MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion

post by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-08T23:12:02.476Z · LW · GW · 164 comments


  What kind of place we're looking for
  Our current top choices

Added June 28: Blake Borgeson comments [LW(p) · GW(p)] below,

Update: After a lot more discussion and thinking things over, MIRI has decided against relocating away from the Bay Area, unless a new impetus comes along to move some time in the future.

Mainly, ongoing/propagating strategic updates are behind this decision. We're more uncertain about our strategy overall following our 2020 strategy update (https://intelligence.org/2020/12/21/2020-updates-and-strategy/#3), so we’d rather not pay a big up-front move cost based on a prediction about what we expect MIRI to look like 2 or 5 years from now. Related to the same strategic updates, over the next 12 months or so we plan to experiment with placing less of an emphasis on staff working from our Berkeley base, and expect some staff to live and work from other places. 

Separately, in the background, considerations against our recent favorite places became stronger:

  • Bellingham is far away from big cities, and it seemed increasingly like MIRI would be more isolated there than we wanted. Also, we became more concerned about low light levels during winter months.
  • The area around Peekskill has some of the highest Lyme disease incidence in the US, and it seems possible this is a high enough risk of disability to cause us to want to avoid it. We were still investigating this when we ended our location search.

Who am I? I’m a MIRI board member, and was in recent months leading/coordinating this MIRI relocation decision process, which is now complete. 

Thanks for all the feedback in these comments, in emails, and on Facebook. I (and probably others) read all of it I could find, and it was important input for us.


Original post:


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:

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 [LW · GW] and November [LW · GW]? 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:

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...


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.


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.


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:


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:

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:

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.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by abergal · 2021-05-12T00:17:51.100Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.]

Replies from: theme_arrow, RyanCarey
comment by theme_arrow · 2021-05-12T03:26:04.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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. 

Replies from: dspeyer
comment by dspeyer · 2021-05-12T07:03:17.823Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Less 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.

comment by RyanCarey · 2021-05-12T14:40:32.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

comment by blakeb · 2021-06-28T22:55:14.076Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Update: After a lot more discussion and thinking things over, MIRI has decided against relocating away from the Bay Area, unless a new impetus comes along to move some time in the future.

Mainly, ongoing/propagating strategic updates are behind this decision. We're more uncertain about our strategy overall following our 2020 strategy update (https://intelligence.org/2020/12/21/2020-updates-and-strategy/#3), so we’d rather not pay a big up-front move cost based on a prediction about what we expect MIRI to look like 2 or 5 years from now. Related to the same strategic updates, over the next 12 months or so we plan to experiment with placing less of an emphasis on staff working from our Berkeley base, and expect some staff to live and work from other places. 

Separately, in the background, considerations against our recent favorite places became stronger:

  • Bellingham is far away from big cities, and it seemed increasingly like MIRI would be more isolated there than we wanted. Also, we became more concerned about low light levels during winter months.
  • The area around Peekskill has some of the highest Lyme disease incidence in the US, and it seems possible this is a high enough risk of disability to cause us to want to avoid it. We were still investigating this when we ended our location search.

Who am I? I’m a MIRI board member, and was in recent months leading/coordinating this MIRI relocation decision process, which is now complete. 

Thanks for all the feedback in these comments, in emails, and on Facebook. I (and probably others) read all of it I could find, and it was important input for us.

comment by seez · 2021-05-09T15:01:41.100Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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). 

Replies from: adamzerner, maia, tyler-alterman-1
comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T20:21:48.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by maia · 2021-05-10T15:11:08.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

+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.

comment by Tyler Alterman (tyler-alterman-1) · 2021-05-10T18:13:58.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might make sense for MIRI to just rent an apartment in NYC

comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-09T02:41:54.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.


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.


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 estimate of the breakdown is:

  • 25% dislike the hot weather, maybe at the level of planning vacations to get away from it, but otherwise didn't seem strongly affected by it
  • 60% would prefer cooler weather, and avoid things like running or cycling during the hot part of the day, but otherwise seem perfectly fine with it
  • 15% actually enjoy the hot weather, at least on the not-super-hot days, would go for 80 mile bike rides in it, etc

The sample here is maybe 50% UT students, plus some cyclists, effective altruists, rationalists, and others, mostly between roughly 20 and 40 years old, and mostly from out of state. At least half of the people who really like hot weather are competitive cyclists.

An important thing to keep in mind about Austin is that, unlike the Bay Area, almost every building that holds humans has air conditioning, so it really is only an outside thing. The evenings are great and you never have carry a jacket between May-ish and October-ish. Overall, I don't get the impression that people find the hot Austin summers more bothersome than a typical winter in a place that gets snow.

Here are things that I personally like about Austin:

  • The LessWrong and EA community is strong. There are reliable meetups multiple times per week with interesting and fun people. Personally, I found them to result in, on average, more interesting conversations than meetups in the Bay Area.
  • It has a great live music scene, most of which is cheap (<$10) or free, and which is a mix small shows in crowded bars and huge concerts in the park in the summer.
  • SXSW is is neat. There are lots of music shows, talks, film screenings, and exhibits, a substantial portion of which do not require registration or a badge or anything. It is very crowded and makes it hard to get around the city for a couple weeks. For me this was fine because I like meeting strangers and transportation via bike isn't all that strongly impacted, but for many people who live in the city it is very, very annoying.
  • The food is good in general, and there are lots of good vegan/vegetarian options. Better grocery stores than other places I've lived
  • It has a great cycling scene, for everything from casual recreational riding to serious competitive cycling.
  • You can get in a tube to float down the river and get so engrossed in conversation that you don't notice you've just been circling around an eddy for the last 40 minutes.

