September 28, 2010  |  permalink

Foxconn’s Latest Factory

From Digitimes (emphasis mine):

Foxconn has started construction of a handset-assembly plant in a 138-square kilometer business park surrounding the international airport in Zhengzhou City, northern China, with volume production to begin in first-quarter 2011, according to industry sources in Taiwan.

This will be Foxconn’s second plant in Zhengzhou, next to the existing one in the Zhengzhou Export Processing Zone that began production in August-September 2010, the sources indicated. While the existing plant currently produces handset components mainly for supply to Foxconn’s plant in Shenzhen, southern China, the new factory will also use these components to assemble handsets, with monthly capacity of 100,000 handsets in first-quarter 2011, rising to 300,000 units eventually, the sources said.

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September 27, 2010  |  permalink

The Difference Engine

William Gibson on nostalgia and globalization:

I’m happiest with people who’ve gotten furthest from traditional ideas of nationalism. I’m happiest in wildly multicultural post-national environments, which most large world cities now are. I’m writing about places I like. Last year I thought about the first time I traveled through Europe, which was in 1970. When I traveled through Europe, each country had not only its own currency but its own brands of cigarettes, its own everything. That was such a wonderful experience. Each country in Europe was a pocket universe. That’s gone. It’s just gone. They all just have EU stuff and a lot of American stuff and a lot of Japanese stuff. It’s not as charming. But it’s the way it is. I don’t really see how we could have kept it the way it was. I don’t feel nostalgia for what it was. I’ve become convinced that nostalgia is a fundamentally unhealthy modality. When you see it, it’s usually attached to something else that’s really, seriously bad. I don’t traffic in nostalgia. We’re becoming a global culture.

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September 27, 2010  |  permalink

“What Masdar really represents…” fact, is the crystallization of another global phenomenon: the growing division of the world into refined, high-end enclaves and vast formless ghettos where issues like sustainability have little immediate relevance.”

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September 26, 2010  |  permalink

China’s “Moon Shots”

In Sunday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman tolls the warning bell yet again about China: “China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports…” The others includes high-speed rail, bio-sciences, and electric cars (which he spends the bulk of his column discussing).

Just how big is that network of airports? I quantify the scale and cost in the book:

Even before the crisis and China’s subsequent stimulus, the central government announced as part of its Eleventh Five-Year Plan that it would build a hundred new airports by 2020, at a cost of $62 billion. The first forty were ready last year. China is placing the single biggest bet on aviation of any country, ever. The vast majority lie inland, hugging provincial capitals and secondary cities bigger than any we have in the States. Full-scale aerotropoli are planned for China’s western hubs, Chongqing and Chengdu, and its ancient capital in the northwest, Xi’an. The others are slated for a mix of historic cities and outsourcing hubs like Changsha, Kunming, Hangzhou, Shenyang and Dalian. Shanghai built two for the crowds headed to last year’s Expo 2010, expected to be the best-attended World’s Fair in history.

Besides airports, China has laid as many miles of high-speed railroad tracks in the last five years as Europe has in the last two decades. The trains, in turn, are meant to keep people off the highways, to which it’s adding thirty thousand miles–enough to eclipse the American interstate highway system. China’s planners have internalized the lessons of America’s Eisenhower-era infrastructure boom, designing a world-class system for moving people and goods quickly, cheaply and reliably across any distance, whether locally by highway, regionally by rail, or globally by air. The plan is to pick and up move large swaths of the Delta hundreds or even thousands of miles inland. There is nothing to stop them.

If China’s leaders want to do something, they just do it. This is both their greatest strength and in the long run their greatest weakness. Remember what they said about democracy? It just gets in the way. This is how Foster’s dragon was built in five years flat, at a cost of ten thousand flattened homes. Multiply that times a hundred, and you have the initial human costs of China’s aerotropoli.


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September 25, 2010  |  permalink

Companies Without Propinquity

The New York Times examines the rising number of multinational executives relocating to Asia, taking special care to mention Cisco’s “Globalization Center East,” its four-year-old de facto second headquarters in Bangalore. The story makes two points especially worth noting: senior executives feel it’s necessary to spend time in the Pacific Rim (lots of time—the CEO of the German chemical company Henkel recently spent six weeks jetting across nine countries and logging more than 100 meetings); and an increasing number of executive functions are beginning to follow manufacturing and services overseas. They’re not necessarily being outsourced, but the term “outsourcing” itself—which implies there is a core to the company in just one country—is becoming obsolete.

The best testimony for both trends is given by Cisco’s chief globalization officer, Wim Elfrink. I met Wim in New Songdo last year for my Fast Company story about instant cities, and he was just as quotable then as he is in the NYT piece. Here are a pair of his quote from the story, contrasted with a quote and a relevant passage from Aerotropolis. From the NYT

“It’s not about costs and cheap labor. It’s about how can we get access to talent, how can we get access to growth and innovations, and how can we get access to new partners,” Wim Elfrink, chief globalization officer at Cisco, said in a telephone interview from Bangalore. “The demographic shifts and the massive process of urbanization here mean the region is going through a tremendous transition – and to be part of that, and to really understand it, you have to be here.”

