January 24, 2015  |  permalink

Next City: How Dating Apps Are Changing the Way We Behave in Public


(Originally published at Next City on January 21, 2015.)

Last month, on a blustery night the week before Christmas, my friend Jeff Ferzoco and I sat alone in a gay club in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood discussing Grindr, the mobile dating app used daily by five million gay men around the world. We’d arrived at the bar too early, he assured me. By the end of the night, he said, “it will be so crowded people will be using it just to see who’s in the room.”

I believed him, because earlier that year I had seen Jeff navigate the social terrain of Manhattan’s East Village this way. Ferzoco is a designer, the former creative director of New York’s Regional Plan Association, and the author of The You-City, which envisions a smart city five minutes into the future. As such, he’s someone who thinks a lot about how our phones are changing our relationship with public space. Instead of using Grindr (or his preferred alternative, Scruff) to meet men from the comfort of his couch, he keeps tabs on his friends who are already out to decide when and where to join them.

Walking up 2nd Ave. that night in August, Ferzoco had held his phone before him like a compass, checking to see whether we were getting closer to his friends or moving farther away. Scruff, like Grindr, reveals other users’ proximity as the crow flies, but doesn’t disclose their exact location — at least not intentionally. He had mentally mapped the app’s generic distances onto the Manhattan grid (“Two-hundred-and-fifty feet is about a block-and-half,” he said) and could reference his location against a list of their usual haunts. On that night, he found them at a bar called Nowhere.

For all the handwringing about “hookup” apps undermining monogamy, fewer have wondered how their use of proximity to serve up potential matches is changing users’ perceptions of the city. Based on sheer numbers and intensity, they must be. Grindr’s rise was a watershed in a cruising culture that had always relied on coded signals and assignations in public space. Today, 38 million messages are exchanged daily through the app, many in countries where homosexuality is a capital crime.

Many observers doubted whether Grindr’s meat market would translate to straight dating until Tinder’s arrival. The notoriously addictive app has been downloaded more than 40 million times in less than three years and at last count was making 14 million matches daily. Depending on who you ask, it’s worth somewhere between $500 million and $5 billion to its parent, IAC.

» Continue reading...

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January 18, 2015  |  permalink

Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density at the Van Alen Institute

On December 9, 2014, I hosted “Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density,” an event hosted by the Van Alen Institute and co-sponsored by the World Policy Institute. In a pair of back-to-back panels, we explored how Rust Belt cities are struggling to repurpose vacant land and adapt the delivery of fundamental services, while cities like Mumbai and Lagos sprawl ever outward with dense informal communities. In both cases, adapting to sudden population change presents a massive challenge. How can city infrastructure and policy keep pace with the dramatic shifts brought on by rapid growth and decline?

The video above is from the second panel dealing with the challenges of immigration and mega-urbanization. I was joined by Janice Perlman, Founder & President of the Mega-Cities Project; and Rachel Peric, deputy director of Welcoming America. Please enjoy.


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January 01, 2015  |  permalink

The Endless Tour

Below is the current list of past and future appearances, always bound to change. If you’re interested in helping to arrange a speaking appearance, please send me an email.

June 18-19, 2015. Prague, Czech Republic.

June 9-11, 2015. Jakarta, Indonesia.
New Cities Summit.

May 20, 2015. Seattle, WA.

May 6, 2015. Orlando, FL.
University of Central Florida.

May 4-5, 2015. Miami, FL.
eMerge Americas.

March 12, 2015. Cambridge, MA.
MIT & Iceland Naturally.

February 20, 2015. Washington, DC.
U. S. Department of State.

February 20, 2015. Washington, DC.
Global Solution Networks.

February 19, 2015. Fort Worth, TX.
Fort Worth Lecture Society.

February 12, 2015. Orlando, FL.
Association of Energy Services Professionals.

January 30, 2015. San Francisco, CA.
Gehl Studio.

January 27, 2015. Berkeley, CA.
University of California.

December 11, 2014. Minneapolis, MN.
Made in Minnesota: Celebrating university innovators.

December 9, 2014. New York, NY.
Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density.

December 3, 2014. New York, NY.
Re-Programming Mobility: What Do Smart Phones and Self-Driving Cars Mean for Future Cities?

December 2, 2014. Cambridge, MA.
Harvard Graduate School of Design.

November 24, 2014. New York, NY.
Frog Design.

