December 20, 2013  |  permalink

“Engineering Serendipity” at WorkTech13 London

I was invited by the organizers of WorkTech to give yet another gloss on my usual schtick at their flagship conference in London, held on November 19-20 at the British Museum. It was my pleasure to give the closing keynote following Frank Duffy, whose work in this area has been an inspiration. Fast-forward to the 36:00 minute mark, where I (who has drifted too far back on stage for the camera to capture my head, evidently) put Duffy on the spot, asking him to comment on my talk. “Absolutely marvelous,” he said. #careerhighlight

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December 11, 2013  |  permalink

The Atlantic Council: Why Cities Will Lead The Way

The Atlantic Council hosted its annual Strategic Foresight Forum, this year titled “Harnessing Disruption,” on December 9-10 at is offices in Washington DC. I was graciously invited to join Columbia’s Saskia Sassen, the Urban Institute’s Tim Campbell, and USAID’s Steven Feldstein to discuss the future of cities in a panel titled, “A New Model of International Governance: Why Cities Will Lead the Way.” It was a lot of fun, as it always is when Saskia’s on your panel. The complete video from the session is above.

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December 10, 2013  |  permalink

Ericsson Business Review: Just Two Questions

(Originally published at Ericsson Business Review on December 10, 2013.)

Just Two Questions… to Greg Lindsay, Senior Fellow of the World Policy Institute, and Director of its Emergent Cities Project

In what ways will developments in ICT, such as intelligent networks and the cloud, most shape life in 21st-century megacities?

Done right, networked cities promise to heighten the density and intensity of urban life by tying previously disconnected people, environments, and activities together. In India, for example, SMS-connected auto-rickshaw networks create mobility on demand for passengers and higher wages for drivers. Here in New York, apps such as Foursquare, LiquidSpace, and Tinder can help me find a coffee shop, an office, and maybe a date around the corner – where I might never have noticed them otherwise. And the entire premise of the “sharing economy” is the increased utilization of assets – like cars, tools, and spare bedrooms – all made possible by the network.

The outcomes will be profound: fewer cars on the street as mobility-on-demand replaces private vehicles; fewer office towers and hotels as the network makes it easier to find and share under-utilized offices or apartments, leading to space-as-a-service rather than 10-year leases; and commerce everywhere, courtesy of devices like Square. The real challenge will be faced by governments, as a hyper-networked city looks an awful lot like the informal settlement of megacities in the Global South – in which everything is an unregulated asset to be negotiated. Securing the safety and rights of citizens in such a world is a daunting task, to say the least. We’re just beginning to grapple with the issues.

With most of humanity living in cities – and so many in megacities – how do you see the evolution of how we interact with each other?

The physicist Luis Bettencourt recently described cities as “social reactors”. They compress dense, overlapping social networks of people in space and time, and the fusion of those networks – much like the sun produces light and heat – forms new ideas, social cohesion, economic growth, and so on. The best cities, in other words, are the ones that are most effective at bringing appropriately diverse groups of people together. They produce the experience of serendipity. This is what makes dense cities and public space so powerful; it’s what makes a city a city.

So how can we accelerate that fusion? ICT definitely has a role to play, especially now that our social networks are increasingly visible thanks to the combination of smartphones and social media. I believe the killer urban app is one that can reveal the strangers around me, connecting me to people whose acquaintance I might never have otherwise met. Call it “serendipity-as-a-service”.

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December 05, 2013  |  permalink

CNN: Will the world be wowed by Dubai’s futuristic souk built for Expo 2020?


CNN quotes me on Dubai and its winning bid for Expo 2020:

For Greg Lindsay, co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next”, the Expo proximity to the new Al-Maktoum International Airport and Dubai World Central development is especially significant.

“(Dubai World Central) is the best organic example of an ‘aerotropolis,’” says Lindsay, whose book puts the case that modern globalized cities such as Dubai are built around, and feed off, airports in much the same way as cities in the 19th century were built around the railways.

“In 1990, there was nothing really there ... it was the strategy of Emirates and the civil aviation authority to make Dubai the crossroads of the world.

