April 23, 2015  |  permalink

The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative


I’m delighted to announce I’m joining the Atlantic Council as a non-resident senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s Strategic Foresight Initiative. The Council is one of America’s most respected think tanks, founded in 1961 to build cooperation between America and its European allies during the Cold War. Today, SFI acts as the intelligence community’s de facto futurist arm, led by director Matthew Burrows — who previously started and ran the National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Futures Group. He’s written about his time there in his book, The Future, Declassified.

I was fortunate to speak at the Council’s annual Strategic Foresight Forum in 2013 on the challenges and opportunities of mega-urbanization, one of SFI’s key projects (and arguably the most innovative and interdisciplinary in the context of DC politics). I look forward to contributing to that project and wherever else I can be of service. To quote Hunter S. Thompson: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

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April 22, 2015  |  permalink

Mankind From Space


Last fall, I was interviewed for a documentary titled “Mankind From Space,” a truly big-picture look at the infrastructure making globalization possible. Although American viewers won’t be able to watch it until it airs on PBS sometime in 2016, Canadians will receive a sneak preview on May 3rd, when it airs on Discovery Canada. Due to the vagaries of international DRM, I’m not even able to watch the online trailer, but here’s a description:

From the global perspective of space, MANKIND FROM SPACE reveals the breathtaking extent of hum influence on the world; how we have transformed vast swathes of our planet and produced an interconnected world of extraordinary complexity.

This two-hour special examines seemingly small flashes of innovation in agriculture, commerce, power, transportation, communication and technology that forever changed the course of civilization. These human advances led to the creation of the modern wonders of the world and the development of an intricate web of networks that span the globe and link billions of us together.

Today satellites from space reveal this web of man-made networks that link us globally. Using the latest satellite data and cutting edge CGI technology, MANKIND FROM SPACE, peels back the networks layer by layer, revealing the globally connected society we live in.

Today’s wealth of data also helps us gaze into the future at the new challenges we face in order to survive – feeding and powering our rapidly growing population – and inspires us to pursue bold new innovations that will secure our future on earth.

MANKIND FROM SPACE reveals in stunning new detail how civilization developed, how it functions today and how it will work in the future.

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April 22, 2015  |  permalink

Next City: Will S.F.’s Market Street Be Redesigned Into a Place for Play?


(Originally published at Next City on April 15, 2015.)

Last Thursday morning, a cohort of visiting government officials, nonprofit founders and advocates for the arts spilled onto San Francisco’s Market Street to discover a hexagonal ping-pong table. To their delight, the table doubled as a virtual jukebox, blasting a repertoire of AC/DC and Stevie Wonder songs as they picked up paddles and began to play. It didn’t take long for a knot of curious onlookers to form, with a few taking seats on wooden stools arrayed around the table. As players tired, they passed their paddles to the next person waiting, and so it went the rest of the day into the night.

Arena/Play, as the installation was called, was one of the hits of last week’s Market Street Prototyping Festival, a three-day trial run of more than 50 projects vying to become permanent additions to the city’s most prominent thoroughfare ahead of its planned reconstruction in 2018. But the jury is literally still out on whether the table answered a deeper question: Does that passing of the paddle from one stranger to another represent the atomic building block of public space and public life — and if so, is it possible to capture these moments and manufacture more of them?

» Continue reading...

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March 24, 2015  |  permalink

RIBAJ: Why the office needs an overhaul


RIBA Journal — the house magazine of the Royal Institute of British Architects — quoted me in the new issue on the subject of office design:

Meanwhile, the ongoing march of technology will impose new space and infrastructure requirements, enabling offices to function more intelligently, monitoring and controlling functions such as ambient temperature, security systems, lighting, fire and life safety systems intuitively in real time.

Architects will have to adapt to meet the challenges of this brave new world, says Greg Lindsay, a workplace design expert and author: ‘I find it fascinating that there is a litany of business literature about the importance of disruption to working patterns to improve creativity and productivity, by changing teams, altering their food and environment etc, yet we still work in offices that are designed once and typically last 10 years or more without a refresh.’

He adds: ‘Workplace design today reflects the formal hierarchies of how work is supposedly done, yet we know from studies that work actually gets done in an informal, less structured way. The question for architects designing the offices of the future is: how do you do a better job of reflecting that, rather than struggling against it by producing the same pointless buildings over and over again?’

Read the entire thing here.

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March 19, 2015  |  permalink

Global Solution Networks: The Trust Network

(On February 20, I participated in the Global Solution Networks Summit in Washington, DC. Launched by the Tapscott Group and based at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, GSNs are part of an effort to imagine new models of problem-solving. I was asked to chair the summit’s Cities table, and a summary of our discussion — and proposed GSN for housing — is below. The complete report can be found here.)

