December 07, 2016  |  permalink

AECOM and the Future of Cities

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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.

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December 02, 2016  |  permalink

Reading the “City of Trump”

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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?’”

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October 31, 2016  |  permalink

The 2016 Fall Speaking Season

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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!

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October 30, 2016  |  permalink

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

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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?

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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 “Reprogramming Mobility,” to which I contributed an essay comparing and contrasting Las Vegas and Milton Keynes’ experiments in connected mobility, “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 “Future May Lie In Intelligent Informal Transport.”

Visit the New Cities Foundation’s site 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.

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October 28, 2016  |  permalink

Urban Land Institute: Future Connectivity and Real Estate

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(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.

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October 10, 2016  |  permalink

Nikkei Asian Review: Future may lie in ‘intelligent’ informal transport

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(Originally published by the Nikkei Asian Review on October 6, 2016.)

Weaving between cars, taxis, motorcycles and buses are thousands of “jeepneys”—aged, gaudily decorated passenger jeeps each seating 20 people. Festooned with chrome and painted with names such as “Soldier of Fortune,” jeepneys spew black exhaust fumes, block highways with frequent stops, and race each other for passengers.

They are filthy, inefficient, and unsafe. Fortunately, most are also slated for extinction thanks to an imminent ban on vehicles 15 years old or older. (Production of new ones has slowed to a trickle.) But the passing of the jeepney will probably make Filipinos’ commutes worse.

Metro Manila’s 45,000 jeepneys account for 44% of journeys by the city’s 24 million inhabitants—more than double the 18% share of buses and trains. The jeepneys’ share is changing rapidly, however, thanks to an explosion in private vehicles—new car sales have doubled since 2013. The logic is undeniable: Why breathe smoke when you can drive in air conditioning?

As a result, the megacity’s traffic is among the world’s worst, according to users of Waze, a navigation and information app for drivers. Congestion costs $57 million a day in lost productivity, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which predicts the figure may nearly triple by 2030.

This vicious circle is common in south and southeast Asian cities where public transport is scarce or non-existent, whether the vehicles in question are auto-rickshaws (Mumbai), motorcycle ojeks (Jakarta), or songthaew minibuses (Bangkok).

These forms of so-called informal transport are poorly remunerated, barely regulated and clearly inferior to rail and bus rapid transit, but carry millions of passengers daily, providing transport capacity that, although dangerous and polluting, acts as a check on private car congestion.

Not even ride-sharing services such as Uber or Grab can claim that. In fact, former Metro Manila traffic director Yves Gonzalez estimates that both companies have added between 10,000 and 15,000 cars to the megacity’s roads as entrepreneurs buy fleets of vehicles and hire drivers.

That may be about to change, however, as shared electric autonomous vehicles creep into view. “With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses,” Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk wrote in a blog post this summer, describing a vehicle that sounds a lot like a self-driving jeepney.

What would it take to make informal transport the solution to gridlock, rather than part of the problem? Three things: clean electric vehicles; streamlined routes; and—ultimately—on-demand, computer guided vehicles, whether autonomous or not.

In the Philippines, at least two groups are working on the first element. Electric jeepneys, known as ejeepneys, were introduced nearly a decade ago by the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines. They never caught on, partly because of costs but also because of the short range and low energy density of their lead-acid batteries.

More recently, however, former Filipine congressman Sigfrido “Freddie” Tinga launched a startup company marketing an electric jeepney named the Comet. Tinga’s plan is to sell them to owners of traditional jeepneys for $35,000 to $40,000 each. In exchange, he will hire drivers, collect fares, sell ads, and share the profits.

Like Musk, he firmly believes the future belongs to the jeepney’s successor. “The world will best be served by these 20-seat electric vehicles in a fleet-managed system,” Tinga said.

Once you have quiet, air-conditioned vehicles, the question becomes where should they go? In Manila, as in many cities, there were until recently no maps of informal transport services and no way to know how many routes overlapped. This meant that transportation planners were flying blind when it came to deciding where to put new metro lines or bus routes.

In 2012, government officials set out to map the informal system, aided by the World Bank and inspired by the success of a pioneering effort in Nairobi, Kenya, to map that city’s matatus—informal minibuses ferrying a third of commuters. A team of researchers from New York’s Columbia University and the University of Nairobi used smartphones and hand-held GPS units to document each of the city’s 130 matatu routes, translating this data into information for traffic apps such as Ma3Route.

