cold..', but it does make a very noticeable difference.    

I live in Austin. I've lived a long time in North Austin, South Austin, and now I live in Travis Heights / SoCo. This was broken up by a 12 year stint in Bellevue, WA.

Some thoughts:

The I-35 corridor through downtown is not a great drive. If you live North of downtown, you'll tend to want to stay up there. If you live South, you'll tend to want to stay down there. In my mind, South of downtown (anywhere south/east/west as long as you don't have to commute through downtown) wins in the exchange. North Austin is a flat, uninspired land that more resembles Dallas in its uniformity. If you live North, you'll want to drive South for your entertainments. This means driving through the I-35 (or Mopac) chokepoints which will add time and lower happiness.

Mosquitoes can be handled with some oscillating fans (disrupts flight and oderants/co2 they use to track you). They'll still find you, but it can be managed. I haven't noticed much of a problem with them while out walking. Stationary outdoor talking/reading with no fans is more the problem.

The weather is very hot in August, but in trade you get an early end to winter and wonderful spring weather. Thunderstorms are rare, but powerful and insp... (read more)

1Richard Korzekwa 1moBTW, I don't imagine this is the crux of the decision, but regarding Chinese food, there is at least one restaurant which is approved by a Chinese immigrant family that I know in Austin: https://www.aasichuanchinatx.com/ [https://www.aasichuanchinatx.com/]. I'm not sure I've been to that particular place, but I have been to their house for Chinese takeout and whatever they had was pretty good

So I currently live in NYC, and I'm looking at moving out of it and building a house somewhere.  So I have given a fair amount of thought to places that would be cool to live.

I'd honestly warn you away from Peekskill.  New York state has a lot of taxes, the government is not very competent, the real estate is expensive and, I don't know, I've just really gotten tired of it.  Partly that may be mislike of NYC itself and is misplaced.  

My current shortlist is Colorado, Utah, Washington (state) and Nevada, with emphasis on Denver, Salt Lake City, near Seattle and the Tahoe/Reno region.  My personal biases are that I want to build a house in the mountains in reach of a large city.

In particular I'd like to point your consideration at Utah.  It's really beautiful, it's got low taxes, the government is very well-run, there's a lot of nature and you could probably lure Scott Alexander out there (the reason I initially added it to my list was that he mentioned liking the idea of moving there or to New Hampshire).  I know, I know, Mormons -- that was my initial thought too.  But as I looked into it more and more I liked it more and more. It's become ve... (read more)

2Rob Bensinger1moThanks for the suggestions! SLC didn't make our top 30 list, but it's maybe top 50, and does seem like it has a lot of nice aspects! From another comment I left here:

I spent about 9 months in Austin and would recommend against. Weather isn't all that great and the whole area seems to be getting worse/more California like from what I can tell even in the time I was there (a visitor from CA, haha). Traffic grinds the city to a stop twice a day as there are choke points over the river that aren't likely to be fixed.

The places I would consider are Boulder, Londonderry or Nashua, and Research Triangle Park. I think you'd be most likely to find relevant commercial properties in RTP.

The other high level consideration I have when considering locations is that the immediate area around the location is so important that you should airbnb some people within 5 minutes walking if at all possible to get an on the ground feel. My impression is that the felt sense of effort to going places is exponential with distance and not linear. So places 20 minutes away aren't twice the effort of 10 minutes away but more like 4 times the effort or something like that. This means places that look great from a distance vary hugely if you're 10 minutes away on this or that side of town depending on what's in the immediate area (<10 minutes walking).

In light of this, havi... (read more)

If you go with Bellingham, will you be avoiding the tsunami inundation zone?

