June 29, 2014  |  permalink

Aspen Ideas: Future Megacities and the Fate of Millions

I’m in Aspen this weekend for the tenth annual installment of the Aspen Ideas Festival, where I’m moderating several sessions on a new track named “The Metropolis.” The first, “Future Megacities and the Fate of Millions” brought together Shining Hope For Communities’ Kennedy Odede, McKinsey’s Shirish Sankhe, and the Sante Fe Institute’s Luis Bettancourt for a lively and wide-ranging conversation on cities, slums, and how to build better versions of each.

Video of the session is above; the official description is below:

A generation ago, New York and Tokyo were the world’s only megacities. By 2025, the UN predicts there will be 37. All but a handful will be in the developing world. The fate of millions, then, rests on the question: what will life in these megacities look like? While density is an almost universally celebrated urban characteristic, rapid population growth can also result in poorly planned, congested, and unsafe settlements, leading many to ask: Are slums the inevitable urban form of the future? How might big data and progressive planning ensure that even the fastest growing cities are places of opportunity for the billions that will live in them?


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June 29, 2014  |  permalink

Announcing the Motor Cities Project


I’m proud to announce the Motor Cities Project, the culmination of more than a year of research and the start of years of work in Detroit. Launched last week as an official commitment to action at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference in Denver, the Motor Cities Project is a two-year pilot project by the World Policy Institute and Pilot Projects Design Collective to repopulate and revitalize Detroit using lessons learned from thriving communities in developing world megacities.

The Associated Press coverage of the announcement is below; the official press release is after the jump.

Motor City Project to spur economic growth in northwest Detroit neighborhood

By Associated Press

A plan to spur economic growth in a northwest Detroit neighborhood was announced Tuesday during the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver.

The Motor City Project will highlight the use of available resources like manpower, vacant land and empty buildings to make the area attractive to potential and current residents seeking to start their own businesses.

It also will help new arrivals work through cumbersome city codes and other red tape to operate home- and neighborhood-based businesses, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow Greg Lindsay said.

Lindsay said zoning rules in many U.S. cities make it difficult for entrepreneurs to operate out of their homes or garages, but such “microenterprises” have been successful in poorer countries.

He pointed to the practice of salvaging wood, countertops and other materials from abandoned houses in Detroit and selling it to retrofit homes.

“That’s what happens every day in places like Nairobi,” Lindsay said. “They are starved for resources. People realize everything they have is an asset.”

The Detroit neighborhood chosen is a mix of homes and small manufacturing. It is anchored by Focus: Hope, a social and economic services agency.

As part of the project, a so-called Resilience Center will be created to attract “urban homesteaders and migrants from other neighborhoods, cities and countries to relocate to the area,” the World Policy Institute said in a release.

Staff also will work with entrepreneurs to find funding and other support for their ventures.

“We want to create this pop-up community center where we would bring in new arrivals and help them acclimate to their conditions,” Lindsay said.

The two-year project is in the design and development phase and is starting with in-kind contributions. It hopes to expand with partners from the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative. The initiative was establish in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton. It brings together foundations, business and government leaders to develop solutions to challenges impacting people around the world.

» Continue reading...

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June 22, 2014  |  permalink

New Cities Summit 2014: Global Air Hubs

Last month in Dallas, I moderated a session at the New Cities Summit on the importance of global air hubs — a particularly appropos topic given the location, which is the largest metropolitan region in United States that doesn’t sit beside or straddle a major body of water. Instead, DFW has one of the world’s busiest airports at its core. Airport CEO Sean Donohue and Boyd Aviation’s Mike Boyd joined me for a fun and lively conversation on the future of aviation and why DFW is perfectly positions to be the only hub you’ll ever need connecting Asia and Latin America.

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June 21, 2014  |  permalink

The Driverless Car: Heaven or Hell?

Back in May, I interviewed Zipcar and Buzzcar founder Robin Chase at New York Internet Week, in a session titled “The Driverless Car: Heaven or Hell?” (The short answer: it could be Heaven, but will probably be Hell.) Robin was game to answer my questions despite the hurricane of noise onstage. (Please pardon my shouting — I couldn’t hear myself think.) The video is above; enjoy.

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June 21, 2014  |  permalink

Meet the Serendipity Engine


I’m proud to announce Katrina Szabo and I are runners-up in the inaugural Space Forward Ideas Competition to imagine the future of the workplace. Our entry was titled “Serendipity Engine,” and you can read about the concept below, as well as download Katrina’s design of the space in PDF form at the bottom.

