Tony Hsieh & Geoffrey West lecture and discussion with Cyndi Conn

This was a great set of events staged by the Santa Fe Institute, Creative Santa Fe and St Johns College.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and the Las Vegas Downtown Project worked with focus groups at the two local institutions to discuss the insights and initiatives that he has taken in Las Vegas (NV). Participants at the SFI session included the entire Cities science group led by Geoffrey West, Mayor Javier Gonzales and his senior administration, arts and education leaders.Topis included methods, metrics and programs and specific issues facing our two communities.

SFI gave presentations regarding research and insights into urban mechanics including the social reactor scaling concepts by Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt. Researchers presented work done around the world documenting the complex urban fabric of slums and informal settlement. Deborah Strumsky gave an exciting update on her research using patents to measure local productivity.

Tony Hsieh introduced his team and presented the goals, methods, details, results from his 3 year old effort. Tony organized $350 Millions in investments ranging from real-estate redevelopment to tech start-up investment to investing ideas and lifestyle festivals to small business loans. Since this is a scientific organization, Tony shows his focus on measuring community “collisions”. Social interactions within the local neighborhood community. Coffee shops, co-working spaces, wide sidewalks with seating and dining, public wifi all help facilitate various levels of interaction between groups and individuals, leading to ideas, action, projects and businesses.

In Santa Fe terms. this would mean about $35 million dollars of investment (we are about 10% the size).

On the evening of September 3rd, Creative Santa Fe hosted a public lecture by Tony and Geoffrey West with a little discussion moderated by Cyndi Conn. The video is available online at:

Lots of use left inspired and I have heard a few discussions in the following days.


Easy if you have a billion dollars and a company the size of Zappos behind your initiatives….. But again – not as tough if on a Santa Fe scale of $35 million.

Look for a redevelopment site – not a vibrant or emotional location. Is this St Mikes redevelopment or Airport Road in-fill. Is it still the Railyards? Is it the South Capitol transit hub? Is it a little bit of each and a coordinated transportation network.

Urban social reactors depend on infrastructure conducive to interaction at the human scale to gain the best results. Density allows for this type of development in most urban centers. Santa Fe is in that low density range that struggles from the dependance of car and sub-urban isolation. Sprawl is killing us. We need a master plan that has 4 levels of detail. The Regional network: commutable distances for specialized tasks. Urban boundary for community resources aggregation and networking. Neighborhood pedestrian scale for social interaction and daily livability .

Our core downtown is a mix of tourism and lifestyle businesses in a historically managed setting. There is no start-up space.

We need an ideas festival. Wouldn’t that be fun!

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