Here are things I do not like about Austin:

  • Sometimes getting around is hard. You can reliably get an Uber at more-or-less any time, but traffic gets quite bad during rush hour, on game days, during SXSW, etc. It's decent, but not great for getting around on a bike, but traffic is getting worse, driving culture is getting more aggressive, and the city engineers or whoever designs infrastructure do not seem very competent to me
  • There's enough of the illiberal-left culture to be a problem sometimes. The protests/riots there were kind of bad, though very contained. The university and many of its students have very little tolerance for divergent views on many political topics. It's not too hard to avoid unpleasant encounters, but I don't feel entirely at ease discussing certain things in public or with people I do not know well
  • It is not that great for most of my preferred kind of outdoor activities. There are no proper mountains nearby and none of the parks is big enough for a solid 3+ night backpacking trip. Big Bend is great, but it's 7hrs away.

Other thoughts:

I do not think Austin feels all that calm, quiet, or close to nature. It will become more crowded, traffic will get worse, and rent will go up, but that's partly (mostly?) because smart/interesting people are moving there. The quietest neighborhoods are not bad, and depending on what you're willing to pay, there are some beautiful places to live there. If you're looking for places near Austin, but out of the city, I think Dripping Springs, Georgetown, New Braunfels/Gruene, Waco, and Wimberley seem nice. The Texas Hill Country has some great places to rent a cabin and actually get away from all the people/noise for a while.

Replies from: RobbBB, brandon-reinhart, Benito, brandon-reinhart
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T03:22:31.152Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.

Replies from: Vaniver, Grothor
comment by Vaniver · 2021-05-09T05:04:04.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Better grocery stores than other places I've lived" - Where have you lived, if you don't mind my asking?

Austin is the home of Whole Foods, and the typical mainstream grocery store is HEB, which was prepping for COVID in January 2020; 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.

Replies from: Grothor
comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-09T05:30:35.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, 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.

comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-09T05:44:30.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do have to worry that there's a selection effect!

I 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.

Where have you lived, if you don't mind my asking?

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.

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.

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.

comment by Brandon Reinhart (brandon-reinhart) · 2021-05-09T03:46:00.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'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.

Replies from: Grothor
comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-09T05:28:58.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool! 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 :)

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-05-09T10:07:52.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a great comment, thanks. (Other people doing comments in this style would also be pretty great.)

comment by Brandon Reinhart (brandon-reinhart) · 2021-05-09T03:30:12.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.)

Replies from: meta_ark, Grothor
comment by meta_ark · 2021-05-10T22:32:27.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Super-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 and https://www.quacksbakery.com/ 

comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-09T05:32:10.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'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.

comment by justin · 2021-05-09T05:18:54.170Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 considering moving the community en masse, as discussed in the earlier posts, the only communities I can think of that have successfully done that have not left by choice. While in two minutes of thought I haven't come up with a way to drive the rationalists from the bay without physical risk or legal jeopardy, that does not mean it can't be done. Short of that, schisms can do wonders for motivation.

Replies from: adamzerner, RobbBB
comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T06:37:32.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T05:34:08.997Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this is excellent food for thought. I may come back and ask you for more of your models later.

Replies from: justin
comment by justin · 2021-05-09T06:00:55.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course. Just let me know if I can be of help.

comment by Hschell · 2021-05-09T16:59:45.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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. Very few people want to leave this area and many make career compromises in order to stay in Bellingham.
  • Excellent place for fungophiles and outdoor enthusiasts. Mushroom hunting is a popular activity here in the PNW which an abundance of fruiting bodies in the fall. Bellingham hosts an annual Ski to Sea race that combines skiing, biking, and kayaking. There is a community boating center in Bellingham that offers access to kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, and more at an affordable rental cost. Easy access to Bellingham Bay, the Chuckanut Mts right outside of town, Whatcom Falls, and the Cascades Mts within an hour. Mt. Baker nearby is perfect for those who enjoy snow sports in the Winter.  Also close to the San Juan Islands accessible by ferry, another incredible outdoor area to camp and explore.
  • Most people leave due to the lack of job opportunities here in Bellingham. Finding jobs for partners, colleagues, and friends could be quite challenging. This would be the biggest drawback of the area IMO along with low salaries. Though at this time many companies have shifted to create more remote work opportunities than in previous years and may continue this trend.
  • Low-cost rentals and properties are a big plus, as well as beautiful pieces of land for sale (some with existing structures) in the area surrounding Bellingham that would make for great campus options. Whatcom County is a gorgeous place to live.  A quick craigslist search for rentals yielded studios for under a $1,000, $1,500-1,800 for a 2 bedroom, $1700-2,800 for 3-4 bedrooms, and up to $4,000 for houses with 5-7 bedrooms. This could be helpful for those relocating to the area. Keep in mind that rental availability generally follows the academic year here in Bellingham. The median sale price for a home in Bellingham is appx. 537K at present, and property values are increasing quickly in this area.
  • There are a number of small spiritual communities including a Unitarian church, several Christian churches, an Islamic Mosque, and the Center for Spiritual Living. There is also the Red Cedar Zen Center, Mindfulness Northwest, Bellingham Insight, and the Shambala Center for those interested in meditation practice. The closest Sikh temple is in Lynden, WA.
  • This little city is expected to grow a lot over the next 20 years. Bellingham's population is increasing quickly as more relocate to this area.
  • The projected job growth rate is 41.7% according to Bellingham, Washington Economy (bestplaces.net) which also includes more information about taxes, jobs, and earning potential.
  • Close to Seattle and Vancouver airports great for most domestic and international flights. Flights from Seattle to the Bay area are quite affordable making frequent trips doable. Vancouver is an excellent option especially for international flights which are often cheaper than Seattle when the border is open (which has been closed due to COVID).
  • The potential to build a rationalist community between Seattle and Vancouver is high. There is a minimal presence compared to the Bay area- yet many people in these areas have similarly aligned interests and values. There are people here who would be interested in this community if a presence was established.

