October 19, 2017  |  permalink

Deep risks and extreme failures: New tools to imagine resilience


(Arup’s in-house Web magazine Doggerel interviewed me about my work imagining the world created by my teammates Rafi Segal, Susannah Drake, and co. for the Regional Plan Association.)

Asked to consider resilience strategies for the New York metro area by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), an influential research and advocacy group, a team of designers depicted a dramatically reshaped 2067 shoreline. They envisioned a coast capable of accommodating fluctuating water levels, encouraging amphibious commercial and recreational uses while protecting dense communities on higher ground.

The team asked Greg Lindsay, a journalist and urbanist, to develop a backstory for its design, thinking about what could make ambitious design strategies of this kind politically and economically viable in the coming decades. He dreamed up Hurricane Hermine, a giant storm that would cause unprecedented damage in 2022, convincing everyone from President Zuckerberg to residents of low-income waterfront communities of the need for change.

But just a few months later, Lindsay watched multiple disasters of similar magnitude to the one he had described play out in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico. “I imagined a storm half again the size of [2012 Hurricane] Sandy, with losses at around $150 billion. [Hurricane] Harvey topped $190 billion and the scale of devastation in Puerto Rico dwarfed anything we imagined,” he said. “My teammates had charted the likely damage to infrastructure in the [New York] region — everything from sewage to fuel storage, to the fact that 75% of electricity generation sits in the 100-year floodplain. And now we’re watching millions of Americans suffer without power or water for weeks — and likely months.”

The hurricanes’ political and economic dimensions also seem uncomfortably familiar to the RPA-convened team. Lindsay depicted a 2023 financial crisis triggered by a collapse in coastal housing values, leading to subsequent implosions in the mortgage, bond, and insurance markets, starting with the National Flood Insurance Program. Today, this same program is billions of dollars in debt and faces an uncertain future due to the looming end of its congressional authorization period — challenges that are compounded by an expected $9 billion in new claims. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s woes are compounded by the commonwealth’s debt crisis and resulting quasi-bankruptcy.


Whereas Hurricane Hermine catalyzed large-scale urban resilience efforts in Lindsay’s fictional future, it’s too soon to know what lasting impacts Harvey and Maria will have on the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. While there may be more and more voices calling out for measures like those described in the New York proposal, the reality is that large-scale, forward-thinking change will always be a challenge beyond the difficulty of pushing the kind of creative, out-of-the-box thinking that Lindsay and his team are advocating; there’s also the very real limitations imposed by existing circumstances. Resources that might be allocated to future resilience measures are too often, by necessity, diverted to address current rescue and redevelopment efforts. The perpetual push and pull between preemptive design projects and reactive recovery in the wake of real-time disasters is a resilience catch-22.

Which has left Lindsay wondering: What will it really take to make ambitious coastal resilience strategies possible? How can policymakers and designers better understand the risks cities face? How can artists and futurists create stories and visions that convey the urgency of the situation? And how can we get all the right people to the table to tackle the logistic challenges inherent in such a design revolution?

“It’s not just long-term thinking that’s needed, but more weird thinking,” he said. “How do we actually understand the massive disruptive consequences that will be weirder and more sudden than are really even slightly acceptable to discuss?”

The need to think more broadly and deeply is rooted in the multifaceted nature of the disasters that have battered cities around the world in recent years. “Harvey’s a perfect example of what my futurist friends call ‘Wexelblat Disasters,’ which refer to natural disasters triggering bigger man-made ones,” he said. “Katrina caused New Orleans’ levees to break; an earthquake triggered a tsunami that led to a meltdown at Fukushima, and so on.” The increasing likelihood of these kinds of domino events means that it is more crucial than ever to reconcile the creative push for resilient design with practical applications in the real world.

As that world becomes increasingly complex and interdependent, effecting meaningful change will require a new set of tools, Lindsay believes. “It’s one thing to calculate new floodplains from sea level rise,” he said. “We need to do a better job applying foresight and systems thinking to understand deep risks and imagine perverse failures. Otherwise we’re left with the spectacles of presidents throwing paper towels and tech companies rushing in to provide broadband before power or water.”

