July 08, 2010  |  permalink

Richard Branson on Owning Airlines While Saving The World

(Thanks to Wendy Perrin at Condé Nast Traveler for posing my question to Sir Richard.)

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July 06, 2010  |  permalink

Meet Jim Lynch, The Guy Who Takes His Pants Off At Security

It was only a matter of time before someone decided it wasn’t worth it removing their shoes, belt, wallet, and emptying their pockets while passing through an airport security checkpoint. Why not just strip to one’s skivvies—especially considering the new generation of x-ray scanners will do it for you anyway? This weekend, I met the guy who has.


Meet Jim Lynch—the caddie, artist and raconteur seen here in full Arnold Palmer-mode on the 4th of July. He’s also the first recorded case (as far as I know) of someone willingly stripping in the security line simply because it’s faster. He tried it for the first time a few weeks ago on a flight from Reno to Philadelphia following a long night at the roulette table. “I got tired of rearranging my pockets—my wallet, money clip, lighter, and cigarettes,” he said, “And after you put those in the tray, you take your belt off, so your pants are already kind of falling down. And afterwards, you’re just holding up the line.” Hungover, and deciding the hell with it, he just took his pants off—belt and all. He was wearing boxer-briefs underneath, and designer ones, too—a Paul Smith pair with helicopters on them that have since become his pair of lucky airport underwear.

“I got a good laugh from airport security about it—she said she had never seen that before. But it’s not like she told me I wasn’t allowed to take my pants off.” (Fortunately for him, he can pull it off.) He’s since repeated the tactic on flights to and from Texas, with no one stopping him yet. “Don’t tell anyone,” he warned me. “I don’t want this catching on.” Sorry Jim, the secret is out.

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July 01, 2010  |  permalink

The Surface Interview: What Moves Us

The new transport-themed issue of Surface includes an interview with me by editor-in-chief Dan Rubenstein, who found himself stranded in Milan the Icelandic volcano shut down European airspace in April. “I finally arrived home four days later,” he writes in his editor’s letter, “but the ordeal made me realize the fragility of modern life, especially when it comes to transportation and what to include in this first-ever Transport Issue. Capacity, flexibility, convenience: All these issues today are crucial.” Indeed. Below is the interview. His questions are in bold; my responses follow.

How are the emerging cities of today developing differently than those built during the age of rail and sail? The shape and design of any city isn’t defined in terms of distance, but time. It’s never been a question of how we’re willing to travel, but how quickly we can do it. The Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti offered a “one-hour rule” of human movement. When walking was our only option, cities were only six miles wide—just enough so you could walk from the edge to the center and back in an hour. This pattern is seen throughout in history, from ancient Athens to Los Angeles: the time we spend commuting has never changed, only our means of transportation has.

So what’s the state-of-the-art in transportation today? The Internet and the Boeing 747. Digitally, we can be everywhere at once, globally and locally, while air travel is our only means of actually moving on a global scale. But I think the reason there’s been a recent resurgence in traditional railroad cities like New York or Chicago or San Francisco (a port city) is because their most affluent inhabitants don’t have to move around as much locally. As members of the “creative class,” their work is done over the Internet. By and large, we no longer commute to factories.

China, on the other hand, is all about its factories. And because we still demand everything more or less overnight—witness everyone’s bellyaching over how long it took for their iPads to arrive—that means a lot of that stuff goes by air. China is in the midst of moving those factories to its western provinces, next to brand new airports. We’re committed to moving bits and they’re committed to shipping atoms.

If you want a glimpse of what the cities of the future might look like, you could do worse than New Songdo City, South Korea, an instant city under construction that’s the size of downtown Boston, with features borrowed from New York and other cities, all aimed at residents to drive nine miles to the airport to do business in China. It’s not something we’re used to seeing in the States.

Transport architecture is often used as a sign of growth or strength. Post-bubble, do you see this trend changing? The appetite for “iconic” architecture in the developing world appears to be endless. And if everything is “iconic,” then nothing is, Dubai being the perfect example. What Americans fail to realize about Dubai is that all of its neighbors have copied it. It’s less about national pride than “build it, and they will come.” They’re high-end tourist attractions. Abu Dhabi is building a Guggenheim branch by Frank Gehry, a Louvre by Jean Nouvel (in exchange for a $1 billion licensing fee), and another museum by Zaha Hadid. That’s on top of the NYU Abu Dhabi branch and the “zero-carbon” Masdar City. Why does it need all of this stuff? Because it saw how Dubai used spectacle to capture the world’s attention. And don’t forget that Dubai is a smaller than Columbus, Ohio.

