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October 17, 2009  |  permalink

The Evolution of Cities, at TEDxAtlanta

This past September, I was invited by Unboundary’s Tod Martin to speak about “the evolution of cities” at the first TEDxAtlanta. For those of you unfamiliar with TED, it’s the preeminent conference for progressive techies, designers, business types, and so on. It may be the only conference where the scheduled programs is the whole point of going (as opposed to schmoozing in the hallways). No one leaves their seats.

But it’s hard to build a brand around an annual event, and so TED has branched out with its TEDx satellites—smaller, locally hosted events in TED’s image. I was fortunate enough to crack the opening lineup of the inaugural Atlanta event, which will run three times a year. Photos are available, but no video, unfortunately. I’ve cut-and-pasted a few of my prepared remarks below.

Greg Lindsay at Tedx Atlanta

“Cities are about two things: proximity and connectivity. They bring us together in the samegather us in one place—in a room like this one—to —right now, in this room – to share ideas and spread innovations, from and spread ideas, from which everything else else follows.

“They literally make us smarter. Researchers at University College London announced revealed this summer that living together in tribes had made our ancestors evolve faster than the size of their brains would suggest.  had more to with our ancestors’ evolution 90,000 years ago than the size of our brains. Even if you’re a caveman, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

“And that’s still true today. Cities get smarter the bigger and denser they become. Silicon Valley is the perfect example of this, and so is Shenzhen—the cities where your iPhones were designed and assembled, as it says on the back. The reason your phones are made in China isn’t necessarily because it’s cheaper—Vietnam could do it for even less—but because China’s factories have a critical mass of size and expertise, and because the government has invested in the infrastructure necessary to have it on your doorstep in two days.

“The world is not flat. Location matters. And cities matter more than ever. Take Shenzhen. Thirty years ago, it was a fishing village; today, it’s larger than any American city, thanks to the 15 million peasants who flocked here to work in its factories. It’s also where the battery that will likely power your first electric car was invented, and where it’s being made right now. The “Overnight City,” as it’s called, is part of an even larger mega-city—a cluster of cities—including Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and a half-dozen others, all of which are larger than Atlanta, and none of which you’ve probably ever heard of. Together, they’re often referred to as “the World’s Factory.”

“The name says it all. One factory makes every iPhone. One city produces a third of the world’s electric car batteries, solar cells, and wind turbines. One place is responsible for China’s transformation from communism to capitalism, and for lifting half a billion people out of poverty – more than all the aid programs put together. All because that one place can reach the entire world.”

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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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