Welcome to the Serendipity Engine, a workspace dedicated to the discovery of people, ideas, and opportunities — one made possible by a unique confluence of place and technology. It covers the entire social spectrum of work, from a lounge and yoga studio for meeting coworkers, to an auditorium for classes, to locked rooms for total concentration. And it’s open to anyone willing to share their goals, skills and time when they’re present.

But what sets it apart from even the best-designed offices is the Engine itself — an iPhone and Android app talking constantly to the hundreds of Apple iBeacon sensors embedded throughout the space. These sensors note members’ movements, behavior, and proximity to others, using this data to better understand both how the space is used and who’s using it. It’s more than an office — it’s a professional social network overlaid onto real space, in real time.

Given this information along with members’ histories and profiles, the Engine can intervene as well as listen. Coworkers not only decide where they want to work each day, but whom they want to work with — people’s locations are logged by the system. And even if they don’t know their future mentors, co-founders, or funders are present — the Engine is happy to make the introductions.

The hope is to unlock more value from what makes the best workplaces so great — new connections between smart coworkers who have all the room they need to think. All they need is a little serendipity to strike.

Layout of the Serendipity Engine.

What is the Serendipity Engine?

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June 09, 2014  |  permalink

STREAM Lectures With Hans-Ulrich Obrist

I had the good fortune last week to kick off the first in a series of lectures at the 14th Architecture Biennale organized by the Palazzo Grassi in collaboration with the journal and think tank STREAM, founded in 2008 by architect Philippe Chiambaretta. For the first lecture, timed to the opening of the Biennale, I was paired with the Serpentine Gallery’s (and Swiss Pavilion curator) Hans-Ulrich Obrist, who has more ideas per minute than anyone I’ve ever met. It was terrific fun.

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May 30, 2014  |  permalink

io9: 10 Books That Could Change the Way You Understand Modern Cities


I’m immensely gratified to be included in Annalee Newitz’s list of “10 Books That Could Change the Way You Understand Modern Cities” over at io9. While they’re technically unranked, the first one on the list is Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, followed by Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, with Mike Davis’ City of Quartz and Saskia Sassen’s The Global City in the top five. I’ve never been more pleased to finish seventh at something.

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May 23, 2014  |  permalink

Is workspace headed for the Airbnb model?


While in Seattle this week to speak to both the local CoreNet chapter and NBBJ — architects of both Amazon’s new downtown headquarters (seen above) and Google’s Bayview campus — I was interviewed by the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce about my thoughts on the future of workspace. The story and interview by Lynn Porter are published below.

What does Greg Lindsay, a two-time champion on the game show “Jeopardy,” know about designing office space?

You can find out at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow when Lindsay gives a talk at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. The event is being presented by the Washington chapter of CoreNet Global, an association for people involved in corporate real estate and related services. The cost to attend is $30 for CoreNet members and $60 for non members. Register at http://tiny.cc/ou6wfx/.

Lindsay’s talk is titled “Engineering Serendipity” because he believes the best ideas at work come from a chat around the water cooler rather than at meetings. He said offices ought to be designed to make those chats happen more often.

There’s too much Class A office space on the market worldwide, Lindsay said, and he expects to see corporations shrink their footprints. All that dead office space must be reconfigured to foster collaboration and new ideas, he said.

Owners and developers should seed office buildings with creative types to attract other tenants, he said.

“If you’re in the business of building an office, it’s no longer about throwing up a mid-rise building,” Lindsay said. “It’s about cultivating the people inside it. Having a lot of smart, interesting and creative people can definitely be attractive to a lot of clients.”

Lindsay is a contributing writer for Fast Company, coauthor of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, where he leads the Emergent Cities Project.

He is also working with OMA, Rem Koolhaas’ international architecture firm, and the firm’s research studio, AMO, to explore how cities, office space, the cloud and Big Data connect.

Lindsay is also the only person to beat the IBM supercomputer Watson at “Jeopardy” in an untelevised sparring match.

He got interested in workplace design when he did a talk at what is now BlackBerry. The talk got him thinking about how to create a “killer app” for people in cities — one that would introduce people to each other, help them find people around them and analyze why they should know certain people.

All this “led me to a work context,” he said, which is how he got interested in office design as a way to help people be more creative, productive and collaborative.

Lindsay points to a 17-year study of researchers at a higher education campus in Paris. Researchers who had to move from building to building because of an asbestos cleanup did more influential work and published more “because they were bumping into new neighbors,” he said.

Such studies show that serendipitous encounters can lead to big ideas, but he said it’s difficult to know exactly which ones will get those results.

“It’s very hard to find metrics around serendipity,” he said. “How do you measure value around an unknown? Companies are basically doing it with crossed fingers. They know it works they just don’t know when it works. How do you take what many people would call luck and then make it repeatable?”

