City of Moveable Feasts

High concept: The author, an anthropologist, visits a city that is run by prediction markets. Every spring, the citizens of the city place their bets on what industry and purpose the city should orient itself toward. Once a direction is picked, all the protocols that run the city shift towards fulfilling that purpose. This re-orientation of protocols happens over six weeks, and it has come to be known as The Moveable Feast. The author is in the city to observe and write about this phenomenon.

Some references
Protocols don’t build pyramids from the last SoP series
Shrine of Ise Jingu - Japanese shrine that is rebuilt every 20 years
Futarchy - governance based on prediction markets

3/20 update - Want this to be more specific. This line about the clothing ecommerce giant Shein from a @kneelingbus newsletter has been stuck in my head: “the hosts describe Shein’s ultra-fast fashion as the “divirtualization of data”—the company takes search terms, digital tags, and word clouds and converts them into physical products, which are then purchased online, shipped to the customer, unboxed, and then promptly “revirtualized” as social media imagery or purely symbolic objects.”

The city or zone I’m thinking of is completely automated, there are no human inhabitants except 1-2 supervisors who do maintenance. The city operates on a “protocol of devirtualization” to manufacture clothes based on demand that is estimated from social media pictures, survelliance cams etc. All is well, except that one day everyone in the world starts wearing big red shoes that have no utility and kind of look ugly, no one (influencers, trend forecasters, shitposters) knows where this trend came from but the shoes are everywhere and they are reasonably priced.

4/12 update:
high concept: a bureaucratic detective who’s catchphrase is “It’s just protocol” and his hotshot sidekick who sees collusions and conspiracies everywhere are called into investigate a fashion faux pas at New York Fashion Week. Their investigation reveals that the shimmering world of high culture fashion consists niether of auteur designers or sweatshop workers, but a third thing - machines that run on a protocol of devritualization.


The people living in the city should have some kind of “regeneration” protocol, where every year they try out a new persona based on what the city is oriented towards, something that they design in conjunction with their AI agents

Check out the Rithika Rajmohan Dispatches from Cascadia stories from SoP1 which will be published in a few days. I think it will help you think about this idea better.

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The “all the protocols” and “six weeks” wording raises questions about plausibility, given the slow pace of existing urban development and policy changes. Six weeks might not be enough time to collect data for certain types of urban policies, though I’d imagine data for some aspects of city life could be collected on shorter timeframes than other aspects.

In a city with significant changes between seasons you’re also potentially going to have a lot of variability in data. For example if a lot of snow falls in one six-week time bracket and there wasn’t snow during the previous six-week time span, it might be difficult to compare a change in a road traffic-related policy between those two dates. I’d be curious about how the data analysis would account for those kinds of variability.

If problems with the data analysis do occur, that could make for interesting storytelling. The story might be more engaging and more believable if you write about the failures of a city which tries to perfect its policy governance but doesn’t account for real-world contingencies like say weather, and then to discuss how those failures are resolved, rather than trying to write about a city where everything runs smoothly without problems.

Making the scope of the story more specific might also be helpful, since it’s going to be hard to get enough information about every aspect of the city into a single piece of short-form writing without making the writing sound vague. There’d be plenty to write about within the scope of a narrower topic or two like the timing of traffic lights or a change in tax policy, if you approach those situations as a microcosm within which to illustrate governance systems which also apply similarly elsewhere the city.

In evaluating more specific topics, it might be helpful to think about which topics would make for good and vivid storytelling; ie. discussing a policy involving traffic lights for example might be a good option since it would result in events involving physical action which you could write about, and it would have the stakes of involving potential safety issues.

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Thanks for the comments. I made some edits at the bottom of the RFC to make it more specific and honed in. I think I still want it to anchor around the original idea of cities that have protocols that rapidly disintegrate and change, may be it could be multiple short stories if it has potential

F1 Street Circuits as an example of protocols to rapidly adapt a city circuit into a race track

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Hey @sach I encourage you to think about the purpose of cities as you continue working out your idea.

Perhaps expand your idea to be a tale between two cities that are constantly changing their protocols. It could be fun to keep your thinking at the city level and do a comparative analysis in more of a lateral fashion.

  • What makes cities unique? Collaborative? Competitive?
  • To what extent do people add to or subtract from the taptesry of a city from a sociocultural standpoint?
  • Could you have one city that is completely automated and another that is the opposite?
  • What are the advantages and drawbacks to complete automation versus its alternative?

In a past life I was focused on being a city planner, so your topic resonates quite a bit. Good luck.

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Seems really good to have real-world existing precedents like this to help readers adjust to the idea that cities could be realistically capable of rapidly changing. There’s a lot of idealistic out-of-touch tech-adjacent speculation about cities right now, and those kinds of references could help differentiate your writing from that genre. Maybe there’s a way to fit a reference to a precedent or two like that (even as a metaphor or something) into the pitch?

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Super Cute Please Like | Issue 47 | n+1 | Nicole Lipman - I like the idea of a “protocol of devirtualization” - machines that determine whats in trend based on activity on TikTok and Instagram and then instantly produce that

Probably absolutely obvious, but Borges’ Lottery in Babylon is an absolutely majestic short story and quite relevant. I mean, their lottery actuaries are quite related to the prediction markets here

Love the idea for this story - I think you could do a great job with it based on how you’ve approached the fiction that I’ve read.

The Shein/fast fashion vehicle is definitely a good mechanism for making the original idea more concrete. If you end up running with the idea of “citizens betting on what purpose the city itself should orient itself toward,” this mechanism (a market or something similar) will be necessary to make the idea of collective self-organizing believable, as opposed to everyone just trying to consciously shift their behavior together via protocols.

Based on my own SoP research last summer, an aspect of this scenario that’s fascinating to me is the friction/shearing between an information layer that regularly experiences abrupt and significant change, and a set of built environment layers that can’t change as fast (full automation presumably helps with that as you suggest). Kind of like when a city hosts the Olympics or something but it keeps happening every year.