December 19, 2015  |  permalink

“Disrupting Mobility” at the MIT Media Lab

Last month, I was privileged to be master of ceremonies for “Disrupting Mobility,” the first in what will hopefully be an annual series of conferences devoted to connected transportation. Organized by the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley, LSE Cities at the London School of Economics, and the Berlin-based Innovation Centre for Mobility and Social Change (Innoz), it was the best convening yet of the private companies, public sector officials, and academics grappling with how real-time information and coordination is changing how we move through cities. From the conference site:

The rise of the shared-economy has completely disrupted existing products and services in the urban mobility space. Peer-to-peer mobility services like Uber and Lyft have challenged the taxi, livery, car share, and mass-transit establishment. Disruptive innovations like this have the power to not only redefine industries, it can bankrupt companies as well. The shift from analog to digital cameras eventually led to the demise of Polaroid. The mass adoption of personal computing saw the end of industrial manufacturers like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Technologies like VHS tapes, landlines, and even encyclopedias all have been uprooted with the introduction of new technologies. More recently, Airbnb has disrupted the travel and hotel industry by increasing the supply of options for people to stay and providing matching services. The Disruptive Mobility Summit brings together leaders from academia, industry, and government to discuss the role of disruptive innovations within the mobility networks.

As MC, I had the pleasure of hosting several panels, including an Ed Glaeser-Adam Greenfield-Janette Sadik-Khan-Anthony Townsend-Philipp Rode battle royale — the video is embedded at the top of the page. Here are two more:

• (Below) The opening session, featuring welcoming remarks from the MIT Media Lab’s Ryan Chin, Cal’s Susan Shaheen, LSE Cities’ Philipp Rode, and Innoz’ Florian Lennart, followed by keynotes and a panel discussion with Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, and the Media Lab’s own Kent Larson.

• (Bottom) “Technology Disrupting Mobility,” with brief keynotes by AutonomousStuff’s Guy Fraker, Walmart’s Donald High, MIT’s Sertac Karaman, Fontinalis Partners’ Gabe Klein, and Bandwagon’s David Mahfouda.

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December 16, 2015  |  permalink

PopSci’s Futuropolis: The Future of Vacations

Popular Science editors Lindsey Kratochwill and Breanna Draxler invited me to appear on this week’s “Futuropolis” podcast to discuss the future of travel and vacations. As they explain:

Vacations are supposed to be about relaxation and rejuvenation, but anyone who has stood in the crowded lines at an amusement park or waded through the hordes of people at Disneyland knows that this is not always the case. In this episode of Futuropolis—the 12th and final episode of season 1—we set out to see how technology might help shape better vacations in the future.

Transportation will inevitably get faster and cheaper, but we also hope it will be without jet lag. Hotels might transform their own furniture to make your room just the way you like it. And don’t worry—the good ol’ postcard isn’t going anywhere (aside from your Grandma’s mailbox).

With our look back at the Popular Science archives, you can join us in the cockpit of the Concorde in 1973, before the supersonic plane would first carry its commercial passengers.

Beyond these basic improvements, we want to know about some of the loftier goals. We talk space tourism with Phil McAlister, who works with commercial spaceflight at NASA. Virtual reality executive producer Christine Cattano explains how technology can entice and enhance our experiences of a place. And futurist Thomas Frey describes machines that could enable you to relax on a beach, from the comfort of your couch.

But vacations aren’t just about relaxation, they’re also about status, says Greg Lindsay, a researcher, futurist and journalist. He says we’ll soon be inventing destinations with deeper and more authentic experiences than we can even imagine today.

Buckle your seatbelts, loyal listeners.

The complete podcast is embedded above; I appear around the ten-minute mark.

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December 13, 2015  |  permalink

Converging Perspectives: Design at the Heart of Coworking


(Back in October, I was invited by Plastarc’s Melissa Marsh to moderate an event at New York’s Center for Architecture on coworking and the future of work — what does the rapid ascent of shared workspaces mean for office design and the future of work? Below is a recap of the event, written by Claire Rowell.)

On 10.07.15, the AIANY Professional Practice Committee’s Transforming Architectural Practice series brought together five thought leaders whose converging perspectives define what is at the crux of coworking: a successful coworking environment must consider many occupant, business, and spatial drivers. Speakers represented different coworking scales. Researcher and Strategist Melissa Marsh, articulated the occupant and business drivers of coworking. Pay Wu, a real estate leader at American Express, considered the applications of coworking in corporate environments. Rosemarie Ryan, who is developing the future of coworking through Co:collective and Grind. Bill Dowzer, a leader at Australia’s BVN Architects, has designed spaces informed by human, environmental, and socio-cultural factors. Moderator Greg Lindsay, a fellow of the New Cities Foundation, investigated new modalities of interaction and connection in the urban context and beyond.