In Manila’s case, the conclusions of the mapping project were surprising. There were more than 900 jeepney routes—twice as many as the government had expected. The World Bank estimated that using the data to rewrite jeepney and bus routes in a more efficient way would reduce the number of routes by nearly 90%, with a 23% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of removing 105,000 cars from Manila’s roads.

It remains to be seen whether this plan will ever be put into motion—jeepney drivers typically oppose change, and they are a poor but vocal voting bloc. But in a city where Waze is ubiquitous and Uber and Grab are both wildly popular, it may be wrong to assume that the future belongs to fixed-route trains and buses.

If Musk is correct, commuters across the global south can look forward to riding electric passenger vehicles that never trace the same route twice. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, for example, has outlined a feature named “Perpetual Trip”—essentially a never-ending shared ride as passengers come and go in the company’s ride pooling vehicles.

The Israeli founders of a ride-sharing app named Via were inspired by sherut—Tel Aviv’s answer to the jeepney. “One way to use our technology is to allow cities with large informal systems to centralize their ... services and gain insight on how they’re performing,” said Zachary Wasserman, Via’s vice president of strategy. “We’re talking to people in South America and have had conversations in Africa about how our technology could upgrade [matatus] and optimize them.”

Given the mounting costs of congestion in cities such as Manila, “intelligent” jeepneys could perhaps provide a short-term solution more easily than traditional mass rapid transport systems (which have proven difficult to plan and build) and autonomous cars, which in the end are still just cars.

Just as many emerging markets leapfrogged over fixed telephony to widespread mobile phones, they might be better off leapfrogging trains and buses by using technology to make informal transport more efficient. The Philippines’ love-hate affair with jeepneys—often called the “kings of the road”—may have life in it yet.

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October 05, 2016  |  permalink

Inc: Why Every Business Should Start in a Co-Working Space

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(Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Inc. magazine.)

How big is the co-working phenomenon? Reliable estimates put almost a million workers in shared spaces worldwide, and their ranks are expected to nearly quadruple by 2020. And the biggest fish remains WeWork, which, despite some recent hiccups—like cutting 7 percent of its staff in June—still counts 65,000 co-working members packed into 90 locations spread across eight countries.

But if you think co-working is good only for camaraderie and free beer, you’ll be surprised at what businesses can get out of it. Washington, D.C.-based 12-person design and marketing shop Brllnt (pronounced “brilliant”), for example, was largely built and scaled within a WeWork. There, its founders succeeded in scoring clients, talent, and a merger partner—without ever needing to hop on a call or dash across town.

Early days
In March 2014, before Brllnt was born, Melanie Charlton, a creative director for a startup, and her brother Jonathan Smalley, then in R&D at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, were brainstorming a company in her basement in Annapolis, Maryland.

The fledgling founders moved from Charlton’s basement to a local art co-op, but complications arose. “We knew it was time to move out,” says Charlton, “when our client calls got interrupted by band saws in the background.” So they set their sights on an office space in a city.

Brllnt got started when Charlton and Smalley obtained some key client leads from her former employer, the mobile web developer Fiddlefly.

The pair considered Baltimore but ultimately chose D.C. because they had more clients there. And they zeroed in on co-working spaces, sensing that being among scores of other co-workers could give their business a boost. In July 2014, they moved into D.C.‘s only WeWork location at the time, situated in a former Wonder Bread factory. (The high ceilings and outdoor space helped seal the deal.)

Settling in
Brllnt’s first office at WeWork was a glassed-in, six-person space that was used by four people—the founders and their first two employees. Monthly cost: $2,850.

Workers’ playtime? One way Brllnt made its connections: video games. “We were known as the office with Mario Golf,” says Charlton.

Charlton’s dog, Cinna—a Shiba Inu who boasts her own Instagram account—frequently visited the pet-friendly location (and turned up in the “Dogs of WeWork” calendar).

The D.C. WeWork was initially filled with tiny companies drunk on the startup lifestyle (and free beer—legend has it that of WeWork’s first-generation locations, it consumed the most). Brllnt’s office quickly became a popular place to hang out, in part because Charlton and Smalley were known for helping out fellow WeWorkers seeking resources or other assistance.

Fellow WeWorkers provided both a talent pool and a sounding board for recruitment efforts. Brllnt even hired two people from WeWork’s own staff.

Brllnt’s video games and status as WeWork’s go-to office resulted in a steady stream of visitors, and proved to be a very effective form of lead generation. In Charlton’s telling, she and Smalley eventually met around 80 percent of their fellow members—there were roughly 500—and scored 50 percent of their first year’s clients from WeWorkers. Among them: floral delivery startup UrbanStems, which has raised more than $8 million (and is no longer based at WeWork).

