Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Romanticizing the urban pioneer

After nearly two years of looking, my wife and I bought a house in November of last year. We wanted to live in a specific neighbourhood (The Junction Triangle) and we wanted a basement that I could stand up in (a tough ask, since I'm six foot five). Also we didn't want to buy a total piece of crap. Hence, it took us almost two years to find a house. And I will be the first one to admit that we were lucky -- although we were also smart enough to act immediately on our good luck when the right house finally appeared.

Since we had been looking for so long, it was impossible not to notice that prices were steadily (and in some cases exponentially) increasing in the neighbourhood. The rail path, plus a few new restaurants/amenities in the area helped push up property prices. Plus it's on the subway line, and it was clear the neighbourhood was on the upswing.

Of course if I had a time machine, I'd want to buy a house in the area back in 2006 or so, back when Yasi's Place first opened. You know, back when the neighbourhood was more edgy and thus less expensive.

That was, until last Saturday evening, when our next door neighbours (literally, we live in a semi-detached) invited us over for drinks. A few other couples who live across the street joined us and we had some wine/beer and talked about our block. Everyone but us had purchased their house at least four or five years ago. And it turns out that it wasn't all roses and sunshine back then. The usual palette of drugs and prostitution, along with assorted other random craziness.

I really would like to say that this sort of urban pioneering lifestyle appeals to me, especially given how much less my neighbours paid for their houses. But it's only in retrospect that this kind of endurance contest is worthwhile. The city of Toronto doesn't send you a letter in the mail saying "Congratulations! Your home is in a somewhat sketchy area, but we guarantee it will improve by 2009 or we'll cheerfully refund your money." There is a price to be paid for navigating these type of pioneer frustrations.

All of this is a fancy way of restating something I heard fairly often while we were looking for a house -- there are no bargains or magic deals in real estate. The market does a fairly good job of figuring out what houses are worth. It's just sometimes you have to pay in less obvious ways.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Art is like a silkscreen - each work almost the same

“Despite art’s reputation for distinctiveness and originality, its value is established not by the narcissism of small differences but by the megalomania of sameness.”

-- “On the Market” in N+1 #13, Alice Gregory

Monday, April 09, 2012

The dystopic potential of gamification

Although there is a certain utopian appeal to McGonigal’s “games for change” model, I worry about the dystopic potential of gamification. Instead of just bombarding us with jingles, corporations will be able to inject their messages directly into our minds with ads disguised as games. Gamification seeks to turn the world into one giant chore chart covered with achievement stickers — the kind of thing parents design for their children — though it raises the potentially terrifying question of who the parents are. This, I fear, is the dystopian future of stupid games: amoral corporations hiring teams of behavioral psychologists to laser-target our addiction cycles for profit.
-- Sam Anderson writing in the New York Times Magazine