“I do think winning the Expo will be a huge catalyst for its development,” he said.

Read the whole thing here.

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November 29, 2013  |  permalink

Gizmodo: Rise of the Aerial Commuter


Over at Gizmodo, Alissa Walker investigates the “rise of the aerial commuter.” Alissa was kind enough to ask for evidence, and I was more than happy to provide it. Read the whole thing at Gizmodo, but you can start here:

Last month, a blog post by Sam Cookney captured the imagination of anyone who pays a little too much money for the convenience of living near work. He reasoned that, for the same price he paid for his one-bedroom London flat, he could live in a three-bedroom flat near the beach in Barcelona and fly to work in London four days a week. And he’d still have 387 Euros left over at the end of the month.

If you put it that way, extreme jet-setting scenarios like this sound like a pretty amazing idea. Even if it’s really just a fancy way of commuting to work, the thought that we could be sitting at our desk in London and then, just hours later, be sipping rioja on our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, is still impossibly awesome. Who wouldn’t want to make enough money in one city and be go home to a place where you can actually enjoy it, even—or especially—if it’s a few hundred miles away?

Of course, there are two factors here that make Cookney’s math specifically feasible. First, London is a catastrophically expensive city—just check out this depressing London rent calculator by the Financial Times that shows the percentage of your salary you’d have to spend on rent—so living practically anywhere else would save you money, comparatively. And, second, Ryanair, the airline Cookney used in his calculations, is a ridiculously cheap carrier notorious for being heavily subsidized by European airports.

But Cookney’s proposal is not altogether unrealistic. The book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next traces how these low-cost airlines changed the commuting patterns for Europeans. A study by Future Forum predicted that, by 2016, there would be 1.5 million people who work in the U.K. but commute by plane from their homes overseas in cities like Tallinn, Marrakech, and, yes, Barcelona. Cookney’s fantasy is a reality for a growing breed of supercommuters—dubbed aerial commuters—who take planes to work.

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November 14, 2013  |  permalink

Interview: Greg Lindsay on engineering serendipity and harnessing chaos

(Originally published at on November 5, 2013.)

Greg Lindsay is a journalist and urbanist. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next as well as a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute. He is also one of the main speakers at this year’s Worktech conference in London on 19 and 20 November. In this frank and enlightening interview he offers his thoughts on how firms can engineer serendipity into their workplaces and cultures and how the way we design offices is already taking clues from the way we plan urban environments.

Insight: You claim to be something of a neophyte when it comes to the workplace but every aspect of your work touches on it in one way or another. Are you being disingenuous or just modest?

Greg Lindsay:  Neither. My work touches on the workplace in many ways, but it is generally not the aspects of the workplace you cover so well on Insight. I work as part of a think tank that looks at the future of work and I’m aware of how work integrates with everything around us. We know for example that cities are the places where ideas are spawned and we understand the processes involved thanks to the work of people like my fellow Worktech speaker Frank Duffy.

Insight: So what do you think are the most important things we could be doing better to make work more productive, creative and enjoyable?

GL: We often start from a flawed or narrow perspective. So if you take something like an org chart, which is how many organisations visualise themselves, you begin from a false point. It’s a terrible approximation of how work gets done and how people interact with colleagues and the organisation.

Insight: So what is the alternative perspective and how does this manifest itself in terms of office design?

GL: Unquestionably the best new office designs are those which create unforeseen encounters in much the same way as we see in an urban setting. There are a number of ways of doing this. Facebook for example is looking to create this type of workplace by essentially putting everybody in one big room at its new HQ. That is essentially the vision of Mark Zuckerberg. Even though he hired Frank Gehry to execute it, Zuckerberg already knew what he wanted from the workplace. And you can see the thinking behind what they’ve done up to a point. But it relies on an assumption that, when it comes to bringing the right people together in the right ways, that you know who the right people are to begin with, even if you have designed flexibility into the layout of the offices so they are able to change quickly as a way of creating new interactions. So I’d say there are better ways of maximising the chances of the right interactions happening in practice.

» Continue reading...

