June 06, 2017  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Putting the Humanity Back Into Technology

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(I’m currently the Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X, the urban startup accelerator run by BMW MINI in conjunction with the venture capital firm Urban Us. This originally ran at Fast Company’s branded content arm FastCo.Works on May 31, 2017.)

Fourteen weeks after converging on Brooklyn, the eight startups of URBAN-X–a venture accelerator founded by MINI–had reached the moment of truth: Demo Day. Taking the stage in a Ghostbusters-style jumpsuit, Upcycles cofounder Daniel Wendlek channeled the accelerator’s spirit in a jeremiad against delivery drones.

“You know what? F%*&$ robots!” he said to wild applause. “Cities struggle as it is to provide space for one of our most vital resources–human beings.” His company’s alternative: an electric-assisted tricycle capable of 500-pound deliveries at a cost of only $.002 per mile.

And so it went for 40 minutes, a stream of pitches advocating for what Micah Kotch, URBAN-X managing director, had described in his introduction as “human-first design.” Whether it was Wendlek railing against robots, Contextere CEO Gabe Batstone promising to empower blue-collar workers through data (“I want to create Iron Man, not Skynet!”), or WearWorks CEO Keith Kirkland vowing that a blind runner would complete the New York City marathon using the company’s touch-sensitive Wayband, putting people at the center of urban tech was the theme of the evening.

While half the cohort celebrated people power, the other half underscored how urban tech is the right alternative when urban policies fail. Early on, O2-O2 CEO Dan Bowden highlighted the urgent use case for his company’s brand of air-filtration facewear by observing that 22 million residents of greater Beijing were at that moment trapped indoors by a sandstorm seven times smoggier than the average punishing day in the city.

RevMax’s Jonathan Weekley demonstrated how his company’s on-demand fleet-management software could boost the average utilization of taxis and ride-hailing vehicles from 50% to 74%–an absolute necessity when unchecked ride-hailing has added 600 million vehicle miles to New York City streets.

“We need to be thinking about what is going to change and benefit individual lives,” URBAN-X program director Miriam Roure said. “When technologies are implemented at an urban scale, we need to understand the socio-economic impact–direct and indirect–they could have. We don’t see disruption as necessarily positive.”

As Shawn Broderick, managing director of venture fund SOSV, noted earlier in the evening, “The big picture here is that cities are becoming more vital to everyone’s life choices. This is a megatrend that won’t stop in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years–this will last an entire century.”

For the hundreds of city residents crowded into the URBAN-X workshop and spilling out into the hall, it might have appeared the startup founders onstage had always known exactly what they were doing. But for those who were present at the beginning–the experts-in-residence, guest mentors, and especially the program directors–the progress was particularly sweet. Fourteen weeks ago, they had products and projects and prototypes in search of a business model. Tonight, they had the foundations of a viable, scalable company on their hands.

What else did each team receive in exchange for a small equity share in their startup, and where would they go from here? For one thing, graduation had appreciably increased their chances for funding. As many as one-third of all startups receiving Series A funding are veterans of accelerators, as investors look to gatekeepers such as Y Combinator and others who instill a rigor in founding teams and provide them the right connections for future growth. For another, they could tout their affiliation with one of the world’s leading brands: MINI.

As the founders of each team rushed to prepare their booths for hundreds of visitors and rehearsed their pitches one last time, a few shared their thoughts on what they learned. For Sencity cofounders Steven Bai and Ivan Chen, who moved to New York from Sydney, the program offered both personal introductions and technical validation. “Here in America,” said Bai, “we’re talking to municipalities” about their interactive trash can, the TetraBin. “As foreigners, why should they have conversations with us? Thanks to the program, there’s a basic layer of trust.”

Other teams learned important lessons about their potential customers and themselves. Upcycles cofounders Wendlek and Nick Wong entered the program unsure about whether they were bike manufacturers or a delivery service, for which they already had customers. They’re the former, they decided. “In the next few months, we’ll build five trikes for a pilot,” said Wong, “and figure out our manufacturing process so we can build 50 by the end of the year.”

Contextere’s Batstone didn’t need help from URBAN-X in learning how to build a startup, having run software companies for 15 years. But embedding in an urban tech accelerator did teach him that the company’s software, originally designed for military and energy customers, also has a powerful role to play in maintaining urban infrastructure, such as the electric grid. “We came here as an experiment, as someone not in the process of raising money,” Batstone said. “We knew that surrounding ourselves with a bunch of fledgling entrepreneurs would give us some of their energy–being around people who have that spark is worth it.”

