January 26, 2010  |  permalink

The Real “New Industrial Revolution.”

Chris Anderson is at it again. Just when you thought he couldn’t top Free’s counterintuitiveness (and let’s not forget his plagiarism and outright theft of Wikipedia entries to pad out his word count), he’s back with “atoms are the new bits.” Read it now before he charges you $26.99 for it in 2012. Finished? Good.

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Now read Joel Johnson’s first-rate takedown of the idea on Gizmodo. The scenario Anderson sketches ignores agglomeration economies and increasing returns to scale. He also treats China and the Pearl River Delta as a black box or robotic factory rather than a mega-city where the sheer concentration of skilled labor (yes, it’s there!) is accelerating its march up the value chain. Factories originally moved to China because it was cheap, but it’s gotten more expensive since then. They stay because the cost/quality curve (especially in small batches, as Anderson rightly identifies) can’t be beat. And what it made it possible for them to move there in the first place was air power. Or as Johnson puts it:

To marvel that you can convince a Chinese company to make a small batch of electronics for you? In many cases, that’s when conditions are worst. Try to get something that is more than a greenboard made and you’re back to standard manufacturing issues like making dies for stamping parts. Why? Because real 3D printers don’t exist yet.

Using the web to communicate with Chinese factories is an improvement…over the fax machine. But the real revolution is that it only costs a few bucks to ship a part from Shenzen to Sunnyvale. You want to talk revolution? Thank FedEx.

Arguing that “this time, it’s different,” as Anderson does, is to argue the case Nicholas Negroponte and George Gilder made in Wired fifteen years ago—that infinite bandwidth means we can all live on twenty-acre spreads in the Canadian wilderness with no need for face-to-face contact. That’s what “being digital” was supposed to be all about. If atoms are the new bits, then Anderson has fallen victime to the same fallacy.

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January 26, 2010  |  permalink

Been There, Done That.

From The Daily Mail:

Anthropologist Dr Damian O’Doherty, 42, is living for up to 18 hours a day for the next 12 months in terminals and departure lounges, observing passengers’ and workers’ habits. The exercise is expected to cost around £40,000.

Dr O’Doherty has already been nicknamed Terminal Man, in reference to the 2004 film in which Tom Hanks plays a man who is forced to live at an airport when refused entry into America.

The film is believed to be based on the plight of Iranian Mehran Karimi Nas who lived in Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years.

The Government-funded research will take place at Manchester Airport and is intended to investigate how airports affect people, with the aim of making them better places to visit or work….

With its own police station, fire service, huge retail complex and even chapel, Manchester Airport has become like a small city.

Good luck. Spending a month in them felt like a year.

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January 25, 2010  |  permalink

The End Of Another Company Town.

NCR Corporation, formerly National Cash Register (“The Cash”) has pulled its headquarters out of Dayton, Ohio after more than a century of patronage and noblesse oblige by the company’s founders. The New York Times reports this morning that the company’s decision has stunned and gutted the Rust Belt city, which may lose more than a thousand jobs, along with a piece of its identity. The reason?

[CEO Bill] Nuti said last week that Ohio had been given a fair chance — or, perhaps, fair warning. He also noted that the NCR of today has 22,000 employees around the world, and that by the time of the break-up announcement it had more employees in Georgia than the 1,200 it had in Ohio.

As a result, Mr. Nuti said, the practicality of Dayton demanded a hard look. Transportation costs were high, and flights to and from the airport often required “multiple hops” for customers and employees. And attracting top talent was a struggle, he said. “We had a very difficult time recruiting people to live and work in Dayton.”

True, downtown Dayton is profoundly challenged. And true, its main airport simply cannot match Atlanta’s vast offering of nonstop flights.

And, of course, there were incentives.

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January 22, 2010  |  permalink

More Trains = More Planes

The battle over Heathrow’s third runway has taken another twist with the imminent publication of a report sponsored by the Tories (which have vowed to kill the expansion if they are swept into power this fall, as expected) demonstrating that adding a high-speed rail link to the airport will only cause the number of passengers to increase, instead of decrease, thus requiring the third runway.

However, the report from the Bow Group also concludes that a Heathrow hub on a high-speed rail network would bring in tens of thousands of new passengers a day, thus emphasising the need for a new runway at the airport.

The report, to be unveiled by Lord Heseltine, the Tory grandee, is likely to embarrass David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, who has pledged to block the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. He and Theresa Villiers, the Shadow Transport Secretary, have championed a North-South high-speed rail link as an alternative to Heathrow expansion.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties are backing plans for 250mph trains running on a new track dubbed HS2 — Britain’s second high-speed rail link, after the London-Channel Tunnel route — to connect the capital with Birmingham, Manchester and the North.