9Rob Bensinger1moGood question! Blake estimated tsunami risk for Bellingham a few days ago; he's on vacation now, but I've passed this paper to him to see if it's new info to him. Thoughts about this kind of thing (eg, attempts to calculate micromorts) are useful here. It will be a surprising update to me if tsunami risk ends up looking high enough to rule out Bellingham.
6lunis1moI’ll defer to Blake if he’s done the math, but it does seem worth weighting correlated risks more strongly if they could take out all of MIRI. The inundation zone doesn’t look populated, though, so you’re probably fine.
4Rob Bensinger1moOur quick and low-confidence conclusion was: something in the neighborhood of 3% chance of major earthquake every ten years; not a major tsunami risk to Bellingham because we aren't directly exposed to the Pacific. The wave has to travel through the de Fuca strait, after which it will spread out, then move between the islands in front of Bellingham in the middle of the sound before reaching Bellingham. This was a quick and low-confidence conclusion, so I expect our conclusion can be improved on (possibly massively) by someone who has more background knowledge or spends more time on the problem. This was just a first-pass look.
5Rob Bensinger1moCorrection from Blake: "that thing you said about [the wave having to get through the strait, etc.], maybe that’s kinda true but not the main thing, the main thing is people probably shouldn’t live right on the coast at sealevel--if you do you need to be ready to get out somehow if the siren sounds, which maybe is hard? But the property is way above sea level and some miles inland. "The thing about the strait and islands might be true but not very relevant, and [might] be wrong. I think it was my conjecture at the time and I haven’t checked it."
5AllAmericanBreakfast1moNot clear if you mean he's independently estimating the earthquake risk, or researching previous expert estimates [https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/groundwork/G350GW/article.htm] of that risk. From this source, estimates of "an earthquake" in the next 50 years is anywhere from 7.4%-41%, depending on assumptions that are controversial within the earthquake prediction field. I put "an earthquake" in quotes because while they're definitely talking about a Juan de Fuca plate subduction, this source doesn't model the range of magnitude estimates based on these assumptions - just the chance of a quake happening at all. What I see is estimates [https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/cascadia_max] that such a quake would be magnitude 8+ to 9. Bellingham has some info [https://cob.org/services/safety/emergencies/tsunami] on how they expect the quake to affect it, but it sounds like the main thing w/ regard to tsunamis is to check that the building, and the homes of the researchers, are not in the inundation zone. For earthquakes [https://crosscut.com/2015/07/freaking-out-about-the-quake-hear-from-3-experts], if it's relatively recent architecture, it should avoid collapse, though it may be unusable afterward. I've spoken with one expert who was involved in retrofitting older brick Seattle buildings for earthquake preparedness. It seems like something you should be able to consult with prior to any building purchase.
6dspeyer1moThis seems like a very confused way of thinking about earthquakes. In the past month, there were 4 earthquakes associated with the Juan del Fuca subduction. All were around Richter 2.5 and no one cared. While I suppose it's possible for a fault to produce small and large earthquakes both more often than in between, this strikes me as rather unlikely. Generally an analysis of earthquake risk should begin be deciding what magnitude earthquakes to care about, and then calculate probabilities. (When we say that the Seattle area is particularly at-risk, that's because architecture standards there contain very little earthquake-resilience. Which may not be relevant here. The actual fault line is among the less active on the west coast of North America.)

Repeating what many people have said, the Pacific Northwest is a terrible option for anyone with SAD.

For my tastes (abundant sunlight year round, low summer humidity with few ticks/mosquitos, four seasons, outstanding natural beauty), the Rocky Mountain region has the cities with the best physical environments in the US. I would probably recommend against Boulder. I lived/worked in Boulder for ~5 years and love the physical climate but not the intellectual climate, and the real estate market is awful. Fort Collins or Denver (my current city) would be better, but it still might be difficult to find cheap enough real estate for a large campus. 

Santa Fe, NM and Flagstaff, AZ would be my other picks for the Rocky Mountain region, better than the Montana options IMO. Similar physical environment and population size as Boulder, with cheaper real estate and a less repressive intellectual climate. The downside is airports. Santa Fe is a ~1 hour drive from Albuquerque, which will have few direct flights to/from major cities. Flagstaff's closest airport (Phoenix) is much busier with more direct flights, but further away (a ~2 hour drive from Flagstaff).

SLC and Boise are OK, but air pollution during the winter is very bad (with less sunlight than the other options), so I'd probably recommend against them. 

I've spent a lot of time in the outdoors and I'm surprised that "ticks" occupied such a large chunk of effort/relevance. Wear long pants/shirts with long sleeves when in the woods, check yourself after you get back, and put bug spray (there are certain brands that work) on your body and clothes. 

