January 10, 2017 | permalink
I’m headed to Abu Dhabi next week to speak at the World Future Energy Summit about sustainable transport and connected mobility. In advance of that talk, the organizers quizzed me at length about disruption, the Law of Connectivity, and whether we need to break up with cars. (Yes.) Our discussion follows:
How do we take practical steps to achieve urban sustainability and to make transport more climate friendly?
One way of framing the question is to think about the future we’re trying to avoid, a future the science fiction author Bruce Sterling once described as: “Old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky.” He was alluding to the triple dilemma of global aging, urbanization, and climate change.
This is the future we’ll have to grapple with — how do we help a population that’s likely to grow old before they grow rich stay in their homes leading healthy and hopefully happy lives even as temperatures and sea levels rise?
The first thing we’ll need is more cities — a lot more of them. Where will we build them? The Arabian Gulf is interesting to me for that reason, as it has become the emblem for instant urbanism. But to focus on how to build more ‘Abu Dhabis’ or ‘Dubais’ is to miss the bigger picture, which is that most people will live in slums by 2050 unless we help them build better cities first.
That’s why the real technology breakthroughs won’t be at the high end — but ultra-affordable, modular, humane housing that can be more or less built by hand, with solar panels on every corrugated tin roof powering clean, electric, autonomous tuk-tuks that might replace one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions and air pollution on Earth. (The latter already kills more people in Africa every year than malnutrition and unsafe sanitation combined).
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is an experiment in building sustainable cities, and we certainly need more of those. But we also need the blueprints for future cities anyone can build if we want to see new technologies adopted in time to make a difference.
The bigger questions will be around governance and finance — who’s going to recognize the right of people to live where they are and to build a home? Who’s going to pay for the necessary infrastructure — plumbing and roads — and ensure they’re public goods rather than private amenities? The opportunities for win-win solutions could be enormous — imagine giving away a house in order to build, own, and operate the panels on the roof?
To what extent can new technology promote more sustainable transport behaviors?
Cities are always formed around whatever the state-of-the-art in transportation is at the time. Today, the state of the art is the smartphone (and the cloud computing behind it). The ability to coordinate and orchestrate multiple modes is more important than any mode itself. Which is how you get Waze, and Uber, and eventually autonomous vehicles — the routing and provisioning of vehicles becomes more powerful than the mode in question. Done right, this could be a powerful force for good in cities — replacing solo drivers with shared, electric, autonomous vehicles supplementing transit would do wonders for reducing carbon emissions, noise and air pollution, and freeing the streetscape for other uses.
The dominant mode of transport in megacities across the Global South isn’t the train or the bus or even the private automobile — it’s an informal minibus like Nairobi’s matatus or Manila’s jeepneys. In Manila’s case, jeepneys — oversized jeeps that cost little but belch exhaust and are terrible unsafe — still carry nearly half the city’s commuters. If we can manage to replace these fleets with clean, quiet, inexpensive electric vehicles, the impact on emissions and quality of life would be enormous. That’s where the greatest gains might come.
Will public transport enjoy a resurgence in the future transport scenario?
I certainly hope so, but I’m not optimistic. Uber is the best-known and most valuable new mobility service in use, and it’s massively subsidizing fares as part of its plan to use the efficiencies generated by network effects to price itself below public transit. The lower costs of autonomous vehicles will only accelerate this trend — the Boston Consulting Group predicts that AVs carrying three or more passengers would quickly destabilize rail ridership — which means it is incumbent on public transport operators to quickly incorporate these tools into their own networks and use them to reinforce mass transit.
In earlier interviews, you’ve talked about the ‘hijacking of natural systems as potential technology platforms’. That sounds quite sinister in intellectual property terms.
I wasn’t trying to sound sinister! It was more of a gloss on Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.” As we’ve already seen in efforts to harvest jet fuel from algae and farm spider silk at scale, I think the great opportunities in synthetic biology will be the creation of new, biological manufacturing platforms. But we should absolutely be worried about the intellectual property implications of this — what would it mean to own the IP on oil, for example? In addition to a code of ethics for synthetic bio and the like, we should also consider creating a civilization commons to ensure no one is paid a licensing fee for the building blocks of reality.
You’ve also spoken about how Virtual Reality could be used as a sustainable alternative to travel. Could you expand on this potential development?
While researching my book Aerotropolis, I coined the “Law of Connectivity:” every technology designed to circumvent distance only increases our need to travel. This law has been observed from the invention of the telegraph to the present. We are travelling more than ever, at every scale — within cities, between them, and across continents. While VR could one day fulfill its early potential as a totally immersive substitute for face-to-face conversations, I’m doubtful — and even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean the law will be repealed.
Which countries are best suited to integrating disruptive transportation models?
The countries best suited to integrating new modes of transport are the ones that already have a rich mix of options with policies to support them. I’m thinking about cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, New York and London — places where shared, electric, autonomous vehicles can supplement, rather than replace, strong transit networks. The Middle East is making great strides toward this, too, with metros in Dubai and soon Riyadh. Having flexible and far-sighted policies are important, too — how we regulate road space and parking in a world of AVs will be critical.
What are the policy imperatives in bringing about more sustainable transport?
I think it’s telling that Los Angeles — the city that invented car culture! — just passed a measure by 70% of voters that will raise more than US$100 billion for transportation projects over the next several decades. That’s incredible. But cities will need to be incredibly smart about policy, and will need to withstand legal challenges from private actors like Uber on their ability to regulate new entrants accordingly. For example, central London’s congestion pricing zone quickly removed 60,000 private vehicles from the streets when it was introduced. In the last two years alone, Uber has put 20,000 vehicles back thanks to a loophole for livery cabs. What will happen when AVs arrive? Without thoughtful and airtight regulation — including thorough congestion pricing — these problems will only get worse.
Does our love affair with the car need to end?
It’s not about trading one’s car for public transport — given the changes we’re seeing with shared vehicles and AVs, “public transport” might well mean a luxury SUV. But if cities continue to optimize development for the car, they will guarantee a city that is navigable only by car. We built those cities here in America in the middle of the last century; trust me, you don’t want that.
How can the possible negative impacts of disruptive technology be managed responsibly?
It’s not about technology; it’s about politics and economics. Take artificial intelligence and automation, for example. Technology itself is not making people superfluous; technology coupled with our current, wildly unequal societies is responsible for that. We need equally disruptive innovations in politics and economics to keep pace with whatever changes are wrought by new technology.
January 10, 2017 | permalink
BLDGBLOG and A Burglar’s Guide to the City author Geoff Manaugh has a deep, deep dive in The Atlantic into LAX’ homegrown counter-terrorism intelligence unit, one designed to both thwart potential threats and collect intelligence on passengers passing through the United States’ single largest entrepot.
Geoff interviewed me for BLDGBLOG when Aerotropolis was published in 2011, and I in turn interviewed him for FSG’s Work in Progress. So he was kind enough to call me for some context on LAX and how it fits into the global network of trade and movement that really defines the world:
Greg Lindsay is coauthor of the 2011 book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, written with University of North Carolina business consultant John Kasarda. Seen through Lindsay’s eyes, aviation logistics takes on near-psychedelic dimensions. When someone looks at a map of the world, he or she might take in superficial details, like the outlines of nation-states, but Lindsay sees tax-free supply-chain hubs, special economic zones, and transnational land deals. Individual airports, he pointed out, are complexly knit together through global-service contracts and preferred air routes that often defy straightforward geopolitical explanations. What’s more, the value of consumer goods that pass through the LAX-to-Tokyo or LAX-to-Shanghai air corridors often exceeds the GDPs of many nation-states—yet those invisible routes, despite their outsize economic influence, don’t show up on world maps.