A number of companies are giving it a shot, Lindsay said, mentioning Amazon.com in Seattle and Zappos in Las Vegas, where CEO Tony Hsieh is building a creative-class company town. Other examples are the redevelopment of 1407 Broadway, an office tower in Midtown Manhattan; and the 5M project in San Francisco that is being designed to attract technology companies, arts groups, small retail shops and residents.

The DJC asked Lindsay about the workplace. Here is what he said:

» Continue reading...

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April 24, 2014  |  permalink

The NYT’s Cities for Tomorrow

Watch live streaming video from nytcitiesfortomorrow at livestream.com

On April 22, I was invited to participate in The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow conference, curated and hosted by the paper’s architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman. I had the pleasuree of appearing on a panel titled, “How to Make Our Cities Smarter: the Role of Big Data in Big Cities,” with three people I’ve either worked with or written about: my NYU colleague Anthony Townsend, PositivEnergyPractice president (and former City of Chicago CTO) John Tolva, and IBM vice president Katharine Frase. The panel was aggressively moderated by SPUR editorial director Allison Arieff, who beforehand asked if it was okay if she went a little a negative. Definitely. The video of our chat is above.

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April 03, 2014  |  permalink

WPI: The Hidden Order of the Brave New World


(On April 1, I hosted a political salon with Yale architect and “Extrastatecraft” author Keller Easterling at the World Policy Institute in New York. The recap below originally appeared on WPI’s Website.

By Libby Leyden-Sussler

In a recent political salon, “Extrastatecraft: The Hidden Order of the Brave New World,” World Policy Institute hosted a roundtable conversation on how infrastructure is not only the systems of pipes and wires running through our cities, but also the hidden rules for structuring the spaces all around us.

Leading the political salon was Keller Easterling and Greg Lindsay. Easterling is an American architect, urbanist, author, and professor at the Architecture School at Yale University. Lindsay is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and director of the Emergent Cities Project. In attendance were experts from the UN-Habitat, Time Equities, Inc., Ernst & Young, and Living Cities to name a few.

The event discussed the challenges, opportunities, and recent developments in infrastructure, urban planning, and the ways in which humans organize themselves. The event focused in on several poignant discussions, including how cities should operate like software, the notion of broadband urbanism, and the outlook of some promising urban centers.

An Operating System for Organizing the System

A city, Keller explains, is information of the medium of architecture. It should be viewed as a “software system,” organizing routines and protocols. The radical changes occurring in the global world is in the language of this urban software. She describes this software system as a secret weapon. The “defacto” forms of policy, city grids, free-trade zones, and power systems are being built faster than bodies of government can pass in congress or legislation. And the people who are “coding” this software are the young finance personnel.

Keller raised the question of, “might we be good at hacking this operating system?” Some of the most interesting and innovative people in the social sciences, she explains, are the ones questioning the assumptions of their science. Experts from a variety of backgrounds are positioned to influence the interesting subject of how humans organize themselves. By beginning to recognize that the world is not a rational place, but instead one run largely by fictions we self-impose, new actors find themselves at liberty to participate in the exciting field. The world has become addicted to urbanism.

» Continue reading...

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, 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 World Policy Institute — where he is director of the Emergent Cities Project — a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI).

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

Global Solution Networks  |  December 2014

Cities on the Move

Medium  |  November 2014

Engineering Serendipity

New York University  |  October 2014

Sin City vs. SimCity

Harvard Business Review  |  October 2014

Workspaces That Move People

Inc.  |  April 2014

The Network Effect

Atlantic Cities  |  March 2014

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

Wired (UK)  |  October 2013

How to Build a Serendipity Engine

Next American City  |  August 2013

IBM’s Department of Education

The New York Times  |  April 2013

Engineering Serendipity

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Swedish Modern Comes To Town

Fast Company  |  March 2013

Working Beyond the Cube

Fast Company  |  December 2012/January 2013

Imagine Air Travel Without Hassle: Surf Air Can

WSJ  |  November 2012

Jeanne Gang

Fast Company  |  June 2012

That’s So Fly

Next American City  |  May 2012

Chartered Territory

The New York Times  |  Feburary 2012

Designing a Fix for Housing

Departures  |  October 2011

Instant Cities

Travel + Leisure  |  October 2011

The Future of Travel

The New York Times  |  September 2011

Not-So-Smart Cities

World Policy Journal  |  Fall 2011

Thus Spake Nano

» See all articles


January 24, 2015

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

January 18, 2015

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

January 01, 2015

The Endless Tour

December 28, 2014

Cities on the Move

» More blog posts