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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December 15, 2009  |  permalink

British Airways’ Twelve Days of Christmas

If you’re planning to fly to London on BA this Christmas, you should rebook right away. The airline’s cabin crews have decided to strike from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2, just long enough to throw the airline and Heathrow into holiday chaos. As if things weren’t bad enough for BA—falling premium traffic, slashed routes, the inability to add a third runway at Heathrow in our lifetimes—analysts are pegging potential losses at 40-50 million pounds, or close to triple what it was losing this time last year.


By the perverse logic of the airline industry, this is a good thing, because by breaking the union, BA will save an estimated 100 million pounds a year. (You have a break a few eggs to serve complimentary omelettes in Club World, after all). But the real winners will be easyJet, Ryanair, and Flybe, hastening the gradual consolidation (or collapse) of Europe’s legacy carriers and the ascendency of ala carte carriers overall.

In related news, the global airline industry only expects to lose $5.6 billion next year, barely half what it expects to lose this year. The money quote: “Tough times continue,” Mr. Bisignani said. “The number of travelers will be back to the peak levels of 2007, but with $30 billion less in revenues.” (emphasis mine)

Who will take the biggest hit? Airlines in Europe are expected to be the slowest to recover, generating the largest expected losses of $2.5 billion next year, the I.A.T.A. said. In North America, losses will likely shrink to around $2 billion from $2.9 billion this year.

And who will be the big winners? “Asian airlines are likely to show the most dramatic improvement next year, with losses expected at around $700 million compared with $3.4 billion in 2009. The recovery will be led by China , where the economy is forecast to grow by 9 percent next year... Middle East carriers are likely to see their losses shrink to $300 million from $1.2 billion in 2009, despite the recent financial difficulties affecting Dubai. The Gulf region has become a major hub for intercontinental traffic.”

Emirates Airlines expects to post a billion-dollar profit next year, by the way. There’s a good reason why it might end up the property of Abu Dhabi.

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December 14, 2009  |  permalink

From The Everything-Bad-Is-Good-For-You Department

Writing in the new McSweeneys newspaper, The San Francisco Panorama (PDF), Proust Was A Neuroscientist author Jonah Lerer extols the cognitive origins and benefits of travel:

Travel, in other words, is a basic human desire. We’re a migratory species, even if our migrations are powered by jet fuel and Chicken McNuggets. But here’s my question: is this collective urge to travel - to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know—still a worthwhile compulsion? Or is it like the taste for saturated fat, one of those instincts we should have left behind in the Pleistocene epoch? Because if travel is just about fun then I think the TSA killed it.

And if the TSA hasn’t finished it off, there are plenty of climate change protestors in Copenhagen at the moment who would be happy to deliver the killshot. But not so fast:

» Continue reading...

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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a 2022-2023 urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, where he leads The Metaverse Metropolis — a new initiative exploring the implications of augmented reality at urban scale. He is also the chief communications officer at Climate Alpha, an AI-driven location-analysis platform steering investment toward climate adaptation and more resilient regions; a senior fellow of MIT’s Future Urban Collectives Lab, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative.

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