The Reality about East River



"There is a house built out of stone..
Wooden floors, walls and windowsills..
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust...
This is a place where I don't feel alone..
This is a place where I feel at home. "

- The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home



East River circa 2017, image via Inara Pey.

On a bus ride home from a Job application & interview, I had been contacted by the Grid's friendly neighborhood Bugs Bunny impersonator, Daniel Voyager, regarding my recent twitter post that East River was no longer existent. He had apparently featured said post in a blog post regarding the full dissolution of the East River Community.

I wish that I could have been featured on more positive grounds to be honest. I hate being the bearer of genuinely bad news.

However, during that bus ride, I had written a small tweet thread of the subject of East River's demise and the reality of maintaining communities in Second Life. It sadly was lost due to time constraints and me having to turn off the laptop. But I will reiterate what I went over in it here.

Ticking Clock

The reality about all places, be they in the virtual or real, is that they will not last forever. Second Life itself, will not last forever - but I'll be damned if I won't try to. But it really is inevitable. However, it is even more so for communities in SL like ERC.

There is a tremendous cost of maintenance and construction that goes into cities in Second Life to make them not just look aesthetically pleasing, but make them function properly as cities - city planning, how best to connect to the mainland road networks, where to place alternate methods of transit such as seaports and airports, and actually building the infrastructure for people to live, work and play in these communities.

East River, considering all constituent landowners' contributions, probably amassed to about 5 regions worth of land -- which in total would come to a rough estimate of about 900 USD per month, and that's not even including VAT for European constituents or premium which is required for owning mainland in the first place.

That is almost 1,000 dollars a month. My cost of living in the real world is comparable to the cost of keeping East River running. And that's not even mentioning the costs of constructing and assembling the city and its' infrastructure, which probably would round up to probably 2,000 USD over the lifespan of the city (over 10 years) going by public infrastructure alone, conservatively so.

Whilst this was, obviously split between several community leaders and members over its' lifespan, it is no small feat, and is a tribute to the sense of community and loyalty that residents of Second Life can engender when an idea brings itself to form. However as I said, to all things an end must come, and East River's fate has been sealed.

Financial obligations like East River's, especially when decentralized between multiple parties, exponentially puts the community at risk of losing components of the whole - Residents can either stop paying tier outright, be banned by Governance for violation of the TOS, delete their account, or suffer physical and mental damage that impairs their ability to fund the project, contribute to it, or both - or even worse, in the case of Hotel Chelsea's Enola Vaher, die.

This is ultimately the fate of large projects like East River, unless they are properly futureproofed and sustain interest and popularity beyond their years.

Understanding City Development in Second Life

Building a community project like a city in Second Life is not a simple task. It requires collaborators to help contribute to the city's development and success thereby - as well as thorough planning.

If you've played SimCity or Cities Skylines, you are in good company here, because these are basics for a developing city.

To Live..

Dating back to early humanity, humans tended to live as part of tribes. These tribes were mostly nomadic, going from place to place as the tribe's demands called for them. However, as time went on, we evolved societally to start embracing the concept of living in a static region and establishing residences and workplaces in said regions. These regions would become the great ancestor of modern cities and towns. 

For people to be able to partake in a city's offerings and contribute to its' economy and help it grow, obviously, people must be able to reside in it. That is where the first important part of cities in SL come in - Residential areas are important to a city's development, just as much as businesses and industry are. These workers at these stores and factories need a place to call home after all - and it's best to have said workers live in the same city or area as where they work, as to cut down on commute time and cost.

There isn't really much for conventional jobs in Second Life, outside of security at clubs and other venues or in the more liberal sense, hosting and DJing at said clubs, or managerial work at those locations. Regardless, the value of Residential areas in a city in SL and RL also has another purpose - it is both a source of revenue for the city's 'government', but also allows for the fostering of a proper community.

The word community comes from, as stated by the New World Encyclopedia:

"The word community is derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means "common, public, shared by all or many." Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix con- (which means "together") and the word munis (which has to do with performing services)."

Communities are formed as a result of multiple factors - be they shared locality, shared interest, or just out of shared companions and compatriots. Second Life cities take advantage of all three - they are often built on mainland, which inherently raises the attention of nearby residents - Shared locality - they are often built with a certain aesthetic or goal in mind - be it to be Japan-oriented (such as with Hiraya) or to support infrastructure such as an airport or seaport - Shared Interest, and more often than not, are established initially by a group of friends who desire to make the city work - Shared Companions.

