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:


“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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January 04, 2010  |  permalink

The Morning After

What left is there to say about Delta Flight 253, the Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit nearly blown out of the sky by the “pants bomber.” Plenty, actually.

The hysterical overreaction once again underscores Americans’ extreme cognitive dissonance when it comes to flying—we hate it, we’re terrified of it, and yet we can’t stop doing it. The awe of flight seems to tickle something in our reptilian brains, triggering utterly irrational fears. As Suburban Empire points out:

Every thirteen minutes it kills someone in the United Estates, 115 Americans a day die. 42,686 people a year; like a city the size of Grand Junction being wiped off the map. It is not terrorism that draws good people to their untimely deaths each year; it is car accidents…

In order to have the same amount of Americans in danger of succumbing to terrorism as car wrecks; September 11th, 2001 would have to happen three times a month; every month, of every year.

And yet the risk of driving is an acceptable one; no one suggests security checkpoints at the end of every driveway, or mandatory breathalyzer tests before you climb behind the wheel. (I was probably over the legal limit myself driving home from the bars one night in Illinois.) But the pants bomber has rendered full-body imaging scanners a fait accompli. The instant, cynical reaction on the Web was: “This will only make me fly less.” But it won’t.

» Continue reading...

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January 04, 2010  |  permalink

It’s Here.

The Burj Dubai Khalifa opens today, at a cost of either $800 million, $1.4 billion, or $4 billion, depending on which estimate you believe. (And Sheikh Mo wonders why people think he has a transparency problem.)

CNN, The National, and everyone else has coverage of the opening festivities, which are happening right now. But maybe the most impressive thing of all about the building is that it’s already in the black.

After selling 90 per cent of the units in the record-setting edifice, Emaar has pocketed a profit of at least 10 per cent on the US$1.5 billion (Dh5.51bn) cost of construction, said Mohamed Alabbar, Emaar’s chairman.

“Tall buildings don’t make money. They normally don’t,” Mr Alabbar said. “But to still sell it and make a return of more than 10 per cent? That’s really fabulous.”

Emaar is holding the remaining 10 percent in reserve for sales after the building opens. Equally remarkable is that prices isn’t the Burj haven’t been chopped in half along with the rest of the emirate, nor have prices in the surrounding “Old Town” plummeted, either. At least least some parts of Dubai aren’t a ghost town.

UPDATE: Although Sheikh Mo revealed at the last moment that it’s been renamed the “Burj Khalifa” in honor of the UAE president who rules the oil-rich emirate just up the road. That’s what an eleventh-hour, $10 billion loan earns you these days.


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January 04, 2010  |  permalink

And Yet, They’re Still Teaching Children To Work At Newspapers

Or they are at my alma mater, anyway. Here’s why that’s a bad idea:

“Newspapers had a nice run from the 1970s to the 1990s. Unfortunately, as this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes clear—by way of Marketwatch—it’s over. Newspaper employment has utterly collapsed in the last 15 years, with employment numbers now around where they were in the mid-1950s.”


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December 31, 2009  |  permalink

I’m back…

...from a week in the frozen wastes of Illinois. What did I miss?

Oh. Right.

More on that tomorrow. In the spirit of the holidays, watch the employees of TAP Airlines in Lisbon show us how it’s done when it comes to making airports inviting places instead of DMZ checkpoints.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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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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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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Articles by Greg Lindsay

CityLab  |  December 10, 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit

Harvard Business Review  |  September 24, 2018

Why Companies Are Creating Their Own Coworking Spaces

CityLab  |  July 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility + U.S. Cities

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

» See all articles


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