The Context

A little more than a week ago, I reached out to a local entrepreneur and Duke alumnus for some feedback on business ideas and general advice. In response, he invited me and my two friends to fly with him and his wife (also an entrepreneur and Duke alumnus) to NYC for the weekend. In spite of the fact that finals were just around the corner and we had a lot of work to do, we agreed to go with little hesitation. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat intimately with two phenomenal entrepreneurs!

My hometown has around 2,500 residents. Durham isn’t really a big city, and I spend most of my time isolated on campus. Even though I visited New York when I was (much) younger, I forgot a lot of the details and didn’t understand certain things back then anyways. Needless to say, while we were hanging out in The Big Apple, I noticed a few things.

New York is Big

This one is obvious. I knew this before our visit. But it didn’t really hit me until I saw the height of the buildlings, the amount of traffic, and the sheer number of people with my own eyes.

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String appropriate_adjective = "";
for (int i=0; i < Integer.MAX_VALUE; i++) {
  appropriate_adjective += "very ";
}
System.out.println("This city is " + appropriate_adjective + "big!");

There are so many people in New York, that traffic laws are pretty much unenforceable. Pedestrians completely dominate any vehicles, and people continue walking long after the lights change to “don’t walk.” At one time, we were walking around time square in the middle of the road (my two friends and I). there wasn’t a single car in sight. Aloud, I wondered why they had closed down the road. They hadn’t; the cars just could not get through.

Southern Hospitality is a Myth

Or at the very least, it isn’t a rule. During our stay, I found that everyone we interacted with would go out of their way to be polite. We crashed at a friend’s apartment for free. We had no problem asking for directions, people held doors for us, strangers were open to casual conversation, waiters and clerks would chat with us, and people said “excuse me,” if we bumped into each other on the street.

Now, I’m sure there are places we could go where that might not be the case. Wall Street execs, for example, might not have the time to put effort into these sort of pleasantries. But overall, I was suprised by the general niceness of the city.

Duke has a Great Alumni Network

While we were in New York, we went to a fundraiser lunch for alumni. Afterwards we took a bus to see a Duke basketball game in NJ and sat in the alumni section. I got an opportunity to speak to former Blue Devils from wide range of ages, occupations, and backgrounds. I got the sense that the network was really tight, which is already something I gleaned from our trip to Silicon Valley. It was nice to see that the same was true in New York. I was pleasantly surprised at how many alumni were involved in entrepreneurship as well.

We Should be Building Modular Cities

There’s a lot of infastructure in New York. As I was gazing up at the skyline like an obvious tourist, I wondered to myself, “What will happen when the city becomes outdated or needs to expand?” My best guess is that we’ll continue building up, on top of the existing skyscrapers, furthering the eerie contrast between the dirty streets and the sheen of the massive towers that rise above them. But that only works to a certain extent. What happens when the foundations aren’t strong enough to support the growing world above? What happens when there’s not enough water pressure in the pipes to pump water all the way up to the top floor? What happens when metal wires become too slow and most of the world is switching to fiber optics?

What would a more modular city look like? Maybe I’ll talk about that in a future post.