Goals

Speculative futures I would like to help make real

“So high / So low / So many things to know…” - A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge

My primary goal is to create more wonder in the world.

To make the familiar more strange, more queer, and so, more beautiful.

It has taken me a long time to be able to articulate this to myself, but I have come to recognise this desire as the bedrock motivation that drives much of my curiosity and decision-making. From that core goal has emerged several secondary goals and some early hunches on how to achieve them. This page gathers a handful of these bets.

It’s important to clarify that these ideas are still within the realm of pure “what if” speculation. Consider them the equivalent of notes to self / personal marginalia.

I decided to share them publicly because:

  • The internet is a serendipity engine, and maybe these ideas will find their way to like-minded collaborators who can help bring them to life
  • Our lives are short. I care more that these things happen, than that they happen by my hand. I would be honoured if someone took any one of these fledgling thoughts and adopted them as their own

The bets on this page are ideas that I believe will help achieve a number of goals. Each goal is a speculative future that I believe is worth striving towards.

This represents a fraction of my personal goals and bets, the ones I’m most comfortable sharing in public at this time.

  • Goal: Improve the quality of the built environment in Ghana - If the way we treat our shared spaces is a rehearsal for how we treat each other, then it’s worrisome that the quality of the built environment in Ghana is so poor. Our shared spaces are the gifts we give each other. We must learn to build better, beautiful places that speak of care.
  • Goal: Make it easier for young Africans to take creative risks - Young Africans are doing so much with so little. What would happen if we got out of their way? We can be so much more. I believe this so deeply it hurts.
  • Goal: Help more people imagine better - Tony Morrison said “As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.” (Thank you, Wale) I believe that we are in a crisis of imagination. We are unable to imagine better. We are stuck in a quicksand of zero-sum thinking and arbitrary constraints. Better solutions will come from new perspectives. To gain them, we must learn to see with new eyes.

If you have other ideas for bets that might result in the outcomes above, please feel free to share them with me (email is my first name at last name dot com - full disclosure: please forgive if it take several weeks to reply).


Status key

  • Dreaming: rolling this in my mind, building up references and a density of opinion about what it should be
  • Shaping: actively learning about this opportunity space (by reading, speaking to people who know the space, etc)
  • Making: applying significant effort to realise this bet
  • Living: the bet is in the world

Library

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places, More creative risks

  • Accra Library of Speculative Fiction. West Africa’s largest free public library specialising in speculative fiction - science fiction and fantasy.
  • More than just books. All kinds of artefacts about speculative futures. Maps, events, film screenings, public lectures, sponsorships. A home and anchor for promoting discussion of the futures we want, and how we might achieve them.
  • I have a large collection of vintage sci-fi and fantasy books from childhood (special shout out to Piers Anthony’s trippy Xanth series!) Access to deeply imaginative works like this was a very influential part of my childhood. Would like to give the gift of that experience to others.
  • Amazed by the fact that Andrew Carnegie funded over 2,500 free public libraries across the United States.
  • Disturbing to me that there is nothing approaching Sterling Library in West Africa. That is genuinely alarming to me. Libraries - public libraries specifically - are an important technology for an educated public.
  • In the evening, part of the library grounds turns into a soup kitchen, and then later at night, becomes dignified shelter for those experiencing homeless.

School

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places, More creative risks

  • Writing well - and more broadly, communicating well - is a superpower. A school whose curriculum is built entirely around developing a generation of superlative communicators.
  • A school for modern day griots. Storytellers and advocates who can speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. They translate, explain, intercede.
  • Core curriculum built around the insight that different topics can be better mastered through the lens of some other art. There are patterns that underlie oratory, strong writing, performance etc. What would it look like to leverage music to teach core concepts in mathematics. If code (software) is a kind of written language, what lessons might take root more deeply if learner is exposed to specific pattern of rhyme and rhythm in kinds of poetry? No idea, but would be interesting to build curriculum around this.
  • Should look at Montessori schools. Are there proven models that have come after Montessori? Look at Powderhouse Studios - a new high school model.
  • Maybe core school capped at 100 maximum students, always. School runs a large network of Writing Centers around Ghana, where anyone can come learn how to be better writer, communicator, thinker. Adult education program. Lots of adults are poor writers and want to get better, but don’t know where to start. Inspired by Yale Writing Center.