The Bow Group report criticises Labour’s plans to build a London hub for the new railway in the centre of the capital or within the existing train network. It argues that the building of HS2 would be an extraordinary opportunity to link Heathrow properly into the national rail network.

“Heathrow would greatly benefit from a direct high-speed rail connection,” the report, which has been written by Tony Lodge, chairman of the Bow Group transport committee, says, “but Bow Group research shows that the issue of extra airport capacity will remain and will be exacerbated by the High Speed Rail link.”

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, is set to publish his plans for the high-speed link in the spring. It is understood that BAA’s Labour-backed initiative to start making plans for a controversial third runway at Heathrow have been shelved until after the general election is held, most likely in May.

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January 22, 2010  |  permalink

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby,

The Boeing 747 is forty years old. With the exception of the computer, it’s the most important invention (and building, according to Lord Norman Foster) of the 20th century—the machine that made globalization possible twenty-five years before the commercialization of the Internet. (The automobile was a 19th century invention, perfected by Henry Ford in the 20th). In its honor, The Economist has run a chart comparing passenger aircraft through the years:

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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

This Seems Familiar Somehow

Someone is dreaming of building an aerotropolis in Senegal, next to Dakar’s new airport, currently underconstruction. But rather than come up with their own ideas, they just stole them from New Songdo City instead. Immature urban planners borrow, I guess; mature ones steal. (Compare it with the New Songdo rendering below.)

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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

Bruce Mau’s Massive Change

From Maclean’s:

Q: So what does Bruce Mau’s world without oil look like?

A: It’s not a world without oil, but a world with an ecology of energy sources, where oil is used when it is the absolute right tool.

Q: How do we get there?

A: We’ve had 50 years of telling people to get out of their cars. In every one of those years the number of cars in the world went up. The idea that we’re going to punish or embarrass them into it has simply not worked. It’s like there was a focus group of six billion people around a table, and someone said, “Hey guys, give up your car” and they said, en masse, “No.” This is where design comes in. Ultimately, the way to solve the problem, and so many problems, is to make things cooler and sexier than the older ones. I have a friend who has a Tesla and a Ferrari. He says the Tesla is way cooler. That changes the game. We’re not telling him don’t. We’re telling him, here’s an exciting way you can do it that ultimately can be sustainable. How do we get to do the things we do without stealing from our kids or leaving a toxic legacy? And at the same time, how do we do them in such a way that is smarter and more fun than the old way?

Q: How far off is this future?

A: This is not going to be very popular with my friends, but there’s a long transitional phase. There are times when the energy density of oil makes a lot of sense. But there are lots of things we do where it’s not necessary and it has many negative effects. We can do those things so much more intelligently.

Q: What would be an example?

A: Think about flying. Producing flight takes a high density of energy. But when I’m driving from my house to pick up some milk at the corner store, the energy density doesn’t make any difference. So we’re using a tool that is super good to get an airplane off the ground to go to the corner store. The future won’t be a future without oil. It’ll be a future with 100 other things. (emphasis mine)

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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

Air Warriors and the New New Urbanism.

A pair of my magazine features hit newsstands this week, one for Condé Nast Traveler, and the other for Fast Company.

The former is “Triumph of the Air Warriors,” a travelogue of a week spent with 200+ real-life equivalents of George Clooney’s hyper-flier from Up in the Air. Only they have a lot more fun.

The other is “The New New Urbanism,” a look at New Songdo City in South Korea. The world’s most expensive privately-financed project, New Songdo is the size of downtown Boson, and is slated to be the template for twenty others just like it across China and India. One of the partners is Cisco, which has made New Songdo the centerpiece of its own plans to make $30 billion building cities for the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, South Korea, and so on. Please give them a read.

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January 12, 2010  |  permalink

Business Class Over Baghdad

This is a good sign: Lufthansa is re-starting flights to Iraq.

East Meadow, NY, Jan. 12, 2010 - As Iraq’s civil aviation continues to open up, demand for flights to the country is growing. Lufthansa is therefore examining the possibility of launching several new services to Iraq and is currently planning to serve the capital, Baghdad, and the city of Erbil in Northern Iraq from its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.

Lufthansa aims to launch the new services in the summer of 2010, once it has obtained the necessary traffic rights. Further infrastructure requirements are also being examined. With the resumption of flights to Iraq, Lufthansa is pursuing its policy of expanding its route network in the Middle East, which it presently serves with 88 flights per week to 14 destinations in eleven countries.