By 2025, 60% of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. Rapid urbanization will cause significant stress on the existing infrastructure and social dynamics of cities. Yet, cities continue to be economic powerhouses—offering jobs and opportunities. In order for the benefits of cities to be maximized, it is vital that solutions are found to problems like urban poverty, pollution, congestion, and exclusion.

The Cities roundtable was facilitated by Greg Lindsay of the World Policy Institute. The group discussed urban issues such as transportation and congestion, lack of cooperation between public and private actors on urban design, austerity measures that have cut public services, and disaster preparedness. The role of major urban groups such as the academic and private sectors was also explored. It was difficult for the group to narrow down a specific problem to tackle as many of the issues are interrelated. Debate ensued about whether it would be valuable to create a meta-network where municipalities could access solutions occurring in other areas, or whether it would be better to start with a test case issue that could be scaled.

Ultimately, the group focused on the issue of affordable housing. Housing sits at the center of a whole host of urban issues, including inequality, austerity, and tenure. Community land trusts (CLTs) were developed in the United States fifty years ago as a citizen- and community-led alternative to government-provided public housing. While CLTs have proven their longevity, they have proven difficult to scale. This is because their principal advantage— sequestering land via the trust to eliminate the volatility of housing price—requires significant up-front costs to acquire land for little return.

SOLUTION: “The Trust Network” would be an operational and delivery network that creates a land trust through collaborative financing. The land held by the trust would be used as collateral to create public spaces and services. Multiple stakeholders would be brought in to take a grassroots approach to developing functional communities within cities.

“While creating such a network would still require large initial investments for land acquisition, it would still be possible to use banked land as extremely conservative collateral to help launch revenue-generating businesses that could finance the operation of the trusts and later acquire more land, thus perpetuating the growth of the network.”

Table participants:
Greg Lindsay, World Policy Institute
Faizal Karmali, Rockefeller
Heather Black, Anomaly
Bridget Roddy, US Department of State
Andy Shaindlin, Alumni Futures
Christopher Vivone, Cisco Systems
Bernhard Ritz, SAP
Nausheen Iqbal, American University

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March 19, 2015  |  permalink

Next City: SF Is Getting Musical Walls, “Data Lanterns” and Street Furniture Made of Mushrooms


(Published at Next City on March 19, 2015.)

Next month, the 250,000 daily travelers along Market Street — San Francisco’s three-mile-long central artery — will discover some new attractions along their commutes. Near the Embarcadero, a metal wall six feet tall and eight feet long will chime when touched or tapped. In the Financial District, “Data Lanterns” will draw on transit and other public data feeds to glow in response to arriving trains. A little further down the street, near the city’s Civic Center, billowing sheets of fabric will evoke a more tactile version of fog, while a street theater with seats made of compacted mushrooms will be composted after use.

These are just four of the fifty finalists in the Market Street Prototyping Festival, a novel effort to engage local designers, artists, and residents of surrounding neighborhoods in the remaking of thirty-six blocks of Market Street ahead of its planned reconstruction in 2018. For three days in April, the public will play-test their projects, offering feedback that will be used to select concepts to include in the final design.

The festival is also a prototype in its own right for a Bay Area strain of tactical urbanism that neither originates purely from above (a la the stealth makeover of Times Square in New York) or below (e.g. painting your own bike lanes), but tries to occupy middle ground. In this iteration of tactical urbanism, city planners commission ideas from citizens, iterate their designs with the help of community and professional partners, and incorporate their creations into official plans. The festival’s backers hope the process can become a model for other cities.

» Continue reading...

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March 19, 2015  |  permalink

Inc: Which Contacts Should You Keep in Touch With? Let This Software Tell You


“I have 6,000 contacts. Which ones should I be talking to?” asks Andy Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Pasadena, California-based startup Rexter. “It used to be answered by intuition, but intuition doesn’t scale.” Rexter’s answer is to plug into users’ social media profiles, Microsoft Exchange servers, and phone conversations and start listening. There, running silently, it reads emails, logs chats, and keeps tabs on calendars. Once you program Rexter with stated objectives—find new hires; raise more funding—algorithms that analyze the quality and fre­quency of your communications hunt for patterns buried in your exchanges with connections and suggest whom you should contact. Who’s relevant to your latest deal—and when were you last in touch? Who on your team has an in with a potentially valuable target?

Rexter—which costs $30 for individuals and $50 per interlinked user in group settings—also gathers formidable intel on your operations. “This gives you a deep dive into what [employees] actually do,” says Ted Simpson, a Los Angeles-based managing director of real-estate firm Avison Young. “Are they spending too much time cold-calling instead of relationship-building?” He describes Rexter as “the missing link between Salesforce.com, Outlook, and your Rolodex.”