Neighbourhood

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Better places, Imagine better

  • I would love to be involved in helping design a neighbourhood in Ghana from scratch. Not the buildings themselves, but the relationships between various elements of the built environment. So much of the quality we describe as beauty in cities comes not from the design of the buildings (although this contributes a lot) but from the proportion of the street to the surrounding buildings. It comes down to things like frontage width, building height to street width ratio, etc etc. It’s the sense of enclosure that creates the magic. See Form-Based Codes.
  • Residential developments in Ghana appear to instinctively follow the traditional American suburb model: a large area zoned strictly for only low-rise buildings, requiring a car to go anywhere. Attempting to project a certain vision of modernity, they also borrow the curious practice of outlawing small-scale residential retail, like the tiny grocery store down the street where you buy your bread and milk. I think this is a huge missed opportunity.
  • My bet is that a gentle density 4 to 7-storey mixed use development with cared-for public places, better integration with mass transit, and a greater sense of enclosure, could be very successful. I think the key is amazing shared amenities (eg. an amazing park nearby relieves the pressure of wanting a large personal backyard) Would love to see more rowhouses.
  • Should look at Culdesac, first car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the US. This video shows the size of the 17 acre plot. Should look at Chattanooga’s planned car-optional development

Microgrant

Status: Dreaming
Goal: More creative risks, Imagine better

  • Microgrant for young Ghanaian and Nigerian creators making things for the internet.
  • Inspired by Nadia Eghbal nadiaeghbal.com/microgrants
  • Young African creatives are doing so much, with so little. TikTok skits with elaborate production. Podcasts that are routinely the most-listened to in the country. Doing it all in around erratic power supply, expensive internet access, unsupportive family, expensive equipment priced in USD.
  • We know that surprisingly small amounts of money can have an outsize impact on people’s decision to keep at something.
  • I believe strongly that the coming decade is going to be immense for African creators. The NBA is serious about its Africa League. Universal Music Group is investing in its operations on the continent. Netflix is greenlighting more African shows. Something is shifting in the world, but it can be hard to make other people understand. Every year, it gets harder to ignore the pointed questions from friends and family.
  • Hoping my small grant program can help keep in some way to accelerate their process. Keep it simple: they can use it for anything, new equipment, rent, even money for food. Anything that gives them permission to keep at it for a bit more.
  • Maybe the bigger idea for this is a full-blown program connecting African creators with more successful creators everywhere in the world. Connecting them with resources to better understand how to get to the next level, whatever that looks like.
  • Must make it relatively small amounts, because coming out of my own pocket. Maybe aim for 5 grants each quarter. Maybe in future if it goes well, other people will be willing to add to the money pool, trusting my sense of judgement in selection.
  • We can be so much more.

African Urbanism Press

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places

  • Book publisher that buys the rights to out-of-print books on African architecture and urbanism and republishes them as ebooks so they can find wider audience. Also publishes original work.
  • Inspired by learning that Patrick Collison bought the rights to The Dream Machine, and made this formerly out-of-print book accessible again. (I had no idea you could do this)
  • During the design phase for Family Home I went on Amazon to try to find books about architecture in Ghana or West Africa. Was shocked when the search mostly failed to return much of interest. It’s hard to believe, but there are genuinely barely any books on African urbanism on Amazon. I don’t think that’s right. Mentioned this to my architect and he mentioned he had come across a good book in his partner’s father’s home. Looked out of print, but was willing to lend it to me.
  • Wow. William Stout Architectural Books “carries over 70,000 titles in the fields of architecture, art, urban planning, graphic and industrial design, furniture and interior design, and landscape architecture…The origins of the bookstore date back to when Bill Stout was a practicing architect and would go to Europe and bring back hard to find architectural books. His colleagues and friends would ask him to bring them back additional copies and thus the shop was born. About ten years ago, he started William Stout Publishers, which puts out a few books a year, mainly on architecture and landscape in the Bay Area, but also including books on architectural theory, and reprints of important, out of print titles.”