Opening remarks by Lindsay questioned how workplace design shapes and is shaped by society. If the workplace is a physical manifestation of how corporate culture “happens,” then what does the seismic shift towards coworking say about the relationship between organizations, people, and space?

» Continue reading...

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December 10, 2015  |  permalink

Hacking The City: A New Model For Urban Renewal


(Originally published at The New Republic on December 10, 2015.)

On a sunny morning in March, Marcus Westbury brandished his iPad as if it were a window into another world. The screen depicted the street we were standing on in downtown Newcastle, Australia, circa 2008. Decades of suburban flight, a devastating 1989 earthquake, and the implosion of the city’s steel mills had left the center a ghost town. More than a hundred empty storefronts lined the commercial strip. The neoclassical post office and the Victoria—Australia’s second-oldest theater—both sat vacant. The street could have doubled as a set for The Walking Dead.

Now the sidewalks were bustling. The windows of the David Jones department store, another recent casualty, were filled with sculptors, milliners, jewelers, and stonemasons publicly plying their trades. Families sipped flat whites and leisurely ate breakfast at outdoor cafés. Compared to the desolate scenes of just a few years ago, the transformation was startling, especially considering it all stemmed from a bit of legal sleight-of-hand.

To demonstrate, Westbury ducked inside the store, whose yawning interior had been subdivided by plywood. A false wall rested on dusty display cases and was supported by sandbags. “This is not architecture,” he said, because the building’s historic status prevented any changes to the interior. And besides, according to the rules of the arrangement, Newcastle’s artisans could use vacant properties like this for free as long as they promised not to alter their interiors (and thus their tax statuses). Newcastle wasn’t saved by an influx of hipsters or developers, but through exploiting the right loopholes.

“What we’ve done is change the software of the city,” Westbury told me. “We’ve changed how it behaves. We’ve changed how it responds to people who want to try things, do things, and run their own experiments.”

» Continue reading...

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December 09, 2015  |  permalink

The California Transit Association

I had the pleasure of moderating the opening session of the California Transit Association’s 50th anniversay conference and expo in Pasadena, California last month. I was joined on stage by Scott Bogren, Executive Director of the Community Transportation Association of America; Tim Papandreou, Director of Strategic Planning and Policy with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency; Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; and Susan Shaheen, Co-Director of the UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

Our wide-ranging conversation on “Forging Transit’s Future: Defining the Vision” is posted above; skip ahead to the last ten minutes for the lighting round of questions from the audience.

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December 03, 2015  |  permalink

NPR Cleveland: The Status of Our Airports

Yesterday, the folks at Cleveland’s NPR affiliate asked me to appear on its morning news show “The Sound of Ideas” to discuss the state of northern Ohio’s airports — Cleveland Hopkins and Akron-Canton — the former of which lost its United hub two years following that airline’s merger with Continental. While other, more local guests tried their best to convince listeners they were somehow better off without United and that everything was going to fine, I did my best to warn them about the consequences of losing air service, while a smattering of callers dialed into complain about long drives, early morning flights, and high fares. The entire segment is above; I’m the disembodied voice called on from time to time.

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November 28, 2015  |  permalink

The Work Futures Institute


One of my favorite jokes (that may only be funny to me) is a riff on Warhol’s chestnut about fifteen minutes of fame: “In the future,” I confidently predict, “we will each have think tanks with fifteen fellows.” I tried that line on Stowe Boyd last month and he took me up on it, creating the Work Futures Institute and installing me as his first senior fellow. Stowe — who in his spare time is managing director of Gigaom Research — has already published a manifesto of sorts for what we’ll investigate:

• Dissent (versus Consensus) — Active and directed dissent is a better way to counter the cognitive biases of groups and individuals, and to sidestep groupthink. This is essential to increased innovation and creativity truly driving business.

• Cooperative (versus Collaborative) — The new way of work sidesteps the politics and collectivism of consensus-based decision making, and shifts to looser, laissez-faire cooperative work patterns.

• Creativity (versus Tradition) — We are in a time when new solutions to problems need to be contrived, and traditional approaches may be not only broken but dangerous.

• Autonomy (versus Heteronomy) — Paradoxically, as we come into a time when we acknowledge that we are more connected to each other than ever before, a great degree of autonomy will become the norm. The old demands to subordinate all personal interests to those of the collective will be displaced by a personal reengagement in our own work and a commitment to a deeper work culture that transcends any one company’s corporate culture.

• (Hyper)democracy (versus Oligarchy) — Today’s management theory and organizational structure is basically a holdover from the earliest days of the industrial age, a time prior to democracy, when monarchies ruled. Businesses today are oligarchies, where the few lead the many. In recent decades, there has been a transition from coercive controls to more consensual ones, but if we are to move fast enough to compete in the new economy we will have to more to a hyper lean, agile democratic form factor for work.