November 19-21, 2014. Santa Fe, NM.
“Acting Locally, Understanding Globally.” Santa Fe Institute.

November 12, 2014. New York, NY.
Urban Salon: NYC Transportation in 2030.

November 11, 2014. London, United Kingdom.
Grimshaw Architects.

November 11, 2014. London, United Kingdom.

November 10, 2014. London, United Kingdom.
Airport Operators Association.

October 23, 2014. New York, NY.
Jane Jacobs Forum.

October 22, 2014. Brooklyn, NY.
Makeshift Society.

October 10, 2014. Ottawa, ON.
Canada Council for the Arts.

October 9, 2014. Baltimore, MD.
Element Vehicle Management Services.

September 28-30, 2014. Los Angeles, CA.

September 22-23, 2014. Toronto, ON.

September 16, 2014. Detroit, MI.
Techonomy Detroit.

July 28, 2014. Los Angeles, CA.
Global Business Travel Association.

July 14, 2014. New York, NY.
Center for Architecture.

June 27-30, 2014. Aspen, CO.
Aspen Ideas Festival.

June 23-25, 2014. Denver, CO.
Clinton Global Initiative America.

June 20, 2014. Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions.

June 19, 2014. Dallas, TX.
The Purpose City.

June 18, 2014. Mississauga, ON.
Element Fleet Management.

June 17, 2014. Dallas, TX.
New Cities Summit.

June 16, 2014. Dallas, TX.
Ericsson & UN Habitat.

June 10, 2014. Chicago, IL.

June 4, 2014. Venice, Italy.
STREAM Lectures at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

June 2, 2014. Montreal, QC.
Canadian Automobile Association.

May 21, 2014. New York, NY.
Internet Week New York.

May 20, 2014. Seattle, WA.

May 20, 2014. Seattle, WA.

May 16, 2014. Angeles City, Philippines.
Clark Aviation Conference 2014.

May 13, 2014. Manila, Philippines.
The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

May 8, 2014. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

April 25, 2014. Chicago, IL.
American Society of Landscape Architects.

April 22, 2014. New York, NY.
The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow

April 11, 2014. New York, NY.
Mobilities in Cities: From Visible to Invisible.

April 9, 2014. Toronto, ON.
Smart Cities Canada.

April 1, 2014. New York, NY.
Extrastatecraft: A Salon with Keller Easterling.

March 22, 2014. New Orleans, LA.
Sun Life Financial.

March 10, 2014. New York, NY.
Youth Think Tank: The Next Big Ideas from the Next Generation,” 92nd St. Y.

March 6, 2014. Mountain View, CA.
Cities on the Move.

February 27, 2014. New York, NY.
Smart Law for Smart Cities.

February 14, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.

January 30, 2014. New York, NY.
When Computers Take Over The City,” World Policy Institute.

January 16, 2014. Garden City, NY.
Build a Better Burb: ParkingPLUS Design Challenge.

January 14, 2014. Calgary, AB.
City of Calgary.

December 10, 2013. Washington, DC.
Atlantic Council 2013 Strategic Foresight Forum.

November 25-26, 2013. King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

November 20, 2013. London, United Kingdom.
WorkTech13 London.

November 18-19, 2013. Miami, FL.
NEST Forum.

November 3, 2013. Baltimore, MD.
Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit.

November 1, 2013. New York, NY.
Building the Digital City.

October 22, 2013. Las Vegas, NV.
CoreNet Global Summit.

October 12, 2013. New York, NY.
NYU Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference.

October 3, 2013. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
WorkTech13 Buenos Aires.

September 27, 2013. Reno, NV.
Design Matters 2013.

September 26, 2013. Sydney, Australia.
CoreNet Sydney Symposium.

September 23, 2013. Niagara Falls, ON.

September 19, 2013. Atlanta, GA.
Global Workspace Association.

September 17, 2013. Bolingbrook, IL.
Will County Center for Economic Development.

August 20, 2013. New York, NY.
Tech Tuesdays at the Seaport: Five Ideas To Change The City.

July 18, 2013. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute Political Salon.

July 11, 2013. New York, NY.
IIDA Facilities Forum.

June 28, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
Extreme IDEAS: Runway.

June 21, 2013. Prague, Czech Republic.
reSITE 2013.

June 20, 2013. Istanbul, Turkey.
Urban Land Institute.

