What the f*&k is going on Downtown? Fall Edition

TL;DR: We’re confident you’ll agree (to disagree, at least)

Almost a year into my adventure to downtown Las Vegas from the Bay Area, I reflect on what drew me to the budding community. It was a tiny mirror of the crunchy, singularity-infused values that drive today’s innovation-affluence culture, for better, and certainly in some ways for worse. Those values imply that technology and friendliness can ultimately get us nearer something we can start to call utopia, and in many ways that’s probably true.

At least, true under certain conditions; perhaps in an environment where just the right variables are controlled for, serendipity and magic can flourish in an apparently-unbridled way. That’s the bet.

Indeed, such a grand experiment as the ZapposHQ/DTP/VTF moneysphere (this is an inelegant term, but I haven’t yet found a better way to say it succinctly and politely) can only have any hope of success if it controls for as many key variables as possible: buy buildings, create optionality.

Growing a community within a city based on the way Zappos hires is attractive, because Zappos HR is systematic without trampling individuality and silliness; serendipity is built into a very structured system in a way that irks many applicants and observers alike. But as a practical matter, it only matters that it works for Zappos.

When VTF talks about funding tech startups that display massive potential for return — on community, what they’re saying is that they’re looking for a uniqueness that doesn’t toxify the existing embryo of community pearl building around the Ogden, of which each new member of each new VTF portfolio company and DTP small business is a new grain.

And that compatibility-based-natural-exclusivity is not a bad thing, from the perspective of the embryo. It’s not for every grain of sand, but it worked for Zappos to the tune of bought+ongoing control, so who is anyone (especially Kanye West?) to question applying its insights to the next level of complexity, outside of the workplace and into the town as a whole?

“The bums lost, Lebowski!” – the elder, “big” Lebowski

Critics voice resentments, and the community embryo replies: “we mean no harm, come and talk to us, and you’ll see; but we don’t respond to meanness.” Critics don’t want to talk in person, they just want to feel right, and humanizing the conversation would defuse their self-righteousness.

The embryo knows this, if not always consciously; driving engagement towards in-person interaction, and keeping public comment well-planned and positive is a great filter; critics see it as defensive, secretive, cultish. These critics are naive to its purpose.

Within the DTP community, it’s the only way to survive, because mean people can’t troll in person; every conversation can end with “agree to disagree” without threatening the prospect of being friendly acquaintances who support each others’ good intentions. Everybody wins, as long as everyone is comfortable doing their own thing.

I empathize with the situation of the Downtown Project folks. It sucks to have everyone jump down your throat constantly, when 80% of the criticism is misinformed, and often vitriolic. It makes you want to recoil, and you do. But you have to damn the calculations, and stand to face it. When you do, the worst of it will recede quickly, like many reasonable-though-unnecessary fears.

I believe it’s vital to address — yes, publicly, on the internet, in realtime, not produced soundbites — whatever percentage of feedback that is based on a shared assumption of good intentions, even if they’re hard topics with unplannable threads, fraught with legal risk. Even if it’s about the hardest issues for which you have the fewest answers. Essential.

Yes, it’s a DTP lawyer’s nightmare in our litigious society, this community engagement stuff. Doesn’t make it anything less than the most vital roadblock to runaway success in the Zappos/DTP/VTF/DTLV story. Not to say that the whole thing won’t find a way to preserve a true victory in the long-run; it will succeed, in the broadest terms, even subject to a continued reliance on the brute force of money, as expensive a proposition as that is. Must be lonely to be Tony.

Epilogue: By now you’ve probably noticed that these WTFIGOD posts aren’t really about “what’s going on” downtown (this is great for that), but more about the sociological subtext inherent in the human drama of building a community “from scratch.” In any case, this may be the last #WTFIGOD post. I apologize, or, you’re welcome.

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