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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June 10, 2017  |  permalink

Intel and the “Passenger Economy”


Last week. Intel published a report on what it’s calling the “Passenger Economy” — the $7 trillion created by 2050 once the time, money, energy, and attention devoted to driving is channeled elsewhere in a world of autonomous vehicles. Working with Intel and the research firm Strategy Analytics, I was asked to imagine how this new economy larger than the UK’s and Germany’s combined today will begin to appear, and how it will reshape where and how we live, work and play. Ranging from “mobility-as-a-service” to aerial drone delivery to self-driving homes (as AVs mate with RVs), the autonomous future will transform cities — hopefully for the better.

The launch of the report (featuring my quotes) has been covered by WiredThe TelegraphThe Detroit News, CNBC, CNET, and Venture Beat, among many others. There’s also been significant international coverage in Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Australia, to name just a few. Going forward, I’ll be writing and speaking about the report at Intel events in New York, Detroit, Washington and beyond. Stay tuned!

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June 10, 2017  |  permalink

The Spring Speaking Season


I’m writing this somewhere above the Arctic Circle bound for home after speaking and moderating at my fifth New Cities Summit in Songdo, marking the official start to the summer speaking season.

It’s been a busy spring, however, headlined by delivering the opening keynote at the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC), where everyone-who’s-everyone in the vanguard of shared workspaces and the future of work assembles to debate the future. Once again, I made the case that the line between the office and the city, and between work and play, is blurring beyond all recognition. “Coworking is eating the world,” I announced, meaning workspaces have escaped the office and are popping up everywhere — in restaurants, retails, luxury homes, etc.

Attendees loved it, and discussed it at length in recaps of the event. The previous day, I’d hosted my third WorkTech NYC, interviewing Googleplex architect Clive Wilkinson among others. Work and the city was also the focus of my talks and panels at CoreNet’s Eastern Regional Symposium and the Canadian commercial real estate firm Triovest.

But mobility remained the theme of most talks, ranging from keynotes at PostNord in Oslo and SNCF in Toulouse, to panels at DLD New York, URBAN-X, and Smart Cities New York, along with an invite-only workshop for the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Autonomous Vehicles to imagine future uses for AVs. And that’s not counting an invitation to 10 Downing Street.

Looking ahead to summer, my next stop after Seoul is Montreal for the Metropolis World Congress, followed later this month by talks for SNCF in Marseille and the Ananda Group in Bangkok. And the fall schedule is beginning to take shape with prospective talks in Moscow, Mexico City, Silicon Valley, Denver, and beyond.

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June 07, 2017  |  permalink

Visiting No. 10.


As Britain goes to the polls, I realized I forgot to mention I paid a visit to 10 Downing Street in April. I was invited by the Prime Minister’s deputy transport advisor and the Treasury’s transport policy team, who were graciously hosted me in a wood-paneled conference with more history than the entire West Wing. While I won’t divulge the details of what was a private meeting, I will say they’d read my report for the New Cities Foundation last fall arguing for greater powers for public transport in a world of connected mobility. No matter what happens in Thursday’s elections, I at least hope Britain’s government will make better choices about transport, cities, and equity than their U.S. counterparts.

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June 07, 2017  |  permalink

Travel + Leisure: Will we all live in airports one day?


(I’m back in Songdo for the first time in years for the New Cities Summit, and by sheer coincidence, Travel + Leisure asked me to contribute a short piece on the city and the aerotropolis in general to accompany the photographs of Giulio di Sturco.)

A decade ago, visitors to the man-made South Korean island-city of Songdo, 40 miles outside Seoul, could stand on the site of a development projected to grow to the size of downtown Boston and find seashells still sticking out of ground that, until recently, had been underwater.

Just two years later, in 2009, Songdo’s American developers cut the ribbon on the $35-billion city, home to a Jack Nicklaus golf course and what was at the time South Korea’s tallest tower. Songdo’s defining feature, arguably, was less conspicuous: a 7.4-mile bridge connecting it with Incheon International Airport.

Songdo is an “aerotropolis,” a city built around an airport, specifically conceived to harness a transport hub’s global connections. Such places are designed to serve a class of 21st-century nomads who live to go everywhere. Typically, the aerotropolis is an amalgam of made-to-order offices, sleek convention centers, international chain hotels, malls teeming with global brands, sometimes even a theme park.

Aerotropolis is a faux-Greek term coined in China 25 years ago, and as an urban model it has achieved its fullest flowering in Asia. First came Hong Kong — where new towns and a Disneyland were built next to the $20 billion island airport — followed by Shanghai, Singapore, and Dubai, which will host Expo 2020 in an airport city larger than San Francisco.

Over the last five years, Italian photographer Giulio di Sturco, who shot the images on this page, has traveled throughout Asia documenting the aerotropolis phenomenon. “I’m pretty sure this is the new direction the world is taking,” he said. “These cities are in effect the cities of the future, so for me it is a way to see into the future right now.”