Abu Dhabi is also spending tens of billions of dollars on its airport and national airline, Etihad, for a similar reason: to bring millions of people from around the world to a relative backwater. Beijing and Dubai didn’t build mega-terminals to impress people; they built because they need the space. We’re seeing places use a combination spectacle and transportation as weapons to make themselves famous and theoretically successful. Dubai built its airport before a school or a hospital.

What can we—who live in older cities like New York—can learn from the new ones? One of the underlying arguments in Aerotropolis is that we who live in older cities need to think hard about the tradeoffs between the urban fabric we love and pros¬perity. Sooner or later, there are consequences if you fail to fix the bones of your city; London’s Heathrow is the perfect example. Heathrow is slowly choking on its own congestion, hemorrhaging flights and con¬nections to the major airports on the Continent. Due of this, the Labour government wanted to build a third runway. Gordon Brown argued it was imperative to the city’s continued success as a financial center. His opponents disagreed, and the third runway is probably dead. What now? Well, the Conservatives want to build a high-speed rail network, which is great, except for the fact that if they put a train stop at Heathrow, traffic will likely go up, because it’ll be easier to catch a flight. And then what? Now that British Airways has merged with Spain’s national carrier Iberia, they plan to move connecting flights to Madrid, which means a lot of businesses might move there, at a time when the UK economy is stagnant. Do you want those jobs are not? Spain does. My point is that those of us who live in a New York or London can’t take it for granted that all we need is a Wi-Fi signal when it comes to infrastructure. We can choke on our own success, and someone is waiting to pick up the crown when we do. Are we willing to tear some things down and start over? Or, as the mayor of London has suggested, build a gigantic new airport in the Thames Estuary instead? There are no right answers.

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June 30, 2010  |  permalink

The Secret Of Andrew Wylie’s Success

“You have to get on a plane and go to Paris and Milan and Munich and Beijing and Tokyo, and get to know the business there as well as you know the business in New York,” Wylie continues. “The way you do that is a combination of frequent visits, business meetings, social meetings—lunch and dinner—getting friendly with the people who run these companies, and getting inside the culture of each country. You’ve got to get on a jet plane every month. It’s pretty exhausting.” Though the agency has 50 employees, Wylie has done much of that travel himself. He began going to London once a month in 1986 (in 1996 he opened a London office in Bedford Square in a 1775 townhouse with a large garden) and has kept it up ever since, logging a rough total of 1,728,000 air miles to and from England alone.—“Fifteen Percent of Immortality,” Harvard magazine, July-August 2010.

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June 29, 2010  |  permalink

Morning Links

• “GOOD NEWS: Global Air Traffic Surges Above Pre-Recession Levels And Is Accelerating

• “But now, Japan’s languishing economy is getting a lift from hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists who are eager to flaunt their newfound wealth by purchasing brand name goods, from Canon digital cameras to Shiseido cosmetics. Last year, a record 481,696 Chinese tourists visited Japan, up nearly 20 percent from 2007, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. While it’s difficult to measure the precise impact of Chinese tourist spending, it is warmly welcomed by Japan’s struggling retailers. “Chinese are the saviors for us. I’ve never seen any foreign tourists spend as much as Chinese.

• “The new United Nations’ sanctions imposed on Iran on June 9th are likely to halve trade between the UAE and Iran from its peak of $12 billion in 2008 to $6 billion this year... This is clearly not good news for Dubai as the main UAE entrepot for Iran. The UAE acts as a transhipment port for goods going into Iran on the traditional dhows from the Dubai Creek. Iran’s economic isolation for decades means that its port infrastructure is old fashioned, besides marine insurance would not allow most ships to dock in the country. That means Iranian consumers have to pay more for products expensively moved through Dubai, and now subject to tight economic sanctions… If the Iranian nuclear situation is ever resolved then Dubai would be a major beneficiary. Trade with Iran would flourish, especially if accompanied by a renewal of foreign direct investment.

• ”India will unveil its largest airport terminal, Terminal 3 at Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport, on 03-Jul-2010. The INR127 billion (USD2.8 billion) structure will have capacity to handle 34 million passengers p/a and will be the nation’s most modern terminal. The terminal will be the eighth largest in the world (after airports including Dubai, Beijing Capital, Hong Kong, Bangkok Survarnabhumi and Mexico City) and has been developed in time for Delhi’s hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As such, the new terminal will showcase India’s recent economic progress. But will the Games deliver much in the way of additional traffic for Delhi?”

• “It’s big, it’s bold, and it will take several stages to complete. But the Indianapolis International Airport is on its way to developing an aerotropolis.”


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June 28, 2010  |  permalink

Dubai World Central Is Here.