The fact that an airport such as LAX would begin to realize its true power and economic stature in the world is not at all surprising for Lindsay—nor, of course, is it news to anyone that airports are increasingly terrorist targets. A piece of infrastructure turning into its own intelligence-gathering apparatus, Lindsay suggested, is just “the natural trickle-down effect of when, after 9/11, the NYPD expanded its own intelligence efforts, deciding that the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security were simply not good enough. They had to project their own presence.” More to the point, they realized, like LAX, just how much there was to protect—and how badly other people wanted to destroy it.
Today’s threats, whether terrorist or merely criminal, are increasingly networked and dispersed; it only makes sense that an institution’s response to them must take a similar form. It might sound like science fiction, but, in 20 years’ time, it could very well be that LAX has a stronger international-intelligence game than many U.S. allies. LAX field agents could be embedded overseas, cultivating informants, sussing out impending threats. It will be an era of infrastructural intelligence, when airfields, bridges, ports, and tunnels have, in effect, their own internal versions of the CIA—and LAX will be there first.
January 04, 2017 | permalink
(Originally published at Backchannel on January 4, 2017.)
When siblings Jonathan Smalley and Melanie Charlton began brainstorming a startup in her Annapolis basement in 2014, they were unwittingly following in the footsteps of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the pair who plotted the trajectory of their namesake company, Silicon Valley, and ultimately the zeitgeist from the splendid isolation of their Palo Alto garage. But Smalley and Charlton chose a different path, relocating to Washington, D.C. expressly to join the city’s first WeWork outpost. “We had been working from home, alone,” recalls Charlton. “Once we moved in, immediately everything began to change.”
They weren’t looking to change the world; their firm, Brilliant Communications (later shortened to the vowel-challenged Brllnt) would design the apps and sites and services for those who did. So they set out to meet their neighbors through liberally dispensing help, advice, and round after round of Nintendo’s Mario Golf paired with WeWork’s infamous free beer.
What followed reads like a parody of millennial startup culture — Smalley the salesman in his cutaway-collared shirts; Charlton the chic creative lead; her Shiba Inu, Cinna, starring in the annual “Dogs of WeWork” calendar — but it worked. They met 400 people in the office that year, including nearly half their clients, many of whom sat literally down the hall. They acquired a neighboring three-person firm the next year, began pitching for larger business with a trio of others, and poached WeWork’s own community manager to coordinate their efforts. By last summer, Brllnt had quadrupled in size to 16 people, with another half dozen freelancers on call.
“Like anything else, the space is what you make of it,” says Smalley. “If you want to meet people and forge relationships, you can do that — otherwise, it’s just an office. Our approach all along was to build a community inside.”
Brllnt’s symbiotic relationship with WeWork hints at a much larger shift in how we organize work, and where. The startup’s choice of a host was not coincidental. With more than 80,000 members spread across 112 locations in 32 cities worldwide, WeWork represents something new in the annals of the office: a talent pool with the scope and scale of a multinational corporation whose collective brain is there for the picking. Whether it justifies its $16 billion valuation, it’s already one of the biggest beneficiaries of two trends driving the unbundling — and rebundling — of creative work.
The first trend is how the shared office and the network have replaced the solo entrepreneur in her garage as the incubators for new companies and ideas. “Coworking” didn’t exist a decade ago, and today there are nearly a million people globally working alongside peers who aren’t necessarily their colleagues. Workers in these spaces consistently report making more connections, learning skills faster, and feeling more inspired and in control than their cubicle-dwelling counterparts inside large companies. They also have different expectations from cloud workers content to commute from their couch.
“They want connectivity, they want density, and they want fluidity — the ability to move quickly from role to role,” says Jonathan Ortmans, president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network and a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. “I think all three things lend themselves especially well to shared work environments.”
The second, more powerful trend is the steadily climbing number of freelance, independent, contingent, and temporary workers — more than 53 million Americans at last count, including 2.8 million freelance business owners. Survey research by the economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger suggests that nearly all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 fall under this heading, attesting to the rise of the “gig economy.” This structural change is exhilarating if you’re armed with a laptop, Obamacare, and a high hourly rate; not so much if your family needs a steady paycheck.
This stems from the fact that corporations are quietly hollowing out. A third of the average company’s workforce was contingent or contractual in 2014, according to the supply management firm Ardent Partners, which expects this percentage to rise to 45 percent this year. At the opposite end of the spectrum, solo entrepreneurs have steadily increased spending on freelancers. In 2013 (the last year for which IRS data is available), contract workers comprised 36 percent of sole proprietors’ labor costs, up from 20 percent a decade earlier.
As a result, entrepreneurs have more freedom than ever in assembling talented teams, as Brllnt’s founders would attest. The trick is finding them — then vetting, negotiating with, working with, and ultimately paying them. And this has to happen somewhere — we can’t all be digital nomads.
WeWork and its forerunners literally sit at the convergence of these trends. Rather than going to work at a “job” with your “colleagues” in an “office,” your workplace becomes the local embodiment of what the McKinsey Global Institute has dubbed “talent platforms” — the online exchanges connecting people to projects, talent, and resources. In typical McKinsey fashion, the firm estimates that these platforms — including everything from Uber to Upwork and LinkedIn — could add $2.7 trillion to global GDP by 2025. The next target for disruption is the office itself.
Why is this happening now? The one-word answer is technology. The slightly longer explanation comes from the economist Ronald Coase and his Nobel Prize-winning work on the nature of the firm. When the “transaction costs” of contracting with talent are high — as they were in 1937, when he formulated his theory — companies hire and compensate employees internally, producing post-war behemoths like General Motors or IBM. But when they’re low and falling, due to the rise of the Internet and the collapse of organized labor, you get 50 million gig workers and counting.
One result is that new kinds of organizations appear — smaller, ad hoc teams that are loosely joined and agile — along with new institutions to support them. This is where companies like WeWork come into play, by adding a physical space in which potential coworkers, clients, and partners can cross paths, and by offering services that make it easier for them to connect.
WeWork, it’s worth noting, is neither the world’s largest office space-as-a-service chain nor the most profitable — that would be Britain’s Regus, worth roughly a third as much on paper. WeWork’s great innovation was to convince companies of all sizes that sharing an office with hundreds or even thousands of strangers was an opportunity instead of a liability. Today, a tenth of the Fortune 500 maintains at least a part-time presence there, totaling more than 11,000 members nominally belonging to the likes of Microsoft, McKinsey, Salesforce, and Dell. Once paranoid, corporate tenants have at last grown comfortable rubbing shoulders in the mix.
Management consultants have evangelized for years about business “ecosystems.” As in the food chain, even apex predators are enmeshed in a complex web of partners, suppliers, customers…and prey. But until the advent of shared workspaces, these relationships rarely manifested in the workplace (unless you were a consultant). Today, you might meet a client or investor while pouring yourself a mimosa; tomorrow, she might invite you to work out of her office.
