February 06, 2010  |  permalink

Introducing: The Master Plan

(Note: I’ve started writing a weekly column on infrastructure and urbanism for FastCompany.com entitled “The Master Plan.” I’ll be cross-posting it here. Below is the first of hopefully many.)

“I was in California,” the consummate ad man Don Draper rhapsodized last season in Mad Men. “Everything’s new, and it’s clean. The people are full of hope. New York is in decay.” The suburban landscape that awed him circa 1963 was the fruit of a warm climate, middle-class manufacturing jobs, Federal Housing Administration mortgages, brand-new interstate highways, and tax code changes that made shopping malls a slam-dunk for developers. The immediate result was master-planned communities such as Lakewood, California, “the Levittown of the West,” which started from nothing in 1950 and had grown to 17,500 homes by the time Don Draper rolled through town. The rest is post-war geographic history.

What a difference a half-century makes. America’s suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest growing poor population, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution. The country’s largest metro areas saw their poor populations grow by 25% between 2000 and 2008, faster than either primary cities or rural areas. (The suburban fringes of Los Angeles were expected to take the biggest hit last year.) Part of this has do with math—the suburbs grew three times faster during that span. But faced with aging infrastructure, higher maintenance costs, and growing numbers of poor, this increase could become self-perpetuating, a la the inner cities in the 1960s and 1970s. “Clearly,” the Brookings Report concluded, “the balance of metropolitan poverty has passed a tipping point.”


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February 06, 2010  |  permalink

Where Eagles Dare To Drink. And Then Drink Some More.

On February 1st, Condé Nast Traveler and Lufthansa hosted a party at the Meatpacking District’s 675 Bar to celebrate my story “Triumph of the Air Warriors” in Traveler’s February issue. Sixty or so FlyerTalkers—including the complete cast of characters—flew in from Chicago, Toronto, Nashville, Winnipeg, Las Vegas and parts unknown to plot this fall’s Star Alliance Mega DO II—which has the working title “Star Wars.” Traveler’s Barbara Peterson wrote it up for the magazine’s Web site:

I felt like I was in an airport lounge with some 50 Ryan Binghams. Somehow the line “to know me is to fly with me”  kept echoing in my mind.

Randy Petersen, Mr. Mileage himself, can take credit for getting the group together-they met, virtually, on his website, FlyerTalk.com, where they trade tips and horror stories and the like.

I got a kick out of meeting some of the personalities profiled in Greg’s story, such as Art Pushkin, described as a “legend in airline circles” for his formation of a group of rebels against poor airline service.  It was called the Cockroaches—because that’s how USAirways made him feel.


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January 26, 2010  |  permalink

The Real “New Industrial Revolution.”

Chris Anderson is at it again. Just when you thought he couldn’t top Free’s counterintuitiveness (and let’s not forget his plagiarism and outright theft of Wikipedia entries to pad out his word count), he’s back with “atoms are the new bits.” Read it now before he charges you $26.99 for it in 2012. Finished? Good.


Now read Joel Johnson’s first-rate takedown of the idea on Gizmodo. The scenario Anderson sketches ignores agglomeration economies and increasing returns to scale. He also treats China and the Pearl River Delta as a black box or robotic factory rather than a mega-city where the sheer concentration of skilled labor (yes, it’s there!) is accelerating its march up the value chain. Factories originally moved to China because it was cheap, but it’s gotten more expensive since then. They stay because the cost/quality curve (especially in small batches, as Anderson rightly identifies) can’t be beat. And what it made it possible for them to move there in the first place was air power. Or as Johnson puts it:

To marvel that you can convince a Chinese company to make a small batch of electronics for you? In many cases, that’s when conditions are worst. Try to get something that is more than a greenboard made and you’re back to standard manufacturing issues like making dies for stamping parts. Why? Because real 3D printers don’t exist yet.

Using the web to communicate with Chinese factories is an improvement…over the fax machine. But the real revolution is that it only costs a few bucks to ship a part from Shenzen to Sunnyvale. You want to talk revolution? Thank FedEx.

Arguing that “this time, it’s different,” as Anderson does, is to argue the case Nicholas Negroponte and George Gilder made in Wired fifteen years ago—that infinite bandwidth means we can all live on twenty-acre spreads in the Canadian wilderness with no need for face-to-face contact. That’s what “being digital” was supposed to be all about. If atoms are the new bits, then Anderson has fallen victime to the same fallacy.

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January 26, 2010  |  permalink

Been There, Done That.

From The Daily Mail:

Anthropologist Dr Damian O’Doherty, 42, is living for up to 18 hours a day for the next 12 months in terminals and departure lounges, observing passengers’ and workers’ habits. The exercise is expected to cost around £40,000.

Dr O’Doherty has already been nicknamed Terminal Man, in reference to the 2004 film in which Tom Hanks plays a man who is forced to live at an airport when refused entry into America.

The film is believed to be based on the plight of Iranian Mehran Karimi Nas who lived in Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years.

The Government-funded research will take place at Manchester Airport and is intended to investigate how airports affect people, with the aim of making them better places to visit or work….

With its own police station, fire service, huge retail complex and even chapel, Manchester Airport has become like a small city.

Good luck. Spending a month in them felt like a year.

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January 25, 2010  |  permalink

The End Of Another Company Town.

NCR Corporation, formerly National Cash Register (“The Cash”) has pulled its headquarters out of Dayton, Ohio after more than a century of patronage and noblesse oblige by the company’s founders. The New York Times reports this morning that the company’s decision has stunned and gutted the Rust Belt city, which may lose more than a thousand jobs, along with a piece of its identity. The reason?