Climatic Architecture Survey

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Better places

  • A book/website that contains simple guidelines on how to design buildings that are climatically appropriate for different parts of Ghana. The goal is to make it easy to build a house that passively results in comfortable spaces, without the aid of expensive machinery. Ideally, the report would also include information about the traditional building methods and vernacular architecture from the past, and would distill the most important lessons from these ancient building methods for how to build in a way that is appropriately responsive to our environment.
  • While writing the design brief for Family Home, I tried to find resources that could explain some of the architectural elements we should include in the design that would make the building suitable for our climate in Ghana. I was unable to do so. I only recently found this instructive poster on architectural elements that one should strongly consider when designing and building in the tropics. It was published by a Panama-based firm called Cresolus which appears to specialise in these types of climate-conscious buildings that feel good to inhabit without the need for resource-guzzling machinery. This is a very illuminating video presentation from the founder on the main principles for how to design for the tropics.

100 illustrations of beautiful brick homes in Ghana

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places

  • An exhibition/coffee table book featuring over 100 illustrations/renders of imaginary brick buildings in a clearly Ghanaian context.
  • There are several benefits to building with fired clay brick. Unlike reinforced concrete, brick buildings are basically fireproof, they’re termite-resistant, they provide an even comfortable temperature throughout the day (reducing the cost of electricity spent on air condition), they age a lot more gently, and and they don’t require repainting to continue looking good. And yet, the majority of construction in Ghana happens with reinforced concrete. This, despite the fact that we’re blessed with rich clay deposits all over Ghana, and the ever-rising cost of imported materials. Additionally, it seems increasingly like it’s hard to make reinforced concrete buildings last longer than 50 years?
  • Part of the reason why we don’t build more in brick is that there are relatively few brick layers and brick makers in Ghana, which makes the initial cost more expensive. But this creates a vicious cycle where few people build in brick, which keeps cost high, which results in few people building in brick…and so on.
  • I believe strongly that the path towards creating more high quality housing in Ghana and improving the quality of the built environment includes making brick a viable alternative to concrete. I have a number of hypotheses on how to accomplish this. Ghanaians must come to desire and aspire to brick buildings. This is impeded by the fact that there are relatively rare examples of quality brick builds in Ghanaian urban areas. People can’t come to desire what they’ve never seen or experienced.
  • History tells us that in several examples where there was a significant change in architectural style, this was driven by images. Picture books, exhibitions, even single images and other artefacts that helped people see and emotional interact with a speculative vision of the built environment. (Noah Smith has a great article on the value of visualising the kinds of urban environments we want to live in)
  • So the goal here is to produce 100 images (ideally pencil sketches, watercolours, or 3D renders) showing beautiful examples of Ghanaian homes built in brick. Maybe run this as a competition for young Ghanaian architects? Maybe partner with a single architecture firm and sponsor them to produce?

Profile every 50+ year old brick building in Ghana

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places

  • A deeply-researched book about literally every brick building in in Ghana that is over 50 years old.
  • I’m obsessed with brick, and would love to better understand how this building material has been used in the past in Ghana.
  • I suspect the majority of these might be churches?
  • The profile for each building should contain high quality architecture photography, detailed drawings, and essays detailing how the building came to built, and how it has endured through time

Anthology of Ghanaian traditional thought

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better

  • Book/website that makes the major philosophical ideas from different Ghanaian tribes more accessible to a wider audience.
  • I’ve been consuming a lot of content recently about Japanese aesthetics and philosophical traditions. At some point, I realised that it’s relatively easy to access instructive material about some parts of the world - Greek philosophy, or Roman philosophy etc - and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered same about Ghanaian tribes.
  • What does Ga philosophy look like? I imagine it would be tied closely to the sea? What is Ewe thought? I have no idea. Where can someone find this information?