I hope some of this information is helpful. Bellingham is a beautiful community that many love to call home. Wishing you great fortune in your search for the right place.

Shekinah Alegra Schell

Replies from: kdbscott
comment by kdbscott · 2021-05-10T06:28:33.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How are the mosquitos on e.g. mushroom hunts?

comment by Malcolm Collins (malcolm-collins) · 2021-05-10T09:22:05.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

Replies from: MondSemmel, Cosmos, RobbBB, malcolm-collins
comment by MondSemmel · 2021-05-10T11:23:14.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FYI, 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.)

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-10T18:53:21.269Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, 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. 

Replies from: malcolm-collins
comment by Malcolm Collins (malcolm-collins) · 2021-05-15T09:00:18.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I added them later in the thread as individual files and they appear to have worked.

Replies from: dlr
comment by dlr · 2021-05-20T19:57:20.344Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

no, they are all still missing.   

comment by Cosmos · 2021-05-10T18:29:25.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brief 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.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-10T16:24:48.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.

comment by johnswentworth · 2021-05-09T22:26:24.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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: living in less-dense areas seems to make people independently-do-things more. Making radvac [LW · GW] is a good example; living in less-dense places seems to induce a mindset which makes that sort of project more likely to happen. Here's a completely made-up story about why this happens, based on having lived in both high-density and low-density places myself: suppose one day the build-something mood strikes me, and I want to go make a trebuchet. In a lower-density place, with a few acres of land around the house, I can just go out in the backyard and do that. (I grew up low-density, and did this sort of thing pretty regularly as a teenager.) In the middle of San Francisco, the project is entirely out of the question; the only way to do it within the city at all would probably involve getting a bunch of permits and buy-in from lots of people. In between those two extremes, if I live in an apartment complex with some space out back, I can probably build the thing, but I'll want to be careful about bothering the neighbors (e.g. with loud powertools).

From personal experience, this sort of thing happens a lot. There's all sorts of stuff which would be fun to just-go-build in the backyard if I had a few acres and my own house, but which I probably won't build at all in a city. And that feeds back on how one thinks about making things: in a place where building-a-thing requires buy-ins and permits, the default mental reaction to "I'd like to build a Thing" becomes "I need to get buy-in and permission", rather than "I need to run to the store for supplies".

Yudkowsky sometimes says there's things which we think of in the same category as going to the store to buy milk, and then there's everything else. Living in low-density places tends to make building-things live more in the category of going to the store to buy milk. It creates an affordance for independent action and building things.

Upshot of all this: MIRI's already looking for a place near nature with hiking trails and whatnot. I think low density has important mental benefits in its own right; just having dense housing near a nature reserve is not as good as having low-density housing. This argues more in favor of the more-remote areas.


There's already some comments here about needing a car as a downside. I think having a car and a license has some not-very-legible but very valuable benefits to one's mindset. It's similar to the previous section: having a car creates an affordance for going places, whenever and wherever one wants. I think the very large majority of people who have not ever had a car/license drastically underestimate the value of this affordance - i.e. I'd expect that if such people did get a car and license, >90% would think in hindsight that they drastically underestimated the value. (I've seen this happen to my girlfriend.)

My main message here is for people who have never had a car/license: there is a large illegible value here which you are probably underestimating, and I strongly recommend that you don't rule out places just because they require a car.

comment by pmetzger · 2021-05-10T00:27:51.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 regularly take multi-mile walks to clear my head. The views both from our (very affordable) home and along the road are fantastic, and the natural surroundings here are the rival of any other place I've ever visited. I've seen a lot of the state over the years, and one of the reasons we picked NH was that it's very pretty.

In terms of safety, most of my neighbors, in both towns I have lived in, leave their doors unlocked. Crime is exceptionally rare in most of the state. (It is so different in this regard that takes quite a while for a person who is used to dangerous urban environments to get used to it.)

I'm happy to talk to people about the advantages of New Hampshire in other contexts.

I would also like to make a pitch against New York City and the surrounding areas. I was a life-long New Yorker until recently, and I love the place, but the problems of New York City (and the state as a whole) are not very different in the end from those of California. I think NYC is in for a decade or two of decline unless there's a radical change in the local political culture which is unlikely to occur.

comment by dspeyer · 2021-05-09T00:29:39.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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%.

Replies from: BrienneYudkowsky, RobbBB, adamzerner
comment by LoganStrohl (BrienneYudkowsky) · 2021-05-09T19:42:37.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: mike_hawke, Benito
comment by mike_hawke · 2021-05-09T23:27:55.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: dlr, RobbBB
comment by dlr · 2021-05-20T22:24:15.887Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.        

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-10T17:03:07.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-05-09T19:51:22.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sunlight 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.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-09T20:11:57.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Same 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.

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-05-09T20:40:19.075Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. 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).

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T00:41:09.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

'Below 1%' is a very small number!

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2021-05-09T11:17:06.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T00:59:29.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An hour by train is an hour of relaxation or productive work

I 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.

Replies from: dspeyer
comment by dspeyer · 2021-05-09T01:03:28.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: adamzerner, RobbBB
comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T01:19:46.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, good point.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T01:25:27.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep, '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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T01:43:09.425Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One 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.