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October 07, 2017  |  permalink

Have Deck, Will Travel

As the leaves begin to turn, I’m finally taking a break from a frenetic summer and early fall of speaking. After wrapping up the spring with trips to Bangkok and Zurich (where I met the team behind the phenomenal Projket Interim) I’ve stuck closer to home — or at least to North America. A few highlights:

• Most recently, I was in Chicago for the Big Ideas Summit hosted by Procurious, a British social network for procurement professional (the people who run the world’s supply chains). My talk — the very short version of which is posted above — focused on “engineering serendipity,” and both unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. (I gave a similar talk earlier in the month to the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada in forest fire-choked British Columbia.)

• The week before that I was in Denver, then Victoria (British Columbia) speaking about the future of cities. In the case of the former, I was the opening keynote for this year’s RE/MAX Commercial Symposium, where I used Amazon’s HQ2 RFP as a prism to examine how cities and CRE prefernaces are changing. The next day in Victoria, I spoke at the inaugural Platform retreat hosted by the American Society of Interior Designers about how new mobility options, shared workspaces, and networks are transforming cities.


• In August, I moderated back-to-back events in San Francisco for Intel and Ford, both focused on the future of mobility. The former hosted an intimate press event to discuss its “Passenger Economy” report on the $7 trillion economic impact from autonomous vehicles by 2050, while Ford invited more than a thousand people to Fort Mason for its “City of Tomorrow Symposium.” As seen above, I was invited to moderate a panel on mobility-as-a-service, and how we go about actually building such a system. (Also on the mobility beat: in September I spoke the Columbus Partnership as part of their efforts to implement the Smart Columbus plan, which won the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge.)

• But the highlight of the summer were back-to-back appearances in Colorado Springs and Albuquerque in late August. The first was for a brief talk to the senior leadership of Deloitte’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications practice on how we might rethink the idea of what a “smart city” is. For example, rather than through solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall into your suburban home, what if we could convince institutional investors to build thousands upon thousands of Alejandro Aravena’s “half-built” homes in exchange for a 50-year on the solar electricity collected from their rooftops?

From there, I drove to Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico for an unclassified, but off-the-record workshop on the world in 2035. I can’t divulge many details until the final report is published, but it was exhilarating to spend the day in the presence of so many brilliant people trying to invent the future. More soon, I hope.

• The rest of the fall is a bit quiet, with one great exception. Next month, I head to Los Angeles for the inaugural edition of LA CoMotion — a five-day festival of new mobility in the Arts District downtown. As director of strategy, my job is make sure the whole is greater than the sum of its many very cool parts. With only five weeks to go until Nov. 15-19, we’re in the home stretch. You can get a taste of what I’m thinking in the video below. See you on the other side.

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October 06, 2017  |  permalink

After the Flood: Adapting to Disaster


I was delighted to return to Christopher Lydon’s “Radio Open Source” on WBUR this week to discuss “Adapting to Disaster: The Future of Cities in the Anthropocene,” the second in a two-part series on climate change. (You can listen here.) I was joined by friends and colleagues Chris Turner — author of the The Geography of Hope and The Patch — and Rafi Segal, along with New York 2140 author Kim Stanley Robinson and Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes. Please give it a listen.

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September 18, 2017  |  permalink

Here Comes The Flood: New York 2067, Sea-Level Rise, and the 4th Regional Plan

When Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston this month, followed only days later by Irma’s bearing down on Florida my first thought was: They’ve arrived five years ahead of schedule. Because I’d spent the last six months imagining America’s day of climate change reckoning — a super storm destroying $200 billion worth of property (like Harvey) after landing a direct hit on New York City (as Irma nearly landed on Miami). I’d spent the last six months I’ve been working with an incredibly talented team of architects imagining how the coasts of New York and New Jersey might look after six feet of sea-level rise, and the triggering event I’d generously scheduled for 2022 was arriving only weeks after our work had been unveiled.

Some backstory: we were commissioned in February by the Regional Plan Association (with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation) to envision the Tri-State region underwater as part of 4C: Foreseeing the Region of the Future, a design competition launched ahead of the Fourth Regional Plan — the RPA’s once-in-a-generation planning guidelines.