To sustain these communities, the development of residential property available to the public is a necessity. As far as I am aware in East River, this was rare, bearing on non-existent. What land was available was used for infrastructure or private property, with little availability of easily acquirable properties for rent in East River. This effectively required you to live nearby and own land from Linden Lab to be part of the community - and no, owning a hangar at ERMA or ERIA doesn't particularly count, as those are commercial properties, not residential.

This means that those who were interested in being part of the community had a high cost of entry, and even then it wasn't that accessible as land in the area was always in high demand due to East River itself. The closest we had was a small hamlet on the south road towards East River Intercontinental whose name evades me, which I believe hosted both residential and commercial properties for rent.

As a result, both the financial and community components of East River failed in a sizable capacity. You can't really sustain a city when it's bleeding money, be it owned by one person or confederated like East River or Hiraya. But some may say - what about the airports? Surely people came often to the airports since ERIA and ERMA were both major hubs for Sansara, right?

Not exactly.

To work...

So we understand the residential problem. Commercially, East River also faced an issue - there wasn't much in terms of East River's commercial offerings. There were a few art galleries and a couple of stores, mostly in Helvellyn.

Everything else was mostly infrastructure or private properties that didn't really contribute much to the city's economy or desirability.

Now, this may be spitting in the eye of its' founders and citizens, but I offer an question. Why didn't you expand the commercial offerings to people? Offer large stores in SL like Osmia, Belzebubble, Blueberry or others to set up satellite stores in East River? It would draw both traffic and income to the city. Hiraya may not have gotten such big offerings, but she has offered commercial space to MIRAI Group, and to various others. Val Takeda runs her stores in Kosame-machi within Hiraya Village, which also drives traffic and income to the city.

There isn't really any excuse for it. And the Airports couldn't sustain themselves forever. ERMA and ERIA only have so much hangar space to go around, and even then they couldn't just charge more to dampen the cost.

The reality of economics is that apart from supply and demand, there is the average value of a good or service - what people in general expect to be able to pay for it. You wouldn't pay 10 dollars for a pack of Oreos, would you? No, you'd pay 3 bucks. The same goes for renting property in SL, or hell, buying things in SL - by failing to charge for a reasonable price to the consumer, they will go elsewhere. But in that, you lose profit, or in the case of cities in SL, the amount of money you earn in world to dampen the cost of land ownership and investments into that land diminishes, and eventually it will get to the point where the cost becomes unsustainable.

This was probably the case for the owner of ERIA and Hellvellyn, before they defaulted on their tier and surrendered it to Linden Lab.

Combine this with a lack of interest by the general public due to numerous factors, including low public awareness of the SL Mainland (which has, to its' credit, improved in recent years with groups like Drivers of SL and Operation Mainland.) and the dwindling active population of East River over time, and we have the commercial wasteland that was East River.

However, I'd be remiss without admitting that it had charm and something to offer.

And to Play..

East River was home to two airports, parks, aformentioned art exhibits, a beach and a beautiful riverside, among other features. It had a fully automated light rail network that connected most of the city, RapidER.

To say that East River was built to be a place that rewarded exploration is an understatement. Were such a thing realistically feasible, Its' sister city probably would be SW City in Activeworlds, especially since I see so much in common between East River and SW City in hindsight.

While it lacked residential development and its' commercial offerings left much to be desired, there truely was care taken into the authenticity and beauty of the city. It was a shining example of cities in Second Life in regards to their base design, but it really was flawed due to the aformentioned.

I would often take friends out to East River from my home in the Winterlands due southwest of East River, just to show them around and show them what the Mainland had to offer.

But now that it's gone, Hiraya stands as the next closest option, and it's miles away to the north in Heterocera. Now i'm no stranger to flying to Hiraya, I've done it so many times that I could probably fly the approach pattern to Yorkie Bardeen's airfield in my sleep in IMC NVFR* were it a thing in Second Life. But that's besides the point - Sansara now is left without a direct connection to any major population center. The closest we have is Bay City, and we have to go there by boat through a convoluted waterway system, or by aircraft which while nice, is unrealistic as to how one would get to a city. Which brings me to my favorite punching bag..

*Inclement Meteorological Conditions during Night Visual Flight Rules -- yeah, real big word salad huh - want croutons with it?