For the rookies, the opposite proved true. Envairo’s Gabe Peschiera entered the program alone. He graduated with a team, potential customers, and several pilot projects to demonstrate the efficacy of his smart building software.

“The value of the program is not one thing, it’s everything,” he said. “Figuring out how to engage potential advisers. Learning how VCs think. How to use AngelList for recruiting. How to have conversations about equity with potential cofounders. And all with companies that share my values. They’re not just going to build tech to make advertising more clickable–they’re building stuff in the world they want to share. All of us are trying to solve real problems with real solutions.”

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May 01, 2017  |  permalink

Peter Rees’ London: The Engine Room

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(Originally published at Medium on May 1, 2017.)

The Heron is blandly handsome as London skyscrapers go, compared to the nearby, and similarly whimsically nicknamed, “Gherkin,” “Walkie Talkie,” or “Cheesegrater” towers. But the three-year-old luxury building is exceptional in two respects. For one thing, it’s the first housing block since the 1970s to be located in the City, the compact, ancient financial center of London, also known as the Square Mile. For another, its few full-time residents include Peter Wynne Rees, who personally approved its construction — along, as it happens, with the Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, and Cheesegrater. As the longtime chief planner for the City of London Corporation, Rees is, arguably, the person most responsible for the stunning recent transformation of London’s historic core into one of the fastest growing centers of commercial development on the planet.

After a remarkably long tenure — nearly thirty years — Rees retired in 2014, but is still fiercely protective of what he calls “the engine room” — the economic hub of Greater London, the United Kingdom, and perhaps the world. (For now.) He’s been outspokenly critical of luxury apartments marketed to absentee owners who wire the funds from offshore accounts, notoriously describing such projects as “safety deposit boxes in the sky.” But on a recent tour of the district I discover he’s surprisingly skeptical of housing in general, given that most homes are empty during the day and dark at night. The City has neither the time nor the room for that.

“It’s a waste of land, which is in short supply here,” Rees tells me during our walk. “Cities can’t afford that degree of underuse.” He sees the City, above all, as a commercial reactor fueled by chance encounters and traded snippets of information — what he calls “the gossip.” Though accelerated by the financial deregulation in the 1980s, this heritage reaches back several centuries, starting with the founding of the Royal Exchange in 1571, spilling over into the Restoration-era pubs and coffee houses lining nearby Change Alley, and continuing to this day in the pocket parks and arcades he and his staff planned or protected. “People make places; places make gossip; gossip makes people money,” he explains. “And the City is especially well-designed to allow that to happen.”

» Continue reading...

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April 30, 2017  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Where the Robot Meets the Road

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(I’m currently the the Fast Company Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X, an urban tech accelerator in Brooklyn sponsored by BMW MINI and SOSV. The following dispatch covers “Where The Robot Meets The Road,” a public event on March 30th covering the intersection of autonomous vehicles, public policy, and infrastructure.)

Autonomous vehicles (“AVs”) are finally having their moment. On the cusp of becoming a reality, everyone from futurists to everyday drivers is talking about the promise of a new era in transportation, in which “drivers” can kick back and read a book, and collisions and accidents are vastly reduced.

And they may be correct. Done right, autonomous vehicles could indeed save many, if not most, of the 35,000 Americans killed in car crashes each year, reduce tailpipe emissions, and functionally extend mass transit into the suburbs with autonomous shuttles.

But without highly strategic planning and collaboration between the public and private sectors, they could just as easily produce traffic jams of empty vehicles, and bankrupted mass transit systems—increasing the gridlock that already plagues most modern cities instead of alleviating it.

Zipcar founder Robin Chase has described these scenarios as the “heaven or hell” of autonomous vehicles, arguing that heaven is only possible if cities and their citizens have an equal voice in guiding their introduction. The future of AVs is unquestionably urban—Bloomberg and McKinsey forecast that 70% of AVs sold in Europe and North America through 2030 will be in dense cities and their affluent suburbs.

To that end, last month URBAN-X—a venture accelerator founded by MINI— invited more than a hundred designers, policymakers, technologists, academics, and Brooklyn residents to its Greenpoint headquarters at A/D/O to debate the correct blend of innovation and regulation to set AVs in the right direction, and harness their true potential for the betterment of cities.