This is already the case in Holland, where one of the country’s largest insurers has taken the unusual step of welcoming strangers inside. A few years ago, Interpolis partnered with the Dutch free coworking chain Seats2Meet to share spaces within its buildings. The first, located inside its headquarters and furnished with vintage carousel horses, has become a popular outpost for visiting customers, alumni, and curious employees. “It’s a place where my colleagues can meet people from the outside and immediately build something with them,” says Bob van Leeuwen, the Interpolis strategist who conceived the project.
Though it’s fun to imagine your future co-founder might be sitting behind you, most of us can’t afford to wait. Which is why WeWork, Seats2Meet, and others are building their own talent platforms to compete with LinkedIn, gambling that curated propinquity will trump the latter’s size (and degrading signal-to-noise ratio). At WeWork, for example, community managers frequently consult the company’s own social network to assist members in finding the right UX designer — which is how Brllnt met several of its clients. As machine learning and social network analysis tools such as Conspire and Collaboration.ai are brought to bear on these networks, it’s not hard to imagine algorithmic matchmakers spotting these latent connections well in advance.
Because as Brllnt’s co-founders will tell you, the value of shared workspaces stems from face-to-face conversations with your peers. “As we’ve scaled our business, we’ve managed to scale our partnerships” with other firms,” Smalley says. “They’ve given us insight into problems we had to later face.” According to one survey of coworkers, 84 percent had consulted with fellow members, 60 percent had created new friendships, and nearly half (46 percent) had “innovated” in collaboration with another member. Working together makes you smarter.
One reason startups and soloists are leaving their garages, basements, and office spaces is the increasing strength and ease of digital workflow tools, which make it possible for one to work from anywhere — thus inspiring them to rethink where they should work. Between Slack, HipChat, Dropbox, and Asana, we’re living in the golden age of hyper-intuitive collaboration tools. But what’s been missing are equally intuitive apps for everything else — negotiating who does what for how much, ensuring the work gets done, that deadlines are met, people get paid, and the tax man is satisfied. That’s especially true of tasks unique to partnerships that dissolve as quickly as they form.
As Stowe Boyd, a consultant and futurist who’s worked with Microsoft, Google, and IBM, among others, sees it, most of today’s collaboration tools are outdated, and leave out key parts of the process. For example, “the trickiest part — negotiation — is handled over email or a telephone call and never captured in the project itself.” Building a platform that does all of that while obscuring enough of the underlying complexity to be useful is a lot harder than writing another chatbot.
The largest such network to date belongs to Upwork, the freelance marketplace created from the 2014 merger of Elance and oDesk. With ten million members earning more than $1 billion annually in gross annual billings (of which they tithe 10 percent), Upwork has invested heavily in matchmaking, monitoring, payment, and managing reputations, gradually compressing its average time-to-hire from three days to three hours. “We’re online dating for businesses and freelancers, except we know what happens after they meet,” says Rich Pearson, its senior vice president for marketing. “We know how many people they hired, what skills they actually used, and what their performance rating was.”
Pearson imagines managing “private talent clouds” on behalf of customers who could bring reinforcements aboard with a click, rather than after a background check. (He’d better move fast — Work Market already does this on behalf of thousands of customers, including Walgreens and Cisco.) The idea should appeal to entrepreneurs and corporate behemoths alike.
Deloitte, for example, is building what chief talent officer Mike Preston calls “bench strength” — a thousands-strong reserve of expert alumni, niche talents, and part-timers who can be summoned in a pinch. Given the churn of a firm its size (225,000 people worldwide), Deloitte has taken the enlightened view that its true workforce extends into both the past and future of its present employees.
Then there’s the question of how to provide benefits to pop-up ensembles of workers. TaskRabbit co-founder Kevin Busque is tackling aspects of this challenge with his new startup, Guideline Technologies. The goal is to first radically simplify retirement plans for small- to medium-sized businesses and then untether them from employers altogether. To that end, Guideline has partnered with Vanguard, the low-fee mutual fund company, created its own easy-to-use app, and added a solo 401(k) option in which workers can sponsor themselves.
Another company angling to reinvent back-office functions is Justworks, a New York City-based startup striving to shoehorn the legal requirements of HR into an app. “Our goal is to become the ‘employment layer’ for Americans,” says CEO Isaac Oates. “On top are millions of businesses, and on bottom are thousands of governments. And in between is a spaghetti of relationships.”
Left unsaid: the company that can untangle that — or at least sufficiently hide it — has a multi-billion-dollar business on its hands. Justworks, Guideline, and their many competitors are all chasing the same grail: an Amazon Web Services-inspired model allowing virtually anyone to run industrial-strength HR and accounting from their phones.
For a firm like Brllnt — which relies on Slack and runs on JustWorks — the flexibility provided by these tools has already influenced how, where, and with whom they work. Rather than obviating the need to cram into a fishbowl, today’s business climate made sharing a workspace that much more attractive. Despite the hype, technology didn’t end up killing the office. It enhanced and reinvented it, instead.
December 13, 2016 | permalink
(Gabriella Gómez-Mont, director of Mexico City’s Laboratory for the City, asked me to elaborate on the idea of cities-as-serendipity-engines ahead of the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in Bogota in October. Interview by Zoe Mendelson.)
What is “serendipity” in the context of cities?
The original definition described “discoveries, by accidents and sagacity,” of things we are not in search of. Today, everyone remembers the happy accidents and forgets the sagacity, i.e. the latent knowhow and expertise necessary to capitalize on these accidents. Cities are serendipity machines in two ways. One is through the juxtaposition of so many people, elements, and sensations — their tumult naturally increases the chances of a happy accident. The second is social — you are more likely to discover an unsought connection at the fringes of your network, through a friend of a friend or a familiar stranger. There’s a reason young people flock to cities — for serendipitous encounters in life and love!
Why do cities need serendipity?
A decade ago, the physicists Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West discovered an unusual property of cities — they seem to get better as they get bigger. You can measure “better” in any number of ways, including higher wages and productivity. To explain why this happens, Bettencourt (who wrote his doctoral thesis on the Big Bang) argues that cities are neither machines nor natural ecosystems, but stars — “social reactors” compressing dense social networks together in space and time until they fuse at the edges, producing new ideas and relationships instead of light and heat. This meshes well with Jane Jacobs and most economists about why cities exist and why they perform so well. And I would argue the mechanism is serendipity.
Are there certain things cities do that block serendipity?
Anything preventing diverse groups of people and ideas from mixing — racism, intolerance, segregation, concentrated poverty, crime, and so on. How we use and traverse the city matters too: a lack of public and private spaces in which people can meet, converse, and linger; investing in cars and freeways that isolate drivers and then trap them in congestion, and urban districts that lack both texture and a variety of uses. It’s difficult to experience serendipity when there is no one to see, nothing to do, and your very presence is unwanted, if not outright criminalized. For example, the Department of Justice’s scathing report on the Baltimore Police Department highlighted instance after instance of “zero tolerance” policing amounting to clearing the streets of all bystanders. Less egregious (although more insidious) are practices such as spatially discriminatory retail redlining, which starves neighborhoods of places that are neither home nor work for serendipitous encounters with neighbors form ad hoc communities.
How can cities engineer serendipity?