But will the aerotropolis ever be loved? If a prime reason for travel is to experience the distinctive terroir, culture, and history of a place, what’s the appeal of a city that is by definition transitory, designed to evoke nowhere?

Perhaps it is the chance to witness the real-time evolution of a place liberated from the past, living in the moment, and looking only toward the future — a future that looms into view like the planes above Songdo, dropping through the clouds on their final approach.

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June 06, 2017  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Putting the Humanity Back Into Technology


(I’m currently the Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X, the urban startup accelerator run by BMW MINI in conjunction with the venture capital firm Urban Us. This originally ran at Fast Company’s branded content arm FastCo.Works on May 31, 2017.)

Fourteen weeks after converging on Brooklyn, the eight startups of URBAN-X–a venture accelerator founded by MINI–had reached the moment of truth: Demo Day. Taking the stage in a Ghostbusters-style jumpsuit, Upcycles cofounder Daniel Wendlek channeled the accelerator’s spirit in a jeremiad against delivery drones.

“You know what? F%*&$ robots!” he said to wild applause. “Cities struggle as it is to provide space for one of our most vital resources–human beings.” His company’s alternative: an electric-assisted tricycle capable of 500-pound deliveries at a cost of only $.002 per mile.

And so it went for 40 minutes, a stream of pitches advocating for what Micah Kotch, URBAN-X managing director, had described in his introduction as “human-first design.” Whether it was Wendlek railing against robots, Contextere CEO Gabe Batstone promising to empower blue-collar workers through data (“I want to create Iron Man, not Skynet!”), or WearWorks CEO Keith Kirkland vowing that a blind runner would complete the New York City marathon using the company’s touch-sensitive Wayband, putting people at the center of urban tech was the theme of the evening.

While half the cohort celebrated people power, the other half underscored how urban tech is the right alternative when urban policies fail. Early on, O2-O2 CEO Dan Bowden highlighted the urgent use case for his company’s brand of air-filtration facewear by observing that 22 million residents of greater Beijing were at that moment trapped indoors by a sandstorm seven times smoggier than the average punishing day in the city.

RevMax’s Jonathan Weekley demonstrated how his company’s on-demand fleet-management software could boost the average utilization of taxis and ride-hailing vehicles from 50% to 74%–an absolute necessity when unchecked ride-hailing has added 600 million vehicle miles to New York City streets.

“We need to be thinking about what is going to change and benefit individual lives,” URBAN-X program director Miriam Roure said. “When technologies are implemented at an urban scale, we need to understand the socio-economic impact–direct and indirect–they could have. We don’t see disruption as necessarily positive.”

As Shawn Broderick, managing director of venture fund SOSV, noted earlier in the evening, “The big picture here is that cities are becoming more vital to everyone’s life choices. This is a megatrend that won’t stop in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years–this will last an entire century.”

For the hundreds of city residents crowded into the URBAN-X workshop and spilling out into the hall, it might have appeared the startup founders onstage had always known exactly what they were doing. But for those who were present at the beginning–the experts-in-residence, guest mentors, and especially the program directors–the progress was particularly sweet. Fourteen weeks ago, they had products and projects and prototypes in search of a business model. Tonight, they had the foundations of a viable, scalable company on their hands.

What else did each team receive in exchange for a small equity share in their startup, and where would they go from here? For one thing, graduation had appreciably increased their chances for funding. As many as one-third of all startups receiving Series A funding are veterans of accelerators, as investors look to gatekeepers such as Y Combinator and others who instill a rigor in founding teams and provide them the right connections for future growth. For another, they could tout their affiliation with one of the world’s leading brands: MINI.

As the founders of each team rushed to prepare their booths for hundreds of visitors and rehearsed their pitches one last time, a few shared their thoughts on what they learned. For Sencity cofounders Steven Bai and Ivan Chen, who moved to New York from Sydney, the program offered both personal introductions and technical validation. “Here in America,” said Bai, “we’re talking to municipalities” about their interactive trash can, the TetraBin. “As foreigners, why should they have conversations with us? Thanks to the program, there’s a basic layer of trust.”

Other teams learned important lessons about their potential customers and themselves. Upcycles cofounders Wendlek and Nick Wong entered the program unsure about whether they were bike manufacturers or a delivery service, for which they already had customers. They’re the former, they decided. “In the next few months, we’ll build five trikes for a pilot,” said Wong, “and figure out our manufacturing process so we can build 50 by the end of the year.”

Contextere’s Batstone didn’t need help from URBAN-X in learning how to build a startup, having run software companies for 15 years. But embedding in an urban tech accelerator did teach him that the company’s software, originally designed for military and energy customers, also has a powerful role to play in maintaining urban infrastructure, such as the electric grid. “We came here as an experiment, as someone not in the process of raising money,” Batstone said. “We knew that surrounding ourselves with a bunch of fledgling entrepreneurs would give us some of their energy–being around people who have that spark is worth it.”