June 19, 2013. London, United Kingdom.
Urban Land Institute Europe Trends Conference.

June 18, 2013. Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Urban Land Institute.

June 11, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
UCLA cityLab

June 4-5, 2013. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
New Cities Summit

May 22, 2013. Los Angeles, CA.
Extreme IDEAS: Architecture at the Intersection.

May 16, 2013. New York, NY.
WorkTech13 New York.

May 15, 2013. Atlanta, GA.
Brownfields 2013.

May 13, 2013. New York, NY.
“Which Cities Will Survive the 21st Century?” New America Foundation.

May 7, 2013. Rapid City, SD.
Rapid City Chamber of Commerce.

May 2, 2013. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute: Around the Table.

April 22-23, 2013. New York, NY.
Assocation of Corporate Travel Executives.

April 17-19, 2013. Tempe, AZ.
“Urbanization, Sustainability, Resilience, and Prosperity” Workshop, Arizona State University.

April 1, 2013. New York, NY.
New York University.

March 20, 2013. Ontario, CA.
State of the City 2013.

March 11, 2013. Boston, MA.
Major OEM urban mobility event.

February 21, 2013. Angeles City, Philippines.
Clark Aviation Conference.

February 20, 2013. Manila, Philippines.
The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

December 6, 2012. London, United Kingdom.
London School of Economics: Urban Age.

November 20, 2012. Princeton, NJ.
Princeton University School of Architecture.

November 15, 2012. Barcelona, Spain.
Smart City Expo World Congress 2012.

November 7, 2012. Menlo Park, CA.
The Institute for the Future 2012 Technology Horizons Conference.

November 1, 2012. Boston, MA.
The Boston Society of Architects.

October 13, 2012. Brooklyn, NY.

October 12, 2012. New York, NY.
Columbia University: The Global Street.

September 25, 2012. New York, NY.
Columbia University GSAPP.

September 19, 2012. Moncton, NB.
The 2012 Air Cargo Logistics Symposium.

September 2, 2012. Salzburg, Austria.

July 26, 2012. Los Angeles, CA.
CoreNet Los Angeles.

June 4, 2012. New York, NY.
Cornell University.

May 21, 2012. Haifa, Israel.
Intel Labs Future of Work 2012 Summit

May 16, 2012. Louisville, KY
Kentucky CCIM

May 15, 2012. Kansas City, MO.

May 11, 2012. New York, NY.
Fordham University Smart City Symposium. Open to all. RSVP required.

May 3, 2012. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute 50th Anniversary and Celebration.

May 1, 2012. Seattle, WA.
Commercial Brokers Association.

April 27, 2012. New York, NY.
New York University.

April 23, 2012. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute & Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. “The Future of the City.” 6:30 PM.

April 19, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 4, featuring Living PlanIT and Songdo IBD. Free and open to all.

April 18, 2012. St. Petersburg, FL.
American Real Estate Society.

April 10, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 3, featuring IBM’s Guru Banavar. Free and open to all.

April 5, 2012. Hillsboro, OR.
Intel Labs 2012 Trendspotting Summit.

March 29, 2012. Albuquerque, NM.
Albuquerque Downtown Action Team.

March 28, 2012. Albuquerque, NM.
Bookworks. Discussion and signing. Free and open to the public.

March 20, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities 2. Free and open to all.

March 14, 2012. New York, NY.
School of the Visual Arts.

March 12, 2012. Muscat, Oman.
The Sindbad Lecture.

March 11, 2012. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Middle East Facilities Management Association.

March 9, 2012. Providence, RI.
Brown University Urban Affairs conference.

February 21, 2012. New York, NY.
Studio-X X-Cities series. Free and open to all.

February 15, 2012. Washington, DC.
Research In Motion.

February 14, 2012. New York, NY.
Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

January 24, 2012. Seattle, WA.

November 14, 2011. New York, NY.
World Policy Institute Political Salon.

November 10, 2011. New York, NY.
L2 Innovation Forum.

November 7, 2011. Montreal, QC.
The Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

October 31-November 1, 2011. London, United Kingdom.
The Airport Operators Association.

October 20, 2011. New York, NY.
Asia Society New York. Registration required. Open to all.

October 14, 2011. Phoenix, AZ.
CCIM Live.

October 13, 2011. Ottawa, ON.
Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

October 5, 2011. New York, NY
Columbia University, Committee for Global Thought.

