Discover more from Tender Buttons by Rebecca Mqamelo
How do you onboard a city to web3? Part 1/n
Or perhaps, how might we build web3 tools that serve our cities?
I recently announced that I left Zerion after 2.5 years to go all-in on crypto x cities. Life update: I’m co-founding city3 to make web3 technology accessible to IRL communities. Think token-gated commerce for small businesses, new ways to fund public goods, complementary currencies, etc.
Well, some of our biggest coordination challenges exist at the city level
If crypto/web3 is going to change the world, we need to see it work for the communities we live in. In other words, the new coordination technology we’ve spun up needs to be put to the test. Is it really more effective, scalable and equitable?
I lived on and off in downtown San Francisco for a few years and the inequality was dizzying – opulent wealth juxtaposed with ravaging poverty. Growing up, home was dysfunctional small-town South Africa where “government” was a synonym for corruption. Elsewhere, in the rural village where my grandmother lived, economic stagnation was the norm. The “market” consisted of a few home stores dotted across the valley – if you wanted anything of value you traveled by taxi to a town 50 km away.
Whether analyzed at the scale of cities, towns or villages, resource allocation is generally broken.
We might have the technology to improve things
To be perfectly candid, my perspective of whether blockchain technology will fundamentally transform the way we approach coordination challenges wavers between optimistic conviction and intense skepticism.
But I also recognize we haven’t really tried. Barring a few niche examples like Grassroots Economics, CityCoins and the new crop of “City DAOs” too nascent for appraisal, there isn’t much to evaluate, never mind do so at scale.
Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin wrote a useful piece about crypto cities last year which highlights how new the frontier is.
The other day I asked the denizens of Crypto Twitter for real-life examples of quadratic voting/funding. Four examples emerged, two of them offered by the creators themselves, with one admitting that “few outside the token space have seriously considered alternatives beyond 1 person, 1 vote”.
So if you ask me, this is both terrifying and exciting. It’s also a strong call to start prototyping fast.
But can we stop reinventing the wheel already?
Designing crypto for cities requires a fundamental shift in how we think about the agents that hold our communities together.
I think we focus way too much on getting non-web3 people to do web3 things, as opposed to making web3 things work for non-web3 people.
There’s an unfortunate pattern throughout the ages that disruptive technologies throw the baby out with the bathwater. It often has to do with how new knowledge and behaviors are imposed, rather than integrated.
Here’s one high-level example to illustrate: Western medicine, ushered through colonization and capitalism, has also obliterated time-tested effective healing practices. So while penicillin is great and leeching ought to be avoided at all costs, somewhere in the process of substituting one for the other we rejected meridians as “woo-hoo” and decided that physical ailments can be analyzed separately from psycho-spiritual conditions.
To transpose this analogy to web3, we’re obsessed with new ways of building and governing communities but we’ve done little to integrate those tools with existing ones.
Got better ways to do decision making at scale? Instead of spinning up yet another DAO that will take months to make headway of its raison d’etre, how about targeting local non-profits that have been doing necessary, impactful work for years, often operating in a decentralized manner? (In fact, you can do so right now – Gitcoin and city3 just partnered to host the first IRL quadratic funding round in Oakland.)
Empowering creators with new ways to connect with their communities? Well, local businesses are creators too. They create products, services, employment, and not to mention physical spaces for connection and culture. So how do we give them a better share of their value output?
You get the picture.
As we build anew, we need to integrate. Don’t be a luddite, but don’t be equally myopic in your rejection of what already works in different ways.
In conclusion, my vocation for the next phase of my life will be to figure out how we do all of the above. I look forward to learning and unlearning along the way, which also means accepting where I’m woefully misguided or misinformed.
I have lots more to say on the matter but the liberating part of “I write what I like”-mentality is I can stop right here and pick it up another day. Thanks, Steve.