Through encouraging unplanned uses and encounters in public and private space. For example, why are streets given over entirely to cars? Why aren’t we trying to maximize the number of people and activities who can use them? Whether it’s banning cars from city centers, building better blocks through testing different uses, or transforming parking spaces into “parklets,” there are any number of ways to increase their potential for serendipity. In a similar vein, why do we fill the cores of our cities with skyscrapers that are never more than half full at any given moment? We need to blur the line between the office and the street, just as Londoners once did the same by doing business in its pubs, coffeehouses, and “gentlemen’s clubs. In practice, that means propelling work out of the hermetically-sealed office into shared workspaces and other semi-public places, and it also means bringing a variety of new uses into skyscrapers — just as Hong Kong and Singapore have done with great success. We also need fundamental re-investment in public transport to maximize the number of people who can be brought to experience these places. Cities can engineer serendipity through the diversity of their people, the heterogeneity of their places, and the intensity of their uses.
The Las Vegas Downtown Project tried to engineer serendipity. What did they get right and what did they get wrong?
The Las Vegas Downtown Project consciously tried to engineer what its backers call “casual collisions.” But they did several things wrong. First, they gentrified the areas, displacing long-term residents, small business, and people of color to attract young, mostly white people with an interest or background in technology. Then, they began acquiring or controlling land in order to carefully curate the mix of businesses and uses they wanted to see downtown — which increased property values, but discouraged a real neighborhood from forming. What do you expect when literally one man hand-picks the bars, the restaurants, the co-working spaces, and even the grocery store? Where are the surprises in that? Finally, the layout of downtown Vegas worked against them — long, empty streets with destinations few and far between. It’s not a failure, but after having committed $350 million to the project, it’s not a success, either. They had the right ideas, but botched the execution.
Who or what projects are getting it right?
My favorite example is Renew Newcastle, which started in a depressed downtown city in Australia. Instead of buying properties or deciding what the area needed, its creator — an arts festival organizer named Marcus Westbury — borrowed spaces temporarily and invited residents to use them. The project acted quickly and cheaply to use vacant storefronts as intensely as possible, without prescribing how people should use them. The result is a revitalized downtown for a hundredth of the price of the Downtown Project. Instead of remaking itself for an itinerant “creative class” as dozens, if not hundreds of cities have done, Westbury sought to catalyze Newcastle’s latent energy and talent by creating places where people could pursue their passions in public, thus generating a host of new activity around them. There wasn’t a plan or a desired outcome — the project unfolded organically.
This is what I mean by “engineering serendipity.” Cities don’t need to attract outside talent or capital or coffee bars — they need to do a better job of unlocking the buried potential of their places and through them, their people. Platforms like Renew handle the engineering. That particular project isn’t a panacea, but it is the lightest, cheapest, most successful model I’ve seen to date.
We like to roll our eyes at the ideas of the Modern City. What will urbanists be rolling their eyes about two generations from now?
That we ever spent so much time staring at Facebook and Twitter. Social networks will still be with us — in fact, they’ll matter more than ever — but the success of Pokemon Go points toward a future in which our social networks are overlaid and enhanced by the city. A game encouraging us to go outside and meet our neighbors and strangers is a good start.
December 07, 2016 | permalink
In October, I was honored to be the opening keynote guest speaker at AECOM’s annual Global Leadership Conference in Beverly Hills. AECOM is one of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms, with $18 billion in annual revenus and nearly 100,000 employees. It built 1 World Trade Center, designs Olympic Games, and runs America’s national laboratories, among its far-flung activities.
The conference brought together 500+ principals from around the world to learn how to make the company greater than the sum of its many parts. My job was to survey the landscape of a fully urbanized 21st Century, explaining why the challenges posed by climate change, energy, cyber-attacks, and governance would require ever-greater levels of collaboration and cross-pollination. (Hat tip to Keller Easterling’s “The Action is the Form” for the quote pictured above.)
Video of my talk isn’t publicly available online, but I’d be happy to share it privately. Please contact me for details.
December 02, 2016 | permalink
Futurists like to talk about “inflection points” when the range of futures suddenly shifts. Some are instantly obsolete, while others lurch from improbable to possible, and possible to frightening plausible. This year has been full of them — most notably Brexit and Trump — which for urbanists like myself has meant the end of the presumed “triumph of the city,” and the beginning of open economic and socio-political war with their own hinterlands.
What will cities look like in the Age of Trump? my Fast Company colleague Mark Wilson asked. I didn’t hold back:
Urbanist journalist Greg Lindsay imagines a darker scenario in which all public transit is handed over to private corporations. Imagine Uber running trains with surge pricing on your way to work each morning. Individual neighborhoods might be tolled on entry, effectively cutting off parts of the city to people without the means to pay. Consider having to pay $2.50 every time you go shopping in Tribeca or commute to your job in SoHo—perhaps through an RFID-powered deduction system that tolls users seamlessly across the city.
Such changes would put painful financial pressure even for middle-class city residents, and create deeper schisms within cities that are already socially and economically segregated. (In a very real panic of evaporating federal funding, the Chicago Transit Authority is currently trying to rush through a $2.1 billion grant before Inauguration Day.) “It’s hard for me to come up with deals that are win-win-win,” says Lindsay. “I personally can’t find an example where the will of the people has been done by [private investors].”
There’s also a more practical problem with privatization—which tends to work better for big, monetizable projects, and worse for smaller, necessary ones. Just look at a recent example from Chicago. In 2008, the city had an eager buyer to privatize its parking meters, which involved one lump-sum payment in exchange for 75 years of private rights. The deal immediately led to price hikes that required so many quarters that meters soon overflowed, unusable, and citizens were ticketed as a result. But when Mayor Emanuel floated the idea of a public-private infrastructure trust, in which investors would replace critical infrastructure components, it foundered.
“It failed because no one wanted to replace the boilers in schools; they wanted to buy Midway Airport,” says Lindsay of the pitfalls of privatization. “The size of the deals are out of whack . . . and it creates the incentive to give away the game to get all the money you can.”
While Fast Company grapples with the implications of a Trump presidency (and I’d encourage you to read the entire series), Curbed’s Alissa Walker and her colleagues have assembled a list of “101 books about where and how we live.” As they explained:
This isn’t necessarily the same-old list of famous urbanism books, although plenty of them are represented here. These are books about making cities, but also books about how cities have made us, whether it’s our own hometown or somewhere on the other side of the planet. These are books that examine how cities change, and sometimes end up alienating the people who built them. There are plenty of brand-new books on this list because they reflect what people are thinking about today, which, in light of current events, may be very different from what they were thinking about just two weeks ago.
I was pleased and honored to see Aerotropolis make the list (in addition to another recent list of the “best books about living in the city”) and also to be asked to contribute a choice of my own. I selected Joan Didion’s Where I Was From, which mixes the autobiographical with incisive reporting — the qualities in her work that inspired me to become a journalist in the first place. I was especially moved by her section on Lakewood, California and the “Spur Posse” — the teenage sexual predators who were an early manifestation of the white working class dysfunction described in books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. My explanation:
“The most trenchant passages for me concern Lakewood, California—the massive prefabricated suburb nicknamed the “Levittown of the West”—and how the mostly white, mostly working-class community gradually becomes unglued by the closure of the local aerospace factories in the early 1990s. ‘What does it cost to create and maintain an artificial ownership class,’ Didion asks rhetorically. ‘Who pays? Who benefits? What happens when that class stops being useful? What does it mean to drop back below the line? What does it cost to hang on above it, how do you behave, what do you say, what are the pitons you drive into the granite?’”