» Continue reading...

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March 29, 2017  |  permalink

Interview with The Augmented Cities Project

I spent last Sunday night chatting with The Augmented City’s host and curator John du Pre Gauntt about cities, mobility, autonomous vehicles and public transport — a few of my favorite things, in other words. Please click on the link above to listen.

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March 18, 2017  |  permalink

The Winter Speaking Circuit

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(Photo credit: Thomas Garza Photography.)

This year is shaping up to be my busiest yet in terms of speaking, moderating, and making public appearances, and this winter has been no exception. It’s been a whirlwind three months — and that’s on top of the birth of our second son, Whitaker Dow Lindsay, on New Year’s Day! As the calendar turns to spring, here’s a quick recap of my sleepless winter:

The year began with a day trip to Los Angeles to judge AECOM’s Urban SOS awards, organized in conjunction with the Van Alen Institute and Rockfeller Foundation. This year’s competition, titled “Fair Share,” required multidisciplinary student teams to submit proposals for “sharing economy” services that actually involved, you know, sharing. The winning submission from Washington University, “First Class Meal,” proposed repurposing underutilized United States Post Offices for local food storage and distribution. They received a cash prize of $7,500 and $25,000 worth of in-kind contributions from AECOM to realize their plan.

From there it was off to Abu Dhabi to speak at the World Future Energy Summit (pictured below), where I framed the challenges and opportunities in terms of what might be called George Gilder’s Second Law: “In every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant in order to save what is scarce.” What does that mean for mobility in an era of autonomous electric vehicles wasting both abundant solar electrons and unpriced roads? How will they conserve the most valuable resource of all — our time?

One theme of the winter has been the unintended consequences of the Internet of Things. At the launch festival for BMW MINI’s new Brooklyn workshop, A/D/O — where I’m the Urbanist-in-Residence at its in-house startup accelerator, URBAN-X — I interviewed MIT roboticist Kate Darling on robots and empathy, and tortured her pet dinosaur on stage (pictured below). A few weeks later, Changeist’s Susan Cox-Smith hosted a private workshop and public event at A/D/O exploring the ramifications of the IoT (Internet of Trump). And the week after that, I was in Chicago, warning of the perils of Big Data and the IoT at the IC Bus Innovation Summit — because really, what can go wrong with an Internet-connected school bus?

The remainder of my talks — for the commercial real estate investment group Accesso Partners, the independent commercial broker associations CORFAC and CORE Network, and the annual luncheon of Downtown Dallas Inc. — focused on how cities are moving away from single-use suburban malls and office parks toward shared workspaces, renewed public spaces, and a new mobility paradigm to support them. It’s a theme that will resonate a lot this spring in upcoming talks and workshops in New York and Oslo on autonomous vehicles. More soon.

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March 18, 2017  |  permalink

Announcing LA CoMotion

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Building off my work for the New Cities Foundation last year — specifically my report “Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport” — I’m pleased to join the foundation’s inaugural new mobility festival, LA CoMotion, as its director of strategy.

Scheduled to take place November 15-19, 2017 in the Arts District of Los Angeles, LA CoMotion is arguably the first of its kind in the United States, a five-day event focused as much on how we live, work, and play — not to mention walk, bike, and ride — as it is on vehicles and technology. Global VIPs and Angelenos alike will be invited to create the future together in the streets of Downtown LA in conjunction with our partners, including LADOT, Gensler, Piaggio Fast Forward, Project for Public Spaces, UITP and many more to come.

My job, I’m excited to say, is to curate the collaboration among our sponsors and partners to create an event that doesn’t devolve into a World’s Fair-like spectacle of a future perpetually just over the horizon, but contains the germ of a new future for Los Angeles and cities around the globe. I hope you’ll help us — please visit the site to request an invitation, or join us as a partner.

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March 17, 2017  |  permalink

BMW MINI’s Urbanist-in-Residence

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Anyone who follows me on LinkedIn knows I have a fondness for collecting titles, but my latest may be my favorite: the Fast Company Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X. It requires some explaining.