I'm curious what counts as "very high elevation" and why it's an issue. The highest cities of any size are Santa Fe, Denver and the Front Range (including Cheyenne), and SLC. You can get some very high elevations right outside Denver, but there are no towns above 10,500'and in practice there's very little over 8,000' or so. 

More information on Austin: 

Physical environment: the weather is generally nice October through April. May through September tends to be hot; it's neither the bone dry of Colorado and the desert Southwest nor the oppressive humidity of the coast. Not ideal but not terrible. I prefer cooler weather but find it tolerable to great most of the year. 

Really exciting, impactful outdoor activities like mountain climbing and backpacking are a schlep. Shorter hikes, biking, water, and outdoor sports are plentiful both in and outside the city. 

Because it's... (read more)

I live in Fort Collins, and I'd love for you to move here, but I doubt you'll find the property you want. I doubt there's any 20+ acre campuses for sale, and even if you found one it would be incredibly expensive (although, maybe cheaper than you expect if you're starting with SF prices as your baseline). You might be able to find a ranch or something for sale up in the mountains though? Although, I'm not sure if the amenities would work (hope you're signed up for Starlink).

Another downside is that the nearest (and only) big city is around an hour drive south, and Denver is a pretty lame city. And if you're in the mountains, Denver would probably be > 2 hours away.

Being near CSU might be useful for hiring new people, since we have a decent CS department and a complete lack of interesting jobs (pretty much everyone works for HP or various boring hardware companies). The city is nice enough that most people don't want to move, so "do something that actually matters without having to leave" would be very attractive. Also the incredibly number of mountain trails would probaby be good for thinking.

Have you guys already done a voting survey (with whatever system seems good – STAR voting?) sent out to (1) the population of talent you want to take with you for AI research, (2) rationalists who aren't mission critical but are still valuable as interstitial social elements?

If not – at some point that's going to happen, right? This discussion seems most useful if it exists to inform a large number of people who might move what the options are, so that their preferences can be assessed numerically.

  • Rocky Mountain: Boulder, CO; Fort Collins, CO; Bozeman, MT; Missoula, MT

 

MIRI - I work in Boulder, went to school in Boulder, it would be cool to have you in Boulder and part of me still really loves Boulder... BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE DON'T RELOCATE TO BOULDER.

It's just not the environment it was in 90s where it was more creative and open, it's ideologically hidebound and I find it stifling.  YMMV, but I wouldn't count on it.

Fort Collins wouldn't be awful. I've thought of moving there before and it's better than people give it credit for, but it's adjacent to some places that would be.... lower in openness than you would like. 

If you're looking for a hidden up-and-coming gem in Colorado, I suggest Durango. 

I’d love to help you find property in New Hampshire, it’s awesome here. When you say “good indoor spaces for work and hangouts”, for how many people, and can you be more specific about your desires for the space?

7Rob Bensinger1mo(Caveat: I’m mostly just replying to 'how many people do you need to fit?' here and discussing size, rather than trying to list everything we might want from indoor spaces. Also, my whole comment is simplifying things a lot, because a full answer would be too in-the-weeds. I err on the side of being way, way too concrete and hypothesis-privileging in order to paint an easy-to-visualize picture and keep my reply short. And Blake hasn't reviewed this comment, so he might disagree with my claims/framing.) Short answer: Proto-campuses with total sqft below 5000 are very likely too small; and all else being equal, I'd tend to consider 6000+ sqft 'OK/workable', 12,000+ sqft 'quite good', and 20,000+ sqft 'great'. Longer answer: We can divide indoor spaces into 'space to work in' and 'space to live in', and we can divide MIRI into '~18 researchers' and '~10 non-researchers'. (Some buildings might be a mix of living spaces and working spaces, at least initially.) On that division, there are two very-important 'indoor space' things we want from a (proto-)campus, and two pretty-valuable indoor space things we want (ignoring all the small details like water pressure, lighting, sound isolation...). * Very important (#1) - There's enough working space for the ~18 researchers already. Our Berkeley office was ~10,600 sqft (plus ~1400 sqft CFAR used, and ~2000 sqft for LW and community events), which was a good amount of work space for us. (Somewhat more than we needed at the time, leaving room for staff growth.) A proto-campus with (e.g.) 5000 sqft would be a tight squeeze no matter how that space is allocated between rooms/buildings, and I'd be surprised if anything less than 5000 sqft were big enough. (Caveat: what matters is the actual useable space. We've found properties that were listed as <5000 sqft but were more promising than that number alone may make it seem, because there were garages or other nearby buildings that could be turned into work space.) * Very i