December 01, 2016 | permalink
I speak frequently about the future of cities, work, mobility, and occasionally the future of the future itself. Past engagements and events include the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Urban Age. I speak frequently to companies (McKinsey, Microsoft, KPMG, Deloitte, Intel, Ericsson, AECOM, Cushman & Wakefield, USAA, Fiat Chrysler), organizations (the OECD, U.S. State Department, New Cities Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts), member associations (CoreNet, Urban Land Institute, Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) and universities (Harvard Business School, the MIT Media Lab, Columbia, Princeton, the Royal College of Art, the London School of Economics).
Below is the current list of past and future appearances, always bound to change. If you’re interested in helping to arrange a speaking appearance, please send me an email. A complete list of speaking topics can be found at Speakers Spotlight.
November 15-19, 2017. Los Angeles, CA.
April 6, 2017. Marseille, France.
March 29, 2017. Oslo, Norway.
March 6, 2017. Dallas, TX.
Downtown Dallas, Inc.
February 24, 2017. San Diego, CA.
February 22, 2017. Chicago, IL.
IC Bus Next Stop Innovation Summit.
February 2, 2017. Toulouse, France.
January 27-28, 2017. Brooklyn, NY.
A/D/O Launch Festival.
January 17, 2017. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
World Future Energy Summit.
January 10, 2017. Los Angeles, CA.
AECOM Urban SOS: Fair Share.
December 13, 2016. New Orleans, LA.
National Association of Home Builders.
November 22, 2016. Bordeaux, France.
November 15, 2016. Dallas, TX.
November 4, 2016. Tokyo, Japan.
Cities on the Move.
November 1, 2016. New York, NY.
October 26, 2016. Cambridge, MA.
October 20-21, 2016. Tokyo, Japan.
World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Summit.
October 18, 2016. Los Angeles, CA.
October 14, 2016. Miami Beach, FL.
Harvard Business School.
October 12, 2016. San Antonio, TX.
University of Texas-San Antonio.
September 27, 2016. Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
September 21-22, 2016. Ann Arbor, MI.
September 20, 2016. London, United Kingdom.
Cushman & Wakefield.
September 19, 2016. Atlanta, GA.
September 16, 2016. Holland, MI.
September 15, 2016. Irvine, CA.
Urban Land Institute.
July 13, 2016. Boston, MA.
June 21-22, 2016. Montreal, QC.
New Cities Summit.
June 17, 2016. New York, NY.
Columbia GSAPP Durst Conference 2016.
June 15, 2016. New York, NY.
Urban Design Forum: New Ideas for Urban Freight.
June 10, 2016. Brussels, Belgium.
June 7, 2016. Trenton, NJ.
PlanSmart NJ Summit.
May 26, 2016. New York, NY.
May 26, 2016. New York, NY.
May 18-20, 2016. Leipzig, Germany.
International Transport Forum 2016.
May 11, 2016. Providence, RI.
Providence Committee on Foreign Relations.
May 10, 2016. Indian Wells, CA.
California Travel Summit.
April 28, 2016. San Francisco, CA.
Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers.
April 26, 2016. Strasbourg, France.
The Automobile Forum.
April 12, 2016. New York, NY.
April 4, 2016. San Antonio, TX.
Trapeze User Conference.
March 31, 2016. Washington D.C..
Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
March 24, 2016. New York, NY.
March 23, 2016. New York, NY.
Columbia University GSAPP.
March 7, 2016. Newport Beach, CA.
American Automotive and Leasing Association.
March 4, 2016. Manila, the Philippines.
Asian Institute of Management.
March 2, 2016. Manila, the Philippines.
Urban Land Institute Philippines.
February 11, 2016. London, United Kingdom.
Transport for London.
February 10, 2016. London, United Kingdom.
New London Architecture.
February 9, 2016. London, United Kingdom.
Royal College of Art.
January 22, 2016. New York, NY.
December 8-9, 2015. King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
November 21-22, 2015. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
November 18, 2015. Pasadena, CA.
California Transit Association.
November 17, 2015. New York, NY.
November 12-13, 2015. Cambridge, MA.
November 10, 2015. Zurich, Switzerland.
November 9, 2015. Paris, France.
New World Forum.
October 27-28, 2015. Eden Prairie, MN.
October 22, 2015. New York, NY.
Municipal Art Society Summit.
October 20-21, 2015. Singapore.
Abraaj Annual Forum.
October 14, 2015. London, United Kingdom.
Cities on the Move.
October 7, 2015. New York, NY.
Center for Architecture.
September 30, 2015. York Regional Municipality, ON.
York Regional Council.
September 28, 2015. Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
September 22, 2015. San Antonio, TX.
Texas Travel Industry Association.
September 16, 2015. London, United Kingdom.
Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.
September 14, 2015. Nashville, TN.
Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association.
September 4, 2015. Los Angeles, CA.
June 18-19, 2015. Prague, Czech Republic.
June 9-11, 2015. Jakarta, Indonesia.
New Cities Summit.
June 2, 2015. New York, NY.
The Happiness Industry: Book Discussion with Will Davies, Greg Lindsay, and Melissa Aronczyk.
May 28, 2015. Bursa, Turkey.
Bursa Innovation and Design Summit.
May 20, 2015. Seattle, WA.
May 19, 2015. Redmond, WA.
May 15, 2015. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
May 6, 2015. Orlando, FL.
University of Central Florida Real Estate Conference.
May 5, 2015. Miami, FL.
March 12, 2015. Cambridge, MA.
MIT & Iceland Naturally.
February 20, 2015. Washington, DC.
U. S. Department of State.
February 20, 2015. Washington, DC.
Global Solution Networks.
February 19, 2015. Fort Worth, TX.
Fort Worth Lecture Society.
February 12, 2015. Orlando, FL.
Association of Energy Services Professionals.
January 30, 2015. San Francisco, CA.
January 27, 2015. Berkeley, CA.
University of California.
December 11, 2014. Minneapolis, MN.
Made in Minnesota: Celebrating university innovators.
December 9, 2014. New York, NY.
Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density.
December 3, 2014. New York, NY.
Re-Programming Mobility: What Do Smart Phones and Self-Driving Cars Mean for Future Cities?
December 2, 2014. Cambridge, MA.
Harvard Graduate School of Design.
November 24, 2014. New York, NY.
November 19-21, 2014. Santa Fe, NM.
“Acting Locally, Understanding Globally.” Santa Fe Institute.
November 12, 2014. New York, NY.
Urban Salon: NYC Transportation in 2030.
November 11, 2014. London, United Kingdom.
November 11, 2014. London, United Kingdom.
November 10, 2014. London, United Kingdom.
Airport Operators Association.
October 23, 2014. New York, NY.
Jane Jacobs Forum.
October 22, 2014. Brooklyn, NY.
October 10, 2014. Ottawa, ON.
Canada Council for the Arts.
October 9, 2014. Baltimore, MD.
Element Vehicle Management Services.
September 28-30, 2014. Los Angeles, CA.
September 22-23, 2014. Toronto, ON.
September 16, 2014. Detroit, MI.
July 28, 2014. Los Angeles, CA.
Global Business Travel Association.
July 14, 2014. New York, NY.
Center for Architecture.
June 27-30, 2014. Aspen, CO.
Aspen Ideas Festival.
June 23-25, 2014. Denver, CO.
Clinton Global Initiative America.
June 20, 2014. Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions.
June 19, 2014. Dallas, TX.
The Purpose City.
June 18, 2014. Mississauga, ON.
Element Fleet Management.
June 17, 2014. Dallas, TX.