Fast-and-loose (versus Slow-and-tight) — Companies need to become much looser — higher degrees of autonomy and voluntary association into working teams — in order to run faster, increase innovation, and provide the sort of environment that top performers best operate in.

• Laissez-faire (versus Entrepreneurial) — The growing uncertainties in complex, interconnected, global economy means that predicting the future and judging risks has become extremely difficult if not impossible. Therefore, the notion of organizing any reasonably sized company around a single ‘official future’ is broken. We’ll need to adopt a laissez-faire operating system for business, where many experiments based on different hypotheses can run in parallel, instead of lining up all the troops and making them march to a single unified strategic plan.

Hyperlean (versus Waterfall) — All business operations will transition away from top-down, long-term, waterfall-style models to a bottom-up, short-term, hyperlean approach. Those closest to the problem will work on its solution, and divvy up the pieces in a way that makes sense to them, and refactor as needed.

• Small-and-Simple (versus Large-and-Complex) — The technological advances that will disrupt markets and patterns of business in the future will increasingly be small-and-simple, but paradoxically, may force the reevaluation of everything, like file sync-and-share applications, which are destabilizing the enterprise software market.

• Open and Public (versus Closed and Private) — The number one factor today in work happiness is the transparency of management practices, and that happiness is likewise reflected in higher engagement at work.

• Emergent Strategy (versus Deliberate Strategy) — The nature of strategy changes in a time of great change, when the future is difficult to foresee. The role of leadership changes with it, as well. Instead of concocting a strategic vision and pushing it out to the organization through cultural and managerial channels — the deliberate style of strategy — leadership must shift to distributed, action-based strategic learning about what is actually happening in the market: emergent strategy. This, as Henry Mintzberg observed, does not mean chaos, but unintended order.

You can read his entire essay here. Obviously, we’re in the earliest stages of figuring this out. Please stay tuned for much more to come— especially once he appoints the other fourteen fellows.

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November 28, 2015  |  permalink

Longitudes: 3 ‘Aerotropolises’ Powering the Global Economy


(UPS’ globalization blog Longitudes asked me to nominate three cities vying to be the hub-to-end-all-hubs. My nominees: Zhengzhou, China; Dubai World Central — since renamed Dubai South — and Panama City. The full post is after the jump.)

Big-city airports aren’t just massive travel hubs today; they’re also evolving into critical nodes of the 24/7 global economy — creating jobs, connecting workers and suppliers, and building infrastructure.

Their enlarged role is seeding communities in the way that maritime ports once defined landmark shipping destinations such as Hong Kong, Hamburg and Rotterdam.

Welcome to the age of the “aerotropolis,” a term coined by authors John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in an influential book of the same name.

International air routes today, Kasarda says, are forming a kind of logistical Internet, with airports serving as the “routers” for circulating people and products around the clock. And their sphere of influence goes beyond obvious and familiar destinations such as Heathrow, LAX and JFK.

Here’s a look at three emerging air-based global trade hubs that will shape the global economy in years to come.

» Continue reading...

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November 18, 2015  |  permalink

The Abraaj Group Annual Forum


I was honored to participate in last month’s Abraaj Group Annual Forum, held this year in Singapore. The Dubai-based private equity firm is the largest investor in the Global South outside the BRICs, with $9 billion under management. (Forbes recently published a nice profile.)

One of the Abraaj Group’s central tenets is to invest in cities, not nations or regions, and so I was asked to participate in several panels discussing the growth of cities and the logistics networks needed to serve the world’s emerging middle classes. Several photos from the event are below; the group also published a summary report that you can read in its entirety here. I’ve republished the section on our cities panel below — I’m pleased to say I was the one who argued that cities “are where the magic happens.”

Globally, there are now more people living in urban than rural areas, and by midcentury two-thirds of us will be living in cities. The scale of this shift cannot be underestimated – 2.5 billion new urbanites are expected by 2050, nearly 90% of whom will be African and Asian. Neither should we underestimate the implications for how we live our lives – what values we have, what food we consume, what education we desire, and how we vote. Importantly, the urbanization trend we’re seeing play out today differs from that of previous times – it is accelerated, and is largely taking place in growth markets. Today, it is not just about megacities but notably also middle-weight cities that are increasingly driving global growth.

This megatrend is therefore one to watch – for policy makers, investment professionals and business operators alike. Cities matter for a variety of reasons – notably, they are the economic engines of the modern world, with today’s 300 largest cities responsible for roughly half of global GDP. Cities create a critical mass for businesses to grow; and for government spending to be more effective and efficient. At the same time, cities face enormous challenges. Urbanites need infrastructure, housing, transportation, energy, andsanitation – but frequently encounter a significant demand-supply gap.

