24-07-7 Roundup

The last links post was quite long so I think I'll try doing them weekly and including more quotes and commentary...

Getting stuff built


There's a new government in Britain and the most important question is whether they are willing and able to fix our planning system. My friend Sam Dumitriu has the best summaries of what we know so far:

See also Sam on How to get data centres built quickly

Giving local authorities 100% of business rates raised within them would be great. (And one day, rolling business rates, stamp duty, and council tax into a single coherent form of property tax would be even better)

This is a great thread on how the government could navigate the political challenge of introducing road pricing. We actually solved a similar problem recently. Car tax receipts were going into decline as people switched to cleaner models.

By grandfathering in existing vehicles and delaying the introduction of the broader tax by two years, the government were able to avoid a great deal of fuss. "Without reform, that tax would have raised £2.5 billion last year. Instead, it raised £7.3 billion".

It's very important that we introduce road pricing in the next few years:

  • It's good to tax negative externalities
  • The shift from ICE to electric vehicles is going to eat into the £37 billion that fuel duty currently raises
  • The longer the government waits, the larger the constituency of EV drivers who will be upset

Unable to embed this tweet.


People often compare New York and San Francisco. In the former the zoning is onerous but if you meet the conditions you do at least know that you're good to go. In California, you also have a bunch of discretionary committees that can block or delay your perfectly compliant proposal.

But California might be about to become a bit more like New York. In Autumn last year the California state senate passed SB243. Cities that fall behind on their homebuilding targets are now required to introduce streamlined approval processes:

Under current rules, state officials conduct an assessment every four years to see if cities are meeting their housing goals. There are penalties for noncompliance, including loss of local control over housing development. San Francisco’s next state assessment was originally scheduled for April 2027, giving supervisors plenty of time to peacock while renters continued to suffer. Now, however, thanks to Wiener’s amendment, the city’s housing plans will be assessed annually, starting in spring 2024.


Once SB423 goes into effect in the spring, and San Francisco flunks its state assessment, getting new housing approved will be much more like getting your license renewed at the DMV: You fill out some basic paperwork, pay the processing fees and the only frustrating part should be waiting in line for your short appointment at the counter.

Spring is now here and San Francisco's new streamlined system is coming into force

San Francisco being subject to SB423 means that most proposed housing projects will not require approval from the Planning Commission and therefore won’t be able to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Most projects won’t have to undergo extensive environmental reviews. The streamlining does not apply to large projects that are subject to “development agreements,” like the Hunters Point Shipyard, Pier 70, Treasure Island or the redevelopment of Stonestown. It also doesn’t apply to projects inconsistent with zoning and affordable housing standards or those proposed for properties that include a historic resource.

Wiener said the law would “dramatically accelerate the time it takes to approve most new housing in San Francisco,” with the city obligated to process applications within 180 days, compared with the current time frame, which is 26 months. Wiener called the commencement of SB423 a “watershed” moment and credited the city’s YIMBY organizations with pushing pro-housing laws.


About 23% of housing built in San Francisco is under a development agreement and would not be eligible for SB423. The rest will likely use the legislation for faster approvals, according to Wiener communications director Erik Mebust.

SB423 will gradually take affect across more of California as other cities get assessed.

Quotes from here and here

New Zealand

Some amazing housing reforms coming out of New Zealand (Quotes from here) where the government will:

abolish councils' ability to set fixed urban-rural boundaries and will abolish powers that let councils mandate balconies or minimum floor area sizes for developments.


require the 24 city, district, and unitary councils representing our largest cities to zone for 30 years of housing growth. This covers larger cities like Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, as well as smaller cities like Tauranga, Hamilton, and Dunedin.


In Government, Bishop has added two details to the policy that appear to make it far stronger.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD), former Housing Minister Phil Twyford's landmark housing policy to liberalise land use, already requires councils to plan for 30 years of housing demand, however, it only requires councils to "live-zone" feasible development capacity to meet three years of demand at any one time.

"Live-zoning" means that the land can be used for housing under a plan that is legally operative and in effect and "feasible development" means housing capacity that is commercially viable for a developer to build and make a profit from.

Bishop's changes will require councils to soon make changes to "live zone" this "feasible development capacity" for the next thirty years, rather than the next three, freeing up vastly more space.


require councils to use "high" demand projections when assessing the amount of houses they need to zone.


"strengthen" zoning requirements around transit corridors. Twyford's changes required councils to enable at least six-storey development around rapid transit corridors. Bishop said these requirements currently only apply to Auckland and Greater Wellington's rail networks and the Auckland Northern Busway.