New Cities Summit.
June 16, 2014. Dallas, TX.
Ericsson & UN Habitat.
June 10, 2014. Chicago, IL.
June 2, 2014. Montreal, QC.
Canadian Automobile Association.
May 21, 2014. New York, NY.
Internet Week New York.
May 20, 2014. Seattle, WA.
May 20, 2014. Seattle, WA.
May 16, 2014. Angeles City, Philippines.
Clark Aviation Conference 2014.
May 13, 2014. Manila, Philippines.
The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.
May 8, 2014. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
April 25, 2014. Chicago, IL.
American Society of Landscape Architects.
April 22, 2014. New York, NY.
The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow
April 11, 2014. New York, NY.
Mobilities in Cities: From Visible to Invisible.
April 9, 2014. Toronto, ON.
Smart Cities Canada.
April 1, 2014. New York, NY.
Extrastatecraft: A Salon with Keller Easterling.
March 22, 2014. New Orleans, LA.
Sun Life Financial.
March 10, 2014. New York, NY.
“Youth Think Tank: The Next Big Ideas from the Next Generation,” 92nd St. Y.
March 6, 2014. Mountain View, CA.
Cities on the Move.
February 27, 2014. New York, NY.
Smart Law for Smart Cities.
February 14, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
January 30, 2014. New York, NY.
“When Computers Take Over The City,” World Policy Institute.
January 16, 2014. Garden City, NY.
Build a Better Burb: ParkingPLUS Design Challenge.
January 14, 2014. Calgary, AB.
City of Calgary.
December 10, 2013. Washington, DC.
Atlantic Council 2013 Strategic Foresight Forum.
November 25-26, 2013. King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
November 20, 2013. London, United Kingdom.
November 18-19, 2013. Miami, FL.
November 3, 2013. Baltimore, MD.
Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit.
November 1, 2013. New York, NY.
Building the Digital City.
October 22, 2013. Las Vegas, NV.
CoreNet Global Summit.
October 12, 2013. New York, NY.
NYU Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference.
October 3, 2013. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
WorkTech13 Buenos Aires.
September 27, 2013. Reno, NV.
Design Matters 2013.
September 26, 2013. Sydney, Australia.
CoreNet Sydney Symposium.
September 23, 2013. Niagara Falls, ON.
September 19, 2013. Atlanta, GA.
Global Workspace Association.
September 17, 2013. Bolingbrook, IL.
Will County Center for Economic Development.
August 20, 2013. New York, NY.
Tech Tuesdays at the Seaport: Five Ideas To Change The City.
July 18, 2013. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute Political Salon.
July 11, 2013. New York, NY.
IIDA Facilities Forum.
June 28, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
Extreme IDEAS: Runway.
June 21, 2013. Prague, Czech Republic.
June 20, 2013. Istanbul, Turkey.
Urban Land Institute.
June 19, 2013. London, United Kingdom.
Urban Land Institute Europe Trends Conference.
June 18, 2013. Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Urban Land Institute.
June 11, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
June 4-5, 2013. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
New Cities Summit
May 22, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
Extreme IDEAS: Architecture at the Intersection.
May 16, 2013. New York, NY.
WorkTech13 New York.
May 15, 2013. Atlanta, GA.
May 13, 2013. New York, NY.
“Which Cities Will Survive the 21st Century?” New America Foundation.
May 7, 2013. Rapid City, SD.
Rapid City Chamber of Commerce.
May 2, 2013. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute: Around the Table.
April 22-23, 2013. New York, NY.
Assocation of Corporate Travel Executives.
April 17-19, 2013. Tempe, AZ.
“Urbanization, Sustainability, Resilience, and Prosperity” Workshop, Arizona State University.
April 1, 2013. New York, NY.
New York University.
March 20, 2013. Ontario, CA.
State of the City 2013.
March 11, 2013. Boston, MA.
February 21, 2013. Angeles City, Philippines.
Clark Aviation Conference.
February 20, 2013. Manila, Philippines.
The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.
December 6, 2012. London, United Kingdom.
London School of Economics: Urban Age.
November 20, 2012. Princeton, NJ.
Princeton University School of Architecture.
November 15, 2012. Barcelona, Spain.
Smart City Expo World Congress 2012.
November 7, 2012. Menlo Park, CA.
The Institute for the Future 2012 Technology Horizons Conference.
November 1, 2012. Boston, MA.
The Boston Society of Architects.
October 13, 2012. Brooklyn, NY.
October 12, 2012. New York, NY.
Columbia University: The Global Street.
September 25, 2012. New York, NY.
Columbia University GSAPP.
September 19, 2012. Moncton, NB.
The 2012 Air Cargo Logistics Symposium.
September 2, 2012. Salzburg, Austria.
July 26, 2012. Los Angeles, CA.
CoreNet Los Angeles.
June 4, 2012. New York, NY.
May 21, 2012. Haifa, Israel.
Intel Labs Future of Work 2012 Summit
May 16, 2012. Louisville, KY
May 15, 2012. Kansas City, MO.
May 11, 2012. New York, NY.
Fordham University Smart City Symposium. Open to all. RSVP required.
May 3, 2012. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute 50th Anniversary and Celebration.
May 1, 2012. Seattle, WA.
Commercial Brokers Association.
April 27, 2012. New York, NY.
New York University.
April 23, 2012. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute & Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. “The Future of the City.” 6:30 PM.
April 19, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 4, featuring Living PlanIT and Songdo IBD. Free and open to all.
April 18, 2012. St. Petersburg, FL.
American Real Estate Society.
April 10, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 3, featuring IBM’s Guru Banavar. Free and open to all.
April 5, 2012. Hillsboro, OR.
Intel Labs 2012 Trendspotting Summit.
March 29, 2012. Albuquerque, NM.
Albuquerque Downtown Action Team.
March 28, 2012. Albuquerque, NM.
Bookworks. Discussion and signing. Free and open to the public.
March 20, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 2. Free and open to all.
March 14, 2012. New York, NY.
School of the Visual Arts.
March 12, 2012. Muscat, Oman.
The Sindbad Lecture.
March 11, 2012. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Middle East Facilities Management Association.
March 9, 2012. Providence, RI.
Brown University Urban Affairs conference.
February 21, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities series. Free and open to all.
February 15, 2012. Washington, DC.
Research In Motion.
February 14, 2012. New York, NY.
Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
January 24, 2012. Seattle, WA.
November 14, 2011. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute Political Salon.
November 10, 2011. New York, NY.
L2 Innovation Forum.
November 7, 2011. Montreal, QC.
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
October 31-November 1, 2011. London, United Kingdom.
The Airport Operators Association.
October 20, 2011. New York, NY.
Asia Society New York. Registration required. Open to all.
October 14, 2011. Phoenix, AZ.
October 13, 2011. Ottawa, ON.
Ontario Professional Planners Institute.
October 5, 2011. New York, NY
Columbia University, Committee for Global Thought.
October 4, 2011. Destin, FL.
Gulf Power Economic Symposium.
September 27, Washington D.C.
The National Building Museum. 6:30 PM. Reading and discussion. Admission required; open to all.
September 20, 2011. New York, NY
Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
September 18, 2011. Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Book Festival. 4 PM at Brooklyn Historical Society Library. Free and open to all.
September 17, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” Open Studios. 12-6 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.
September 15, 2011. Champaign, IL.
TEDxUIllinois. Free; visit the site to request an invitation.
