Posted by: rolfsky | February 6, 2007

building at crossroads

Go ahead, take a look at a map of Kansas. Take some time to follow the long straight roads that stretch across the countryside and then consider the towns and small villes you find nearly without fail at the crossroads of the grids. Towns with names like “Hill City” , “Russell”, “Norton”, and “WaKeeney”. How curious that the roads just happened to connect so many small towns, all nicely arranged on a grid. Statistically unlikely!

Compare, just for sake of argument, to Massachusetts by zooming in a few times. Entirely different than Kansas, the roads and towns of Massachusetts seems to be created by some deranged fractally-obsessed spider. Keep zooming in and the radiating star pattern keeps emerging with each larger section showing progressively more intricate web. I think it’s safe to say, we’re not in Kansas any more!

Of course, there’s no mystery why Kansas and Massachusetts look so different as they share entirely different economies, ecology, geology, and history. In Massachusetts, it would be safe to say that the people came first, and the roads came second. Kansas on the other hand was parceled into nice squares and rectangles in a great land give-away by the US government, and immediately converted into rolling hills of continuous farmland.

The curious element here is where the towns are for each state. While Kansas isn’t a strict grid of roads and land, only a few large cities warrant any “diagonal” traffic within state lines. It seems as though city planners were given graph paper and couldn’t help but poke pins in at the intersections just because they were there. But to look at it that way is to confuse the issue, because there’s no coordinated city planners deciding where towns will live. A better way would be to look at the system as an ecosystem, and there’s the most “growth” where nutrients are available.

So, what nutrients does a city need? In a short list: people, power, product, and prosperity. At a crossroads we find the number one nutrient: people. Persons moving north to south bump into persons moving east to west, and because they’re all following the roads they end up at the same places looking for lettuce, tractor parts, and a beer. In this sense, the roads built the towns because if you live on two avenues, you have 2x the chance of running into patrons, citizens, and commerce.

In the world of business, a 2x advantage is nothing to sniff at. Most firms would mortgage all their assets if they were guaranteed a 2x return on their investments. 2x is a juicy target when many “improvements” only gain you another 10% Suddenly, a whole range of new opportunities arise if you have 2x the business; maybe a movie theater might thrive? Maybe a farmers market? And without really thinking about it, the 2x has created new chances and new possibilities which never would have made sense in the previous environment.

Wowie, BAM and kabOOM, you have another approachable investment.

So at what crossroads are you choosing to build your masterpiece?

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