Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Cities and antifragility

There are quite a few reviewers at Amazon who enjoyed and appreciated Taleb's Antifragile. Many of them mention the fun they had reading it.  Factoids everwhere. Some dinner guests are more fun and entertaining than others, but they may stay a while and most things are good in small doses.  So, in my view, is this book.

I get it that our bones are great because stress makes them stronger.  We rightly appreciate everything with that quality.  Nietzsche's "what does not kill me makes me stronger is approvingly cited."  We have learned that preventing small forest fires makes the big ones more devastating.

Early in the book, Taleb presents a long table, "The central triad: three types of exposure."  The three columns are "fragile", "robust", and "antifragile."  He wants readers to grasp that his idea of "antifragile" is distinct from "robust".  There is a triad, not a diad.  He provides many examples.  In the row labeled "knowledge", "theory" is in column one (fragile), "expertise" in column two (robust), "erudition" is in three (antifragile).

I counted 63 rows (examples).  It is interesting that many have the middle column blank.  Fill these in?  A parlor game for your next dinner party?

Taleb's last row is labeled "Urbanism". Taleb puts Robert Moses and Le Corbusier in the "fragile" column and Jane Jacobs in the "antifragile" column.  The middle, "robust" column is left blank.

Cities survive via flexbility. Land markets should do their thing (allow for flexbility).  The labor force should likewise be adaptable and be able to gain new skills and be allowed into new occupations. Fixed capital is best if it can easily be retrofitted. Think of lofts and apartments in old industrial or office buildings.  I had been calling it "adaptability" but a case can be made that successful adaptations increase the odds of more of them in the future.  Call that "antifragility".  If we define "cities" in terms of their broadest spatial boundaries, we find greatest rank-order stability at the top of the size rankings.