A co-working merger
In August 2014, Smalley met Jason Nellis, founder of content strategy firm Overachiever Media. Nellis and Smalley chatted about their roles as their companies’ main salespeople, and bid together on a couple of projects. They started sharing a WeWork glassed-in office to reduce overhead and increase space before merging their businesses (it was as if “we’d moved in together before getting married,” says Charlton). Then, this past February, they moved again, into a 12-person space (monthly cost: $5,400), later adding another three-person meeting room.

How important is WeWork to Brllnt’s present and future? Fourteen of its 33 past and present clients came from WeWork. Eight were found “down the hall,” and four more were co-worker referrals. And the company keeps growing—which may force certain decisions.

Time to move on?
As Brllnt continues to add headcount, it’s bumping up against the limits of its location’s offices. Charlton acknowledges that soon the benefits of having a large enough private space will outweigh the advantages and costs of WeWork. “We have interns this summer, and there’s always the question of how we rearrange our space to accommodate them,” she says. So Brllnt is keeping its options open regarding its next move—and WeWork continues to rearrange its existing office spaces to accommodate clients that need more room.

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October 05, 2016  |  permalink

Data Size Matters, But Smarts Matter More

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(I’m proud to have joined the United States Military Academy’s Network Science Center at West Point as an associated researcher. In theory, that means working with NSC senior fellow Daniel Evans on refining social network models to analyze highly ambiguous environments and predict where precise interventions will make the biggest difference. In practice, it means working with Evans and his crew at Storm King Analytics to help publicize this work and to look for non-military applications. This post is drawn from SKA’s weekly newsletters; earlier installments are further below.)

Before LinkedIn cashed out to Microsoft this summer, CEO Jeff Weiner liked to describe the social network’s culmination as the “economic graph,” a platform encompassing every relationship between the 3.3 billion people employed in the planet’s formal workforce. It’s a classic case of the totalizing logic of Big Data — once we have everything, we’ll know everything — but if LinkedIn users know anything, it’s that the network’s signal-to-noise ratio has proven inversely proportional to its size. The problem with Big Data is that it is simultaneously too big and never big enough.

Using LinkedIn to identify sales prospects illustrates another problem with even the biggest formal datasets — sometimes the person nominally in charge isn’t the one who decides the outcome. One of the foundational concepts in social network analysis is “brokerage” and the related notion of “structural holes.” The University of Chicago’s Ronald Burt was the first to demonstrate how the individuals who manage to bridge these gaps between cliques within organizations produce more ideas, make better decisions, and prosper accordingly — while also being largely invisible. As Burt once told Inc. magazine, a network like LinkedIn “doesn’t answer the question of ‘why them?’ It assumes you know.”

So, what do you do when you don’t know?

This is the question we ask daily at Storm King Analytics, whether it’s in support of our colleagues at West Point’s Network Science Center or on behalf of clients trying to make better sense of opaque environments — who really drives decision-making and how do I influence them to achieve my goals? That’s not a question that can be answered with Big Data; you need something… smarter. Call it “Smart Data,” for lack of a better catchphrase.

A case in point is our work on behalf of a California biotech firm seeking to make inroads in Morocco, which would appear to be fertile territory for companies invested in battling cancer. In recent years, the royal family, led by King Mohammed VI, has led an ambitious campaign to detect and combat cancer early in their subjects. The King’s wife, Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma, created the Lalla Salma Foundation to marshal public and private partners for help with screening and prevention. But standing in the startup’s way were pharma giants such as Roche, which have operated in the country for more than 50 years. Outmaneuvering them to reach the royals would be difficult, to say the least. So, who was key?

Our approach is to meld qualitative research and cultural expertise with quantitative analysis — half smarts and half data. In this case, we started by mapping the people and institutions commanding power and influence around this particular issue. Broadly speaking, we found four groups with outsized clout:

1. The royal family and their senior advisors. The King of Morocco possesses vast executive powers and keeps counsel with a tight-knit circle of advisors.

2. Société Nationale d’Investissement (SNI). A large private holding company controlled by the royal family. The group has a huge footprint, estimated to be worth 3% of Moroccan GDP.

3. Collège Royale. A secondary school located within the royal palace in Rabat. It specializes in the education of princes and princesses. Selected children of other families may attend, and historically the classmates of royal family members command great status within Morocco.

