I like and spend time in several cities which are very different from each other. Las Vegas, Hilo (Hawaii), Budapest, rural Halifax (our island), and Tokyo. On paper it would be hard to draw many links between those cities, which of course led me to think about why I liked all of them so much.
What I realized is that each of those cities has extremely low friction.
San Francisco is a very high friction city. Everything is expensive there, so unless you are wealthy, eating out for meals feels a little bit stressful. Is it really worth $25 for a non-Chipotle dinner? Getting places is stressful because you have to take ubers to most places and they are expensive and exposed to traffic. The homeless problem has grown so out of control that you are almost certain to be confronted with feces and heroin needles during your visit.
New York is also very high friction. The subway is swelteringly hot during the summer and has none of the efficiency or thoughtfulness of systems in other cities like Tokyo. Real estate is expensive, so your living situation is likely to have a bit of friction. Like San Francisco, everything is expensive. Getting to the airport can take a couple hours or $80, depending on whether you take the train or uber.
Morocco has a different type of friction. Things are cheap and cities are easy to walk, but as a tourist you are constantly peddled to and are lied to in an effort to extract more money.
None of these factors is really a dealbreaker on its own, and of course every city has some level of friction. These high friction cities hit some critical threshhold, though, where the experience of living there is stressful. Everything feels like a chore. Whenever I go to Central Park in New York I feel a huge sense of relief, because I have somewhere I can reasonably be without paying, and there's no friction once you're inside.
The common perception of these cities does not include the friction. San Francisco has a breezy idyllic air that, in my experience, is all but gone. Once in a while you walk down the right street with the right weather and no one shooting up heroin, and it still feels that way. If you live there, though, you are subject to a lot of friction.
I never meant to move to Las Vegas. Even when I bought my house there I would have emphatically told you that I had no intention of moving to a city like Las Vegas. Now I proudly call it home. I think it's the nearly complete lack of friction that made me fall in love with it.
One of the things guests often notice upon visiting Las Vegas is how nice everyone is. I'm used to it, so it always makes me stop and think when they bring it up.
My theory, based only on logic and anecdotal evidence, is that it's hard to be friendly when you live in a high friction city. The things you need to do for yourself require so much extra work that you have limited capacity for others, especially for strangers. The financial pressures bearing down on you put you in a state of stress and limit what you can do with your time.
San Francisco used to be an incredible place to live. I remember thinking upon going there the first time that anyone who wasn't actively trying to move to San Francisco was out of their mind. Now I think something roughly opposite of that.
It's hard to understand how the friction of a place wears on you until you're free of that burden. I think that many of our "great" cities have a utilization that exceeds their low-friction threshhold, and that their reputations haven't caught up to reality.
In Las Vegas, Hilo, and rural Halifax it's easy to get around by car and you never have to think about parking. In Tokyo and Budapest it's easy to walk and take public transportation everywhere. Meals are reasonably priced and are good quality in all five. Housing is reasonable. People are extremely nice. Though very different in many ways, each of these places is a very low friction place in which to live.
People are so stressed out these days that they're having physical health problems. I've seen it. One of my family members moved from NY to Austin and their health problems largely vanished. Think about living somewhere with lower friction. It's better for you and is a lot more enjoyable
Photo is from the teahouse in Hilo. I'm heading there this weekend and can't wait to do more tea classes.
Have you heard of Astrocartography? its locational astrology based on your natal chart. I wonder if you have good planetary lines through your favorite cites..
Thanks, great article. I've lived in Taipei, Taiwan for 6 years. Have always explained that it is an awesome place because "it is convenient". This notion of high/low frictions puts some better words on my perception. So, thank you. If you have not yet visited, consider Taipei as it is truly a hidden gem in Asia.
The tech industry has pretty much ruined San Francisco. I remember living there in the early dot com days and it was amazing. Los Angeles is another city that’s beginning to feel high friction for me. Value for money is almost always extremely low, especially when it comes to housing, it’s an incredible chore to even go to the store much less go out anywhere. Really I don’t even bother going anywhere or exploring anymore because it just never feels worth it, driving and parking is always a hassle, everyone drives like an idiot. The only times the city truly feels worth it is when half the population is gone in December and January.
Very interesing perspective and while I haven't thought of it in exactly these terms, this is exactly why I love living in Bangkok. Most convenient city I've ever been to. Super easy and cheap to get around, literally voted the best city in the world for food many years in a row, people are friendly and you meet interesting people all the time, something for everyone here. Definitely a low friction city.
I recommend moving to my adopted hometown of Mariposa, CA - the gateway to Yosemite. Minimal friction. Minimal anything. No fretting about where to eat out, 'cause there's only three choices. Wildfires? Sure, but just calmly drive through the smoke, and in 90 easy minutes you're in Fresno where you can grab a plane to Vegas.
Great post. Makes me evaluate London where I currently live. In some ways it is low friction, because there is so much green space and transportation is easy to navigate and frequent, plus it's a very walkable city. But in other ways it's high friction because the cost of that transportation is high, along with other things, which makes it stressful. But I still love it.
When I first bought my place in Vegas, I did it only because it was an incredible deal. As a frequent visitor to Vegas I assumed that I'd stay there once in a while, and AirBnb it out to recoup my costs. Or if it turned out that I really came to dislike Vegas after spending more time there, I could sell the condo with a small percentage loss that would amount to very little.
Fast forward two years and now I live here, as much as I live anywhere. I haven't analyzed my time, but I'd guess that I spend about half my year here, usually in one or two week chunks.
What strikes me most about Vegas is that it's certainly a place that more people should live. It's not for everyone, of course, but cultural assumptions about it are certainly keeping people out who should be in.
Here are some of the things I love about Vegas:
I love San Francisco so much that every time I return here from a trip, I resolve to stay for a while and enjoy the city. That never happens. Next week I'm going to Tahoe, then Vegas the following weekend, and then to Austin for SXSW the week after that. Cabo or Hawaii follows in early March, but in late April comes the most exciting upcoming trip: a sixteen day cruise to Rome.
Cruises are full of old people. As best I can tell, that's because young people haven't figured out how awesome and cheap they can be. In fact, I can easily say that of all the travel I've done, cruises probably represent the best bang for the buck.
Before I tell you how to get them cheap, let me tell you why cruises, especially long duration one-way cruises are amazing.
One of my favorite aspects of cruises is that they can take you to places you may not otherwise visit. For example, the cruise my friends and I are taking stops in the Azores, Seville (Spain), Valencia (Spain), Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Without cruising, I probably would never make it to the Azores, and those southern Spanish cities are unlikely as well. They're just too remote and too expensive to come up at the top of my list when choosing a trip.