October 4, 2011. Destin, FL.
Gulf Power Economic Symposium.

September 27, Washington D.C.
The National Building Museum. 6:30 PM. Reading and discussion. Admission required; open to all.

September 20, 2011. New York, NY
Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

September 18, 2011. Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Book Festival. 4 PM at Brooklyn Historical Society Library. Free and open to all.

September 17, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” Open Studios. 12-6 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.

September 15, 2011. Champaign, IL.
TEDxUIllinois. Free; visit the site to request an invitation.

September 3-4, 2011. Decatur, GA.
The AJC Decatur Book Festival. Open to the public.

August 29-30, 2011. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Medical Travel Meeting Brazil.

June 29-30, 2011. Chicago, IL
The Clinton Global Initiative: CGI America.

June 18, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” workshop presentations. 2 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.

June 7, 2011. New York, NY.
The New York Public Library. 6:30 PM. Discussion and signing. Free and open to all.

June 6, 2011. Washington D.C.
Intelligent Cities Forum.

May 23, 2011. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
DIFC Economics Workshop.

May 11, 2011. Denver, CO.
Metro Denver Aviation Coalition.

May 10, 2011. Denver, CO.
Tattered Cover Book Store. 7 PM. Reading and discussion. Free and open to all.

May 7, 2011. New York, NY.
Pecha Kucha #11, “The Dimensions of a New City.” 11:29 PM at the Old School Gym, 268 Mulberry Street.

May 7, 2011. Queens, NY.
“Foreclosed” preliminary presentations. 2 PM at MoMA PS1. Open to the public.

May 2, 2011. Chicago, IL.
CoreNet Global Summit.

April 28, 2011. New York, NY.
The Frequent Traveler Awards.

April 20, 2011. New York, NY.
Talking Books with the Architectural League of New York. McNally Jackson Bookstore, 7 PM. Free and open to all.

April 14, 2011. Brooklyn, NY.
The Futurist and Kite Flying Society of Galapagos Art Space. 7 PM. Registration required. Open to all.

April 13, 2011. Memphis, TN.
FedEx Corporation.

April 12-13, 2011. Memphis, TN.
Airport Cities 2011.

April 11, 2011. Memphis, TN.
Davis-Kidd Booksellers. 6 PM. Free and open to all.

April 8, 2011. New York, NY.
PSFK New York.

April 5, 2011. Los Angeles, CA.
Architecture and Design Museum.

April 4, 2011. San Francisco, CA.
World Affairs Council of Northern California.

April 1, 2011. Berkeley, CA.
University of California Architecture Research Colloquium.

March 31, 2011. Portland, OR.
Powell’s City of Books.

March 30, 2011. Seattle, WA.
Town Hall Seattle.

March 29, 2011. Irving, TX.
The World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth and The Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

March 24, 2011. Kankakee, IL.
The Kankakee Public Library.

March 23, 2011. Chicago, IL.
The Book Cellar.

March 22, 2011. Chicago, IL.
The Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

March 21, 2011. Cambridge, MA.
Harvard Bookstore.

March 20, 2011. New York NY.
The Left Forum.

March 16, 2011. Atlanta, GA.
Atlantic Station.

March 11, 2011. Louisville, KY.
Greater Louisville Inc.

February 23-24, 2011. San Francisco, CA.
Global Green Cities of the 21st Century.

October 18, 2010. Shanghai, China.
2010 China Innovation Forum.

October 1, 2010. New York, NY.
“Cities and Eco-Crises,” Columbia University.

August 25-28, 2010. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Medical Travel Meeting Brazil.

August 2, 2010. San Carlos, CA.
Singularity University.

June 9-10, 2010. Las Vegas, NV.
Realcomm 2010.

April 21-23, 2010. Beijing, China.
Airport Cities 2010.

April 1, 2010. Champaign, IL.

September 15, 2009. Atlanta, GA.

April 28-29, 2009. Taipei, Taiwan.
International Aerotropolis Conference.

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December 28, 2014  |  permalink

Cities on the Move


(Global Solution Networks, a research initiative of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with The Tapscott Group — an international think tank headed by Don Tapscott — asked me to prepare a report on new approaches to urban mobility in an era of mega-urbanization, economic austerity, and climate change. The introduction to the report is below; the complete report is available for download at the GSN Website.)