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2021-05-09T11:15:52.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by SoerenMind · 2021-05-12T21:54:36.776Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: Owain_Evans, Jakob_J
comment by Owain_Evans · 2021-05-14T08:05:48.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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). 

comment by Jakob_J · 2021-05-15T08:36:21.845Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Immigration 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.
Replies from: SoerenMind, Vika, TAG
comment by SoerenMind · 2021-05-16T16:52:08.304Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.
comment by Vika · 2021-05-24T12:20:31.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

+1 to everything Jacob said about living near London, plus the advantages of being near an existing AI safety hub (DeepMind, FHI, etc). 

comment by pseudocydonia · 2021-05-11T05:56:43.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 city has some genuine problems, it feels like the trend line for the future is optimistic, and I don't worry that the city's leadership will get sucked into deranged nonsense in the near- or long-term. Suffice to say this is sort of notable for this country.
- lower X risk. there are no natural disasters worse than the occasional snowstorm. It is supposedly the least disaster-prone major city in the US, and was almost chosen as a location for Alcor on this basis. The long-term prognosis for climate change is that the area will eventually have the weather of, say, Nashville or Atlanta today. 

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-05-09T19:52:49.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 [LW · GW]

comment by jkh (jkhales) · 2021-05-10T00:13:21.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: Naomi
comment by Naomi · 2021-05-10T00:19:44.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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!

comment by Jacob Falkovich (Jacobian) · 2021-05-09T01:32:20.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 Brooklyn, but the one thing that could make us move in the next year or two is a community of my tribe that are willing to help each other with childcare, from casual babysitting to homeschooling pods. I'm keenly following the news of where Rationalist groups are settling, especially those who plan to (like us) or already have kids. A critical mass of Rationalist parents in Peekskill may be enticing enough for us to move there, since we could have the combined benefits of living space, proximity to NYC, and the community support we would love.

comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T00:48:52.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 awesome to be a part of. (I haven't even started factoring in the cost of injuries, or the fact that cars are expensive.)
  • Historically, my thoughts on this have flip flopped, but right now I sense that there is a lot of value in having good weather. I used to think, "What's the difference? Most people spend a ton of time indoors anyway." But on the other hand, I sense that being outdoors has some really nice benefits for cognition and mood, and that you should try to spend a lot of time outside. Also, if you accept my argument against cars, you'll need good weather so walking/biking isn't too unpleasant. Unfortunately, in most locations, you'll either have to deal with temperatures that are too hot during the summer, or too cold during the winter (or both). The pacific northwest and California seem to be the only options for weather you can be outside comfortably year round. Unfortunately, PNW has a lack of sunlight, and California is expensive. I'm personally leaning towards the PNW, but I want to do some more research into the sunlight issue first. Anyone know how big a deal it is?
  • Something I've been thinking about is the extent to which you could really get by without a car if you don't live in a "real city". Well, I should know the answer to this already. I've spent 10+ years living in Pittsburgh (college), Gainesville, Culver City, and Las Vegas (downtown, Summerlin, Winchester, and Henderson) all without having a car. I think it's worked out fine overall. I just worry that the inconvenience prevents me from doing things like going to the park or the gym when I otherwise would. On the other hand, there are non big city locations where most of what you need is pretty conveniently located. Eg. when I lived in Summerlin, I was a 5 minute walk away from a library, great restaurants and a movie theatre, and was a ~15 minute bike ride away from a grocery store, park, casino, outdoor mall, bike trail, and more. So maybe it's worth finding non big city locations like those.
  • Right now I'm leaning towards Portland. It seems to be (one of?) the only place that checks all of the boxes: moderate weather, nature, walkable/bikable, legit restaurants (I hate when the only available options are chains), weed, tech friendly, things to do, and last but not least, not being too expensive. On Zillow it looks like there's some really solid options to buy between $250-400k. It seems like it could be a fit for MIRI's campus.
Replies from: brandon-reinhart, Shea Fisker
comment by Brandon Reinhart (brandon-reinhart) · 2021-05-09T03:42:59.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: Eh_Yo_Lexa, Zian, pmetzger
comment by Willa (Eh_Yo_Lexa) · 2021-05-09T13:16:47.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 (correspondingly, low to no state services that you'd find in CA or NY), high amounts of libertarianism and "live and let live" vibes (except when that's a lie), surprisingly high tolerance for variance and weird / unfamiliar ideas, generally very cheap cost of living, cultural vibrancy, starting and running a business, and some other nice things.

Somewhat of a joke, but not entirely...if you move to Texas you will be assimilated and suddenly find yourself extolling the virtues of Texas and Texanness to everyone who's not already living there. Texas has very strong cultural memes and you will get infected by at least some of them.

The Texas Hill Country is probably the most compatible area in Texas for MIRI if they chose to relocate to Texas. You can have beautiful rolling hills, decent enough weather, lots of outdoors-y pursuits, breweries, less traffic, slower pace of life, and more while still being within 30-60 minutes driving distance of Austin proper.

*there are exceptions, such as...someone living in Montrose, The Heights, Midtown, or other neighborhoods inside the 610 loop in Houston who doesn't venture outside the loop can do just fine without a car for the most part. I'm sure the same is true for certain areas of other Texas cities, theoretically (I only have experience with Houston). On a side note, the food scene in Houston is amazing and worth visiting for.

**okay, maybe a little bit of an exaggeration in some ways, but my broader point about "if you move to Texas, you will have to interact with lots of people who are likely rocking concealed weapons" being generally true is a claim I stand behind.

comment by Zian · 2021-05-10T07:34:04.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by pmetzger · 2021-05-10T13:41:43.811Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.

comment by Shea Fisker · 2021-05-09T02:42:34.997Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-05-09T03:36:55.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The US is such a car-centric place, that it's tough. Europe would obviously be much better for that.

Yeah. 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.

I am wondering what other areas may be most walkable, livable without a car.