4. Authenticity and Modernity Party (Parti Authenticité et Modernité-PAM). A political party founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, advisor to King Mohammed VI and the former interior minister. From its founding, it has been a pro-monarchy party with the implicit backing of the King.

Starting with individuals belonging to these groups, we then added the names of influential members within Morocco’s medical and philanthropic establishment, including Lalla Salma Foundation members and prominent physicians. Populating our model with publicly available biographical details sourced from news outlets, financial databases, Wikipedia, and LinkedIn (why not?), we used these noisy-but-effective portraits to identify connections and create network quantifiably depicting the social capital invested in those relationships.

The result looked like this:

image

Your eyes don’t deceive you. Our analysis confirms Moulay Tahar Alaoui is far and away the most connected person on this issue in the entire Moroccan establishment.

Wait, who?

Moulay Tahar Alaoui is a prominent doctor practicing at a prominent hospital, the Centre National de Sante Reproductrice — and a royal family insider. He’s not exactly an unknown commodity — he sits on the Lalla Slama Foundation Board and is a member of its Scientific Council — but he wields no decision-making powers of his own. He’s the bridge over the yawning structural hole between Morocco’s medical establishment and its royals. He’s your way in.

Would LinkedIn’s data scientists have arrived at the same conclusion? (After all, we did borrow some of their data.) We don’t think so. Just as Ronald Burt builds his models of organizations through painstaking interviews with stakeholders, our smart data approach combines the qualitative insights of experts with the quantitative muscle of our proprietary to discover connectors like Alaoui hiding in plain sight.

Posted by Greg Lindsay  |  Categories:  |  Comments


August 30, 2016  |  permalink

Known Knowns and Unknown Kano

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(I’m proud to have joined the United States Military Academy’s Network Science Center at West Point as an associated researcher. In theory, that means working with NSC senior fellow Daniel Evans on refining social network models to analyze highly ambiguous environments and predict where precise interventions will make the biggest difference. In practice, it means working with Evans and his crew at Storm King Analytics to help publicize this work and to look for non-military applications. This post is drawn from SKA’s weekly newsletters; the first installment is further below.)

Our first few newsletters have focused on what the U.S. Army calls Ungoverned Spaces, which despite the name are neither ungoverned nor spaces — they’re dense, tangled networks of state and non-state actors competing for influence in places where formal governance is weak. In our initial installment, we talked about the four factors driving the emergence of such places: urbanization; globalization; wealthy non-state actors, and technology. Last time out, we visited a place embodying all of these trends — Nigeria’s Emirate of Kano, where a power struggle between four clans to place one of the members on the “stool of power” ended with a surprise succession reminiscent of discarded Game of Thrones subplots.

Why this matters: Ungoverned Spaces like Kano, which sits on the edge of the Sahel along the tenth parallel north, represents the global future of both conflict and commerce. The shadow of Boko Haram stalks the emirate while the city of Kano’s three million residents are only just starting to draw the interest of multinational marketers. To succeed in either endeavor, you need to understand where power truly lies. And to that end, as part of our work supporting the Network Science Center at West Point, we wanted to know whether we could analyze and predict which players would succeed in situations like the succession crisis that consumed the emirate in 2014. So, without further ado…

Dramatis Personae:

Emir Ado Bayero, successful clan and religious ruler who reigned for 50 years before dying in 2014.

Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, governor of the Nigerian state of Kano, who ratifies the selection of the new Emir to square the latter’s status with the state and national power structure. A Muslim, Kwankwaso later ran for president against the Christian incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, but lost to the eventual winner in his party’s primary.

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Emir’s grand-nephew who was appointed the Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank in 2009. He was forced to resign in 2014 by Jonathan after alleging corruption in the state’s handling of oil revenues.

The Sullubawa, Yolawa, Wudilawa, and Dambazawa clans. Each family has its own mosque, royal titles, and representative Kingmaker who helps to elect the next Emir, who is traditionally, but not always, from the Sullubawa clan. (Emir Ado Bayero fit this pattern.)

The Emir’s relationship with Governor Kwankwaso was known to be a tense one. It was also common knowledge that Sanusi harbored ambitions to succeed him. Following Sanusi’ departure from the Central Bank, he returned home and was given a traditional title, “Dan ‘Majen Kano,” reserved for “hardworking and courageous princes.”

Following the Emir’s death, the Kingmakers convened and asked each clan to advance a candidate, one of whom was Sanusi. The Emir’s youngest son (and Sullubawa nominee) Nasiru Ado Bayero was presumed by the press and the public as the front-runner — they were wrong.