Ticks: I've found more ticks on me in the bay area than I did when I lived in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I don't think that's fully explained by behavioral changes.

I have a good deal of control over my exposure to ticks. I haven't put much effort into avoiding them. Well over 90% of the times I've found ticks on me were after going off-trail. Brushing against tall grass seems especially high risk. Wide trails seem to have very low risk. The clearest exception I've seen to this pattern may have involved transmission via a dog.

I started getting more tick bites after I stopped using sunscreen. That's definitely not due to getting more ticks on me. I think the sunscreen caused them to wander around much longer before deciding where to bite, giving me more time to find them when they're still crawling.

I've never found a tick more than 24 hours after my suspected exposure. I don't think I'm unusually diligent about checking for them.

The big caveat here is that the ticks that transmit Lyme are smaller than the ones I'm used to finding on me. I had a recent test that detected small amounts of a Lyme virus in my blood. I haven't seen any corresponding symptoms, so I don't have any guess ... (read more)

Yeah I think that mosquito map is showing the Zika-carrying species, but there are 40 other species in Washington. Mosquitos in New England (certainly Maine where I grew up) can be pretty brutal, especially when you include the weeks when the black flies and midges are also biting.

(I wrote a post laying out some notes about Austin, but wasn't logged in. When I logged in the post was lost. So, this is a note for the site developers that this is a pretty bad failure case.)

Sent you a PM. My guess is we should be able to help you recover it, unless you are using Brave, which I think has broken localstorage in a way that might combine badly with the way we use it.

Have you thought about Frederick, MD? I am really just suggesting that out of self interest since it's sort of close to me, but here is my pitch:

-One hour train ride/drive to dc--lots of people work in dc and take the train in

-Super charming main street with lots of coffee shops/art galleries/public art walk/gardens/small museums/unique gyms

-Attractive river/canal/creek/not-sure-what-it-is running through town

-Beautiful and surrounded by nature--tons of hiking trails all around without getting in car. An easy drive to sugarloaf mountain, harpers ferry/the ... (read more)

nitpick: the chart describing mosquito prevalence indicates that minnesota is mosquito-free, which i can tell you is blatantly untrue (although it probably is true that bellingham, WA has fairly few mosquitos). this may be because those 2 mosquito species are not one of minnesota's problem species, but still, skepticism is warranted. minnesota summers have a shitton of mosquitos.

i would give a nomination for minneapolis, minnesota, although if a major criterion is "local culture and politics", i'm not sure how much to weight e.g. george floyd riots. i c... (read more)

I'm very curious what kind of "campus" type properties you're thinking of!

A YC-backed nonprofit, https://www.degreesoffreedom.org/, bought a fully functional campus in Vermont last year (Marlboro College). https://vtdigger.org/2020/07/23/sale-of-marlboro-college-campus-finalized/ -- for $1.75M, which seems like a steal to me (although later revelations suggest this might not have been the full price paid). Is this the kind of thing you were imagining?

(interesting side note: One of the founders, Seth Andrews, appears to have just last month been arrested fo... (read more)

I think that Scotland would be a not bad choice (Although I am obviously somewhat biased about that)

Speaks the language, plenty of nice scenery. Reasonably sensible political situation. (I would say overall better than america) Cool weather. Good public healthcare. Some nice uni towns with a fair bit of stem community. Downsides would include being further from america. (I don't know where all your colleges are located, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot were in america, and a fair few were in Europe.)

I would recommend looking somewhere on the outskirts of Dundee, St Andrews, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

3danohu1moThe legal situation around immigration makes the UK much less viable, IMO. Of course, any location will exclude the majority of the world who aren't allowed to live there. But the US has much of the existing community, and other options (EU, Canada) benefit from either a big population of a liberal migration policy.