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!

comment by shlevy · 2021-05-10T01:33:01.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-10T05:27:22.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We've spent some time visiting southern NH recently, and may do so again as part of picking a destination. :) 

Replies from: Naomi
comment by Naomi · 2021-05-10T17:44:19.837Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please 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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-10T21:59:12.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I appreciate the offer, and I'll keep it in mind.

comment by Dorikka · 2021-05-09T20:46:47.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by KPier · 2021-05-11T02:18:13.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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. 

I worry that if MIRI moves to a place with no local rationalists or rationalist-inclined people, they'll be less likely to make new friends and more likely to become very insular, as the people who valued their non-MIRI relationships most fall away; it seems like a huge advantage if a move is either to a place with a preexisting rationalist community or doesn't require severing ties with the current ones.

The big downside of this, to my mind, would be fire, and it's a substantial downside, but on the whole I anticipate-success much more strongly for a rural-California enclave than for the locations you describe. (Disclaimer: this may be because I have strong roots in the Bay and am not personally likely to move.)

comment by devils_rights_advocate · 2021-05-26T17:41:20.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: MichaelLowe, adele-lopez-1
comment by MichaelLowe · 2021-05-26T20:21:05.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: pktechgirl, devils_rights_advocate
comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2021-06-29T01:15:37.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is anyone with access to MIRI's resources could get an out-of-state abortion easily enough in most circumstances, but not all abortions are planned and elective- if someone has a medical emergency in late pregnancy, they won't have time to fly elsewhere. Even if the law has a carve out for life-of-the-mother, you're still surrounded by doctors with no experience doing abortions and are more likely to have ethical qualms, making them slower to decide an abortion is necessary (which is a feature for some people and a bug for others).

Going out of state for non-emergency abortions should be an option for MIRI employees and their spouses, but that benefits from a long list of privileges that many Americans don't have:

  1. ability to take off work for days with very little notice
  2. familiarity with travel
  3. money for travel, hotel, and missed work (which may take multiple days, if the state you travel to has a mandatory waiting period)
  4. ability to identify and book with a provider in another state
  5. Someone else who has all those things and loves you enough to go with you

These add up to be pretty big barriers to American poor people.  To the extent this isn't reflected in the state-level statistics, I expect it's because even people living in states where abortion is technically legal may live many hundreds of miles from a provider, and so face much the same problems. The map in this article gives an idea of the scope of the problem, although overstates it because the less served areas are also less populated.

Even for a sophisticated middle class person with plenty of time to plan, you still need to travel at a stressful time and then travel back having just undergone an invasive medical procedure (and worry what happens if you need to seek local help for the side effects), and either stick around for days or travel back while still suffering the short term effects of it.

comment by devils_rights_advocate · 2021-05-26T21:20:33.921Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From 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.

comment by Adele Lopez (adele-lopez-1) · 2021-05-26T18:50:57.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This would be a deal breaker for me too.

comment by Cosmos · 2021-05-10T00:59:01.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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, but I live on a ranch on the northern edge of the city, and I suspect that's more representative of a potential MIRI-type location.)

The local environment is high desert, which is to my liking but isn’t for everyone. However beautiful forested mountains are <1 hour drive away.

The state is purple and a swing state in national elections. I live on a ranch north of town, and folks seem like typical Mountain West - they are friendly, mind their own business, don’t push politics on people. It’s obviously far more liberal on certain dimensions (sex work is legal, gambling is legal, unlike other places). I get the sense that it’s very live and let live here. However the locals are very concerned about the large influx from CA causing the state to start voting for crazy laws (another source of possible future blowback). There is 0 income tax.

The main issue is that you’re not in proximity to a world class city (other than SF with a 4 hour drive). You’ll have to rely on flights to larger hubs for certain things. I think there’s a lot to be said for being 1 hour from a huge city.

I predict that the city will develop into a secondary tech hub in short order (years, not decades). Tesla already has the gigafactory here, for example, and some tech is already here. Tons of CA refugees have come here, and I suspect they’ll push to create a new hub instead of WFH indefinitely or moving back to SF.  Also lots of the Burner community lives here!

comment by brungl · 2021-05-20T20:56:50.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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. 

comment by dlr · 2021-05-20T19:38:15.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.    
comment by Brandon Reinhart (brandon-reinhart) · 2021-05-09T03:12:31.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 inspiring. Winter is generally mild.

The fried chicken scene here is ace. 

Note that Texas BBQ is a beef and oak dominated ordeal, so you'll find a lot of brisket. We still serve up ribs, but unlike our cousins in Kansas City, the brisket is the artform and the rib takes a lesser role.

You won't find very much good Thai food or Indian food. Yes, there is some, but you aren't going to find it at quality for delivery. There is a little Sushi, but not as much as you'd expect. There is a lot of excellent Pho and Ramen. There is very little good Chinese.

There are a number of restaurants on the river. These aren't always the best in terms of food...but they are on the river and you can hang out and drink iced tea and watch the sun go below the tree line. That's good thinking.

On the front of thinking: something you might consider is the ability to drive to a camping location in Austin. There are a number of camping parks you could take a vehicle, tents, and people, and get away from the city and noise and just hang out and talk (or fish, or hunt). Driving to any of a number of nearby small towns with their own attractions and camping locations gives you lots of options.

Many, many people have nice outdoor areas at their homes for hanging out.

There is a nice public pool system. There are a few public springs. There are several outdoor and indoor waterparks not far. There are places for lazy river floats.

Texas wine country - such as it is - is also an hour away in Fredericksburg.

To me, Austin is surrounded by places to just go and think or read whether solo or with compatriots.

Finally, a warning. The food here is seriously good and quite rich and very cheap. You really do have to be careful about the quantity you eat. Everyone will want to feed you.