September 3-4, 2011. Decatur, GA.
The AJC Decatur Book Festival. Open to the public.
August 29-30, 2011. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Medical Travel Meeting Brazil.
June 29-30, 2011. Chicago, IL
The Clinton Global Initiative: CGI America.
June 18, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” workshop presentations. 2 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.
June 7, 2011. New York, NY.
The New York Public Library. 6:30 PM. Discussion and signing. Free and open to all.
June 6, 2011. Washington D.C.
Intelligent Cities Forum.
May 23, 2011. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
DIFC Economics Workshop.
May 11, 2011. Denver, CO.
Metro Denver Aviation Coalition.
May 10, 2011. Denver, CO.
Tattered Cover Book Store. 7 PM. Reading and discussion. Free and open to all.
May 7, 2011. New York, NY.
Pecha Kucha #11, “The Dimensions of a New City.” 11:29 PM at the Old School Gym, 268 Mulberry Street.
May 7, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” preliminary presentations. 2 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.
May 2, 2011. Chicago, IL.
CoreNet Global Summit.
April 28, 2011. New York, NY.
The Frequent Traveler Awards.
April 20, 2011. New York, NY.
Talking Books with the Architectural League of New York. McNally Jackson Bookstore, 7 PM. Free and open to all.
April 14, 2011. Brooklyn, NY.
The Futurist and Kite Flying Society of Galapagos Art Space. 7 PM. Registration required. Open to all.
April 13, 2011. Memphis, TN.
April 12-13, 2011. Memphis, TN.
Airport Cities 2011.
April 11, 2011. Memphis, TN.
Davis-Kidd Booksellers. 6 PM. Free and open to all.
April 8, 2011. New York, NY.
PSFK New York.
April 5, 2011. Los Angeles, CA.
Architecture and Design Museum.
April 4, 2011. San Francisco, CA.
World Affairs Council of Northern California.
April 1, 2011. Berkeley, CA.
University of California Architecture Research Colloquium.
March 31, 2011. Portland, OR.
Powell’s City of Books.
March 30, 2011. Seattle, WA.
Town Hall Seattle.
March 29, 2011. Irving, TX.
The World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth and The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.
March 24, 2011. Kankakee, IL.
The Kankakee Public Library.
March 23, 2011. Chicago, IL.
The Book Cellar.
March 22, 2011. Chicago, IL.
The Chicago Council of Global Affairs.
March 21, 2011. Cambridge, MA.
March 20, 2011. New York NY.
The Left Forum.
March 16, 2011. Atlanta, GA.
March 11, 2011. Louisville, KY.
Greater Louisville Inc.
February 23-24, 2011. San Francisco, CA.
Global Green Cities of the 21st Century.
October 18, 2010. Shanghai, China.
2010 China Innovation Forum.
October 1, 2010. New York, NY.
“Cities and Eco-Crises,” Columbia University.
August 25-28, 2010. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Medical Travel Meeting Brazil.
August 2, 2010. San Carlos, CA.
June 9-10, 2010. Las Vegas, NV.
April 21-23, 2010. Beijing, China.
Airport Cities 2010.
April 1, 2010. Champaign, IL.
September 15, 2009. Atlanta, GA.
April 28-29, 2009. Taipei, Taiwan.
International Aerotropolis Conference.
October 31, 2016 | permalink
One of my speaking agents refers to fall as the “silly season” — the brief window between the summer and winter holidays when work has everyone’s undivided attention. Which means it’s the season I seemingly spend all of my time on the road. This week, I’m off to Tokyo to host the New Cities Foundation’s third annual Cities on the Move, which is themed to my new report, “Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport.” Here’s both a recap and a preview of my silly season this year:
• The future of work, innovation, and the office. The season kicked off with a visit to Haworth, the Holland, Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer currently engaged in a 200+ person trial of sociometric badges and sensors (a subject I know a little bit about.) Later in September, I co-headlined future-of-work conferences for the brokers at Cushman & Wakefield UK (video snippet at bottom) and the architects of Detroit-based SmithGroup JJR — the oldest continuously operating architecture firm in America. I also offered my thoughts on the future of cities and innovation to 500+ worldwide Deloitte partners in Amsterdam, and an architecture class at MIT — the latter were far more dubious than the former. And the photo above is from my first trip to Tokyo this year, for the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader Summit, where I explored how a uniquely powerful combination of data, social network analysis, and human touch have led to a blossoming of new projects and collaborations by attendees.
• The future of urban mobility and transportation. November’s theme is transportation, with a talk at TransitCenter about “Private Mobility, Public Interest” preceding my trip to Tokyo. Later this month, I’ll speak at the annual client conference of USAA RealCo, along with a dinner presentation in Bordeaux, France to the leadership of the national rail giant, SNCF. And mobility will also be the topic of my talk at the World Future Energy Summit early next year in Abu Dhabi.
• The future of cities, mobility, housing, work…and whatever else I can think of. Given that cities are systems of systems, it’s hard to talk about the future of multi-family housing, for instance, without touching upon all of the social, technological, economics and other factors shaping cities. Which makes me a popular choice for commercial real estate groups looking to mix it up a little. In addition to talks at the Urban Land Institute’s Orange County/Inland Empire chapter and the brokers of CORE Network in September and the National Association of Home Builders in December, I delivered the keynote at the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business Embrey Real Estate Finance and Development program’s Founder’s Council Luncheon in October.
• The future of AECOM. AECOM is arguably the most important architecture, engineering, and construction firm you’ve never heard of. Would you like to host an Olympics? They can deliver it for you wholesale. Would you like a new airport to go along with that? It’s one of their specialties. AECOM designs cities-from-scratch, built 1 World Trade Center, runs national laboratories — you name it, they do it. Which is it why it was such an honor to follow the CEO as the opening guest keynote of the company’s global leadership conference in Beverly Hills in October. My role was to discuss the wicked problems and global challenges the world is facing, and how AECOM can only meet them if it collaborates across its many far-flung divisions to find solutions.
• The future of…the future? My favorite talk of the fall was introducing 80+ alumni of Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program to the practice of “applied foresight” (i.e. futurism). After briefly introducing them to the topic, the entrepreneurs broke into teams inside the theater of the Faena Miami Beach to create and test their own future scenarios, including outlining products and services they might offer circa 2030 or so. Not bad for a Friday morning’s work!
October 30, 2016 | permalink
I’m pleased to announce the publication of Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport,” a report published by the New Cities Foundation with support from the Toyota Mobility Foundation. In a nutshell, it explores what mass transit and other forms of public transportation must do in the face of imminent disruption by private mobility services such as Uber, Didi, Lyft, and Grab et al., along with the imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles and how they might be best deployed. Spoiler alert: public officials can’t simply curl into a fetal ball or ban them outright or earmark taxpayer dollars for subsidized Uber rides in lieu of building their own system. They must take maximum advantage of both these new technologies and their authority to operate, regulate, and manage transportation systems to offer an alternative that’s more comprehensive and appealing than any one mode or service. No small task, I know.
The report focuses on four cities — Washington D.C., London, São Paulo, and Manila — each of which represents a facet of the opportunity and crisis facing public transport. Washington is currently in the throes of the “Metropocalypse,” making the city the inadvertent testbed for alternate forms of connected mobility. Transport for London may just be the world’s best transport authority, but even it was not prepared for how effortlessly Uber subverted congestion pricing to jam its streets once again. São Paulo is gridlocked at every level, leading a small band of transport engineers, startups, and students to search for ways to find slack in the system. And Manila faces permanent gridlock as residents ditch riding smoke-belching “jeepneys” for cars. But what if the future of public transport is algorithmically-guided, electric, (autonomous?) jeepneys?