I was invited by my Foreclosed teammate Rafi Segal to join him, DLANDstudio’s Susannah Drake, and MIT’s Sarah Williams, Brent Ryan, and Benjamin Albrecht as part of the core team creating The Bight: Coastal Urbanism. The Bight is the notch in the coast where ocean currents conspire to pile sand, forever redrawing the shore. Rather than simply harden the coastline against sea-level rise and future storms, we proposed “sending and receiving” residents in vulnerable areas to new developments on higher ground, while transforming New York’s future wetlands for new uses — whether parks or farms or preserves.

My role on the team was to imagine a backstory for the world we made, and how we got there — a future history encompassing the near-destruction of Lower Manhattan by Hurricane Hermine in October 2022; the resulting Crash of ’23 as real estate values plunged along the East Coast; the subsequent creation of the Bureau of Coastal Management to create ironclad zoning and development guidelines; the dissolution of the Port Authority  by mutual agreement of Governors Cuomo and Bon Jovi; the election of President Mark Zuckerberg in 2024, who soon instituted universal basic income (“Zuckerbucks”) and housing (“Zuckerhuts”), while pushing a clean energy agenda that led to the merger of ExxonMonsanto.

To bring this world to life, my teammates and I not only designed a new city around Jamaica Bay and new communities along the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island, but also imagined their future residents — including a video postcard from an ExxonMonsanto artisanal seaweed harvester and a promotional video (see above) for the 25th anniversary of Ascendas-Singbridge Bight City, starring a 2067 incarnation of our teammate Chaewon Ahn.

Our work was displayed this summer at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways, and will be exhibited in Manhattan sometime this winter at the New York Historical Society.


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July 28, 2017  |  permalink

Songdo, City of the Future? Or of Our Hopes and Fears?


I love to tell the story of how when I first visited New Songdo City in 2007, the site of the future Central Park (pictured above) was nothing more than mud studded with seashells, having only recently been dredged off the seafloor. Today, as you can see, the park has come into its own, even if the city — now with 100,000 inhabitants — still feels patchy at times. In this short clip directed by Ghost Cities of China author Wade Shepherd and shot in June at the New Cities Summit, I talk about how Songdo succeeded almost in spite of itself, and how we project our own hopes and fears for the future onto these instant cities.


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July 20, 2017  |  permalink

NewCities Summit 2017: Songdo Redux

In June, I paid a visit to the instant city of New Songdo for a the first time in nearly decade as part of the annual NewCities Summit, my sixth(!). If you couldn’t make it, videos of each session have just been posted, of which I moderated a pair this year.

The first (above) focused on “Global Connectivity and the Success of Cities,” starring AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes (whose Berluti sneaker game was strong), ENGIE’s Olivier Biancarelli, Aéroports de Paris’s Elisabeth Le Masson, and Kandahar mayor Roshaan Wolusmal. As you might expect, our conversation focused on infrastructure. From the session description: “Second, third and fourth-tiered cities will absorb most of the new urban population, and will therefore hold a great role in their national economies. How can we increase their connectivity to other levels of economy? What challenges do these cities face in accessing global markets? What is the impact of greater connectivity on a city’s planning, infrastructure, economy, and attractivity?”

The second (below), told “the Story of Songdo,” with Gale International’s Tom Murcott, Arup’s Ashok Raiji, KPF’s Elie Gamburg, and former Cisco chief globalization officer Wim Elfrink. Between recapping the project and efforts to subsequent efforts to create cities from scratch that are faster, better, cheaper, perhaps the most notable admission was Elfrink’s candid admission that Cisco’s attempt to build a hardwired smart city had failed — it had been overtaken by the same technologies it had hoped to exploit.


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July 17, 2017  |  permalink

Seedstars, Ananda Urban Tech, and “Cities as a Service”

Last month, I was invited to Bangkok by Seedstars and Thailand’s Ananda Development to speak about “Cities-as-a-Service,” host a panel with my friends and colleagues Ayesha Khanna (ADDO AI), Anthony Vanky (MIT Senseable Cities), and Yaron Schwarcz (Tridom), and host a workshop envisioning potential future of urban tech.