Gardening can be a challenge here. If you enjoy gardening it is doable, but water conservation rules, frequent droughts, and relentless sun exposure mean you'll need to be strategic and ... try things.

Replies from: Grothor
comment by Richard Korzekwa (Grothor) · 2021-05-11T18:34:58.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

BTW, 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/. 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

comment by Jay Searson (jay-searson) · 2021-05-20T21:35:54.052Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 very competitive on my list.  Conservatives, yes, I know, but Mitt Romney ran Boston and again the government is very well run.  But also, I mean, as AI researchers, consider that you are in essence creating God, and at least one other God has been created in Utah, and it seems to have been a largely benevolent one.  You should at least consider it, and it doesn't seem to be on your list.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-21T00:06:22.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks 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:

Research 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.

comment by romeostevensit · 2021-05-11T20:23:56.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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, having a campus that is 15 minutes away from things is going to feel hugely different from being walking distance to a lively concourse as current offices are and the places I listed are places where you could be closer to a concourse. E.g. in Boulder the main concourse (Pearl St.) is also a few block from a river/nature trail that goes all the way out into dense forest and is quite nice.

comment by lunis · 2021-05-09T02:39:05.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T02:59:11.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good 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.

Replies from: lunis, AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by lunis · 2021-05-09T03:22:07.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T03:30:44.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our 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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T06:35:31.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Correction 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."

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-05-10T01:07:02.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not clear if you mean he's independently estimating the earthquake risk, or researching previous expert estimates 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 that such a quake would be magnitude 8+ to 9.

Bellingham has some info 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, 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.

Replies from: dspeyer
comment by dspeyer · 2021-05-12T06:51:19.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This 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.)

comment by viking_math · 2021-05-09T22:36:24.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 growing quickly, I would expect anywhere you find to be busier than it currently is in a few years. I'd look for an area that is currently less developed than would be ideal. Based on advertising, it seems like there's a lot of land waiting to be developed in the towns around Austin. In my experience, commuting against traffic works very well (leaving the city in the morning and returning to it in the evening). 

Getting around the city without a car is generally difficult. Mass transit is very poor, particularly if you set up anywhere outside the urban core. 

Cost: Austin isn't the Bay or NYC, but it's not what it was 10 years ago either. We have enough space to expand that it probably won't ever get that bad, but right now the housing market is absolutely ridiculous (if you're making a bid on a house, you have under 24 hours to come up with 45% over asking in cash, or don't bother, is the gist). Property taxes on residences are capped; not sure about organizations. If property tax in Austin proper is an issue, the surrounding area will likely be cheaper. There is no state income tax. 

Vibe: The city used to have a very laid-back atmosphere, but has grown a lot and attracted lots of companies, particularly in tech. Now it's more "casual but lots going on." I can't say I have any opinion on the general epistemic culture of any city, they all seem pretty similar to me on that front, except for the hyper-political ones, which Austin isn't (yet, at least). 

I believe crime is low to average. Getting a gun is relatively easy. The only politically motivated violence I can recall is from last summer, and that affected literally every one of the 100 largest cities in the country. Seems pretty LGBT friendly--like you would expect from any blue city. There are grumblings about tech companies driving prices up from long-time residents, but these never seem to translate into any policy issues. 

The rationalist community has been going strong for ~10 years; we currently have multiple weekly in-person meetups, a remote book club, and a remote monthly movie discussion. We have expanded both in numbers and activities over the pandemic. UT Austin is also located here, with many alumni staying in the area, and we get a large number of graduates from other Texas schools like A&M and Texas Tech, and a number of tech companies have recently moved in or expanded (including Facebook, Google, and Amazon). 

comment by korin43 · 2021-05-09T18:32:20.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by femtogrammar · 2021-05-11T02:02:06.352Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by CraigMichael · 2021-05-10T20:05:23.765Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • 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. 

comment by Naomi · 2021-05-10T00:47:04.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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?

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-12T00:48:13.480Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(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 important (#2) - We can build or purchase as much working and living space as we're likely to want, and have it be finished within 3 years (or better, 1 year; or better still, we have enough space at the outset).

I'm confident at least some MIRI staff won't live on the campus, even if we have plenty of room. But I'm unsure exactly how many current or future staff will live on the campus, and how many spouses, friends, colleagues, community members, etc. will live or work there. If we moved into a big proto-campus we were excited by, I wouldn't be shocked if as few as 10 or as many as 50 people lived on the campus a couple years later.

I think this would ideally look like a bunch of houses that feel roomy and don't force people to live with more people than they want. (Less Bay Area 'cram people into every spare closet', more 'you and a friend can split a house if you want to'.)

(Hence my note in the OP that we probably want at least 20 acres, and ideally 50+ acres; and that we need to be able to build or otherwise expand.)

  • Pretty valuable (#3) - There's enough living space for at least a few staff, a 0-5 minute walk from working space.

Whereas #2 notes that we want to eventually have lots of living and work space, #3 notes it would be very nice if we initially have at least some living space. If there's enough square footage at the outset that (e.g.) five staff can live there, in addition to the work space, then that's a big plus.

  • Pretty valuable (#4) - There's already enough working space for the ~10 non-researchers too.

This is another very big advantage, but not totally indispensable.

Thinking out loud: Maybe the ideal would be to start with something like ~20,000 sqft of work+community space spread across 1-3 buildings, plus 10-20 medium-sized houses for people to live in, with plenty of capacity to add more work and living spaces as desired? (I haven't been very involved in MIRI's location-choosing process, so this is way-overly-concrete speculation on my part.)

