Greg Lindsay's Blog

June 14, 2010  |  permalink

And….. We’re Back.

Hola, amigos. I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I’ve spent the last few months finishing my book. (Sorry, the Jim Anchower opener was irresistable.) In all seriousness, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next is finally finished (or as finished as any book on current and future events can be) and on track for February publication. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping busy with trips to Beijing, Shenzhen, Chicago (twice), Atlanta (twice) and Las Vegas (for a convention, of course). Along the way, I flew to Wrigley Field and back for Opening Day, spoke at the annual Airport Cities conference, attended the All-China Gaelic Games, moderated matches at the High School National Championship Tournament of Quiz Bowl, was a groomsman in a wedding, partied at the Ace Hotel with Mr. China (pictured with me in the Ace’s photo booth below), and spoke at the Realcomm 2010 conference in Vegas. (CityCenter 2010 = Dubai 2006.)

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I also wrote. Fast Company sent me to the 18th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Atlanta, where David Byrne talked about bicycles, the directors of the Centers for Disease Control told us the suburbs are killing us, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan swore anyone wanting grants from his department would have to follow LEED-ND criteria, Peter Calthorpe unveiled a plan to save the world and Andres Duany unveiled his own to survive the collapse of complex society after it. (Oh, and Jim Kunstler flew down from New York to bury air travel yet again.)

Meanwhile, the near-future I tried my best to describe in Aerotropolis ever-so-slowly came closer to being the present. I don’t have the time or the space (that you’ll tolerate, anyway) to cover everything that’s happened in the past few months, but let’s catch up a bit.

  •  Foxconn went from being the largest company no one had ever heard of to being synonymous with suicide. Ten workers jumped to their deaths in its massive Shenzhen factory, which employs 420,000 workers on site—surely the largest manufacturing complex in the world. If you own an Apple iPod, iPhone or iPad, it was probably made there, along with any Kindles, Sony Playstation3s, and so on—a who’s who of consumer electronics. Why one company, in one factory? The short answer is agglomeration economics—it’s more efficient, although only when coupled with non-stop flights from Hong Kong to every major market in the world.

    Facing mounting criticism, Foxconn ultimately signed off on a 66% pay increase to appease its workers and to stop the bleeding. Of course, wages rarely rise in China—the factories just leave. The Wall Street Journal wondered where they might go next—Vietnam? India? Indonesia? But the answer is deeper into China. Foxconn is already building a massive new factory in Chongqing, the interior city adding the equivalent of a Pittsburgh every year. If the Politburo has its way, nearly half the world’s laptops will be manufactured in Chongqing by 2020. And they will all leave by air.

    You can see the move westward in the numbers. The Li & Fung Group notes that of China’s top 100 industrial clusters, 16 were to be found in interior cities last year. That number is up from 5 or 6 the year before. China is determined to urbanize its impoverished west, which requires factory jobs. That, in turn, requires factories, which requires infrastructure to ship those goods from the hinterlands to America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And that requires building more than a hundred new airports. China isn’t about to stop—exports jumped nearly 50% in May.

  •  One of the architects of Dubai Inc. is Mohammed Alabbar, a technocrat who built the Burj Khalifa (nee Burj Dubai) and briefly built its developer, Emaar, into the most valuable real estate companies in the world. Alabbar’s star has dimmed during Dubai’s debt crisis, but it appears he has a new job as the head of something called “Africa Middle East Resources,” and who popped up in Kampala yesterday to announce his firm would help Uganda’s leaders tap their newfound oil reserves. This is part of a larger trend that economist Ben Simpfendorfer calls the “New Silk Road”—the economic ties between China, the Middle East and Africa that came into being following 9/11 (when America’s borders to Arabs and all other potential terrorists slammed shut). Alabbar is Uganda because Dubai’s only shot of digging out from under its mountain of debt is to become the consummate middleman between China and Africa. And to do that, it will need its airline, Emirates (which turned a billion-dollar profit last year) and both of its airports—Dubai World Central is slated to open to cargo flights in just two weeks.

  • One of the book’s epigraphs is a Le Corbusier quip: “A city made for speed is made for success.” Anyone who knows how Le Corbusier’s urban planning exercises turned out knows to interpret that quote as a yellow flag—caution ahead. One of Le Corbusier’s worst ideas was Chandigarh, his master-planned city in Punjab, India comprised of empty plazas and a total absence of shade in a climate of searing desert heat. And yet here is an Indian blogger for the “Kerala Urban Development Society” wishing the local aerotropolis under consideration “should be a well planned city like Chandigarh. Perhaps this Aerotropolis would hopefully become a benchmark in urban planning, unlike the planning mishap that is called Cochin now.” Be careful what you wish for.

  •  Registration for the Star Mega Do 2 is open! I covered the inaugural event last fall for Condé Nast Traveler, which involved jaunts from O’Hare to Newark to JFK to Frankfurt and onwards via chartered 757 to Oslo and Toulouse. This year’s installment involves flying from JFK to Frankfurt via Lufthansa, Swiss or Austrian Airlines, followed by a flight to Houston the next evening to visit Continental before it goes away forever, and onward to Phoenix and Seattle to visit the assembly line where Boeing’s 748i is being assembled. I had a great time on last year’s expedition when Si Newhouse was paying for it, but a barebones prices of $1,000 (not counting hotels) is a little steep. If anyone would like me to cover it for them, please let me know.

  •  Oh, and the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce publicly credited me with giving them the idea to start calling their city an aerotropolis. With great power comes great responsibility.

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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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