The final section of the report is devoted to practical recommendations ranging from drafting “mobility-as-a-service” and autonomous vehicle roadmaps to rethinking zoning and abolishing parking minimums to incentivizing commuters to wait fifteen minutes to lessen the strain on the system. The entire report represents more than a year of research and more than hundred interviews with public officials, private mobility services, experts, and commuters themselves. It also represents the culmination of nearly three years of writing about the future of urban mobility, including but not limited to:
• New York University’s 2014 report “Sin City vs. Sim City.”
• That essay also spawned a March 2014 report for The Atlantic’s CityLab on SHIFT — a hyper-ambitious mobility-as-a-service startup that shut down in 2015 shortly after concluding beta-testing.
• Anthony Townsend — the author of Reprogramming Mobility — and I wrote an op-ed for Quartz arguing we should focus on autonomous buses rather than cars. They offer a quicker, cheaper, easier, and more effective solution to America’s transport woes than the inherent complexity of trying to automate every vehicle on the road.
• Near the end of 2014, I wrote a report for the University of Toronto’s Global Solution Networks initiative on such innovative public-private partnerships as Digital Matatus, EMBARQ, SMART, and G-Auto — a dry-run of sorts for “Now Arriving.”
• More recently, I spun out my Manila research into a lengthy feature for Popular Mechanics on jeepneys asking “Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?”, followed by an op-ed in the Nikkei Asian Review asking whether the “to download the full report; I’ll leave you with the few first paragraphs below:
“Cities are always created around whatever the state-of-the-art transportation device is at the time,” Joel Garreau wrote twenty-five years ago in Edge City. At the New Cities Foundation, we are intensely interested in the forces shaping the development of new and old cities alike, whether social, economic, environmental, or technological. The aim of the Connected Mobility Initiative is to explore the triple convergence of “mobility” — physical, digital, and socio-economic — and to propose strategies and steps toward more broadly sharing the benefits of this transformation while ameliorating its potentially corrosive effects on public institutions. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was the then-cutting edge combination of the personal computer and automobile that spawned the suburban edge cities of Garreau’s title. Today, the state-of-the-art in transportation is the smartphone.
It’s not just that smartphones are ubiquitous, with annual sales approaching 1.5 billion handsets, compared to a total of 1.2 billion motor vehicles on the roads. They’re qualitatively different, doubling as a sensor and pocket supercomputer as well as the focal point of a vast data collection and analysis apparatus churning in the cloud. They’re also the locus of 21st century infrastructure spending, as America’s mobile carriers have collectively invested more than $500 billion upgrading the country’s cellular communications grid — roughly the modern cost of the Interstate Highway System. The smartphone’s ability to choreograph transport has supplanted the importance of any one mode, even the automobile. It will remake the city as surely as previous revolutions did.
The most important questions now are “How?” and “For whom?” The advent of mass-produced Model T Fords a century ago had both spatial and political consequences for cities. Jitneys were banned, streetcars demolished, and mass transit became the public’s domain to eliminate competition with burgeoning automakers. Federal funds were marshaled to build freeways and finance suburbia. Meanwhile, systematic disinvestment hollowed out cities, requiring decades to repair and recover. Nearly thirty years passed between the judgment famously (though falsely) attributed to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that, “a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure,” and Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa’s more recent assertion that “an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”
How will we speak of connected mobility thirty years from now? As an enhancement of Penalosa’s city, or as the moment public transport willingly began to dismantle itself in the face of smartphone-led disruption? It is critical for policymakers to understand that new technologies and services such as Uber, Waze, and autonomous vehicles are not neutral. They embody values and business models that, left unchecked, may run counter to the goals of creating livable and equitable cities — whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s imperative for transit agencies, public officials and their partners to understand the implications of this shift and to reposition themselves as the stewards of a broader, more flexible networked transportation system.
October 28, 2016 | permalink
(Last month, I spoke to the Urban Land Institute’s Orange Couty/Inland Empire’s Multi-Housing Initiative Council about the various forces reshaping the housing market. U.S. Army Captain, graudate student, and intern(!) Samuel Nickles — pictured, far left — wrote a brief recap of my talk, which I am republishing below:)
Greg Lindsay, journalist and futurist, presented “What does Future Connectivity Mean to the Real Estate Industry” at the ULI Multi-Housing Initiative Council’s Annual program on September 15th in Newport Beach. During his presentation, he described the current landscape used for transportation, networks, and urban space management as a “heterogeneity with un-urbanized land areas”. He offered futuristic insights into the evolving constructs of urbanization drawing from other globalizing cities throughout the world. In doing so, developers can best target commercialized dead spaces or “stranded assets” in order to re-vitalize across all lines of interconnectivity. He addressed the following polymorphic areas in which countermeasures could be considered:
Take the Highway, they say. It’s faster, they say.
Dense cities cannot support the population growth with the size growth; this inevitably causes a supply and demand shortage. This same dichotomy holds true with means of transportation and time. While Google is in its early stages of the “G-road” model of traveling autonomously on the interstate, urban planners are exploring multi-energy efficient ways of commuting to the multi-housing industry. Energy efficient transportation, such as bike paths and ride sharing applications, are at the fore front of innovation. However, bridging the gap between development and innovation could creatively provide emerging networks for economic development. Collaborating with small businesses offers the potential for a more shared economy by incentivizing consumers (ride sharing vouchers, rental bikes, etc.) and creating a residentially commercialized industry.
Lifestyles of the Urbanite Pedestrian
The ebb and flow of multi-family housing can be widely seen throughout the 1970s and mid-1980s. Further evidence suggests that the consumers are shifting from the traditional suburb environment to a more efficient, active-based urban lifestyle. This demographic inversion coupled with a minimalistic view of usage is appealing among the contemporary professional. The conundrum is the amount of commercial dead space not being utilized for urban development. Disaggregating unused business spaces and re-vitalizing has both residential and commercial applications. Whether it’s a multi-family housing unit, or a short term, multi-use space, developers can re-utilize once thriving shopping malls or widely used parking garages into a centric-based model of an urbanized micro-economy.
Tactics of Streetscapes
Public Space is “open air” market for profitability across various facets of capital. Creating center spaces by re-activating dead space optimizing the value of commercial businesses and multi-family housing units. One approach he discussed was tactical urbanization for re-vitalizing areas. This gives creation to poly cultural neighborhoods and city gathering places. Such interventions adopted by municipalities’ places the sustainability back to the individual creating a wider shared economy.
Problems? Blame the Network
When we begin to identify structural holes in digital technology, we start to measure the performance and the collaboration efforts within a work space. The idea of reduced open space in the workplace escapes many, however intrigue others. Residential and commercial entities are utilizing these methods resulting in creating more organic connections/interactions, increasing productivity.
These areas can have mitigating factors that lie in the process of legislation and its relation to the rapidly evolving landscape of innovative economic growth measures. However, many cities have begun to adopt these innovative opportunities as a means of transforming the once traditional suburban landscape into a centric multi-use interconnection hub where people, goods, and services are exchanged at the micro level.
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 senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative — 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, and a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute.
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