A brief video excerpt from my talk is above. Thanks again to both Seedstars and Ananda for hosting me!

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July 14, 2017  |  permalink

“Columbus Park” and Redesigning Manhattan for Autonomous Vehicles.


Back in May, I was invited to join dozens of architects, mobility experts, public officials, startups, and others for a autonomous and connected vehicle design sprint organized by the engineering firm BuroHappold.  Our team was tasked with redesigning Manhattan’s Columbus Circle — my teammate Derrick Choi explains our plan below.

Derrick Choi (Populous), Greg Lindsay (Fast Company), Mike Seyle (BuroHappold), Nicola Thomson (100 Resilient Cities), Patrick Smith (NYC Department of Transportation)

Write-up by Derrick Choi

What is your team’s idea?

Columbus Circle is an icon that can never be truly occupied. Traffic roundabout, NYC landmark, and post card icon – right adjacent to Central
Park, but never a part of it. In the dawn of connected and autonomous vehicular networks, the time to reimagine the Circle is now. Imagine finally being able to occupy Columbus Circle AND enhance traffic flow? Our concept seeks to do just that by physically integrating Columbus Circle with Central Park to enhance the pedestrian experience, improve the flow of transit, and introduce a new proving grounds for CAVs and delivery vehicles south of Columbus Circle along Broadway.

There are some fundamental planning assumptions behind the concept:

1. Re-routing traffic flow will enhance traffic while improving open space.

2. The improvements seek to balance – to the extent practicable – the interests and operational requirements of pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, personal vehicles, CAVs as well as public-private development opportunities.

3. Public policy shall be innovation-friendly and will encourage testing extant infrastructure to adapt to new technologies and solutions.

4. Connected and autonomous vehicle networks will be an integral component of the City’s transportation system.

5. Public private partnerships are encouraged to advance innovative infrastructure and urban ideas.


We offer a multi-phase approach to stitching Columbus Circle into Central Park. The multi-stage strategy gives the City the flexibility to test concepts with little risk:

PHASE 1 – Absorb the Roundabout

• Shut off quadrant facing Central Park with retractable bollards and paint the street; creating a contiguous public space extension; stitching Columbus Circle to Central Park.

• Re-route traffic flow in a north-south configuration: Broadway (north of 58th) to Central Park South provides a south flow while Broadway (south of 58th) to Central Park West provides a north flow. NOTE: South-bound traffic flow is diverted to Central Park South.

• Broadway South of 58th Street will be cut off of traffic on a regular basis as a test corridor for CAV technologies – especially for off-hour test runs of delivery robots originating from the Columbus Circle Whole Foods – running down all the way to Union Square.

PHASE 2 – Absorb the Streets

• Shut off all of Central Park South and the entire roundabout from Broadway to the start of Central Park West from vehicular traffic; effectively repurposing about HALF of the Columbus Circle roundabout into public open space.

• Re-route traffic flow permanently in the following manner:

• South flow: Broadway to 8th Avenue

• North flow: 8th Avenue to Central Park West

• East / West flow: turn at 57th and 8th Avenue

• Dedicated South Broadway route (south of 57th Street) for CAV and pedestrian-centric activities.

While the Circle goes away – almost half of it becomes absorbed by Central Park – the operational and quality of life improvements are considerable. At the new Columbus Park, traffic improves, Broadway and Central Park South becomes dedicated for open public space and a new north-south axis for traffic is provided.

Why is this a good idea for your city?

Columbus Circle’s riddle is solved once and for all when traffic improves and the quality of public life can be improved at the site. We believe there are 4 primary benefits worth thinking about:

1. Introduction of dynamic new public spaces – Central Park South becomes a dedicated pedestrian-only public corridor and Columbus Circle becomes a truly public space with no traffic disruption.

2. Commitment to a new dedicated Broadway technology corridor from the Circle to Union Square – providing a new test bed for CAVs while
recommitting to the public realm.

3. Significant traffic and environmental enhancements – re-alignment of the North-South flows will eliminate congestion, idling, and overall air quality for the immediate area.

