Bootstrapping: reversible equations and the café theory of squatting

April 13, 2008

Squatters can sustain their occupation of abandoned buildings, by opening a café. In a city, if they do it well, and differentiate themselves, the café will get them local support, with which to petition for residence.

This doesn't happen often in the US today, where landlords in many cities are allowed to sit on empty properties indefinitely. But at many times & places, squatting has been a viable, direct-action approach to urban revitalization.

It may seem like a sequence:

1. live in the building

2. open a café

3. get community support

But, really, this is just one path to the final goal, a "community-supported residence-café", if you will:

Z: "community-supported residence-café"

a: "live in the building"

b: "open a café"

c: "get community support"

or Z = a + b + c

Say you have "c", and have almost all the components for "b" -- but you don't have any investment -- how are you going to finish "b"?

It turns out, that the key is "a": get squatters. If people live in the building (kind of an entrepreneurial community) they can run the café, completing the equation.

So, it turns out that to bootstrap a community project with no money, these "puzzles" must be completed, in some order. If you don't have one piece, work on another piece, until the whole is complete.

One can imagine a computer program in which these equations reside: it lets you find the pieces, and helps you to identify those that are missing from a successful community project.

Greg Bryant