URBAN-X is a startup accelerator for nascent companies with an urban bent, whether that has to do with mobility, real estate, pollution, trash, or wayfinding for the blind. The accelerator is a joint venture between SOSV — the world’s largest accelerator program with hundreds of graduating startups per year, like scratch-and-win lottery tickets — and BWM MINI, which houses the program in its Brooklyn combination restaurant/co-working/makerspace, A/D/O. Why MINI? Because BMW executives realized the Mini Cooper’s brand equity is greater than the car — hence the effort to transform it into a lifestyle brand comprised of MINI Living, MINI Fashion, and more. (Presumably, we can one day expect to live in a global MINI-branded co-living chain equipped with cars from ReachNow, BMW’s American car-sharing program.

My role is the result of a deal between Fast Company and URBAN-X to advise the startups-in-residence on the peculiarities of cities and file dispatches on their progress. (Pre-seed round startups, I’ve learned, are a lot like toddlers — they constantly grasp at the nearest, shiniest thing.) In the meantime, TechRepublic has a nice round-up of the eight startups in the current cohort, three of which have “sense” in their name.

I’ve also agree to host or participate in several events at A/D/O this spring, including the kickoff festival in Janaury, last month’s “The Internet of Very Bad, No-Good Things,” and next month’s event with The Kingdom of Happiness author Aimee Groth on April 3rd.

Next up is “Where The Robot Meets The Road” on March 30:

Where The Robot Meets The Road
The rise of Uber and advent of autonomous vehicles herald a new era in urban mobility while threatening to disrupt public transport infrastructure. How can cities reconcile these competing models while preserving the public interest?

The format of this event will be a participatory panel discussion led by our Urbanist-in-Residence Greg Lindsay, in conversation with:

• Zack Wasserman, Head of Global Business Development at Via On-Demand Transit.
• Corinne Kisner, Director of Policy and Special Projects at NACTO.
• Varun Adibhatla, Founder of ARGO and Adjunct Instructor at NYU’s CUSP.

This event is our kickoff event of our monthly URBAN-X Dialogue Series. During these events we will hold off-the-record, participatory conversations to discuss critical questions around the impact of urban technologies in our lives. We believe that dialogue is a fundamental element for understanding the complexity of our diverse personal universes, and the starting point of better solutions for a brighter urban life.

And yes, there will be beer. Please register here; I hope to see you there.

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March 16, 2017  |  permalink

Neoliberalism Explained on Open Source Radio

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This week, I received an unusual but irresistible request: appear on WBUR Boston’s podcast Open Source to help host Christoper Lydon unpack the word “neoliberalism” alongside CUNY’s Corey Robin, “Labor of Love” author Moira Weigel, and queer activist Yasmin Nair. Neoliberalism has been the world’s modus operandi since 1979, and might best be described as “markets in everything” — all the world’s a transaction, or should be. Lydon asked me to hold forth on the global supply chains, the aerotropolis, Uber, and cities, and I did so with my usual torrential speed. You can read WBUR’s description of the program here:

In recent weeks, our comments section has been filled with request to define a term we use constantly on this show: neoliberalism. For people who like buzzwords parsed and spelled out, this hour’s for you.

There are countless avenues that neoliberalism can lead us through: from the dismal science of efficiency and austerity to the dismal politics in Washington on both sides of the aisle. In our neighborhoods, neoliberalism may mean the defunding of our public schools as well as the deregulation of our public services. It’s driving impulse may be the ruthless privatization of everything in existence: from parking meters to prisons. It’s affective influence can transform our personal relationships, both intimate and platonic; gamifying our everyday relationships and turning the dating pool into a competitive market. Through the co-option of feminist and anti-racist struggle, it can disguise class enemies as “woke” allies. Through the commercialization of our artistic works and the corruption of our scientific research, it can convert our greatest human achievements into metrics on a spreadsheet.

So, instead of pursuing a single definition in this show, we’ve enlisted an all-star cast of public thinkers to discuss where they see neoliberalism creeping into their daily life and work.

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March 10, 2017  |  permalink

The Death and Life of American Cities in the Age of Uber

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In 2015, the New Cities Foundation approached me about a research fellowship studying urban mobility. I told them I was interested, but only if I could unequivocally take a stand against Uber and its implicit campaign to monopolize first taxis and then public transport. Without batting an eye, they said yes.