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November 10, 2013  |  permalink

Fast Co.Exist: Yahoo Says That Killing Working From Home Is Turning Out Perfectly


(Originally published at Fast Company’s Co.Exist on October 30, 2013.)

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned her 12,000 employees from working from home in February, her all-hands-on-deck ultimatum ignited a national debate on the merits of cloudworking that still rages. Silicon Valley’s fair-haired wunderkind was alternately mocked and condemned by the likes of Maureen Dowd and Richard Branson, while pundits declared she’d made “a terrible mistake.” Some even wondered whether Mayer was trying to make them quit.

Mayer was finally hounded into addressing the issue in April, acknowledging her critics’ contention that “people are more productive when they’re alone,” and then stressing “but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” Eight months later, Yahoo insists Mayer was right. (And earlier this month, HP’s Meg Whitman followed suit.)

The workplace has become a catalyst for energy and buzz.
Despite predictions of “epic policy failure,” in the words of Julie Ford-Tempesta, Yahoo’s senior director of real estate and workplace, “employee engagement is up, product launches have increased significantly, and agile teams are thriving,” adding, “The workplace has become a catalyst for energy and buzz.” Ford-Tempesta’s comments were included in a paper called The Power of Presence: Being Present In a Virtual World, published last week at the CoreNet Global Summit in Las Vegas, where several thousand real estate execs gathered to debate the future of the office. (Full disclosure: I was an unpaid speaker at the event.)

The author of the report, Steve Hargis has spent the last six months advising Yahoo on an overhaul of its Sunnyvale headquarters in his role as an executive vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, which handles the company’s outsourced real estate. “Most of the campus is still the old-style cubicles,” he says, but several floors have been remade in the image of the 300 to 400 agile programming teams charged with overhauling Yahoo’s aging Web services and dragging them into the mobile era. These are the spaces packed with stand-up desks and scrum boards—not to mention employees. “The difference between the two is so visible it’s become a marketing tool,” says Hargis. “People are saying, ‘Wait a minute, I want to be over there.”

But does this anecdotal evidence constitute success? In the report, Yahoo’s Ford-Tempesta points to the near-doubling of the stock price since the beginning of the year, an assertion which is dubious at best considering how much of that value is tied up in the company’s 24% stake in the soon-to-IPO Alibaba, while its third quarter revenues and profits are both down compared to a year ago.

There is definitely merit to the idea, however, that bringing its agile programming teams together in the same place at the same time can have a small but crucial impact on performance. In his book People Analytics, MIT visiting scientist Ben Waber discusses the role of dependencies for programmers, that teams must coordinate closely to ensure their code meshes well. Citing others’ research as well as his own, Waber argues remote programmers are 8% less likely than co-located groups to communicate about dependencies, which translates to 32% longer code completion times—or death when you’re already as lumbering as Yahoo. “For Yahoo, then, this means their workforce becomes about 3% more effective with the stroke of a pen,” Waber wrote, the value of which he pegs at $150 million.

That may not be quite as much as the $17 billion in market cap that the report lays at the feet of killing working from home, but Mayer certainly doesn’t have to say she’s sorry, either.

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November 02, 2013  |  permalink

The JFK Aerotropolis?


On Oct. 28 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall — ten teams of architects, engineers, environmentalists and assorted experts unveiled 41 proposals at the behest of HUD for how to rebuild and buttress the Northeast coast ahead of the next superstorm (which is likely to be a biannual event from now on, at least). One of “Rebuild by Design’s” teams is led by OMA, Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Their proposal includes a “Jamaica Bay Aerotropolis” as a means of stablizing and reinforcing the delicate wetlands around Jamaica Bay. From their description:

JFK International Airport is a vital node in the regions infrastructure. As part of Jamaica Bay, it is also highly vulnerable to flood risk. Although the airport is capable of ‘taking care if its own problems’, there is an opportunity to leverage this asset to promote the common flood defense of the Jamaica Bay area. That means integrating the airport into a larger tiered defense system, and using the airport as a catalyst for growth; growth that will help fuel, and fund, the transformation of the area, and position Jamaica Bay as a future economic for New York City.