Catalyzing urban mobility in an era of mega-urbanization, economic austerity, and climate change demands new approaches to transportation planning and policy, especially in the megacities of the Global South. Tackling traffic congestion in such cities as Nairobi, Manila, Delhi, and Mexico City is essential to reducing carbon emissions while increasing the scope of inhabitants’ opportunities and quality-of-life.

Tackling traffic problems will require marshaling untapped resources and recruiting unlikely allies. Conventional transportation planning by public- and private-sector actors alike ignore the informal transportation networks ferrying millions of commuters daily, whether they’re dollar vans in New York or matatus in Nairobi. New technologies and services will play a pivotal role in discovering, integrating, and delivering more inclusive, more fluid, and less polluting transportation networks comprising existing modes, from metros and bus rapid transit (BRT) to rickshaws and unlicensed jitneys.

In this context, Global Solution Networks are emerging around what has been called the “new mobility” — a shift away from private motor vehicles toward multi-modal networks mediated by information. Some of these networks are generating and safeguarding the new data standards and protocols enabling these networks; others are introducing and lobbying for more sustainable and more equitable transportation policies around such networks; and still others are delivering services that are neither traditional public transit nor private operators, but a more resilient hybrid.

Hot, Broke, and Gridlocked

Mobility and congestion have become paramount issues for cities facing an unprecedented wave of rural-to-urban migration. More than half the world’s population — 3.5 billion people — now live in cities, and their numbers are expected to nearly double by 2050 at a rate of more than a million migrants weekly.

An enormous quantity of infrastructure is required to house, employ, and transport these new arrivals — an estimated $350 trillion worth, of which $84 trillion should be earmarked for moving people and goods.  Arguably, transportation is the most important investment cities can make, given its impact on land use, labor mobility, energy consumption, and air pollution, all of which in turn have profound implications for both accessibility and sustainability.

The speed and scale of mega-urbanization — and with it, epic traffic congestion and its accompanying climate impact — has overwhelmed policymakers.  They struggle to understand new patterns of informal transit, are unable to finance large investments due to austerity, and have largely been unable to reach consensus on how to integrate existing investments into a more coherent mobility system.

» Continue reading...

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December 18, 2014  |  permalink

Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density


(On December 9, 2014, I moderated a pair of back-to-back panels at the Van Alen Institute on “Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density.” The following description by Jas Singh was published by the World Policy Institute, which co-sponsored the event.)

From Sao Paulo to Lagos, the increasing globalization of the market economy in the 21st century has catalyzed existing rural-to-urban population migration trends. With an estimated forecast of three-quarters of the world’s population living in cities by 2050, this demographic pattern will become more and more prevalent. By contrast, legacy cities of the American Rust Belt are suffering the effects of urban decay as a result of a shrinking industrial sector and declining populations.

In both cases, there are potentially crucial lessons to be gleaned about the social, economic, and political consequences of such dramatic population shifts. To this end, in partnership with the Van Alen Institute, the World Policy Institute hosted “Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density.” In back-to-back panel discussions, the central concern was how city infrastructure and policy can be designed to keep pace with the demographic shifts that accompany rapid economic growth and decline. 

Greg Lindsay, a senior fellow at World Policy Institute and a director of its Emergent Cities Project, moderated both discussions. The first part “Exodus,” featured Alan Mallach, senior fellow at Center for Community Progress; Nadine Maleh, a director at Inspiring Places; and Nick Hamilton, a project manager at the American Assembly and head of the Legacy Cities Partnership. The panelists discussed the best methods for repurposing aging infrastructure and adapting the delivery of fundamental services to the residents living in legacy cities.

Mallach began by focusing on urban planning strategies to tackle the inherent problem of the physical environment that all ailing cities face: a surplus of buildings and ground relative to demand. The simplest and most cost-effective of these was instituted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society through the Land Care Program, which resolved the problem of empty lots becoming dumping grounds by planting grass and trees and installing a simple split rail fence. On the other end of the spectrum, in a far more sophisticated approach, Baltimore used a triage strategy to identify the areas of the city that would generate the greatest social and economic benefits from demolition, housing rehabilitation, and real estate development.

Maleh then discussed the importance of a decentralized approach to real estate design in case studies of Brownsville, NY and Northeast Hartford, Connecticut. Both of these communities can be described as “urban-rural,” as they are urban in fabric but rural in their disconnection from city centers and city resources. Maleh stressed that it is critical to activate resident engagement in the cities’ revitalization efforts as the residents’ needs have evolved considerably over the lifetime of the cities.