Dictionary / Taxonomy / Glossary of Light

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better

  • A glossary of hundreds of words related to light.
  • I am obsessed with natural light in a way that’s hard to explain. Not an exaggeration: I literally feel sick if I’m not positioned immediately next to a bright window for the majority of the day. Part of the attraction is deeply physical - being in light literally feels like being fed (I know this sounds strange. Just trying to explain how it feels). Part of it is ideological. The fact that light acts as both a particle and a wave ties on some level with my curiosity about the relationship between mass and text. It blows my mind how light pools. At a high enough density, it flows. Sometimes, light behaves like it is the middle place between water and air.
  • I’ve been deeply inspired by the book Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. It’s a difficult book to describe. On one hand, it contains several essays about how physical landscapes inform language, and how the language we use changes the landscape. On the other hand, it is a glossary of literally hundreds of words. There is something about that density of language - that word horde - that feels very good.
  • Would love to create a similar word horde that attempts to illuminate humanity’s relationship with light. Èit is “the practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.” Fireflacht is “lightning without thunder.” A sherperd’s lamp is the “first star that rises after sunset” A sun-scald is a “patch of bright sunlight on the surface of water.” For hundreds of words.

Ennobling, affordable housing for young people

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places, More creative risks

  • I believe that it’s a massive social crisis that so many young people are unable to afford to secure a living space of their own. I think this is huge problem whose second and third order impacts are non-obvious, but devastating.
  • It is important for everyone young person to have the space (literal and metaphorical) to try on new identities, explore new ideas, and make new mistakes. Moving into your own place is often an important pre-requisite for this process of evolution. I believe that there is a large social cost to how few people are able to have this experience, because decent housing is so expensive.
  • I think there’s a false dichotomy between cost and quality. I believe that a combination of design and business model innovation can deliver homes which are beautiful, which elevate people, and which are within reach of more young people, either as renters or buyers.
  • Very curious about experiments in Australia that are providing alternative paths to home ownership. Obsessed with the Nightingale Homes model. Some of the things that make it interesting: they sell homes at cost - new residents sign a contract agreeing to pass on this saving to future owners. Despite this, they invest in high quality finishings. They can do this due to the cost-savings from removing things like second bathrooms, individual laundries, and basement carparks. Each building project allocates up to 20% of homes to provide affordable, long-term leases to vulnerable members of the community as well as professions like nurses, teachers, and other care occupations (more info on their Priority Ballot policy). And the buildings are gorgeous. Here is an apartment tour on YouTube.
  • Assemble is another experimental housing project (also in Australia) that aims to put average people on the path towards home ownership. The apartments are beautiful.
  • I care about providing this for everyone, but have a special focus on young people. I believe strongly that young people with the security of a place of their own will go a long way towards creating more wonder.

Hyperlocal newsletter

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places

  • Something I really, really want to see exist: email/WhatsApp list for hyperlocal news at neighbourhood level. For example, a newsletter that covers East Legon, specifically.
  • Everyone reports national level, but there’s monetizable value to be captured by serving smaller, but more legible, audience of ppl who live/work same place.
  • Scribbled more thoughts about this on Twitter.

Infrastructure explainer

Status: Dreaming
Goal: Imagine better, Better places

  • Zine/website that explains how Accra infrastructure works
  • I’m painfully ignorant about how Accra works, but I would like to understand it better. Genuinely out of sheer curiosity. When the decision is made to tar a road, how is that decision made? When I flush the toilet, what happens? Is there a master plan for the city? What does it look like?
  • I love stuff that looks like this and it would be cool to have something similar but for Accra.