“IN THE desert beyond the skeletons of villas unfinished because of Dubai’s economic slump, the home of the tallest building is preparing to open what could become another record-setter: an airport aiming to become the world’s busiest.”—“Dubai’s ambitions soar with new airport,” Straits Times, June 26, 2010.

“The worst is passed by and now we are looking for the next growth and we have to be ready for it and take the opportunity and get in before the rest of the world.  Everything we started, we are going to finish. Maybe some projects that we are thinking of or in the books that might delay for 6 months, 8 months, 1 year. But the rest is going forward.” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, CNN, June 25, 2010.

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June 28, 2010  |  permalink

And Now For Something Completely Different: Polo

(Originally published on NYmag.com, June 28, 2010)

Prince Harry fell off his horse. That’s the closest thing to a SportsCenter highlight from Sunday’s third annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic on Governors Island — the reason why Harry was in town and available to toss out the first pitch at Citi Field. He’d been streaking down the sideline looking to score when his mount pulled up and Harry didn’t, somersaulting him onto the pitch. Unhurt, he climbed back in the saddle, and the mishap was immediately forgotten by the swells quaffing Champagne on the sideline, along with the rest of the match.


Despite ending in a 6–5 overtime thriller — with Nacho Figueras’s Black Watch team avenging last year’s loss to Harry’s Black Rock — the sport in this sporting event was largely an afterthought. (Although true to form on Sunday, it was a triumph for Argentina and an embarrassment for England, in the other event.) The match was a friendly for charity, and with tables in the VIP tent going for as much as $50,000, New Yorkers like Mayor Bloomberg and Russell Simmons had finally found a ticket that made the seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium feel cheap. (Proceeds went to Sentebale, the Prince’s charity for AIDS orphans in Lesotho).

The New York Times described the scene as “a satellite of the Hamptons,” and no doubt many of the revelers were happy to think of it that way: A frivolous afternoon in the sun spent sweating out free bubbly as fast as they could drink it.

Maybe the only one who wanted more was Nacho, who is open about his desire to popularize polo. He’s already his sport’s Derek Jeter — the charismatic captain nowhere close to being its best player — with a modeling contract, team sponsorship, and clothing line from Ralph Lauren. Nacho likes to compare polo to Formula One, an esoteric, stratospherically expensive sport with mass appeal in Europe. Perhaps a better comparison are the U.S. Opens of golf and tennis, which draw frenzied, moneyed crowds to Flushing (and occasionally to Winged Foot and Bethpage Black) to rub elbows with corporate sponsors. Befitting polo’s image, Sunday’s included Ferrari, Piaget, and BlackRock, the largest wealth management firm in the world.

» Continue reading...

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June 28, 2010  |  permalink

Dubai: western terminus of the new Silk Road

FT interview: Ahmed al-Tayer, June 24, 2010

FT: Is there a greater focus today on attracting companies from emerging markets?

Dubai International Financial Centre governor Ahmed al-Tayer: From emerging markets, from Europe, from the US. Some companies now are starting to work from Dubai to service Africa. We see this happening. Emirates Airlines covers most countries in Africa. The Chinese use Dubai as a centre for their businesses in Africa. The world is changing and it’s moving east. There’s a lot of attention on the east. We’re a centre that brings together east and west.

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June 25, 2010  |  permalink

The Master Plan: Russia Hires Cisco To Plant A Silicon Forest


(Originally published on FastCompany.com on June 25, 2010)

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev wrapped up his whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley yesterday, and while it’s fun to imagine Steve Jobs giving him the five-cent tour of One Infinite Loop or Ev Williams and Biz Stone teaching him how to tweet, Medvedev’s mission was to round up investors for Skolkovo, his attempt to clone a Russian Silicon Valley and diversify its economy away from oil and minerals.

He succeeded, wrangling a $1 billion, decade-long commitment from Cisco, including promises to make Skolkovo a “smarter city” (or “Smart+Connected Community” in Cisco parlance), creating a second headquarters for its emerging technologies group (based in Bangalore) and teaching Russian startups the ropes. This has become a Cisco specialty. I wrote back in February about its plans to build instant smart cities in China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia (pdf), all of which have charged the networking company with creating a culture in addition to laying infrastructure. Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s chief globalization officer, described its smarter city business to me as a $10 billion opportunity, not to mention the chance to up-selling heads-of-state.

This raises the question of whether it’s even possible to build a Silicon Valley from scratch. Many have tried; all have failed. In hindsight, the conditions that created the Valley are obvious, but may be unrepeatable: the presence of Stanford University; the creation of its neighboring research park; the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor and Hewlett Packard; the alumni networks which arose from these and other seminal companies; the Valley’s subsequent reinventions from microprocessors to PCs to Internet software, and the agglomeration economies which made it all possible. Cisco’s job is to help streamline this process and squeeze it into a decade or less.