Bishop will say the Government will force councils to add more transport corridors to this list by adding requirements for councils to zone density around "strategic transport corridors". The corridors will be determined by councils, but subject to criteria set by central government.


look to end the fight around what actually qualifies as rapid transit under the existing rules, which has triggered an "interminable and frankly boring debate" about Wellington's Johnsonville train line.

The speech will say the Government will "probably" reach over the head of councils by simply listing the specific train lines and busways that trigger the upcoming requirements.

There is also this:

The Government is making good on National's coalition agreement with Act to make National and Labour's bipartisan Medium-Density Residential Standards (MDRS - often called the sausage flat rules) optional for councils.

All councils currently required to implement the MDRS will be required in legislation to carry out a ratification vote to determine whether they want to retain, alter, or remove the MDRS planning changes.

Councils that vote to alter or remove the MDRS can do so, provided they give effect the new Government's other pro-development policies in the very same plan change.

For context on New Zealand's recent planning history, Eleanor West & Marko Garlick have a piece in Works and Progress

Science and Technology

It's now been confirmed that the 5th Busy Beaver number is 47,176,870. Here is Scott Aarronson's write up and here is a big Quanta piece about the journey to get here.

Some great characters are profiled in this piece. Exactly what you'd expect from a group of people who connect over the internet to solve a "pointless" mathematical problem e.g. Pavel Kropitz:

a Slovakian contributor who doesn’t speak English and communicates with the rest of the team using Google Translate

and mei who:

grew up in Poland and attended the University of Warsaw for one semester in fall 2021 before dropping out — the rigidity of the curriculum and the move to remote instruction after a surge of Covid-19 cases didn’t fit well with their learning style. They worked at a software company for a little over a year but increasingly found the work draining, and began looking for something more intellectually stimulating. They found it in Coq, the software designed to encode and certify the validity of mathematical proofs.

and is now:

pulling back, after developing a fascination with the European international rail network. “I will probably come back to busy beaver things again at some point, but currently it’s not the thing on my mind,” they said. “I’m currently pursuing becoming a train driver.”

and mxdys:

a mysterious new contributor known only by the pseudonym mxdys came in to finish the job. Nobody on the team knows where mxdys is located or any other personal details about them. In a Discord direct message exchange, they mentioned a long-standing interest in mathematical games, but they declined to provide more information about their background.

On May 10, mxdys posted a characteristically succinct message to the Discord server: “The Coq proof of BB(5) is finished.” Stérin replied a minute later with a series of seven exclamation points. In a matter of weeks, mxdys had refined the community’s techniques and synthesized their results into a single 40,000-line Coq proof.


The Christian Church Didn't Save the West from Cousin Marriage

When RAND Made Magic in Santa Monica

Will eating nothing but Sweetgreen for two weeks make you somehow… better?


On the walk over, I could feel my pants slipping down off my waist a bit. Though it wasn’t my end goal, I’d shed about five pounds on my Sweetgreen diet, dropping one full notch on my belt

There's an automation story in this piece

But for a company that so fervently champions the value of human capital, it’s notable that Sweetgreen is actively plotting to replace jobs with automation. The company recently launched a pilot project called Infinite Kitchen that incorporates automation technology it acquired with the purchase of Spyce — a robotics startup backed by high-profile chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud —for $50 million in 2021. The salad-dispensing robots that power Infinite Kitchen can increase throughput to over 500 bowls per hour. Early returns from its two pilot locations indicated that Infinite Kitchen increased the average check by 10 percent, and profit margins by 7 percent, while significantly reducing mistakes.

But how far can this push costs down?

I asked a supply chain expert with more than 20 years of experience whether she thinks Sweetgreen is equipped to become the McDonald’s of our generation. “On the very highest level, no,” says Karen Karp, who founded KK&P, a consultancy that advises companies like Pret A Manger on food sourcing. “The main reason is that everything except for maybe coffee grounds and milk in the McDonald’s supply chain is a nonperishable product or frozen. It’s a product that is manufactured in some centralized place and shipped to thousands of franchises.” Because Sweetgreen’s business model is predicated on highly perishable food, it can’t benefit from the same protracted shelf life of processed foods like McDonald’s does.

See also: The economics of a Sweetgreen salad

Personally, in London I think Farmer J is great. Others like Tossed seem to be "cheaper" and based on store openings and closings near me seem to be in retreat.

Tags: Links