Duncan Wilcock


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

My Favourite Books in 2019

Inspired a bit by Barack Obama's annual lists, here is a list of my favourite books I have read in 2019, with a  little summary of what I found most compelling about them:

The Wealthy Renter

by Alex Avery
Link to more info about the book

I live in Vancouver, Canada's most expensive housing market, and a city that ranks high on the global list of expensive cities to live in.  My wife and I have a young son, and we rent.  We are both masters educated professionals, earning pretty solid incomes, decent savings, and no debt.   I have felt a lot of pressure to buy a house, and until I read this book had felt a lot like:  "well it's too bad we rent, but we missed the boat and it's ok."     This has shifted my thinking to being quite thrilled that we rent, and that in itself is a huge burden lifted.

I was thrilled to find this a solid book with an analytical approach to home-ownership, and written about the Canadian housing market. At the end it has analyses for the major cities in Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and more.   It didn't take a lot of extra analysis to make it apply directly to me.

Some key points I took away from it:

  • A clear framework for understanding that real-estate values is about the land appreciating, while all aspects of the building depreciate. 
  • Spending on the building is consumption, and some wealthy people rent to help keep that boundary clear.
  • Over-housing - a new term to me, that is well explained here - is incentivized under the ownership model.
  • About 70% of Canadians own houses, so no wonder the rental stock is woefully undersupplied, and of inadequate quality in a lot of cases.
  • Between about 1992 and 2017 - an unprecedented run-up in house prices in Canada - the same amount of money invested in index funds would have still outperformed the housing market in most housing markets in Canada.
  • Approaches for making upgrades to my rental unit that are creative, potentially appealing to the landlord, and freeing from the feeling of "well, no point in making it nicer - we rent"

Human Transit

Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives
by Jarret Walker
Link to more info about the book

Jarret Walker is a Transit planner.  This book is written in clear, simple, human language and is intended for the lay-person who is interested in how transit networks are built and operated within their city.

Transit networks are the most effective way to move people around cities.  Like most systems, there are some fundamental tensions in their design.

Coverage vs. Ridership:  A system optimize so that everyone has an opportunity to get on it, but this results in a network spread thin, and service that is not as frequent than if the system is optimized to move the most people - which means frequent service on the most ridden corridors.

 Many of us in North America, brought up in a car-culture that assumes that to move is to use a car,

My interest in this book evolved from my interest in Micromobility over the last few years, and learning more about how with a limited amount of street-space, we can choose the travel modes (car, bike, bus) that move the most number of people per hour.  You guessed it, the car moves the least people in any given lane, bikes more, walking more, and the bus the  most for any given street).

Fundamentally - cities, streets, and moving people within the city is a problem of geometry.  Cars occupy a lot of physical space.  If we shift the focus to moving people rather than cars, we see that there are ways to move people that occupy less physical space.  Simple Geometry. :)

The following graphic sums up some of the key points very well.  The Human Transit blog is a wealth of even deeper information.

The Thinking Ladder

by Tim Urban, Wait but Why?
Link to the series of posts

This is not yet a book, but I think it should be soon.  It's certainly book length, and includes some great thinking about thinking.

I found it at the recommendation of a business leader I'm currently quite a fan of - Tobi Lutke - CEO of Shopify - an important Canadian tech company based in Ottawa.

In part it "is a new language we can use to think and talk about our societies and the people inside of them."  (Tim Urban)

Go read it, and then let's talk!