In other words, there is no substitute for being there, either on a full-time or even part-time business. Even Cisco, which is trying to reinvent its management culture around its TelePresence, still relies of moving batteries of executives around the world by air. In Songdo, I asked Elfrink if he thought TelePresence would really kill the business trip, as some have suggested:

“The volume of travel won’t decrease,” he conceded cheerfully, “but it will become more efficient. My weekly meetings to go over numbers and projects are conducted via telepresence—why should I fly my folks in for that? But if we’re having a strategy meeting, we have to have dinner, go for walks, take breaks and be creative. People say that telepresence is killing travel, but it’s not killing it. It adds and it replaces.”

» Continue reading...

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September 20, 2010  |  permalink

Coming To The Seatback Near You:


I’ve only had them for two days, and already Aerotropolis galleys have escaped into their natural habitat—the Monday morning consultant express to Atlanta. If you spot it, ask to borrow it—otherwise, you’re stuck waiting until March.

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September 08, 2010  |  permalink

October 1st: Cities and Eco-Crises


I’ll be speaking about smart, green cities at Columbia on October 1st. (I promise this is not a Dungeons & Dragons tournament.)

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September 07, 2010  |  permalink

Back To School Linkage

• On Labor Day, President Obama unveiled a $50 billion stealth stimulus to be spent on infrastructure. It includes plans to pave 150 miles’ worth of runways and finally get around to upgrading the nation’s air traffic control to the GPS-based NextGen system. We’ll see.

• Kansas City’s aerotropolis: the new American wilderness.

• USA Today is slowly dying because road warriors don’t read it anymore.

• Bloomberg BusinessWeek profiles Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, “The Duke of Discomfort.”

• Terry Gou: China’s cheap labor pool won’t be exhausted anytime soon.

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September 07, 2010  |  permalink

Sex, Sun and Scalpels: Medical Tourists Meet Brazil


(Originally published on on August 31, 2010.)

Brazilians endlessly repeat the old saw that the world thinks of only three things when it thinks of Brazil: samba, carnivale and football. But its healthcare industry would like to add a fourth—surgery. As part of Brazil’s efforts to leverage both the tourists and the infrastructure investments expected in the wake of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the country hosted its first medical tourism conference last week in São Paulo.

One of the speakers was Ruben Toral, the former marketing director of Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital who I profiled in Fast Company two years ago. Since then, the number of medical tourists leaving the United States for heart- or hip- or brain surgery abroad has risen from 540,000 in 2008 to an estimated 878,000 this year. And that will practically double to 1.6 million in 2012, according to Deloitte’s projections. But earlier this year Congress threw a monkey wrench into Toral’s grand vision for the “Toyota-ization of healthcare,” in which U.S. hospital groups would buy foreign ones and insurers like Aetna and United Health Group would offer patients discounts in exchange for outsourcing themselves and their bad knees overseas. It hasn’t happened, thanks to health care reform. Not because 47 million uninsured or underinsured Americans are suddenly covered, but because the legislation created so much complexity the insurance giants have curled into the fetal position.

Healthcare reform “sucked all of the oxygen out the industry’s hopes that insurers would engage,” Toral said Thursday during a break in the conference. “The un- and underinsured won’t be coming anymore. Instead, you’re going to see people with money leaving,” the same kinds of people who have been fleeing the long waits in socialized medicine for decades. “You’re getting the Canadian system,” in other words. “They’re better-informed medical travelers looking to meet their needs rather than head someplace that’s cheap. They’re going to be leaving for service. The industry is in the midst of transforming itself.”

» Continue reading...

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August 24, 2010  |  permalink

The Master Plan: A City in the Cloud


(Originally published on, August 23, 2010.)

When did Silicon Valley become so obsessed with building cities? Last month it was Cisco’s SVP of strategy Inder Sidhu describing the company’s smart city play as the $36 billion company’s “biggest opportunity.” Then, at the inaugural Techonomy conference a few weeks ago, an all-star roster of techies, VCs, and scientists pondered “cities as solutions.”

Physicist and former Sante Fe Institute president Geoffrey West practically stole the show with his talk on urban metabolisms. Cities are like organisms, he explained, except they grow much faster and much bigger than anything living – in fact, there appears to be no upper limit to their size or propensity for innovation… or disaster. “Urbanization is the problem,” he said, “and it can also be the solution.”

These being Silicon Valley types, it was clear what that solution should be. “Copying 20th century cities in Dubai and Shanghai is crazy,” said former Sony chairman Nobuyuki Idei in yet another session. “We need… a city OS” – a single platform managing power, water, traffic, security and any other urban system you can think of.

Rest assured, Mr. Chairman, someone is working on it. But it isn’t Cisco, IBM, HP, Microsoft, or any other tech heavyweight. In fact, in the course of reporting my story on New Songdo City last fall, representatives of each company pooh-poohed the idea of a purpose-built urban operating system. They believed one would emerge eventually, albeit as the result of a messy convergence of competing standards – you know, the way things work in the real world. Leave it to a five-year-old start-up few people heard of to challenge that notion and to build its own smart city from scratch in the hills of Portugal near Porto – “PlanIT Valley.”

Living PlanIT (pronounced “planet”) is the brainchild of Steve Lewis and Malcolm Hutchinson, a pair of IT veterans who met when Lewis was still a top executive on the .NET team at Microsoft. Their ambition is twofold: to build a prototype smart, green city in Portugal that can be rolled out worldwide, and to drag the construction industry into the 21st century.

» Continue reading...

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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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