That’s the newest sweet spot in the $20 billion-plus customer relationship management market, in which Salesforce tracks pending transactions, LinkedIn traces whom you know and how, and group-chat programs such as Asana and Slack seek to replace email as the best way to follow tasks and conversations. If those are partial maps of how work gets done and by whom, Rexter aspires to be Waze, and offer turn-by-turn directions to accomplish specific tasks.

Wilson was inspired to start Rexter after struggling to manage relationships as he helped launch more than a dozen startups as a founder and director of Momentum Venture Management, a Los Angeles tech accelerator. No tool could handle the pace and scale of tackling his many tasks, he recalls: “There was simply no good way to manage your social network for the benefit of a team.” In 2010 he set out to invent one, and he’s since raised $2.3 million from such angel investors as the former CEOs of Ticketmaster and paid search pioneer Overture. Today, Rexter’s competitors include RelateIQ—which was bought by Salesforce last year for $390 million—and Humin, a new app that adds context to your contacts list.

One seductive possibility for entire businesses using Rexter: comparing outcomes (deals closed, products launched) with the flurries of messages preceding them, revealing successful strategies that can be copied. That’s what Mark Madigan hopes. He’s the national sales director of the privately held insurance firm Risk Strategies. “We have very high hit rates when we get in front of clients or prospects,” he says. “But our struggle is getting enough meetings. How do we get more?” Rexter, he believes, will help.

Wilson readily admits that, within groups, the intelligence his software collects could be abused, but stresses there are protections in place to prevent managers and teammates from, say, reading others’ email. He’s hopeful customers will choose enlightened self-interest over undermining internal competitors. “In organizations where you eat what you kill,” he says, “we can help you kill more.”

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March 19, 2015  |  permalink

Inc: 5 Global Cities of the Future

If you’re still pondering whether to head to Silicon Valley for your next startup, you’re not thinking big enough or far enough. Over the coming decade, the 600 largest and best-connected cities on the planet will contain a fifth of the world’s population, capture almost two-thirds of its economic growth, and encompass more than half of global GDP, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. And, as great as the Bay Area and Boulder and Austin are for launching a startup, you’d be only scratching the surface here when it comes to corralling talent, tapping the world’s next big market (hint: they speak Arabic), or being present for the next tech breakthrough.

America’s entrepreneurial spirit is too big to be contained by borders. Here, we present five global alternatives to traditional hotbeds of startup creation and growth. Each city offers unique advantages to American entrepreneurs, and each is a regional—or even global—hub in its own right. Some are great places to launch a business or expand into new markets. Others offer access to expertise or technologies that may not yet be available in the U.S. Many are home to some of the world’s best workers, as well as to partners who will help you scale.

For example, Istanbul and Dubai are gateways to the modern Middle East, a market that is growing faster than (and is younger and bigger than) that of the United States. Santiago, Chile, has made a name for itself as one of the most foreign-entrepreneur-friendly cities on the planet, and as a test bed for launching into Latin America. Tallinn, Estonia, is one of the world’s most internet-connected cities, with a deep pool of technical talent thanks to all the Skype alumni running around. Shenzhen, China, aspires to be the Silicon Valley for hardware makers, a place where accelerators are eager to help you build, test, refine, and make a million of something all in the same day. If these cities aren’t already on your radar as lands of opportunity for your company, let this serve as notice that they should be.


1. Gateway to a Megamarket

Population • 2.1 million
Most famous startup • Souq.com

Only the kingdom of bling would kick off a recruiting drive for entrepreneurs with a $1.5 billion “innovation hub.” Announced last fall, this mammoth expansion of Dubai’s Internet City is poised to be the launchpad for a new generation of Arab-owned companies looking to partner with the emirate’s deep-pocketed conglomerates and to expand across the entire region.

Widely written off after the global financial crisis, Dubai has lost none of its swagger—and none of the advantages that made it the region’s best business hub. Entrepreneurs willing to endure scorching summers, punishingly high housing costs, and a dearth of local tech talent are able to exploit the emirate’s unmatched investments in infrastructure, low taxes, and tolerance for expatriates. It’s one of the world’s “few truly connected global cities,” according to the McKinsey Global Institute, and one that’s a crossroads for North Africa and the Middle East.

Dubai’s monarchy can also think like a startup when it wants to. The inaugural U.A.E. Drones for Good competition awarded more than $1 million in prizes in February as part of an effort to seed the Middle East’s drone industry, with more than a dozen such startups launching in the emirate. A similar initiative, the U.A.E. 3-D Printing Innovation Alliance, brings together local universities, 3-D-printer companies, and regional entrepreneurs in an attempt to cement Dubai’s status as the leader in an industry that’s still searching for its killer app.

