Challenges face former Cheezburger CEO joining Y Combinators New Cities project

Challenges face former Cheezburger CEO joining Y Combinators New Cities project

Y Combinators ambitious New Citiesproject has a new leader today as Ben Huh, former CEO ofThe Cheezburger Network, joinsthe effort.

The initiative, previously announced back in June, aims to take a fresh, entrepreneurial approach to city building. Details have been hard to come by, but the group was hiring researchers for a short time at the tail end of the summer. In a blog post, Huh explained his intentions to make a real difference in the world with his upcoming work.

It appears YC is serious about leaving behindprior notions and best practices of urban development in their quest to disrupt. Huh, something of a meme mogul, is coming off a long-term role asCEO of a company that facilitated the creation and sharing of internet memes. Huh left Cheezburger in 2015,noting how much of a marathon the eight-year effort had been. In todays post, Huh connected his experiences traveling during a gap year to his renewed drive to tackle hard problems.

Whilethe aim of the New Cities effortwas almost certainly to inspire, the projects announcement earlier this summer was met with criticism from many whopoked fun at the initiative for trivializing the work of urban planners, whose job is to manage land use and plan next-generation infrastructure.

In true startup fashion, the grouphas an application open for location referrals to potentially optimal locations for a new experimental metropolis. The form asks for information on zoning restrictions and immigration rules for the site. It also leaves room for a breakdown of costs if YC makes use of the location.

Huhs role is being described as that of anexplorer. He is only set to be involved in the future cities project for the next six months, which seems like an awfullyshort time horizon for a problem Altman noted could takea long time, perhaps even 25 years, to address.

To critics, Huhspost screams of a particular Silicon Valley savior ethos. The attitude can roughly be explained as a belief that private enterprise, unencumbered by the chains of bureaucracy, can execute public service better than the government itself.

Sam Altman himself, president of the YC Group, donated $10 million to form the research arm that gave birth to the New Cities project in addition to work around OpenAI,basic income and human advancement. In YCs initial blog post,Altman and Adora Cheung, a YC Partner also tasked with leading New City efforts,included an almost comical footnote addressing this potential criticism head on.

Were not interested in building crazy libertarian utopias for techies, the two clarified.

However, todays post from Huh remainsquitefocused on problems likely to be on the forefront of the minds of techies in places like San Francisco and New York City.

Housing prices in urban environments have skyrocketed due to poor policy decisions and NIMBY-ism, noted Huh.

There is a lot of nuance required when addressing NIMBY-ism and its partin todays urban challenges. Huh is not explicitly wrong so much as narrow in addressing many of the challenges faced by cities not caught in the waves of economic prosperity. Detroit, for example, may have inclusivity issues, but blight and vacancy are what occupy the thoughtsof residents on a daily basis.

That isnt to say starting from scratch is always bad diversity of approach can and often does lead to positive unexpected outcomes. It is simply up to Y Combinator to disclose additional detailson the exact end game of its efforts.

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