“Through their practices and through their densities, Silicon Valley companies know how to get to the next great things.” Saskia Sassen explained to me last fall. Sassen is a professor of sociology at Columbia University and an expert on the intersection of cities and globalization. She argues Cisco and other smarter city-builders have been hired to recreate the circumstances of their birth. “They’ve extracted a product from that: smart cities. First you extract it, and then you commodify it.” “They originally tried it in Malaysia and Korea,” she added, “but they were not successful. The results were more like office parks. They were the opposite of the global, fast-moving, powerful cities they were meant to be.”

The list of failures is longer than that. The sociologists Manuel Castells and Peter Hall compiled a list of “technopoles” made in Silicon Valley’s image, including Japanese and Korean “science cities,” research parks in Cambridge, Seville, Adelaide and Boston’s Route 128 (which, while certainly successful, never mounted a serious challenge to Silicon Valley) and Russia’s Soviet-era effort to plant a “Silicon Forest”—Akademgorodok, aka “Academy Town.”

The brainchild of Nikita Khrushchev (sound familiar?) Akademgorodok was founded in 1957 on the shores of a man-made sea adjacent to Novosibirsk, the industrial capital of Siberia. The home of a new, elite university and institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Akademgorodok boasted at its 1960s peak a population of 70,000 people, including 7,500 scientists, 3,500 students, and several thousand technicians and staff. But the failure to escape the long arms of the Communist Party and academic bureaucracies quickly eroded their enthusiasm. Scientists lured from Moscow and Leningrad moved back almost as quickly as they arrived, and the ones who stayed focused on basic research with few practical applications. From an urban planning standpoint, Akademgorodok wasn’t much better, with sharply delineated residential zones setting aside cottages for academics, “upper zone” zone apartment blocks for mid-level scientsists, and tenements for construction workers.

After the Wall fell, IBM and Intel moved in, leading then-prime minister Vladimir Putin to earmark $100 million in state funds for the construction of a $650 business park. “We simply mustn’t waste this chance,” he declared in 2005, following a trip to India. At the time, Fortune declared the city – you guessed it – “The next Silicon Valley.”

This time, the Russians themselves are more skeptical, calling Medvedev’s “innograd” and its tax breaks and half-billion dollar annual budget a black hole and a boondoggle. Without genuine reform, critics argue Skolkovo cannot possibly succeed – not when Russia ranks below Bangladesh in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, and is tied with Kenya in the Corruption Perception Index.

Medvedev acknowledged as much at a Stanford appearance this week when a Russian in the audience asked him how he planned to protect promising startups from the Russian mafia, insane rivals (i.e. (”crazy Russians with crazy startups”) and bureaucratic obstacles.

“Of course we have plans,” Medvedev said. “In Russia, people hope the government will do something… but we must do it correctly. Russia has its own attitudes and says the task of the government is to create startup conditions, but that’s a very complicated point. Money can’t create it. We have money, but we don’t have Silicon Valley. It has to be money in the right hands, with the correct rules. If performed correctly, I’m sure the project will be a success, but everything depends on people and finally on you — if you’re ready to help.”

If it’s rules Medvedev’s after, he may want to talk to Paul Romer, the former Stanford professor whose “charter cities” concept finally received the feature treatment in the current issue of The Atlantic. As writer Sebastian Mallaby puts it, “Romer’s notion of “rules” includes “patent law, competition law, bankruptcy law, and so on, as well as the softer ‘norms’ that govern people’s behavior. Indeed, these rules could be even more important than technologies, however much the digerati of Silicon Valley might wish to believe otherwise. Without new technologies, an economy might grow slowly. But without decent rules, an economy cannot even make use of the technologies that already exist.”

It’s a shame Medvedev didn’t arrange a meeting with Romer on his trip; it probably would have proved more useful than learning how to tweet.


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June 24, 2010  |  permalink

Skyscraper To Nowhere


If you weren’t scared enough by China’s real estate bubble, take a gander at this 1,076 ft. apartment building for farmers rising in the middle of nowhere. From The Money Illusion:

Is there anywhere else in the world where a 1076-foot skyscraper would be built for “farmers” and located not in a city, but in the “countryside?”

Yes, I understand that Huaxi is the richest village in China, and is hardly typical.  But I also think that there is far more wealth being accumulated in the rural parts of eastern China than many people realize.

When I used to hear about 800 million “rural Chinese” I pictured dusty little villages in western China.  I may need to re-adjust my mental images.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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