For the rookies, the opposite proved true. Envairo’s Gabe Peschiera entered the program alone. He graduated with a team, potential customers, and several pilot projects to demonstrate the efficacy of his smart building software.

“The value of the program is not one thing, it’s everything,” he said. “Figuring out how to engage potential advisers. Learning how VCs think. How to use AngelList for recruiting. How to have conversations about equity with potential cofounders. And all with companies that share my values. They’re not just going to build tech to make advertising more clickable–they’re building stuff in the world they want to share. All of us are trying to solve real problems with real solutions.”

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May 01, 2017  |  permalink

Peter Rees’ London: The Engine Room


(Originally published at Medium on May 1, 2017.)

The Heron is blandly handsome as London skyscrapers go, compared to the nearby, and similarly whimsically nicknamed, “Gherkin,” “Walkie Talkie,” or “Cheesegrater” towers. But the three-year-old luxury building is exceptional in two respects. For one thing, it’s the first housing block since the 1970s to be located in the City, the compact, ancient financial center of London, also known as the Square Mile. For another, its few full-time residents include Peter Wynne Rees, who personally approved its construction — along, as it happens, with the Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, and Cheesegrater. As the longtime chief planner for the City of London Corporation, Rees is, arguably, the person most responsible for the stunning recent transformation of London’s historic core into one of the fastest growing centers of commercial development on the planet.

After a remarkably long tenure — nearly thirty years — Rees retired in 2014, but is still fiercely protective of what he calls “the engine room” — the economic hub of Greater London, the United Kingdom, and perhaps the world. (For now.) He’s been outspokenly critical of luxury apartments marketed to absentee owners who wire the funds from offshore accounts, notoriously describing such projects as “safety deposit boxes in the sky.” But on a recent tour of the district I discover he’s surprisingly skeptical of housing in general, given that most homes are empty during the day and dark at night. The City has neither the time nor the room for that.

“It’s a waste of land, which is in short supply here,” Rees tells me during our walk. “Cities can’t afford that degree of underuse.” He sees the City, above all, as a commercial reactor fueled by chance encounters and traded snippets of information — what he calls “the gossip.” Though accelerated by the financial deregulation in the 1980s, this heritage reaches back several centuries, starting with the founding of the Royal Exchange in 1571, spilling over into the Restoration-era pubs and coffee houses lining nearby Change Alley, and continuing to this day in the pocket parks and arcades he and his staff planned or protected. “People make places; places make gossip; gossip makes people money,” he explains. “And the City is especially well-designed to allow that to happen.”

» Continue reading...

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April 30, 2017  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Where the Robot Meets the Road


(I’m currently the the Fast Company Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X, an urban tech accelerator in Brooklyn sponsored by BMW MINI and SOSV. The following dispatch covers “Where The Robot Meets The Road,” a public event on March 30th covering the intersection of autonomous vehicles, public policy, and infrastructure.)

Autonomous vehicles (“AVs”) are finally having their moment. On the cusp of becoming a reality, everyone from futurists to everyday drivers is talking about the promise of a new era in transportation, in which “drivers” can kick back and read a book, and collisions and accidents are vastly reduced.

And they may be correct. Done right, autonomous vehicles could indeed save many, if not most, of the 35,000 Americans killed in car crashes each year, reduce tailpipe emissions, and functionally extend mass transit into the suburbs with autonomous shuttles.

But without highly strategic planning and collaboration between the public and private sectors, they could just as easily produce traffic jams of empty vehicles, and bankrupted mass transit systems—increasing the gridlock that already plagues most modern cities instead of alleviating it.

Zipcar founder Robin Chase has described these scenarios as the “heaven or hell” of autonomous vehicles, arguing that heaven is only possible if cities and their citizens have an equal voice in guiding their introduction. The future of AVs is unquestionably urban—Bloomberg and McKinsey forecast that 70% of AVs sold in Europe and North America through 2030 will be in dense cities and their affluent suburbs.

To that end, last month URBAN-X—a venture accelerator founded by MINI— invited more than a hundred designers, policymakers, technologists, academics, and Brooklyn residents to its Greenpoint headquarters at A/D/O to debate the correct blend of innovation and regulation to set AVs in the right direction, and harness their true potential for the betterment of cities.

» Continue reading...

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March 29, 2017  |  permalink

Interview with The Augmented Cities Project

I spent last Sunday night chatting with The Augmented City’s host and curator John du Pre Gauntt about cities, mobility, autonomous vehicles and public transport — a few of my favorite things, in other words. Please click on the link above to listen.

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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, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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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


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Visting the Flood in Venice

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Smart Cities New York 2018 “Auto” Pilot: Driving Change

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MadCity Riga & Cities-as-a-Service

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The National League of Cities’ Autonomous Vehicles: Future Scenarios

» More blog posts