Despite their fiscal downturns, Hamilton stressed legacy cities should be viewed as assets given that the aggregate of fifty legacy cities in the United States have a metropolitan economy of $2.6 trillion—larger than that of France. However, given the cities’ limited resources in unlocking their own economic potential, it is important that investments be carefully targeted and clustered to generate the greatest return. Further, multiple actors need to be involved in this effort, from metropolitan areas to the federal government.

In the second part of the discussion, “Influx,” a new panel featured Janice Perlman, founder and president of the Megacities Project and Rachel Peric, deputy director of Welcoming America. The panelists addressed the policies that cities should adopt to adapt to the needs of burgeoning populations.

Perlman emphasized that the consumption and production power of the people living in the world’s informal settlements, whether in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, should not be written off. While currently one billion people live in such settlements without access to urban and social services, this number is projected to increase three-fold by 2050, when one in three people on the planet will be living in settlements unregulated by governments. The magnitude of the social impact of this fact cannot be understated, since 1.4 million people across the world, but especially in the global south, immigrate from rural to urban settings every week.

She further argues that existing programs to address the needs of the informal sector are fraught with problems, because they are not sufficiently localized. Place-based solutions, including 18 national programs, sponsored by the World Bank and UN Habitat, aim to upgrade urban infrastructure without any input from residents and with no mention of social or human services. Frequently, these programs fall behind schedule, exceed budget capacity, and are eventually replaced entirely by bulldozing people’s homes and moving them to public housing, where conditions are usually far worse. Poverty-based solutions, such as conditional cash transfers sponsored by the governments of Mexico and Brazil, are not balanced with purchasing power parity and therefore provide only marginal benefit to urban populations.

In 1988, Perlman founded the Mega-cities Project to advocate an alternative approach to urban reform, one that is youth-led and makes cities youth-participatory. This approach favors scalable, replicable grassroots programming that is supportive of community-based knowledge and expertise. Communities are allowed to decide for themselves what urban reform should mean.

Peric capped the discussion on the domestic front with a focus on how U.S. cities can make themselves more open, inclusive, and welcoming to immigrants in order to revitalize their economies. Citing the example of Nashville, Tennessee, Peric argued that in order to foster a climate of inclusion, cities should implement programming that not only helps new immigrants adapt to new communities but also helps communities adapt to new immigrants. To this end, engagement with local leaders is critical for communities to understand that accepting an influx of immigrants is not only morally imperative but also economically pragmatic.

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December 07, 2014  |  permalink

Stream 3: An Interview with Greg Lindsay


I’m honored to be included among the subjects interviewed in Stream 3, a biennial doorstop of a magazine published by PCA Architects’ founder Philippe Chiambretta (who also hosted my interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist at this summer’s Venice Architecture Biennale). A link to the full PDF of my interview is below; here’s the introduction:

Greg Lindsay explores the financialization of urban planning since the beginning of the twenty-first century, which is normalizing architecture and has driven him to take interest in the informal forms of urban growth. Running counter to the new, overly technological, urban utopias, he feels that our future resides in what calls “smart slums,” an intermediate form composed of informal and negotiated spaces. Thanks to digital technologies, they are made porous and adaptable in a dynamic process which enables them to maintain the intensity that is the real source of wealth in cities. Considering that the form of cities is shaped by transportation, he also delves into the concept of the “aerotropolis:” new cities shaped by and created for air transport, which he describes as the embodiment of globalization.

An Interview with Greg Lindsay (PDF)

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November 30, 2014  |  permalink

“I’m a Geographer” — an Interview with the Royal Geographic Society

(Britain’s Royal Geographic Society interviewed me for the October issue of its magazine, Geographical. While accurate, the editing of the interview was a bit, um, aggressive. That said, it was an honor to join more deserving figures such as Naomi Klein and David Harvey in the series.

Boris Johnson’s plans to start again with the Thames Estuary Airport scheme are problematic. The Thames Valley area is completely integrated into the global economy. If Johnson’s plans went ahead all those firms would be stripped out. What proponents of the plan hope would happen is that these businesses would move to another area in the UK, but that is fantasy. Businesses would say, ‘Forget it. We’re going to Schipol Airport.’