Behind the scenes, Kwankwaso was conspiring with Sanusi to retaliate against the Bayero family for their warm relations with President Jonathan while strengthening his position for a presidential run. When Sanusi’s selection as the new Emir was announced in June 2014 just two days after Bayero’s death, crowds gathered to protest what they intuitively grasped was a rather… opaque decision-making process. Once it became clear Sanusi would get the nod, his rivals allegedly plotted to kidnap him — a scheme reportedly foiled at the last minute by Kwankwaso’s protection.

Their plan worked. Nasiru Ado Bayero left Kano shortly thereafter, refusing to acknowledge Sanusi’s legitimacy. But that didn’t matter, because he was stripped of his post and family title following Jonathan’s defeat by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. (Kwankwaso lost to Buhari, but later ran for Senate and won.)

That’s the end of our story. But this rather tidy resolution raises a number of questions for a military commander on the ground charged with hunting Boko Haram, foreign companies seeking to do business in a city they can barely navigate, or an investor wondering where power lies: how could we have known Sanusi was secretly the front-runner? Was Kwankwaso destined to outmaneuver the Bayeros and the Sullubawa clan? And was the root of their animus purely the result of religion and presidential politics, or were there other factors at play?

That’s where we come in. We build tools that quantify social capital — a currency measured in connections, reciprocity, and trust — and use them to create multi-layer network models that describe and visualize competing and cooperative actors in a social network like Kano’s. Using statistical tools like Network Kernel Density estimations, we can take these models, compare them to others, and map how they function. The last step — and this is where things truly get interesting — is to choose a goal (do you want to see Sanusi on the stool or power, or Bayero), and use our proprietary algorithms to determine how best to nudge the network toward your desired outcome. In Kano’s case, that means plotting the half-dozen steps necessary to get cozy with Kwankwaso and tip the scales in Sanusi’s favor.

image An example Multi-layer Network

None of this foolproof, of course — unlike chess pieces, people have a mind of their own. Which is why we’ve added the ability to forecast the consequences of our recommendations while taking into account networks that are constantly evolving. Speaking of which, we’re currently mapping the most influential actors in the Horn of Africa and the tribes of the Maghreb for the U.S. government. Using these additional network datasets, we’ll continue to refine our methodology and algorithms.

image Comparing 2 networks using Network Kernel Density. The “goal network” is on the left.

image After running our algorithm for 10 steps the network on the right more closely resembles the “goal network.”

Our ultimate goal is to develop an analytical engine that automates this process for decision makers for both military and commercial purposes. As you might imagine, the uses of a such a tool go far beyond military applications — knowing who to befriend is as much if not more valuable than knowing who to fight.

Posted by Greg Lindsay  |  Categories:  |  Comments


August 30, 2016  |  permalink

Probing “Ungoverned Spaces” at West Point’s Network Science Center

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(I’m proud to announce that I’ve been appointed to the United States Military Academy’s Network Science Center at West Point as an associated researcher. In theory, that means working with NSC senior fellow Daniel Evans on refining social network models to analyze highly ambiguous environments and predict where precise interventions will make the biggest difference. In practice, it means working with Evans and his crew at Storm King Analytics to help publicize this work and to look for non-military applications. The first installment of SKA’s newsletter is below.)

In Silicon Valley, it’s not uncommon for self-described disrupters to self-consciously slip the acronym “VUCA” into conversation. VUCA, which stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity,” describes the rapidly shifting landscape on which future competition and conflicts will take place. But it wasn’t coined by product managers at Facebook to describe cutthroat competition in the mobile ad space. VUCA was invented by the U.S. Army War College to instill in commanders that traditional war-fighting doctrine, functions, and hierarchies no longer necessarily apply.

While amateurs talk of disrupting established competitors, the professionals in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) are wondering what it’s like to fight in places where there’s no establishment at all. In Pamphlet 525-8-5, TRADOC predicts:

Future operational environments will be characterized by uncertainty, complexity, rapid change, and a range of potential threats. They will be marked by various levels of conflict among nations and groups competing for wealth, resources, political authority, sovereignty, and legitimacy. The distinctions between threats will blur for the U.S. These include, for example, the nature of enemies and adversaries, and the multiplicity of actors involved. In addition, friendly and unfriendly actors will attempt to adapt to an ever-changing environment, which may lack a system of governance or rule of law.