[CEO Bill] Nuti said last week that Ohio had been given a fair chance — or, perhaps, fair warning. He also noted that the NCR of today has 22,000 employees around the world, and that by the time of the break-up announcement it had more employees in Georgia than the 1,200 it had in Ohio.

As a result, Mr. Nuti said, the practicality of Dayton demanded a hard look. Transportation costs were high, and flights to and from the airport often required “multiple hops” for customers and employees. And attracting top talent was a struggle, he said. “We had a very difficult time recruiting people to live and work in Dayton.”

True, downtown Dayton is profoundly challenged. And true, its main airport simply cannot match Atlanta’s vast offering of nonstop flights.

And, of course, there were incentives.

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January 22, 2010  |  permalink

More Trains = More Planes

The battle over Heathrow’s third runway has taken another twist with the imminent publication of a report sponsored by the Tories (which have vowed to kill the expansion if they are swept into power this fall, as expected) demonstrating that adding a high-speed rail link to the airport will only cause the number of passengers to increase, instead of decrease, thus requiring the third runway.

However, the report from the Bow Group also concludes that a Heathrow hub on a high-speed rail network would bring in tens of thousands of new passengers a day, thus emphasising the need for a new runway at the airport.

The report, to be unveiled by Lord Heseltine, the Tory grandee, is likely to embarrass David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, who has pledged to block the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. He and Theresa Villiers, the Shadow Transport Secretary, have championed a North-South high-speed rail link as an alternative to Heathrow expansion.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties are backing plans for 250mph trains running on a new track dubbed HS2 — Britain’s second high-speed rail link, after the London-Channel Tunnel route — to connect the capital with Birmingham, Manchester and the North.

The Bow Group report criticises Labour’s plans to build a London hub for the new railway in the centre of the capital or within the existing train network. It argues that the building of HS2 would be an extraordinary opportunity to link Heathrow properly into the national rail network.

“Heathrow would greatly benefit from a direct high-speed rail connection,” the report, which has been written by Tony Lodge, chairman of the Bow Group transport committee, says, “but Bow Group research shows that the issue of extra airport capacity will remain and will be exacerbated by the High Speed Rail link.”

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, is set to publish his plans for the high-speed link in the spring. It is understood that BAA’s Labour-backed initiative to start making plans for a controversial third runway at Heathrow have been shelved until after the general election is held, most likely in May.

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January 22, 2010  |  permalink

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby,

The Boeing 747 is forty years old. With the exception of the computer, it’s the most important invention (and building, according to Lord Norman Foster) of the 20th century—the machine that made globalization possible twenty-five years before the commercialization of the Internet. (The automobile was a 19th century invention, perfected by Henry Ford in the 20th). In its honor, The Economist has run a chart comparing passenger aircraft through the years:


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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

This Seems Familiar Somehow

Someone is dreaming of building an aerotropolis in Senegal, next to Dakar’s new airport, currently underconstruction. But rather than come up with their own ideas, they just stole them from New Songdo City instead. Immature urban planners borrow, I guess; mature ones steal. (Compare it with the New Songdo rendering below.)


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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

Bruce Mau’s Massive Change

From Maclean’s:

Q: So what does Bruce Mau’s world without oil look like?

A: It’s not a world without oil, but a world with an ecology of energy sources, where oil is used when it is the absolute right tool.

Q: How do we get there?

A: We’ve had 50 years of telling people to get out of their cars. In every one of those years the number of cars in the world went up. The idea that we’re going to punish or embarrass them into it has simply not worked. It’s like there was a focus group of six billion people around a table, and someone said, “Hey guys, give up your car” and they said, en masse, “No.” This is where design comes in. Ultimately, the way to solve the problem, and so many problems, is to make things cooler and sexier than the older ones. I have a friend who has a Tesla and a Ferrari. He says the Tesla is way cooler. That changes the game. We’re not telling him don’t. We’re telling him, here’s an exciting way you can do it that ultimately can be sustainable. How do we get to do the things we do without stealing from our kids or leaving a toxic legacy? And at the same time, how do we do them in such a way that is smarter and more fun than the old way?

Q: How far off is this future?

A: This is not going to be very popular with my friends, but there’s a long transitional phase. There are times when the energy density of oil makes a lot of sense. But there are lots of things we do where it’s not necessary and it has many negative effects. We can do those things so much more intelligently.

Q: What would be an example?

A: Think about flying. Producing flight takes a high density of energy. But when I’m driving from my house to pick up some milk at the corner store, the energy density doesn’t make any difference. So we’re using a tool that is super good to get an airplane off the ground to go to the corner store. The future won’t be a future without oil. It’ll be a future with 100 other things. (emphasis mine)

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January 21, 2010  |  permalink

Air Warriors and the New New Urbanism.

A pair of my magazine features hit newsstands this week, one for Condé Nast Traveler, and the other for Fast Company.

The former is “Triumph of the Air Warriors,” a travelogue of a week spent with 200+ real-life equivalents of George Clooney’s hyper-flier from Up in the Air. Only they have a lot more fun.

The other is “The New New Urbanism,” a look at New Songdo City in South Korea. The world’s most expensive privately-financed project, New Songdo is the size of downtown Boson, and is slated to be the template for twenty others just like it across China and India. One of the partners is Cisco, which has made New Songdo the centerpiece of its own plans to make $30 billion building cities for the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, South Korea, and so on. Please give them a read.


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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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