In other words: we must build a new city in order to save it.

OMA’s championing of an aerotropolis isn’t entirely unexpected. The firm is currently designing an “Airport City” in Doha in conjunction with that city’s new airport, while the word “aerotropolis” first appeared in print in English (as far as I can tell) in the Koolhaas-led Harvard GSD volume “Great Leap Forward.” In 1998, Koolhaas proposed replacing Amsterdam’s Schiphol with an offshore aerotropolis, and before that, his firm had crafted (later discarded) master plans for both New Seoul Airport City and what would become New Songdo. Koolhaas arguably has a better claim to parentage of the aerotropolis than its chief evangelist, Jack Kasarda.

Meanwhile, The Economist has finally gotten around to reading Chapter 2 of my book:

Memphis calls itself America’s “aerotropolis,” referring to the title of a 2011 book by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. The book argues that cities of the future, and their economies, will increasingly be built around airports.

Memphis has a downtown, of course, but just its air-cargo operations produced a total economic output in its past financial year of roughly $22.1 billion and supported over 132,000 jobs. Louisville, Kentucky—home to the hub of FedEx’s chief rival, UPS—has a similar story. In 2011 its two airports were responsible, directly or indirectly, for roughly 9% of all jobs in the Louisville area. Cotton built Memphis, and rail and river cargo made Louisville, but those trades dwindled and both cities languished until FedEx and UPS found them.

The carriers have in turn attracted companies that profit from being near a direct-mail hub. Some are retailers: Zappos, an online shoes and clothes store, has a huge distribution centre just outside Louisville. CaféPress, another online seller which lets customers design their own T-shirts, mugs and other products, moved its headquarters from San Mateo, California, to Louisville, netting it millions from cost savings and later cut-off times for orders. Louisville’s airport authority claims that since 1993 more than 150 firms have moved to Louisville to be near the UPS hub.

Others are health-care outfits, such as the National Eye Bank Centre, based near Memphis, which stores corneas for ocular surgery. Last year Oxford Immunotec, a medical-diagnostics firm which tests patients for tuberculosis, moved its laboratory to Memphis from Boston. Now it can guarantee that blood samples from almost anywhere in America can get from patient to lab within 32 hours.

Could the idea of a successful aerotropolis be replicated elsewhere? Only in part. Both cities have immense advantages. They are temperate and central. Both have river ports, freight-rail lines and interstate highways to connect the airports to surface transport. Both also have relatively low labour costs, and fairly cheap land.

UPS and FedEx are bright spots in an otherwise dim market. Since 2010 worldwide air-cargo volumes have grown by just over 2%, from 50.7m tonnes to a forecast 51.8m this year. And revenue is shrinking, from $66 billion in 2010 to an expected $59 billion this year. But robust e-commerce, the growth of demand for cheap package delivery and such specialist freight as refrigerated medicines have helped the two firms buck the trend. UPS said on October 25th that it expects its daily volume of packets in the pre-Christmas peak season to be up 8% on last year.

As for Messrs Kasarda and Lindsay’s aerotropolis, like many futurist reimaginings, its appeal is more romantic than predictive. But there is plenty of evidence for a simpler version of this thesis: that airports encourage growth and development, even if that won’t sell books.

If they’d published this two-and-a-half years ago, when the book was published, it might have helped.

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November 02, 2013  |  permalink

Wired (UK): How to Build a Serendipity Engine


(This article was taken from the November 2013 issue of Wired [UK] magazine.)

Silicon Valley’s latest management fad is to not manage. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” said Yahoo! when it revoked working from home. Marissa Mayer, ex-Google, knew that hits such as Gmail and Street View were the product of engineers meeting serendipitously over lunch.

Google’s new campus is designed to encourage “casual collisions” at its rooftop cafés, and Facebook has hired Frank Gehry to build “the perfect engineering space: one giant room that fits thousands of people, all close enough to collaborate together,” Mark Zuckerberg explained.

