Greg Lindsay's Blog

November 01, 2021  |  permalink

On the Road Again, Or: What I Learned On My Biennale Vacation

It’s been a long, loooooong time since I posted an update from the road, but not even Delta (as in the variant, not the airline) could deter me from traveling to New York, Chicago, San Antonio, and Tirana-Venezia-Torino this fall. Here’s a quick recap of what I’m doing, where I’ve been, and where I’m going:

1. In late September, I flew to New York to host the second installment of NewCities’ Greenfield Cities Alliance Dialogues 2021, a series of live- and virtual events exploring the post-pandemic strengths and weaknesses of master-planned urban megaprojects. While the first edition focused on the viability of such projects in general, the New York City event — held at Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus, a greenfield project within a greenfield project — focused on “sustainable urban mobility systems of the future.” From NewCities’ description:

On September 23, 2021, NewCities convened the second edition of the Greenfield Cities Alliance Dialogues 2021 in New York City at Cornell Tech’s Verizon Center in partnership with the university’s Urban Tech Hub. Titled “Sustainable Urban Mobility Systems of the Future,” this installement explored how greenfield city projects might act as proving grounds for the proper balance of local-, walkable- and regional-, high-speed transportation systems of the (near-) future.

The session began with a keynote address by Canadian-American transportation planner Adam Giambrone, who ran projects in Toronto, New York, and Riyadh before joining the Saudi greenfield city project NEOM as its Director of Regional and Urban Mobility. In his opening remarks, Giambrone paid particular attention to The Line — an audacious plan to create a 140 kilometer-long urban corridor combining high-speed transit strung with local nodes of “five-minute cities” along its trunk.

Following his presentation, he was joined by ITDP CEO Heather Thompson and Starbust Co-Founder and COO Van Espahbodi to explore and debate the particulars of NEOM’s proposal, which recalls both Hong Kong’s extreme urban-rural divide and utopian projects such as Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, which sought to limit urban sprawl across the deserts of Arizona through its desert “arcology” concept.

During their subsequent discussion, the panelists debated the appropriate speeds- and scales of urban movement; how to balance the sheer audacity of building greenfield cities with the need to sustain existing urban systems; and even how to reconcile the energy intensity of our desires to move and to travel with the early pandemic-era lesson that the fastest way to decarbonize society is to simply sit still. How do we resolve these tensions in the face of decades of climate change?

(left to right: Greg Lindsay, Heather Thompson, Van Espahbodi, Adam Giambrone)

2. That trip was bookended by my opening keynote at the National Association of Realtors’ inaugural C5 Summit. But I’ve covered that already.

3. My October (Archtober?) kicked off with my first visit to Albania for Tirana Design Week, which was exciting and inspiring in equal measure. You can watch my opening address here, but it doesn’t capture the thrill of visiting Tirana, which has the unique charm of a European capital that’s still waking up from history. Big thanks to POLIS University’s Dr. Rudina Toto, Dr. Dritan Shutina, and Rector Besnik Aliaj for inviting me!

4. From Tirana, it was off to Venice, where I arrived at sunset — just in time to catch a vaporetto across the lagoon at dusk (below). There, I met up with my old friend Daniel Safarik to tour churches, drink spritzes, launch a podcast, and finally visit my Venice Architecture Bieannale team’s “station” in the Arsenale. (Photographic proof at top.) Other highlights included the Japan Pavilion’s “Co-ownership of Action: Trajectories of Elements,” in which a 1954 wooden home was demolished/disassembled, digitally tagged, and shipped to Venice, with a team of artisans using elements to fashion new furniture. I snagged a stool, knowing Sophie would appreciate giving new life to splinters of a beloved home within our own.

5. From there, we hopped the train to Turin for Utopian Hours, an urban conference co-hosted by Torino Stratospherica’s Luca Ballarini, who had graciously invited me twice before — it figures the third time would be the charm in a pandemic. Luca invited to me present on our Biennale theme of “open collectives,” so I was joined onstage virtually by my MIT teammates Rafi Segal and Marisa Moran Jahn, along with Quipu’s Mercedes Bidart (pictured on screen below). Joining me in person was DisCO Coop’s Irene Lopez de Vallejo, who shared her team’s vision for blockchain-powered digital cooperatives. Dan and I were also joined by reSITE’s Alexandra Siebenthal, host of the Design and the City podcast, for more cities talk over spritzes.

6. In between everything, I mastered the skill of being two places at once, with virtual talks for Belgrade’s Smart Cities Festival and NYU’s Rudin Center on flooding and public transportation, along with a deeply ironic interview about climate change with Esri CEO and co-founder Jack Dangermond, which took place in my Venice palazzo hotel room during aqua alta, i.e. the city’s periodic flooding during king tides.

But my favorite virtual talk of the fall was with the office of the Mayor of Buenos Aires (below), in which I was one of several experts (including Harvard’s David Zipper) discussing how best to carry forward pandemic-era investments in converting streets to public space, active transportation, and more.

It was a little wild to deliver one talk before rushing to the airport and another shortly before an hour-long talk in person, but that’s how things go these days.

7. Once back across the Atlantic, I rounded out the month with trips to Chicago and San Antonio, first to speak to 700+ members of Worldwide ERC comprising an entire industry of mobility and relocation experts who I desperately wish I had known when I emigrated to Montréal. Many thanks to CEO Lynn Shotwell (bottom) for inviting me (and for TikTok dancing with me.)

Finally, I flew to San Antonio to speak with the members of the Municipal Advisory Council of Texas — the municipal debt folks — hopefully inspiring, probably scaring, and definitely provoking the audience with a vision of post-pandemic cities.

Next up: CoMotion LA in Los Angeles Nov. 16-18. Hit me up if you’re around, and if you’re not, register for this free Webinar on Nov. 30 hosted by The Economist on future-proofing sustainable cities.

It’s good to be back.


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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the chief communications officer at Climate Alpha, an urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, , 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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