Tom MacWright

Recently - New York

I just moved to New York. Three years and nine months ago, I landed in San Francisco. When you leave San Francisco, you’re required to write a Medium post about it, so here’s mine.

San Francisco is a dream to run in. You have hills like Twin Peaks that tower over the city, rugged places like Glen Canyon where you can forget you’re in a city. Running around the Embarcadero in the heat, and running to the ocean via Golden Gate Park, where that last leg of JFK Drive gets chilly because of the sea breeze. Elevation is so unavoidable that some hilly runs start to seem flat, then you visit another city and realize you can run 20 seconds faster a mile when things are actually flat.

When I moved to San Francisco, I moved to the Haight-Ashbury. Realizing the mistake, I lived in the Mission District for the rest. I’ll miss the Mission’s parks - Dolores and Precita, where dogs run free and laws don’t seem to apply. The food was an embarrassment of riches, every Taquería perfecting some different aspect of the craft, Rosamunde including such good vegan options that it became a mainstay, Mission Chinese with its inventive, perfect takes on Chinese food, Arizmendi with perfect scones and bread.

I wanted to make things and experience different versions of building a tech startup, and I think I did. When I started at Observable, it was just me and Mike, and now it’s a team of 25, with a successful Series A funding raise. The stealth startup I worked at in 2020 gave me a chance to wear the CTO hat and build a team again, and they seem to be progressing pretty well, too. Both experiences were vastly different than Mapbox. At Mapbox, we were in an odd city to build a startup (DC) and most people were doing it for the first time and figuring it out as we went. In San Francisco, everyone had a bit more experience, the norms were more established, the scoreboard a lot easier to see.

I’ll miss the folks I met in San Francisco, and the people I reconnected with who moved there as well. Cities like SF have a critical mass of my people, something that’s irreplaceable and rare. It’s probably an old joke, but I once saw Bill Nye live, and someone in the audience asked him:

Audience member: What’s your favorite planet?

Bill Nye: Earth, because all of my friends are here.

Of course I have gripes about San Francisco. It has deep, deep problems that I’m not sure it can fix, because of broken political factions and ineffective power structures. Everyone else has written the critiques already.

But right now, someone is moving to San Francisco, ready to spend some of the best years of their life there. San Francisco will be the best place they can be. The same is true for DC, New York, Boston, and a million other places. People brimming with excitement will find the dull bars and make them exciting again, see the broken policies and argue for better ones.

And it’s bullshit, absolute bullshit for me or anyone to say that a place is over. I’ve heard it every time I’ve moved, including to DC - that the golden era of DC ended somewhere around 2008, right before I arrived. The authentic experience existed, but you just missed it.

Don’t believe that: authenticity is fools gold, a vague identity that is constantly being redefined by nostalgia. And cities, really most cities, are places where you have the opportunity to create any experience you want.

I’m really excited about New York. There are a lot of practical reasons why I moved here, but at the core is the reason that I simply wanted to and I think I love this place.