There is an expectation that in the next 40 years we’re going to have mega globalisation, with increased migration from rural to urban areas. Cities will be in trouble because birth rates will decline. We may be about to see the final global system because soon we will have built all the cities ever needed. The question then becomes how cities will jockey for position.

Air routes reflect this city hierarchy in action. Frankfurt is a perfect example. It’s not the largest city in Germany; it has never been the capital, but it has become Europe’s financial centre. India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, wants to build an urbanised corridor through the country, and airports are a key part of that strategy. Western China needs airports to be joined to the global supply chain. Zhengzhou now has one of the largest airports under construction because that’s where Foxconn has moved iPhone assembly.

There will not be a global capital of 2040 in the way we think of New York in the 1920s. China’s cities will play a larger role than India’s because of its autocratic nature and commercial resources. India still contains both Californian and Afghani levels of wealth and poverty.

What holds Dubai back are a number of problems: the local interpretation of Islam means there’s a limit to the tolerance level in the city; there’s also censorship and the fact Dubai does not offer long-term visas. The city also suffered from the global financial crisis. If Dubai did it right, the city would give away all the unused office space to start ups that want to relocate there. Dubai is the creation of the US and Europe. After 9/11, Europe and the US started to close the borders. If you were a talented Algerian you did not have a chance to go to US or the EU, so where did you end up? You went to Dubai.

There are many cities like Tokyo, which grew slums from scratch after earthquakes in the 1920s. People built slums, but what happened there – and what’s happening now in Brazil – is that these slums became middle class cities. Researchers in Mumbai asked people in areas considered slums, ‘Do you live in a slum?’ People always said, ‘No, the slum is somewhere else. It’s not where we are.’ I used to favour more planning in cities, but now I prefer a more informal approach. There will not be enough time to plan all the cities required. At the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative we try to learn from emerging cities like Mumbai; we think ideas about creating an upwardly mobile slum could be applied to places like Detroit. This is a city with 40,000 empty buildings because of regulation and foreclosures.

Detroit is an example of how the divide between the developing and the developed world has collapsed. In Detroit there’s a group called the Detroit Water Brigade who provide water to residents cut off from the water system. There is an injustice because there are golf courses with water left on to water grass, while ordinary residents cannot get water. The best expert on informal water distribution is the largest NGO in Kabira [a slum in Nairobi], and that is where the people of Detroit turned for help. US cities have slum dynamics because of austerity.

I love New York. I also love Dubai. It’s not a melting pot because the city is very stratified. This is a place where the notion of a ‘city’ is a totally globally dispersed people. Dubai is filled with Indian businessmen and African traders; it’s the new Silk Road.

Detroit is a nightmare city because it is a bizarre alternate version of New York. Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was built by the same architects who built Grand Central Station in New York, but the former was derelict for years. If Detroit carries on its current trajectory, the US will be remembered for creating one of the world’s greatest cities and then destroying it. The poor are being forced out of the inner cities and the suburbs are becoming the centre for marginal groups. This is a new urban crisis where the challenge is to address problems in suburban areas that have nothing in common with inner cities.

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November 17, 2014  |  permalink

Jane Jacobs Forum 2014

I was incredibly honored and flattered to be asked by the Municipal Art Society’s Mary Rowe to deliver the keynote address at last month’s annual Jane Jacobs Forum. (I’d like to think Jane would have approved, but can’t be sure). The video is above — I manage to squeeze a lot into six minutes.

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November 12, 2014  |  permalink

Archiboo: Engineering Serendipity

Innovation doesn’t happen at your desk from amandabaillieu on Vimeo.

On November 11, Amanda Baillieu and NBBJ London were kind enough to host me for Archiboo, a series of talks about the future of architecture and urbanism. I spoke about — what else? — engineering serendipity and the necessity of designing new organizations, environments, and networks capable of generating new connections between people and ideas. Amanda was kind enough to tape the entire talk — please watch.

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November 02, 2014  |  permalink

Medium: Engineering Serendipity


(Medium has partnered with The Aspen Institute to publish essays based on talks at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival. What follows below was based on my talk titled “Engineering Serendipity,” and was originally published on October 30, 2014.)