Study after study has demonstrated the power of proximity when it comes to birthing ideas, and network theorists have shown how bridging “structural holes” between teams and disciplines consistently leads to better and more innovations. What’s ironic is how the world’s largest search companies and social network appear to have no better ideas of how to plug these holes than to toss everyone into a room with an espresso machine.

Google is obsessed with “engineering serendipity”, combining users’ search history, location and context to answer questions before they’re asked. What would it take to build a social serendipity engine—one that could identify who’s nearby, mine your hidden contexts and relationships and make the necessary introductions? After all, not everyone drinks coffee.

The first step is finding people, which location-based dating services such as OKCupid and Grindr manage well. They’ve been joined by “social discovery” apps such as Sonar and Circle, which link users’ networks to their smartphone’s GPS.

“Ten years from now, you will look at your phone or through Google Glass, and know everyone in the room,” says SocialRadar founder Michael Chasen. “I haven’t met anyone who disagrees with that.”

Google’s new campus is designed to encourage “casual collisions” at its rooftop cafés
The next piece is harder. It’s not enough to know who’s in the room—you also need to care. Facebook “likes” aren’t accurate predictors of a match. What’s missing is context—why I want to meet this person now. Grindr works because its consideration is binary. Any serendipity engine with higher aspirations must grasp deeper motivations than social media supplies.

One solution is to build rich profiles manually. That’s the tack taken by Relationship Science, which maps potential connections between 2.3 million members of the 1 percent. Customers can trace the shortest path to their quarry via colleagues, corporate boards and alma maters, each link graded into strong, medium and weak ties—captions Glass might someday flash over their faces.

Another approach is to collect data using sensors. An MIT Media Lab spin-off, Sociometric Solutions, equips office workers with “sociometric badges” to measure movement, speech and conversational partners, using the results to plot maps of organisations. Its findings suggest Yahoo! should invest in large cafeteria tables: workers who eat at tables for 12 are more productive than those at tables for four.

The last step is the trickiest: given enough context about the strangers headed towards you, can an algorithm crunch enough data in time to spot connections? Another startup, Ayasdi, does that by rendering every big data set as a network map, revealing hidden connections that CEO Gurjeet Singh labels “digital serendipity”.

If yoked together, these approaches could help fill in the blank spaces on the org chart where work actually happens and new ideas are spawned. Although luring them into the same room with an espresso machine would probably speed things up a bit.

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October 14, 2013  |  permalink

My INYT Op-ed: A People App for City Crowds


The International Herald Tribune is dead; long live the International New York Times. As part of a special section to commemorate today’s first edition, I was asked to contribute an op-ed on the future of cities. I’ve posted it in its (brief) entirety below:

A People App for City Crowds


Co-director of the World Policy Institute’s Emergent Cities Project

I caught a glimpse of the city of the future last fall while crossing the street in San Francisco. I recognized someone I’d never seen striding toward me — because my iPhone warned me he was coming. Paul Davison runs Highlight, an app that maps users’ Facebook profiles to their phones’ GPS, producing a social network tethered to the sidewalks rather than splayed across cyberspace. If this century truly belongs to the city — and by its midpoint, four in five of us will live in one — then how should we best bring another few dozen cycles of Moore’s Law to bear on it? More than highways or skyscrapers, cities are the product of our personal encounters. Rather than wire our cities with sensors and run them from hidden control rooms, give me an app that can pick a new face out of a crowd — call it “serendipity-as-a-service.”

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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).

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Articles by Greg Lindsay

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

Advertising Age  |  September 2011

Ad Age Insights: The Evolution of Facebook Brand Fans

Open Skies  |  July 2011

Paradise Lost: The Death and Strange Afterlife of Brasilia

WSJ  |  May 2011

Marc Newson on How Design Is Easy and Why You Can’t Make a Cappuccino on a Plane

WSJ  |  February 2011

Cities of the Sky

» See all articles


August 23, 2014

The Standard TWA Flight Center

August 20, 2014

Aspen Ideas: Smart City Limits

August 13, 2014

Van Alen’s “Future Ground”

July 21, 2014

Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Metropolitan Solutions

» More blog posts