To err is Human - To fuck up is Linden Lab Policy

In real life, unlike in SL, cities do not exist within a vacuum. They rely on state and federal funding as well as local taxes and other things such as Occupational License fees (OLF) and other financial endeavors to survive. They also depend on regional and federal agencies and entities to do things such as maintain the power grid, build and maintain roads, establish and regulate infrastructure.

To run a city in Second Life is a wholly independent endeavor, which is offered little to no support by Linden Lab. Now, some will point to the SL Region Preservation Society, or SLRPS, but the reality is that SLRPS does not support infrastructure in Second Life in any capacity outside of the protection of historically important properties.

Hotel Chelsea was such an example, owned and operated by the late Enola Vaher. The Hotel was a replica of its' real life counterpart which hosted great artistic and musical minds such as Stanley Kubrick, Andy Warhol, and Pink Floyd. In SL it did much of the same, offering room and board to Second Life artists, Hotel Chelsea became a hub for the cultural arts in Second Life.

When Enola died, the Hotel entered into dire straits, and Linden Lab stepped into defer it from being seized, and in turn, the property was handed over to SLRPS.

The same was done with Hangers Liquides, when it was facing closure after Djehann Kidd reported facing financial hardships. SLRPS offered to take partial ownership of Hangers Liquides to help offset costs and keep it going.

Now, this is great for historical builds and preserving SL history.. but not so much for keeping cities operational. When SLRPS is transferred control of property, you are not allowed to make income from it. You can't even modify it without Linden Lab's overt authorization. This should be a last resort for cities to preserve at least part of their land for historical purposes should they become as historically valuable as East River was.

I have talked about this before both on Twitter and on Good Morning Agni - Linden Lab needs to do more to support community projects. To feign support by promoting communities with dedicated pages for them is insufficient and doesn't remedy the issue.

Cities in SL deserve, when done both on mainland and with a genuine attempt to be financially and economically feasible to the best of their ability, to be able to apply for a deduction on tier for the land belonging to that group. This would help promote in-world communities and towns which could act as community hubs for shops, homes and infrastructure. What reason is there not to support endeavors that clearly bolster the SL economy and promote interaction among residents? It makes no sense to not offer aid to these cities like Hiraya, East River, or others that have active populations and are contributing to the economy in a more active fashion than individuals like you or I?

Some may wonder why we need these cities and towns on mainland. The reality is that not everyone has the money to buy and sustain land on their own in SL, nor is everyone interested in living a skybox, which I feel is one of the biggest banes of Second Life. A city serves as mentioned before, a place to set up a home for low cost, and for stores to set up a presence in world either as main stores, or satellite locations.

The mainland is the one place in Second Life where collaborative building between landowners is encouraged for beautification's sake, and for the sake of again, communities. In recent years, Mainland, especially on the desolate territory of Zindra, has seen beautification efforts by individual residents to make the continents look better.

Cities, believe it or not, are part of this beautification effort. And I have seen many cities come and go on Mainland. My original 'hometown' of Gulfport in Hotei near NCI Kuula where I started out, is long gone. What little remains is maintained by Elron Carpenter as a residential community on General land, which is practically worthless to most parties, which is probably not sustainable since the man has been inactive in SL to my knowledge for years now.

The fact that Linden Lab has not done something already to support these projects in some meaningful fashion is disappointing. I'm not asking Linden Lab to shoulder the entire burden of paying for server fees for these cities. I am asking them to help ease it off the 'governments' that build and maintain them. As I have said numerous times - we should expect and demand better from the Lindens.

Conclusion

East River's fate was to be expected. I knew it in the back of my mind, much like my late Uncle who has recently passed away, that its' time was nearing.

But this didn't have to happen this way. Better urban planning, and promotion along with support from Linden Lab, would have ensured East River probably lasted at least 5 or more years with an active and passionate community.

But alas, due to the negligence of its' creators and unwillingness of Linden Lab to pitch in and either protect or unfuck things, this is where we end up - a big load of land that will probably go to some land barons and never get sold due to how massive East River's land plots were, unless they were to break them up and make the land unusable for urban development ever again.

I'm left saddened by the fact that East River is gone. It was truly beautiful, but truly flawed.

To rephrase the words of Jeremy Clarkson in his review of the final production model of the Pagani Zonda for Top Gear..

"Goodbye, East River... Goodbye."


"And, I built a home..
For you..
For me..
Until it disappeared..
From me..
From you..
And now, it's time..
To leave and turn..
To dust.."

- The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home

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