Lufthansa operated flights to Baghdad from 1956 until the start of the Gulf War in 1990. Erbil is already being served from Vienna by Austrian Airlines, which is part of the Lufthansa Group. From next summer, Baghdad and Erbil will be linked to Lufthansa’s hubs in Frankfurt and Munich and will thus be integrated into Lufthansa’s global route network.

Previously, to get to Baghdad on civilian flights, you’d have to leave from Dubai’s Terminal 2 on one of several shady Mideast carriers, along with bounty hunters, mercenaries, and other interesting types, a fact which prompted British Esquire to describe DXB as “the world’s most dangerous airport.”

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January 12, 2010  |  permalink

The Vail Aerotropolis

Suburban Empire (think Jim Kunstler with less rage and more coherence) has posted an interesting jeremiad against the “Edwards Mircopolitan Statistical Area (EMSA),” better known as Vail and the towns in its economic orbit along I-70. The author rails against the typical suburban sprawl that has sprung up along the highway to service the middlebrow skiers:

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“Wal-Mart, Costco, Burger King, Comfort Inn, Wendy’s, Starbucks, Outback Steak House… and of course the “resorts” like Christie Lodge (“you have been selected to receive a free trip, just attend our short ownership advantage meeting”), Arrowhead, Vail, Streamside, Beaver Creek, any number of big name hotels…. and the exclusive subdivisions like Cordillera…. all jammed into the narrow and otherwise pretty valley, it takes just short of an hour to drive through it all, and on some days there is even a brown cloud floating above.”

As someone who grew up a flat-earther in Illinois, skiing is foreign to me (maybe my kids will learn at Stowe), and so I had no idea about the traits of the various ski towns in the Rockies, which the author describes at length:

The “Vail Valley” is one of the more milquetoast resort areas on the planet, and it is quite challenging to put a personality on it…. because it lacks so much. Aspen is about glamor, hard drugs, and the local sheriff running interference against the DEA on behalf of the drug industry… Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff there, and there were the stars who followed John Denver, kings, and rich Arabs with big jets into town. Telluride was (and still is) a hideout for people on the run from the law, a nasty divorce, etc….. Steamboat is serious Western “Ca-Boy” town, spurs, boots, and shit…. Even Park City has “Sundance”, and Olympic glory…. but Vail is just big (and no longer the biggest) and very, very, burby. In this I am not comparing the ski mountain, but rather the towns that support the mountain… after all you can’t ski all the time.

The reason for this is that Vail, unlike the others, is a recent creation:

Aspen, Telluride, Crested Butte, Breckenridge and Steamboat all had existing, old mining towns that were falling apart before the ski industry arrived. Most are cute and very Victorian. Vail wasn’t born until 1965 and started pretty much from scratch. While it was supposed to convey the feel of a Swiss ski town, somehow Vail comes across as if architect “Mike Brady” from the Brady Bunch had a hand in the design of everything in town. So many of the buildings come off as what the future was, instead of what the future will be… even the new ones. All and all the areas off I-70 between mm 140 and 180 come off as very suburban, and a little depressing.

How do you build a ski town from scratch in 1965, in the middle of the Colorado Rockies no less? Well, the advent of cross-country jet service just six years before helps:

If you were to go back in time to 1960 and tell a resident of the town of Gypsum that by 1995 their town would have nonstop, wide-body, jet service to Chicago, Atlanta, Newark, Dallas, and Los Angeles they would have laughed you right down to the bar and bought you a drink so they could sit down and explain the realities of the Western Colorado economy, and ranching. Then you could explain the realities of cheap oil and skiing to them and point out that not only would Gypsum have a powerhouse regional airport, but nearby Avon would open and close a private STOL-port owned by Rocky Mountain Airways in the interim; and a major four lane highway would be coming, and ultimately push West, right through Glenwood Canyon…... and you would have been laughed out of the bar and right out of town.

A quick check of Wikipedia lists additional non-stop service (some seasonal) to New York, Houston, Miami, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis. Vail would seem to fit one definition of an aerotropolis—a place that would otherwise not exist without air service. But add non-stops to the equation and this is what you get. Whether the results are worth it depends on where you stand (and, evidently, on when you sold out):

Within the next four decades any of the people who laughed you out of the bar (and who also owned land in or near the town) would be laughing all the way to the bank. Environmentalists would spend that same era weeping for the “scars upon the land” caused by people like John Denver promoting the “Colorado Mountain Lifestyle” simply by building mansions, skiing, and snorting coke by the ton.

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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

May 01, 2017

Peter Rees’ London: The Engine Room

April 30, 2017

URBAN-X: Where the Robot Meets the Road

March 29, 2017

Interview with The Augmented Cities Project

March 18, 2017

The Winter Speaking Circuit

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