My final report, published last fall, made the case that Uber and its fellow transportation network companies would fatally undermine public transport by siphoning the most affluent (and therefore politically influential) riders away from subways and buses into the backseats of late-model sedans. Declining ridership would force transit agencies to first cut budgets and then quality, creating a downward spiral of customers fleeing to private services — which in certain cases already cost less than transit in cities such as New York, Boston, and Washington due to massive subsidies. (Uber posted a $3 billion loss last year.) The result would be a collapse in public transport and epic traffic congestion, as a multitude of individually rational decisions produced a collective meltdown.

Needless to say, this wasn’t a popular opinion at the time, when I expanded upon my theory at length in a podcast with London Reconnection’s Nicole Badstuber and Transit Center’s Zak Accuardi.

I doubled down in January with an op-ed in The Guardian arguing Uber’s multi-billion-dollar burn rate indicated it needed to achieve a near-total monopoly before the subsidies ran out. Shortly thereafter, Uber’s annus horriblis began, starting with the #deleteuber campaign and then widening into public allegations of internal sexual harassment, aggressively deceiving regulators, stealing Google’s autonomous vehicle research, and engendering enough ill will to lose more than 200,000 customers (and counting).

Then the other shoe (or the other other shoe) dropped this week with a report published by former New York City Department of Transportation deputy chief Bruce Schaller arguing Uber and Lyft, et al. have tripled in size in New York in the last eighteen months, producing demonstrable gridlock. Meanwhile, bus ridership has plunged by 25% since 2009, and subway ridership fell last year for the first time this century. “It’s hit a point where people are choosing to travel by ride-hailing because the subways have become intolerable,” the Regional plan Association’s president Tom Wright told The New York Times.

Perhaps the most remarkable quote from that story comes from a member of the Manhattan Institute, a self-described “free market think tank” :

Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said ride-hailing apps were able to lure riders with artificially low prices because they were subsidized by an influx of cash by investors. The apps have made it easier for people to travel by the “most inefficient mode of transportation possible,” she said.

When you’ve lost the libertarians, Uber, it’s game over.

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March 08, 2017  |  permalink

A Future History of New York: After The Flood

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I’m thrilled to join my Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream teammate Rafi Segal and the amazing architects Susannah Drake, Sarah Williams, and Brent Ryan in imagining the next hundred years of New York’s and New Jersey’s climate change-ravaged coastlines on behalf of the Regional Plan Association.

The RPA, in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation, has commissioned an ideas competition ahead of the Fourth Regional Plan — the once-in-a-generation long-term vision for the tri-state area. Our team was chosen by an all-star jury including former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Foreclosed curator Barry Bergdoll to grapple with the insurmountable challenges of sea-level rise. From the RPA’s press release:

Rafi Segal A+ U and Susannah Drake have collaborated on several design competitions and taught together at Harvard’s GSD and at the Cooper Union School of Architecture. Together with Sarah Williams, Brent Ryan and Greg Lindsay, will work to design and address key ecological infrastructure challenges and threats posed by climate change to the region’s coastal areas. Their interest in dispersed urbanism and emerging forms of collective housing, along with urban ecological infrastructures, climate change and mobile technologies will allow them to address the pressing challenges of the Bight corridor. A series of future scenarios, from new strategies on managed retreat for vulnerable coastal areas to novel restoration strategies must be developed to manage the continued loss of fragile marsh lands. There is an opportunity to recast and restructure this corridor as an impactful ecological, infrastructural, and community asset, enhancing the region’s ecology and resiliency.

We have until June to propose strategies and tell our stories — wish us luck.

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative  — and the director of strategy for LACoMotion, a new mobility festival coming to the Arts District of Los Angeles in November 2017.

He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

Medium  |  May 1, 2017

The Engine Room

Fast Company  |  January 19, 2017

The Collaboration Software That’s Rejuvenating The Young Global Leaders Of Davos

The Guardian  |  January 13, 2017

What If Uber Kills Public Transport Instead of Cars

Backchannel  |  January 4, 2017

The Office of the Future Is…an Office

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

» See all articles

Blog

July 28, 2017

Songdo, City of the Future? Or of Our Hopes and Fears?

July 20, 2017

NewCities Summit 2017: Songdo Redux

July 17, 2017

Seedstars, Ananda Urban Tech, and “Cities as a Service”

July 14, 2017

“Columbus Park” and Redesigning Manhattan for Autonomous Vehicles.

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