I’d like to tell the story of a paradox: How do we bring the right people to the right place at the right time to discover something new, when we don’t know who or where or when that is, let alone what it is we’re looking for? This is the paradox of innovation: If so many discoveries — from penicillin to plastics – are the product of serendipity, why do we insist breakthroughs can somehow be planned? Why not embrace serendipity instead? Because here’s an example of what happens when you don’t.

When GlaxoSmithKline finished clinical trials in May of what it had hoped would be a breakthrough in treating heart disease, it found the drug stank — literally. In theory, darapladib was a wonder of genomic medicine, suppressing an enzyme responsible for cholesterol-clogged arteries, thus preventing heart attacks and strokes. But in practice it was a failure, producing odors so pungent that disgusted patients stopped taking it.

Glaxo hadn’t quite bet the company on darapladib, but it did pay nearly $3 billion to buy its partner in developing the drug, Human Genome Sciences. The latter’s founder, William Haseltine, once promised a revolution in drug discovery: After we had mapped every disease to every gene, we could engineer serendipity out of the equation. Darapladib was to have been the proof — the product of scientists carefully picking their way through the company’s vast genetic databases. Instead it’s a multi-billion-dollar write-off.

Big Pharma is hardly alone when it comes to overstating its ability to innovate, although it may be in the worst shape. By one estimate, the rate of new drugs developed per dollar spent by the industry has fallen by roughly a factor of 100 over the last 60 years. Patent statistics tell a similar story across industry after industry, from chemistry to metalworking to clean energy, in which top-down innovation has only grown more expensive and less efficient over time. According to a paper by Deborah Strumsky, José Lobo, and Joseph Tainter, the average size of research teams bloated by 48 percent between 1974 and 2005, while the number of patents per inventor fell 22 percent during that time. Instead of speeding up the pace of discovery, large hierarchical organizations are slowing down — a stagflationary principle known as “Eroom’s Law,” which is “Moore’s Law” spelled backwards. (Moore’s Law roughly states that computing power doubles every two years, a principle enshrined at the heart of technological progress.)

While Big Pharma’s American scientists were flailing, their counterparts at Paris Jussieu — the largest medical research complex in France — were doing some of their best work. The difference was asbestos. Between 1997 and 2012, Jussieu’s campus in Paris’s Left Bank reshuffled its labs’ locations five times due to ongoing asbestos removal, giving the faculty no control and little warning of where they would end up. An MIT professor named Christian Catalini later catalogued the 55,000 scientific papers they published during this time and mapped the authors’ locations across more than a hundred labs. Instead of having their life’s work disrupted, Jussieu’s researchers were three to five times more likely to collaborate with their new odd-couple neighbors than their old colleagues, did so nearly four to six times more often, and produced better work because of it (as measured by citations).

The lesson? We still have no idea how to pursue what former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously described as “unknown unknowns.” Even an institution like Paris Jussieu, which presumably places a premium on collaboration across disciplines, couldn’t do better than scattering its labs at random. It’s not enough to ask where good ideas come from — we need to rethink how we go about finding them.

I believe there’s a third way between the diminishing returns of typical organizations and sheer luck. In Silicon Valley, they call it “engineering serendipity,” and if that strikes you as an oxymoron (which it is), perhaps we need to step back and redefine what serendipity means:

1. Serendipity isn’t magic. It isn’t happy accidents. It’s a state of mind and a property of social networks — which means it can be measured, analyzed, and engineered.

2. It’s a bountiful source of good ideas. Study after study has shown how chance collaborations often trump top-down organizations when it comes to research and innovation. The challenge is first recognizing the circumstances of these encounters, then replicating and enhancing them.

Any society that values novelty and new ideas (like our innovation-obsessed one) will invariably trend toward greater serendipity over time. The push toward greater diversity, better public spaces, and an expanded public sphere all increase the potential for fortuitous discoveries.

The flip side is that institutions failing to embrace serendipity will ossify and die. This is especially true in our current era of incessant disruption, as seen in rising corporate mortality rates and a surge of unpredictable “black swan” events. (Nassim Taleb’s advice for taming black swans, by the way? “Maximize the serendipity around you.”)

Finally, the greatest opportunities for engineering serendipity lie in software, which means we must take great care as to who can find us and how, before Google (or the NSA) makes these choices for us.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, and speaker. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company, author of the forthcoming book Engineering Serendipity, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. He is also a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute — where he is director of the Emergent Cities Project — a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI).

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That’s So Fly

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Chartered Territory

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Instant Cities

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