I imagine that the Peekskill, New York location might be similar in setting, environment, and overall relationship to NYC as Princeton, NJ. So it might be worth talking to people who've spent time at one of the universities or institutes in Princeton in order to understand the relative merits of such a setting and how they felt about the balance there between rural and urban. 

(My disclosure is that I have spent time in such a setting and found it overly isolating, to the point of struggling to get any useful work completed there, and ended up moving t... (read more)

You mention having a second office in "the city proper": Would that be referring to Bellingham and Peekskill or Seattle and NYC? Alternatively would working from home some days of the week be viable for many employees?

I ask this because to me these would make the difference for the viability of living mainly in Seattle/NYC and spending 3 days a week at the campus, as opposed to the reverse case of living mainly near the campus and going into the city on weekends.

This isn't a huge difference from the perspective of doing things on weekends, but it makes a d... (read more)

5Rob Bensinger1mo"The city proper" meaning Bellingham / Peekskill. If we moved to Bellingham, I (speculatively) imagine MIRI organizing trips to Seattle or Vancouver once every week or two, including trips to the big universities in those cities, including big-university meetups once or twice a year. I haven't heard discussion of how much rationalists would personally want to hop back and forth between the cities, and I haven't heard a MIRI employee say they'd prefer to live in Seattle and commute. Having to regularly commute from Seattle to Bellingham sounds doable but pretty unpleasant to me. (Maybe better if you're working weird hours, so you can avoid the worst traffic.) If we moved to Peekskill, I imagine more interaction than that with NYC. (Partly because NYC has more attractions than Seattle/Vancouver; partly because Peekskill has fewer attractions than Bellingham; and partly because the regular trains make it so much more convenient to travel between Peekskill and NYC.) I can more easily imagine worlds where some MIRI staff lived and worked in NYC itself, though I think MIRI's first-pass goal would be to have as many staff as possible working in the Peekskill area. I already do MIRI work from home a lot in Berkeley. (Well, I did pre-COVID; my living arrangement is weird now.) I think MIRI is pretty pragmatic and case-specific about this, rather than having top-down rules. (Though all else equal, having people in the same place where they can readily interact face-to-face seems better to me.)
9dspeyer1moYou may be underestimating the mental health benefits of being immersed in a larger community. If you apply the “Comfort In. Dump Out” model of emotional support to the stress of MIRI, having strong relationships with people with less stressful lives is really important. If MIRIans are living in a little bubble with no one to dump on but each other, stress just builds.
7johnswentworth1moEh? What is stressful about MIRI? I haven't worked there personally, but I've been doing (I think) similar work for over a year now, and it's far and away the most fun and lowest-stress job I've ever had.

Some more fuel for Austin:

While the comparison is not made directly in this article, I think there is somewhat of a tick vs. mosquito trade-off being made specifically between the NY/Peekskill and Austin sites, given that NY is just barely out of the mosquito area on that map, and Austin is right in it.

But I mention this to say, as a native Southern Louisianan, I'd be far more wary of getting Lyme disease than being bothered by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, while sometimes annoyingly resilient to repellents and things, are simultaneously rather fickle ~ a slight... (read more)

Austin is not "Western, desert, dryer air". It's usually 60-70% relative humidity. (https://www.weather-us.com/en/texas-usa/austin-climate) While those are basically the same relative humidity numbers as Berkeley (https://www.weather-us.com/en/california-usa/berkeley-climate), in the summer it reaches that level of humidity while temperatures are in the 90s or 100s.

Dry western air starts a little bit west of the Balcones Escarpment, which Austin is at the foothills of.

Austin is noticeably less humid than Houston. But it's nothing like the dryness of California. It actually has the same annual precipitation as Seattle (just in a few big storms, rather than a constant drizzle).

