December 21, 2009  |  permalink

China Isn’t (Necessarily) Cheap, It’s Better, Too.

My colleague-of-sorts Jeff Chu has an interview with John Edelman, the new CEO of Design Within Reach. This on the heels of Jeff’s thorough examination of the rise and fall of the modernist furniture retailer, which ruined its business model and alienated designers under previous management. The interview is pretty revealing, as far as CEO interviews go, but I found this exchange especially telling:

One of the common knocks, of course, is that much of what DWR stocks is not within financial reach. That isn’t exactly in keeping with some of the history of modern design, which was meant to be somewhat more accessible to the masses.

I agree. I think if Charles and Ray Eames were producing today, they’d be in China. One of the unfair knocks in this business is against China. If you were to do a knockoff in China, that’s bad taste, bad business, and bad form, but why not do a new design there? What’s the problem? If you’re saying it can’t be done, what a disrespectful comment to the whole nation of China.

Ninety percent of women’s footwear—even the upper part of the market—is made in China, and people are perfectly happy with it. The shoe business did not leave America for price. It left for ease of manufacturing and because American factories just couldn’t adapt. If we work with a top designer, we can do it. It depends on the type of piece. They may not have the quality control in general, but you have to plant one of your employees in China to make sure you get that quality control. You have to get a perfect prototype and you have to babysit and you have to live with production. But you’d have to do that in Italy, America, or China. Just because it was made in Italy doesn’t make is better. In real sourcing, you go to the best place—you should expect new DWR designs that are made in Italy, in America, in China. And it has to be heirloom quality.

Edelman is willing to admit what many CEOs and most Americans are not—Chinese manufacturers are not just cheaper than their American manufacturers, they’re better at it, too. Why? Agglomeration economies for one thing, and Jane Jacobs’ “creative inefficiencies” for another. In a nutshell: if you concentrate enough skilled people in one place, their skills and their work will continue to evolve separately from the tasks required of them. You can’t “bring American jobs back from China” for this reason, because they’re no longer American jobs. In many ways, American factory workers’ Chinese counterparts are the more skilled of the two. Harvard professors Gary Pisano and Willy Shih worried about the long-term consequences of this in a Harvard Business Review article this spring entitle “Restoring American Competitiveness.” By ceding what they called “the industrial commons” to China, they wrote, America had lost the know-how for innovation.

As Edelman notes, you go to the best place when sourcing, and “best” can mean any number of things—a time, cost, skills equation with a number of variables. But it’s clear China is no longer just about cost.

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December 21, 2009  |  permalink

Why Is This Man Laughing?

“Full Eurostar Rail Service Unlikely Before Christmas.”

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December 21, 2009  |  permalink

The Dark Ages Are Still The Dark Ages Any Way You Look At It.

Nick Denton in the NYT this morning:

“If Gawker’s bloggers are barbarian invaders, they’re Visigoths, who might have sacked Rome, but were themselves refugees from the even more vicious Huns,” he suggested, sounding almost quaintly old media (although don’t look for them to start covering the Congressional subcommittee on health care any time soon).

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December 19, 2009  |  permalink

Pick Your Poison:

Sit on a runway for hours waiting to take off (or in the air, circling on approach)...

Or trapped on a train with thousands of passengers, in a tunnel under the English Channel, without heat, light, or water, breathing stifling air?

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December 15, 2009  |  permalink

I Was Close…

...as far as the Golden Globe nominations, are concerned. Up in the Air earned six: Best Picture, Drama; Best Actor, Drama (George Clooney); Best Supporting Actress (both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick); Best Director (Jason Reitman), and Best Screenplay (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner).

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December 15, 2009  |  permalink

British Airways’ Twelve Days of Christmas

If you’re planning to fly to London on BA this Christmas, you should rebook right away. The airline’s cabin crews have decided to strike from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2, just long enough to throw the airline and Heathrow into holiday chaos. As if things weren’t bad enough for BA—falling premium traffic, slashed routes, the inability to add a third runway at Heathrow in our lifetimes—analysts are pegging potential losses at 40-50 million pounds, or close to triple what it was losing this time last year.