4. Encouragement of strong public-private collaboration – from delivery robots from Whole Foods to new private sector sponsorships of new public corridors, new opportunities to reclaim the streets will deliver incredible dividends for the City.

What would need to happen to implement your team’s idea?

No idea can be implemented in a vacuum. The successful implementation of the Columbus Circle concept will weigh heavily on the ability of the City to be able to test these ideas in such a heavily trafficked location that must last the test of both pedestrians as well as vehicles.

There will likely be a combination of aggressive, phased testing and recalibration of the test corridors as well as strong policies advocating for innovation and public-private partnerships. Implementation will require a two-fold collaboration between public agencies who must test the corridors and implement the policies and the private sector players who need to understand the needs of their stakeholders.

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June 30, 2017  |  permalink

Politico: What’s the Greatest Risk Cities Face? Traffic.


(Originally published by Politico Magazine as part of its July/August 2017 Cities issue. Proud to be included alongside Columbia’s Saskia Sassen, Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, Brookings’ Bruce Katz, former Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton, Retrofitting Suburbia authors June Williamson and Ellen Dunhanm-Jones, and many more. You can read the entire thing here.)

Since the financial crisis, America’s largest metros have been reliable job and people magnets, breathing new life into exurban sprawl with new residents who “drive until they qualify” for an affordable mortgage on a home outside a city. But these suburbanites and exurbanites are left exposed to the high costs of commuting in terms of both time and money, as well as to the devastating effects of another potential oil shock like the 2008 price spike that precipitated the crisis. At the same time, gentrification has transformed America’s densest, most walkable and transit-rich neighborhoods into some of the country’s most expensive, thereby expelling their former inhabitants to the suburban fringe. This has turned out to be a trap: Nearly half of affordable-housing residents spend more than 15 percent of their incomes on transportation. Public transit alone is of little help, as researchers at Brookings have found that a typical resident is able to reach only 30 percent of a city’s available jobs in less than 90 minutes using transit. In turn, long, expensive commutes depress growth and punish their most vulnerable residents.

The proposed solutions to these problems tend to veer quickly toward the fantastical—cars that fly or drive themselves, or one of Elon Musk’s new tunnels. Others tout Uber as a fix that will render buses obsolete. The truth is that Uber and its competitors have only added to congestion in cities such as New York and San Francisco, and autonomous vehicles could make the problem worse in the form of driverless traffic jams. Meanwhile, New subway systems from New York to Washington groan under the strain of new riders and deferred maintenance.

An alternative solution would be to combine public transit with these new technologies on the same app or platform, using the convenience of car-sharing, bike-sharing and ride-hailing to increase ridership and promote alternatives to car ownership. “Mobility-as-a-service” programs combining various modes have been successfully tested in Europe, but haven’t yet made it to the United States. Coupling better transit service with on-demand rides for last-mile and last-minute solutions could prove incredibly appealing to commuters, and combining it with smarter regulations for parking, zoning and congestion could make them even more so. While President Donald Trump continues to tout a public-private $1 trillion infrastructure package that is actively hostile to rail projects, Los Angeles residents, for instance, voted overwhelmingly in November to tax themselves $100 billion over 30 years for transportation projects, including five new rail lines. Cities such as Seattle and Atlanta have followed suit with similar measures, with the former promising to invest in what it calls “new mobility.” Cities thrive by comfortably compressing large number of people together in space and time. We need to invest intelligently in methods both old and new to ensure they can keep growing.

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June 26, 2017  |  permalink

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

(I’m currently the Urbanist-in-Residence for URBAN-X, the startup accelerator backed by Urban US and BMW MINI. Fast Company asked me to host this video starring three of the teams in the accelerator’s second cohort: WearWorks; Contextere; and UpCycles. Enjoy!)

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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 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.

» 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


September 24, 2018

Why Companies Are Creating Their Own Coworking Spaces

September 18, 2018

Alstom’s “Orchestrating Future Mobility”

August 06, 2018

The CoMotion Podcast Series

July 16, 2018

CityLab Insights: The State of Play in Connected Mobility

» More blog posts