6Rob Bensinger1moThanks, this is helpful stuff. :) I encourage folks to try to gesture at the considerations that seem strongest to them (or that would seem strongest to them if they had slightly more MIRI-ish goals or beliefs, possibly), even if the end result sounds "subjective" or is hard to put into words. I think Peekskill has ticks and mosquitoes (while Bellingham has neither). If I'm wrong, and the Peekskill area has very mild mosquito seasons, that would be an important positive update for me.
2Rob Bensinger1mo(Or maybe it would be better to focus on your own preferences and beliefs, since trying to simulate MIRI's might add more noise than signal? Maybe if you're explicit about the delta between your view and the simulated-MIRI view it will be fine.)

If you are considering New Hampshire, you should also look at Western Massachusetts.  Both offer the opportunity to drive to Boston, but without high city land prices.  Western Mass also has many colleges including University of Mass at Amherst.  Lyme disease, however, is a problem.

Although we’ve been focusing heavily on the US in our search, we’re also still interested in country suggestions

One thing I as a non-US citizen am interested in is whether alternate countries are easier to immigrate into. Some light research just now seems to show that Canada has a more liberal immigration policy. I tried finding a list of countries by ease of immigration, but couldn't immediately find anything like that.

I'll see whether I can make a more concrete alternative suggestion, but I just wanted to mention the question of immigration in case y... (read more)

I think Reno is the one I would be most likely to move to. It's fairly close to the SF Bay Area, which is where my family lives, and thus a major plus for me (and major minus for anywhere on the east coast). It's also one of the sunniest places, which would significantly enhance my enjoyment of being outside (I know the luminators are pretty good for SAD indoors, but going outside still doesn't give me the same boost/refreshment if it's cloudy/dreary). I'd prefer it over Austin because I'm wary of living in a red state. Unfortunately, Reno has an ugly aesthetic IMO, but it also has a very nostalgic feeling for me since I grew up in Utah, which is similar minus the neon. Another nice thing is that it's close to lake Tahoe.

I am expecting to "settle down" in either the Bay Area or Seattle. So I like the Bellingham option.

5ESRogs1mo(I don't expect to live on or immediately next to the proto-campus, but it would be cool to be somewhat nearby.)

I moved to Seattle from the Bay Area, and while I love the weather and relatively sane rent and general environment around here, I think 14% of the US population having a mild form of SAD should be one of the dominating factors in decisionmaking. I have mild SAD, which I find acceptable because I'm not standing in any civilizational bottlenecks, but I would move if I worked at an EA organization and considered my work very important.

If you guys consider SAD to be a solved problem via more dakka, then I retract this and mostly recommend the area.

Personal reaction: I'd like to live in the same place as MIRI, and I'd like to live not very far from a city. So my favourite options out of those are Austin and Reno. I hear that colder places mysteriously have better weather and less crime, so maybe Reno is better, but Austin seems better on a more inside view.

I'm probably biased, but I do think Australia scores well on stability and access to nice nature. New Zealand probably does even better, but Australia has the advantage (disadvantage?) of being the centre of mass for business.

Australia doesn't have a strong intellectual culture (as an Australian that is why I moved to the USA). 
Australia is beautiful and a wonderful place to relax though. However immigration there is very difficult.

5DanielFilan1moI do kind of like the idea of living in New Hampshire with the libertarians, but there's not enough cool stuff there AFAICT. Also, I think people pretty rarely drive/train an hour to go places unless that's where they work, so I predict that if I lived an hour away from some big city, I would basically never go there. But maybe there are benefits to being near a big city that don't come from ever going there?
4pmetzger1moThere's loads of cool stuff in New Hampshire and the environs. If Peekskill is in serious contention, then there is good reason to check out New Hampshire, which is significantly better along most axes. I'd recommend that you physically send people to look around for a couple of weeks. I will second the claim that being more than an hour from a city means most people will not casually go there.
5Rob Bensinger1moWe've spent physical time in Bellingham, Peekskill, NH, and various other options on our list. (And I expect us to continue making more visits as we weigh the options.)
3jkh1moWant to emphasize this point. Peekskill is in a partially recovered Rust Belt area, you will not find that many enjoyable activities, except after the ~2 hour train ride to NYC. Portsmouth and a large number of towns in southern New Hampshire are extremely nice places by themselves, in addition to their proximity to Boston.
2DanielFilan1moAnyway all the above makes the WA location look better than the NY one to me, in terms of the top two choices.
2habryka1moWhich of the above? Isn't the WA location substantially farther away from Seattle?
2DanielFilan1moThe above two comments. WA place is further away from Seattle, but my sense is that both are de facto infinitely far away from the nearest big city.
4DanielFilan1moNot that I've ever visited (but I do plan to this summer).