Ultimately, cities are about people and responding to urban challenges is about understanding what citizens need and want. How do the different pieces of the urban puzzle fit together? Responding to these questions requires truly engaging with urban citizens. As one participant pointed out, one size does not fit all – youcan’t bring Rio to Kabul. Dealing with cities that have developed haphazardly is particularly challenging and necessitates social engineering and an innovative use of technology.

On the bright side, several participants touched on a developing convergence of policymaking, technology, and the investment community in response to ‘emerging cities’. Policymakers are increasingly focused on private-sector solutions to improving energy, healthcare, education, and other hard infrastructure. Not every country is there but a momentum is building where policymakers realize that incentivizing investment is key to economic growth – and to staying in power. Similarly, we’re seeing an increasing appetite among investors – and different types of investors, in some cases with different motivations – to work together to find ways to buy, build, and deliver infrastructure while making very attractive returns.

‘Smart cities’ were presented as a solution to future waves of urbanization. Starting from scratch allows for careful planning, sustainable solutions, and avoidance of the most typical urban problems – notably the entrenchment of inequality that is so common across today’s cities. Understanding the “nexus” of urban needs is decisive to the success of smart cities– notably how energy, food and water interrelate in the urban ecosystem. Once the nexus is addressed, other practicalities can be solved for. Whilst some participants expressed skepticism about the potential of smart cities, there was agreement that they can provide a useful framework for thinking about what makes up a good city. One participant pointed out that it is about community – “great cities ultimately have great communities”.

Whilst urbanization clearly poses challenges, participants were largely optimistic about the future of cities. Referring to cities as compressions of human social networks in space and time, one participant argued that at the borders of these networks “is where magic happens!” Canny solutions are indeed coming out of cities, often driven by sheer necessity. The idea of a “fun city” was discussed, highlighting the importance of thinking about cities from a human perspective rather than as abstract entities. Cities are not just ‘investment destinations’ or ‘infrastructure challenges’ – ultimately, they are about the people that inhabit them.




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November 05, 2015  |  permalink

My Foreword To AECOM Strategy Plus’ 2014/2015 Annual Review


AECOM’s Andrew Laing — the global practice leader for the firm’s Strategy Plus unit, formerly known as DEGW — asked me to contribute the foreword to this year’s Annual Review, which you can download in its entirety here. But I’ve taken the liberty of re-posting my thoughts on the future of work and the office below, some of which might sound familiar…


As someone who hasn’t worked in an office in more than a decade, I possess a unique perspective on the future of work, especially as it pertains to Strategy Plus. You see, I’m an accidental savant who read Frank Duffy’s Work and the City as my primer in office design. When 2008 is Year Zero in your understanding of how to work, the following propositions start to make a lot of sense:

Workspaces create value, not costs. It should be obvious to anyone invested in innovation that realizing complex ideas demands collaboration, that collaboration requires communication, and workspaces shape how we communicate. They’re more important than any org chart. But try telling that to companies obsessed with “wasted” space.

If clients will only manage what they can measure, then measure it. Again, this is obvious. But it’s also maddeningly difficult — how does one prove the value of a coffee machine? Perhaps this is where sensors and “sociometric badges” will come in. The first test of a quantified organisation should be learning how its office works.

Your workspace should conform to you. Someone once demonstrated to me the 500 possible office layouts they’d generated for a client, who would pick one and keep it for at least a decade. This is nuts. Workspaces should continuously evolve to support workers — call it the real-time office.

Ecosystems need membranes, not walls. No enterprise is an island, as it belongs to an “ecosystem” of partners, suppliers, and customers. This is conventional wisdom for Harvard Business Review subscribers, but it rarely manifests in the office. Workspaces should be permeable, welcoming outsiders while freeing mobile employees.

Serendipity trumps efficiency. Those outsiders bring the potential for serendipity, i.e. unplanned ideas or encounters that result from the discovery of tacit knowledge — the hunches and expertise that can’t be written down. These moments and meetings are the seeds of something new and unknowable, and thus can’t be factored into metrics measuring efficiency.

The city is not an extension of the office. That’s reversing the relationship: the office is merely one island in a sea of places to work. Duffy knew in 2008 that we would never realise the full potential of mobile workers without understanding that the scale had changed. Seven years later, we still haven’t.

Free HR, FM, and IT! All of these changes are predicated on radically different roles for what are traditionally powerless back-office functions. Who should be working together, where and how are all strategic questions and should be treated as such.

But then again, you knew this already. What Duffy envisioned in 2008, Strategy Plus is creating today.

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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

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

WSJ  |  November 2012

Jeanne Gang

Fast Company  |  June 2012

That’s So Fly

» See all articles


August 30, 2016

Known Knowns and Unknown Kano

August 30, 2016

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

July 29, 2016

Four Futures of Connected Mobility at the Trapeze Users Conference

July 29, 2016

The Guardian: How Will You Commute in 2030?

» More blog posts