The best places we've seen so far have had more like 1-8 buildings, totaling 7000-25,000 sqft. Most 20+ acre properties we've seen have exactly one building on them, often a 5k+ sqft house.

comment by PeterMcCluskey · 2021-05-09T20:31:23.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 as to where I lived when I got infected. I presume I never detected the tick that caused it.

Other insects: those mosquito maps seem misleading. There's a lot of local variation. Most parts of California seem pretty mosquito-free. The few parts that I've found bad were in mountains where the snow recently melted. The median location in New England has significantly more mosquitoes, and also a wider variety of other distracting insects, than the median location in California. My impression is that Maine is the worst state overall for insect distractions of the states that I have enough experience with to evaluate (mainly New England and the area from Colorado west), yet those maps suggest it's good.

I consider grass pollen to be a bigger negative than insects. Grass pollen bothers me much more in New England than it does anywhere in the west.

My overall preferences (for reasons mostly involving weather, outdoor recreational options, and political climate): Of the top 5 places that you mention, Reno is my top choice, Bellingham is 2nd, New Hampshire is 3rd. Colorado also seems worth considering.

There's a significant chance I'll want to stay in the bay area, probably moving to somewhere a bit less urban than Berkeley.

Replies from: kdbscott
comment by kdbscott · 2021-05-10T06:40:22.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Brandon Reinhart (brandon-reinhart) · 2021-05-09T02:53:58.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(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.)

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-09T08:40:19.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by johnswentworth · 2021-06-28T18:59:22.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Has there been an update on this yet? At least for me, it's starting to be decision o'clock about where to live next (and I'm probably not the only one). If MIRI's new location is going to be a factor in that decision, then we need to know about it quickly - ideally this week.

comment by monocle · 2021-05-11T19:12:00.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 Appalachian trail etc.

-Low cost housing stock

-Relatively relaxed about zoning (more true to the county than the city, but both are pretty relaxed relative to most places)

-Very LGBTQ friendly--see for example the city-sponsored pride festival

-Politically diverse/moderate and tolerant

-Easy to connect with DC/Montgomery County rationalists and also extend reach to more rural areas

Edited to add: Also lots of job opportunities if an hour commute on the train is too much for you--plenty of biotech firms up and down the adjacent highway that hire people with all sorts of skill sets (marketed as the "I-270 technology corridor") as well as some option in Frederick proper.

ETA2: Also, Maryland in general has a pretty consistent record of electing relatively sensible, moderate governors. Although we are a liberal state, we have a super popular pro-business republican governor.

comment by sadtoot · 2021-05-09T23:47:03.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 can speak a lot to the perks of growing up there, but less about the current environment since i moved away 6 years ago.

another city to consider: portland maine. i was very impressed by the walkability and vibe when i visited, although it may be too cold in the winter, if that is a major concern.

comment by lincolnquirk · 2021-05-11T02:42:01.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 for financial crimes. https://vtdigger.org/2021/04/27/feds-accuse-seth-andrew-whose-nonprofit-purchased-marlboro-college-campus-of-stealing-over-200000/ and more financial details here https://vermontbiz.com/news/2021/may/05/marlboro-whats-next)

comment by Donald Hobson (donald-hobson) · 2021-05-10T18:33:49.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: danohu
comment by danohu · 2021-05-11T09:33:46.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The 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.

comment by danroberts · 2021-05-09T16:56:24.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 to live in NYC. However, from the content of this post, perhaps the MIRI staff have pretty different preferences with regard to ideal living and research environments as compared to me.)

comment by Kythe · 2021-05-09T04:15:08.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 difference for having a significant other who lives in the city and going to meetups. It means if you want to live with someone who has to commute from the city you get to spend 5/7 evenings a week with them instead of 3/7, which to me seems like a pretty big difference, and I suspect would seem like a big difference to prospective partners as well. I also find weekly meetups like OBNYC to be a great foundation for a social life, and taking the train both ways for them would be a bit much. So given OBNYC Meetups are on Tuesdays, any MIRI employees living in NYC that spent Wed/Thurs/Fri on campus would be free to attend them.

Personally, dating and socializing concerns mean that I'd find the "live in NYC, spend 3 days a week on a campus in nature" option rather appealing, but the "live on campus, spend weekends at partner's place or hotel in NYC" much less appealing.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T05:30:50.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"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.

Alternatively would working from home some days of the week be viable for many employees?

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.)

Replies from: dspeyer
comment by dspeyer · 2021-05-09T06:40:23.372Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

You 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.

Replies from: johnswentworth
comment by johnswentworth · 2021-05-09T16:17:55.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Eh? 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.

comment by Shea Fisker · 2021-05-09T01:38:27.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 breeze or minor change in temperature is enough to dispel them. 

That includes the fact that they're only seasonal, and when they are around, changes within a single day offset them.

And if MIRI staff want to spend significant time outside, the Austin area offers ample space in literally every direction outside of Austin proper.

And yes it gets hot, but Austin's location in Central Texas puts it just outside of that very dense, humid climate of the Southeast. Even the Northeast, including NY, is pretty humid and dense.

And the latter is not always bad, but Austin has that Western, desert, dryer air, which will be familiar to Californians, and which many people find not as taxing.

(Insert "It's not the heat, it's the humidity that gets ya" cliche here ~ but it's true!)

It's a physically beautiful area, too.

I understand you haven't necessarily found a specific location around Austin yet, but it's there somewhere.

Sounds like the Washington State option isn't that appealing, even though you have Bellingham on the list.

Scott Alexander recently pointed out that some of the same problems apply in the Cascadia region as exist in CA, even though it's a bit cheaper. And it's just a bit colder, too.

And all the other locations are seemingly more minor options.