» Continue reading...

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January 24, 2015  |  permalink

Next City: How Dating Apps Are Changing the Way We Behave in Public


(Originally published at Next City on January 21, 2015.)

Last month, on a blustery night the week before Christmas, my friend Jeff Ferzoco and I sat alone in a gay club in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood discussing Grindr, the mobile dating app used daily by five million gay men around the world. We’d arrived at the bar too early, he assured me. By the end of the night, he said, “it will be so crowded people will be using it just to see who’s in the room.”

I believed him, because earlier that year I had seen Jeff navigate the social terrain of Manhattan’s East Village this way. Ferzoco is a designer, the former creative director of New York’s Regional Plan Association, and the author of The You-City, which envisions a smart city five minutes into the future. As such, he’s someone who thinks a lot about how our phones are changing our relationship with public space. Instead of using Grindr (or his preferred alternative, Scruff) to meet men from the comfort of his couch, he keeps tabs on his friends who are already out to decide when and where to join them.

Walking up 2nd Ave. that night in August, Ferzoco had held his phone before him like a compass, checking to see whether we were getting closer to his friends or moving farther away. Scruff, like Grindr, reveals other users’ proximity as the crow flies, but doesn’t disclose their exact location — at least not intentionally. He had mentally mapped the app’s generic distances onto the Manhattan grid (“Two-hundred-and-fifty feet is about a block-and-half,” he said) and could reference his location against a list of their usual haunts. On that night, he found them at a bar called Nowhere.

For all the handwringing about “hookup” apps undermining monogamy, fewer have wondered how their use of proximity to serve up potential matches is changing users’ perceptions of the city. Based on sheer numbers and intensity, they must be. Grindr’s rise was a watershed in a cruising culture that had always relied on coded signals and assignations in public space. Today, 38 million messages are exchanged daily through the app, many in countries where homosexuality is a capital crime.

Many observers doubted whether Grindr’s meat market would translate to straight dating until Tinder’s arrival. The notoriously addictive app has been downloaded more than 40 million times in less than three years and at last count was making 14 million matches daily. Depending on who you ask, it’s worth somewhere between $500 million and $5 billion to its parent, IAC.

» Continue reading...

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January 18, 2015  |  permalink

Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density at the Van Alen Institute

On December 9, 2014, I hosted “Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density,” an event hosted by the Van Alen Institute and co-sponsored by the World Policy Institute. In a pair of back-to-back panels, we explored how Rust Belt cities are struggling to repurpose vacant land and adapt the delivery of fundamental services, while cities like Mumbai and Lagos sprawl ever outward with dense informal communities. In both cases, adapting to sudden population change presents a massive challenge. How can city infrastructure and policy keep pace with the dramatic shifts brought on by rapid growth and decline?

The video above is from the second panel dealing with the challenges of immigration and mega-urbanization. I was joined by Janice Perlman, Founder & President of the Mega-Cities Project; and Rachel Peric, deputy director of Welcoming America. Please enjoy.


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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company, author of the forthcoming book Engineering Serendipity, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI).

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

Inc.  |  March 2015

Which Contacts Should You Keep in Touch With? Let This Software Tell You

Inc.  |  March 2015

5 Global Cities of the Future

Global Solution Networks  |  December 2014

Cities on the Move

Medium  |  November 2014

Engineering Serendipity

New York University  |  October 2014

Sin City vs. SimCity

Harvard Business Review  |  October 2014

Workspaces That Move People

Inc.  |  April 2014

The Network Effect

Atlantic Cities  |  March 2014

How Las Vegas (Of All Places) May Be About to Reinvent Car Ownership

Wired (UK)  |  October 2013

How to Build a Serendipity Engine

Next American City  |  August 2013

IBM’s Department of Education

The New York Times  |  April 2013

Engineering Serendipity

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Swedish Modern Comes To Town

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Working Beyond the Cube

Fast Company  |  December 2012/January 2013

Imagine Air Travel Without Hassle: Surf Air Can

WSJ  |  November 2012

Jeanne Gang

Fast Company  |  June 2012

That’s So Fly

Next American City  |  May 2012

Chartered Territory

The New York Times  |  Feburary 2012

Designing a Fix for Housing

Departures  |  October 2011

Instant Cities

Travel + Leisure  |  October 2011

The Future of Travel

» See all articles


April 23, 2015

The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative

April 22, 2015

Mankind From Space

April 22, 2015

Next City: Will S.F.’s Market Street Be Redesigned Into a Place for Play?

March 24, 2015

RIBAJ: Why the office needs an overhaul

» More blog posts