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By the perverse logic of the airline industry, this is a good thing, because by breaking the union, BA will save an estimated 100 million pounds a year. (You have a break a few eggs to serve complimentary omelettes in Club World, after all). But the real winners will be easyJet, Ryanair, and Flybe, hastening the gradual consolidation (or collapse) of Europe’s legacy carriers and the ascendency of ala carte carriers overall.

In related news, the global airline industry only expects to lose $5.6 billion next year, barely half what it expects to lose this year. The money quote: “Tough times continue,” Mr. Bisignani said. “The number of travelers will be back to the peak levels of 2007, but with $30 billion less in revenues.” (emphasis mine)

Who will take the biggest hit? Airlines in Europe are expected to be the slowest to recover, generating the largest expected losses of $2.5 billion next year, the I.A.T.A. said. In North America, losses will likely shrink to around $2 billion from $2.9 billion this year.

And who will be the big winners? “Asian airlines are likely to show the most dramatic improvement next year, with losses expected at around $700 million compared with $3.4 billion in 2009. The recovery will be led by China , where the economy is forecast to grow by 9 percent next year... Middle East carriers are likely to see their losses shrink to $300 million from $1.2 billion in 2009, despite the recent financial difficulties affecting Dubai. The Gulf region has become a major hub for intercontinental traffic.”

Emirates Airlines expects to post a billion-dollar profit next year, by the way. There’s a good reason why it might end up the property of Abu Dhabi.

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December 14, 2009  |  permalink

From The Everything-Bad-Is-Good-For-You Department

Writing in the new McSweeneys newspaper, The San Francisco Panorama (PDF), Proust Was A Neuroscientist author Jonah Lerer extols the cognitive origins and benefits of travel:

Travel, in other words, is a basic human desire. We’re a migratory species, even if our migrations are powered by jet fuel and Chicken McNuggets. But here’s my question: is this collective urge to travel - to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know—still a worthwhile compulsion? Or is it like the taste for saturated fat, one of those instincts we should have left behind in the Pleistocene epoch? Because if travel is just about fun then I think the TSA killed it.

And if the TSA hasn’t finished it off, there are plenty of climate change protestors in Copenhagen at the moment who would be happy to deliver the killshot. But not so fast:

» Continue reading...

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December 14, 2009  |  permalink

Larry Sultan, RIP

The New York Times carries the obituary this morning of Larry Sultan, the art & fashion photographer best known (in the 1990s, at least) for his series on bourgeois pornographers in the Valley. From an NYT appreciation of Sultan five years ago:

“Contrasted with the Teller book, Larry Sultan’s pictures from pornographic-film sets in the San Fernando Valley, a show of which opened at the Janet Borden gallery on Wednesday, seem somehow chaste. The Sultan show, in SoHo, coincides with the release of a coffee-table book of sex industry studies titled “The Valley” (Scalo, $75.) What is curious about both book and show is that, far from being a huge conceptual leap from the narrative Mr. Sultan conjured in “Visiting Tennessee,” a Kate Spade campaign that depicted a prosperous family on a road trip, the images in “The Valley” seem fully congruent with upper-middle-class life in a post-Cheever world.”

BTW, “Visiting Tennessee” is easily my favorite ad campaign ever.

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December 14, 2009  |  permalink

Welcome.

I see the site has finally gone live. Come in, take a look around, stay awhile. There’s a lot more where this came from.

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December 14, 2009  |  permalink

It’s an Eid al-Adha Miracle!

Abu Dhabi has given Dubai a $10 billion bailout, allowing it to pay off the $4.1 Nakheel sukuk (i.e. bond) coming due today. Armageddon has been postponed until April 30th (when the rest of the cash runs out), but it remains to be seen what the true price of Abu Dhabi’s assistance will be. Is it simply tired of Dubai’s trouble dragging down its own banks’ credit ratitings, or is this the first step toward repossessing the place?

[Update: Or was it just a cynical ploy by Dubai to scoop up the publicly-traded bond for fifty cents on the dollar?]

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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

June 26, 2017

URBAN-X: Can These Startups Change the Way We Live in Cities?

June 10, 2017

Intel and the “Passenger Economy”

June 10, 2017

The Spring Speaking Season

June 07, 2017

Visiting No. 10.

» More blog posts