The South, Texas, and Austin are all growing overall, for lots of reasons, and being around Austin puts one near all that growth and dynamism of the Sun Belt, but still not enveloped in either conservative Deep South culture, nor in the path of potential hurricanes, which the rest of the Southeast, including nearby parts of Southeast Texas, are at risk of. Austin is just far enough for the strongest of hurricanes to have died out rather well by reaching that point.

Plus, I mean Austin is one of the growing major tech hubs, Houston and Dallas are working on a high-speed rail between them, and that could eventually grow to include Austin and San Antonio. 

And Houston and Dallas each have major airports, both of which are some of the most well-connected and international in the world.

And Austin is likely to get more flights as more demand develops. Word is Delta may make it a hub, but I'm not sure about that.

And being in Central Texas, it's very conveniently located to travel to anywhere else in the US, as opposed to being all the way on one or another coast or in a far quadrant.

And no state income tax, just like Washington.

Lastly, being on the cusp of the West, if anything goes awry, sociopolitically or otherwise, the capacity to shift toward West Texas or even further, and holdout elsewhere, seems much safer, spatially and logistically, than being in a relatively crowded place like the Northeast. Although this is perhaps more subjective than my other points.

And you all don't have to be in Austin proper and deal with high rent and traffic. You can just go there when you want or need.

I'd chalk up this comment to another vote for the Austin area.

Replies from: kenny-easwaran, RobbBB
comment by Kenny Easwaran (kenny-easwaran) · 2021-05-20T21:51:23.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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).

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T02:48:05.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, 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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T03:32:57.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(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.)

comment by Malcolm Collins (malcolm-collins) · 2021-06-06T07:26:43.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

comment by James_Miller · 2021-05-14T21:01:49.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Thomas Kehrenberg (thomas-kehrenberg) · 2021-05-09T23:19:36.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 you've already thought about it.

Personally, I have been thinking about moving to the bay area for a while (and I visited once), but things like the housing market (and the hassle of immigration) kept me from following through. The two cities you presented here sound absolutely lovely though, so I would quite like to join you there (or in a similar place).

comment by Adele Lopez (adele-lopez-1) · 2021-05-09T15:02:01.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by ESRogs · 2021-05-08T23:56:14.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2021-05-08T23:57:49.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

comment by femtogrammar · 2021-05-09T21:33:32.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 [LW · GW], then I retract this and mostly recommend the area.

comment by DanielFilan · 2021-05-09T20:24:59.311Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: Naomi, DanielFilan, DanielFilan
comment by Naomi · 2021-05-10T17:48:31.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by DanielFilan · 2021-05-09T20:31:37.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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?

Replies from: pmetzger, DanielFilan
comment by pmetzger · 2021-05-10T13:32:58.755Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There'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.

Replies from: RobbBB, jkhales
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-10T16:27:19.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We'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.)

comment by jkh (jkhales) · 2021-05-10T15:30:42.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Want 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.

comment by DanielFilan · 2021-05-10T03:12:11.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyway all the above makes the WA location look better than the NY one to me, in terms of the top two choices.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-10T03:32:12.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which of the above? Isn't the WA location substantially farther away from Seattle?

Replies from: DanielFilan
comment by DanielFilan · 2021-05-10T05:14:14.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The 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.

comment by DanielFilan · 2021-05-09T20:32:53.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

but Austin seems better on a more inside view

Not that I've ever visited (but I do plan to this summer).

comment by Linch · 2021-05-09T00:49:25.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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).

Replies from: Vaniver, Shea Fisker, habryka4, Linch
comment by Vaniver · 2021-05-09T05:09:25.592Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Shea Fisker · 2021-05-09T02:41:06.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Singapore seems too socially conservative, though.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-05-09T08:45:08.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

In 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. 

comment by Linch · 2021-05-09T00:54:15.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(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).

comment by DonnieDarko · 2021-05-20T23:30:46.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 town (VCU, other nearby universities) although not known as a tech hub. 

There is plenty to do there and it is relatively "purple", i.e. not too oppressive for people with the "wrong" political views since people have to co-exist. Mountains and beach are within easy driving range (~1.5 hrs) and you also have the James River, etc. for outside recreation. 

There are properties with 50+ acres with existing buildings that might be suitable for a campus-type arrangement.

Housing is very affordable compared to the Bay or other large metropolitan areas, although increasing with the influx of people from nearby Washington D.C. Downtown is very walkable and relaxed, and I think LGBT friendly, with all the normal metropolitan amenities. There is a nearby international airport although it's not a major hub. Government is stable with moderate taxes. Climate is a bit oppressive in the Summer (reaching 90 degrees many days in July/August) but otherwise pleasant.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-21T00:10:05.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks 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.

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2021-05-09T02:53:11.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T03:05:48.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'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."

comment by Adele Lopez (adele-lopez-1) · 2021-05-09T17:06:06.193Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

Replies from: RobbBB, Benito
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-09T18:45:03.549Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This 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.)

Replies from: romeostevensit
comment by romeostevensit · 2021-05-11T20:34:29.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-11T22:27:11.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Research 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. 

Replies from: rpmadden
comment by rpmadden · 2021-05-15T07:42:58.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 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).

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-05-09T18:39:31.114Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m curious for examples of properties that were ruled out and why.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-05-11T22:34:02.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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 by fischerjoe855@gmail.com · 2021-05-20T23:39:29.577Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A good location for the new MIRI campus might be Norman Oklahoma.


A nice college town not too far from the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. 20 minutes from Oklahoma City.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2021-05-10T12:20:45.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're willing to explore beyond the US, there are things like this: https://search.savills.com/property-detail/gbedruedr190005

Beautiful (for living and website photos), lots of space for offices and accommodation.

Possibly high upkeep costs, though.