Although we’ve been focusing heavily on the US in our search, we’re also still interested in country suggestions

Any strong reason for preferring US locations? For example, Singapore has many advantages like having a broadly competent government/bureaucracy, local politics different enough from typical AngloAmerican issues that staff will be disinclined to wade in, lots of smart and mathematically competent people from local universities, English native language, a thriving expat community, tropical weather, etc. 

(Btw the text editor is very annoying for quotes).

I think Singapore is very high on my "city to do finance in" list and not very high on my "naturey place to do thinking in" list, and as pointed out the LGBTQ acceptance is probably low enough to dissuade some people from going there.

Singapore seems too socially conservative, though.

8habryka1moIn the comment above you used line-breaks instead of paragraph breaks (probably by pressing shift-enter). This makes everything one big paragraph, and makes formatting paragraph level be quite janky. It also messes up the spacing (since paragraph breaks are a bit smaller than a full empty line). That's probably what caused the pain. I fixed your comment, but seemed useful to leave a note for posterity.
4Linch1mo(I was unimpressed by S'Pore's handling of covid, but it was still so much better than the US that it's not really comparable).

Since my last comment here did not seem to work I put it in a google document. This is a way to deep dive on where are the best places in the USA to raise a family with more than two kids: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tq9rY1TCs49XHckWtzOowYz_xHXFnRpOZq8r0lE5JSQ/edit#heading=h.cywpygwwkhbl

Bellingham was also one of my top finalists for a personal move after I spent dozens of hours poring over statistics and maps.   I used a tool on city-data.com that works like a stock screener for cities.

http://www.city-data.com/advanced/search.php#body?fips=0&csize=a&sc=10&sd=1&states=ALL&near=&nam_crit1=5195&b5195=20000&e5195=MAX&i5195=1&nam_crit2=1033&b1033=20000&e1033=MAX&i1033=1&nam_crit3=5900&b5900=MIN&e5900=5&i5900=1&nam_crit4=4048&b4048=MIN&e4048=45&i4048=1&... (read more)

I have a property I would like to suggest, but strangely considering that you are MIRI's communications lead, I can find no email address where I can contact you, Rob. In fact, you apparently have LinkedIn set so that I cannot connect with you there and I cannot send you a message through there, or here. 

Anyway, I suggest that you consider Richmond, VA. There are many good properties that are large and relatively secluded but also offer very easy (~20 min) access to downtown Richmond, which is a growing city of ~250,000 (metro 1,000,000+) and college ... (read more)

2Rob Bensinger1moThanks for the suggestion! Not sure why you can't contact me on LinkedIn, but I check email (and LW PM) more anyway; here's my email [rob@intelligence.org].

As a midwesterner: Columbus OH, various Chicago suburbs, and various Detroit suburbs should be on your list. Plausibly also Kalamazoo MI and Bloomington-Normal IL.

On the smaller population side, another town similar to Champaign-Urbana IL is Ithaca NY.

2Rob Bensinger1moI'm sure we looked at all those areas to some degree, though I wasn't involved in the process that sorted them to 'not top 30', so I don't know what made them look less attractive. Ithaca specifically is on a list of 14+ cities that Alex classified as one tier below our top thirty: "Moved to backburner; had varying levels of initial interest but also flags; investigated and deprioritized; plausible something could bump them back onto our radar, but seems unlikely."

I'm curious about the list of places that would be good except that they don't have the right kind of property available.