The most challenging of these environments, where VUCA rules, are known as Ungoverned Spaces. These are the places where national sovereignty effectively stops — whether on remote mountaintops, in slums, in labyrinthine offshore accounts, or even in cyberspace. Whether emerging from the ruins of a failed state or the hollowing out of national power from within, the world is now littered with Ungoverned Spaces like the terrorist havens of Waziristan and Yemen, the empty quarters of the Sahel and Maghreb, megacities as varied as Rio de Janeiro, Karachi, and Lagos, and most famously the territory controlled by Islamic State.

Ungoverned Spaces aren’t voids but the opposite — places where dense, overlapping networks of local actors compete for legitimacy in the absence of a strong state, NGOs, or multinational corporations. Picture São Paulo drug gangs providing favela residents protection, or Islamic State’s efforts to win hearts and minds by employing “warfare through welfare.” These are places where the rule of law and formal governance is suspended, replaced by a combustible mixture of threats and promises administered through personal relationships opaque to outsiders. Every Ungoverned Space is ungoverned in its own way. But simply knowing that doesn’t help you much.

Which is why our team here at Storm King Analytics have been supporting an Army Studies Program study of Ungoverned Spaces in support of the Network Science Center at West Point. As its name implies, our goal was to develop a multi-layer model capable of analyzing the actors and relationships embedded within and across these competing networks, and once we had done that, identify and assess opportunities for interventions.

In other words, rather than charging into environment we don’t understand, could we subtly tweak the networks to produce more desirable outcomes from a military perspective?

To test this hypothesis, we had to do three things: understand what’s driving the metastasis of Ungoverned Spaces; select one such space for analysis, and make predictions that could be proven over time. For now, let’s stick to why.

Ungoverned spaces are driven by four factors: urbanization; globalization; the rise of non-state actors, and the technology enabling them.

The planet’s urban population is set to double in the first half of this century to more than 7 billion, while urban land cover is poised to triple. The vast majority of this growth will be concentrated in slums and other informal settlements — classic Ungoverned Spaces where services are locally provisioned.

The second trend, globalization — especially migration and infrastructure networks — feeds the first, leading to transnational migrant communities whose inner workings are illegible to their host countries (as seen in the Paris and Brussels attacks plotted from the relative obscurity of the immigrant neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels).

Perhaps most alarming is the mounting wealth of non-state actors. Whether it’s Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel or Islamic State (and its oil revenue), their multi-billion dollar cash flows increase the opportunities for state capture through a combination of fear and bribery, or even the replacement of state services altogether. It also potentially expands their reach from local or regional actors into global ones through offshore money laundering and investments.

That’s driven by the fourth factor, technology, which has consistently made the ability to connect, coordinate, and execute hostile activities more easily, efficiently, and invisibly. Three days before last fall’s Paris attacks, for example, the Belgian federal interior minister acknowledged Islamic State’s preference for using the Sony Playstation 4 network for communication. It turned out they didn’t even need encryption.

Ironically, these are more or less the same factors that have emerging markets investors salivating. For instance, in their book No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends, the directors of the McKinsey Global Institute name three of the same four, only electing for aging demographies over non-state actors. Meanwhile, private equity investors like the Dubai-based Abraaj Group have built multi-billion-dollar portfolios in the same markets focused on companies using technology to serve urban customers.

Given the scale and scope of the forces at work, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one army’s threat is private equity’s next fund-raising opportunity. In the next installment of this newsletter, we’ll introduce you to a place that ticks all the boxes on McKinsey’s checklist and could double as a plot line on Game of Thrones. As it turns out, these things are not unrelated. (Skip ahead if you’re dying to know who plays the Lannisters and the High Sparrow.)

We introduced Ungoverned Spaces and these factors in more depth in a recently published paper. Next time, we’ll visit the site we chose: the Emirate of Kano.

Posted by Greg Lindsay  |  Categories:  |  Comments


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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 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.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

New Cities Foundation  |  October 2016

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

Inc.  |  October 2016

Why Every Business Should Start in a Co-Working Space

Popular Mechanics  |  May 11, 2016

Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?

The New Republic  |  January/February 2016

Hacking The City

Fast Company  |  September 22, 2015

We Spent Two Weeks Wearing Employee Trackers: Here’s What We Learned

Fast Company  |  September 21, 2015

HR Meets Data: How Your Boss Will Monitor You To Create The Quantified Workplace

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

» See all articles

Blog

December 07, 2016

AECOM and the Future of Cities

December 02, 2016

Reading the “City of Trump”

October 31, 2016

The 2016 Fall Speaking Season

October 30, 2016

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

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