Severin T. Seehrich

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The Berlin Hub: Longtermist co-living space (plan)

Each question helps me explicate my partially implicit models a bit more. Thanks for this one, it was fun to think through!

 

I see three downsides to our current model compared to CEEALAR's:
1. We plan to rent instead of buy, and that in Berlin's instead of Blackpool's housing market. Whether just initially or long-term depends on how great the house we manage to get turns out to be.  This implies that what Greg paid to buy the hotel in Blackpool (around £100k-£200k, if I remember correctly) is what we would need for anywhere between 1 and 4 years runtime for the property alone. If we were to immediately buy an appropriately sized house in the Berlin area, the price would lay somewhere between €1m in the surrounding countryside and €12m within the Berliner Ring (i.e. in one of the more central, but less calm districts).

2. Minor point, but: The best buildings we found so far are apartment buildings in the outer districts of Berlin. They are far cheaper than we feared, and offer all the key features of suburban living: A calm, conducive-to-work neighborhood, closeness to nature, as well as sufficiently good public transport connections to central Berlin. In addition, we wouldn't have to navigate legal complications around the local zoning regulations like we would if we tried to repurpose a hotel for longer-term residency. However, this also means that we don't have a central industrial-grade kitchen for the whole house. Accordingly, the everyday life at The Berlin Hub might end up looking a bit more like a large impact-focused flatshare than the unique model of CEEALAR.

3. Humans being as they are, the closer collaboration we plan to instigate at the hub might lead to us cultivating an idea monoculture at The Berlin Hub that isn't conducive to our cause. Something CEEALAR through the bigger diversity and faster flowthrough of residents doesn't seem to be in danger of developing.

Thoughts/preventive strategies on these:

1. In CEEALAR's current model, the default is to offer free stays to everyone working on EA-aligned projects so that they don't have to waste time in day jobs. The largest target audience of this model are people in phases of career transition - just like I was when I stayed there this winter after finishing my master's and during developing the concept for The Berlin Hub.

The residents we would expect the highest counterfactual impact from in our project, however, are slightly more senior and financially solvent: Either freshly transitioning out of well-paid tech jobs, or already advanced enough to be just above the entry barrier for receiving LTFF funding as independent researchers. Accordingly, we plan to take some rent by default. Whether at or below cost and whether we can afford offering stipends to people who we consider exceptionally competent depends on our funding situation. 

One quirk of taking rent: I got some anecdotal evidence that mainstream EA funders are suspicious of CEEALAR's "weird" model of having people stay for free, so it might actually be easier for us to get additional funding if we take rent by default.

2. Not being able to free the residents from all the inconveniences of everyday life would be inconvenient, but isn't a catastrophe. After all, other co-living projects succeed in managing their own cooking as well.

3. Bringing fresh ideas into the house and preventing an idea monoculture from forming will be a key part of my job as a community manager. We will experiment with this once things are up and running. In the current plans, that is where a) the visiting scholars program, b) shorter-term guests, and c) occasional events like community dinners with the local EA community come into play.

Does that answer your question, does it raise more?

The Berlin Hub: Longtermist co-living space (plan)

Thanks for the question!


Here you go for a chunk of the background models which informed our decision:

I see three main potential benefits that can come from impact-focused co-living projects like these:
1) Reduced living cost
2) centralizing everyday chores like cooking, cleaning, and restocking to keep peoples' backs free for work
3) fostering synergies and cross-pollination between residents' projects

CEEALAR (formerly "EA Hotel") leverages 1) to the max by pushing the living costs as low as 6500£/year/person (according to memory, I might be off). At the same time, all the restocking and a significant chunk of the cooking and cleaning is taken care of so that people have their backs maximally free for EA work. Meanwhile, CEEALAR doesn't have a specific cause area focus and doesn't specifically invest much resources into enabling mentorship for residents and facilitating cooperations. These things are encouraged and do happen, but they are not a key priority. In the three months I have been there so far, the default has been people working on their projects side by side and only occasionally exchanging feedback and plotting shared endeavors over dinner.

As Berlin is significantly more expensive than Blackpool, we won't be able to leverage the reduced living cost as well as CEEALAR can. At the same time, we are making plans to maximize synergies between residents' projects. If things go according to my current dreams, The Berlin Hub might turn into an incubator for longtermist research groups and startups within the next years. A bit of diversity is useful for preventing groupthink, but with insufficient overlap between peoples' subculture and interests, it would make little sense for people to even try collaborate. The filter we are putting into place shall ensure that professional exchange and cooperation between the residents is possible with relatively low effort.

We explicitly don't want to only hang out with longtermists, but are trying to find a good balance. For example, we plan to run open-to-(EA-)public events at the hub without a specific cause area focus to make sure we don't only simmer in our own juice. We'll also encourage residents to mingle with the local EA- and non-EA community. After all, that is one of the reasons we picked Berlin in the first place.

In addition to my personal cause prioritization, I'm doing this because I'm excited about the idea of impact-focused co-living projects in general. I'd be delighted if we manage to deliver a proof of concept that goes beyond what CEEALAR already did and inspire others to try similar things. In fact, I'm already in contact with people from several countries across the globe who have plans for founding EA co-living projects. I'm happy to share my models and network with anyone who wants to do that as well, independent of their cause area focus and specific theory of change.

I only have limited time and would rather do one thing well than ten things badly. In this case, following my personal cause prio and my understanding of the longtermist community's bottlenecks, the one thing I'm trying to do well is to start a longtermist research group incubator for the Schengen area. Somebody has to run the pizza booth. If my comparative advantage and what excites me most is baking pizza, I believe it would be unwise of me to not focus on making the best pizza in town, but to offer mediocre pizza instead so that I can sell veggie burgers, curry, tacos, hot dogs, pasta, ice cream, and haircuts on the side.

Is that response satisfying? Do let me know if not.

Where would we set up the next EA hubs?

Yes, we are currently working on a better name. Thanks for the input, and feel free to send me a message if you have a great idea.

Where would we set up the next EA hubs?

Agreed. There are some more arguments for Berlin:
- it has a local EA community whose member count may well be somewhere in the 100s
- it is one of Europe's major startup hubs
- it already has a very large expat community and culture. Accordingly, you can manage most of everyday life from grocery shopping to socializing with non-EAs without knowing a word of German.

Regarding the plans for Berlin Longtermist Hub Chris mentioned: Here you can find our project outline. Note that it still is a work in progress and things will change over the next weeks and months.