5Rob Bensinger1moThis is basically all the places I mentioned except the Bellingham and Peekskill areas: * West Coast: Bend, OR; Eugene, OR; Issaquah, WA; North Bend, WA * Rocky Mountain: Boulder, CO; Fort Collins, CO; Bozeman, MT; Missoula, MT * Southwest: Austin, TX; Reno, NV * Great Plains: — * Midwest: Urbana-Champaign, IL; Bloomington, IN; West Lafayette, IN; Ann Arbor, MI; Madison, WI * South: Asheville, NC; Greensboro, NC; Blacksburg, VA * Mid-Atlantic: Rochester, NY; the Philadelphia, PA area (e.g., Lambertville, NJ) * New England: the Amherst/Springfield, MA area; the outskirts of the Boston metropolitan area (e.g., Norwood, MA); Portland, ME; the parts of NH nearest Boston; Keene, NH; Portsmouth, NH; Burlington, VT (Marking our favorite no-property-found-yet options with underline.)

No Raleigh/RTP? They make the top of the city rankings for the US. I spent some time there and concur. https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/region_rankings.jsp?title=2021&region=019

6Rob Bensinger1moResearch Triangle Park is on the list of 14+ cities that Alex classified one tier below our top thirty (as of one month ago): "Moved to backburner; had varying levels of initial interest but also flags; investigated and deprioritized; plausible something could bump them back onto our radar, but seems unlikely." Along with places like Ithaca NY, Salt Lake City UT, Pittsburgh / CMU, Princeton NJ, and Providence RI. I wasn't involved in the decision process, so I don't know why those fell to the backburner (maybe Alex or Blake will chime in later). Them being classified like that is both a positive update (we thought they were promising enough to seriously consider them) and a negative one (we've already investigated them and ran into obstacles or flags). I wouldn't be shocked if someplace on that list makes it to our shortlist in the future, and am in favor of hearing more impressions/arguments/considerations about places like those. I mentioned there's maybe a 50/50 chance we change criteria (to pivot away from our focus on finding a campus) soon, in which case I expect the set of promising places to look pretty different.
6rpmadden1moI pitched a particular campus near Providence, RI in an email to Alex which I think meets at least most of the criteria I've seen. I'll mention a few more general thoughts in favor of RI here: * Great beaches, state parks, and hiking trails * Less than an hour drive or train ride to/from Boston (same as I think you'd get from southern NH - Boston rush hour is going to be rough for driving regardless of which direction you're coming from) * Providence itself is a decent city, although it doesn't have a big tech scene * Multiple good colleges/universities within a few hours away (Brown is right in Providence) * Less snow in RI compared to NH (NH snow tends to stick around longer too) * Tick/mosquito control may be feasible for the property itself (https://www.bigbluebug.com/mosquito-and-tick-control), though this wouldn't help for anyone planning to hike all over the state (although if you stick more to beaches than hiking trails, it's not as much as a problem compared to NH in general) I live in NH and have family in RI that I visit a few times a (non-plague) year. In general, RI has always seemed similar to southern NH to me both aesthetically and culturally (but with more ocean instead of lakes). So if MIRI were thinking about places in southern NH, I would think RI would have a lot of similar tradeoffs (besides maybe taxes, which I'd guess is better for business/property in RI but worse for individual/sales/income).
5Ben Pace1moI’m curious for examples of properties that were ruled out and why.

I poked Alex about this, and he didn't have links to specific properties on hand, but he did rattle off some common reasons candidate campuses haven't worked out:

  1. Too far away from anything else.
  2. Related: lack of Uber / UberEats availability.
  3. Reasons to think building more will be very difficult. E.g., the land is in a conservation easement, or it's zoned farmland. (Causing something to no longer be zoned as farmland will generally be impossible or very difficult.)
  4. The buildings don't have enough square footage for us to start researching there in the next few months.
  5. We're not excited enough about the city and/or area.
  6. The land is too small. We've found some really badass buildings, but on a tiny lot surrounded by neighbors, so no space/privacy.

A thing that's an important bonus is if the property is already split into multiple lots. If it's not split into lots, that's another huge preliminary part of the process that has to be done before we develop the property (and it might turn out to be impossible).

Usually you can have one building (and maybe one secondary building) per lot. If you have 50 acres that's designated as a single enormous lot, then you're likely to have to split it before building on it, which adds an additional bureaucratic nightmare to the process.

[+][comment deleted]1mo 9
[+][comment deleted]1mo 2