Greg Lindsay's Blog

February 13, 2020  |  permalink

Brighter Talks #3: Thomas Deloison

(The third episode of “Brighter Talks,” a podcast series by the German plastics giant Covestro I happen to host, is live — and you can listen to it above. A recap of the episode is below.)

We live in a golden age of mobility — more people are moving further and more rapidly around the world. As much as these developments have simplified our way of traveling, they have also created negative externalities. Right now, transportation is the second-greatest source of emissions, meaning 80% of cities today have air quality below the World Health Organization’s recommended level.

In our third episode of Brighter Talks, Thomas Deloison, Director for Mobility at the World Business Council for Sustainable development (WBCSD), discusses which obstacles we face in developing sustainable transport and how we can overcome the limits of our today’s mobility system.

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January 29, 2020  |  permalink

The Takeaways Podcast, Live From NAIOP Southern Nevada

I was in Las Vegas last week for the NAIOP Southern Nevada Forecast 2020, a half-day conference on local real estate trends. As is my lot in life, I was paired with an economist (in this case Moody’s Analytics REIS’ drolly funny Victor Calanog) to provide pictures and stories to match his charts. On the scene was the MDL Group’s Hayim Mizrachi, who also hosts the Takeaways podcast, which we recorded live before my session. Tune in above at the 23:30 mark for the TL;DR version of my talk.

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January 11, 2020  |  permalink

ULI Triangle Emerging Trends 2019

Back in November, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill chapter of the Urban Land Institute invited me to speak at their annual Emerging Trends conference about millennials, mobility, and cities-as-a-service. A video sneak preview is above – ping me via email or Twitter if you’d like to see more. Vaporware’s Dan Moore and Oak City CRE published their own written recaps of the event as well. Thanks again for having me!

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January 01, 2020  |  permalink

New London Architecture: Future Streets

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New London Architecture — a museum of sorts and think-tank concerned with the urban realm of London — has published a report to coincide with its current exhibit on “Future Streets.” I’m grateful to be one of the many smart people consulted as part of the research, and gratified to see a few of my arguments made it into the final draft. To save you the time of searching, I’ve cut-and-pasted them below. The first concerns my long-standing worries ride-hailing will cannibalize transit:

Perhaps the most concerning threat Uber poses is its potential to undercut public transport in London. Some early research from the US suggests that TNCs are moving trips away from public transport, walking and cycling to rideshare services.20 However, another study conducted in London showed that Uber was actually complementing the introduction of the Night Tube. This was on the basis that more Uber trips were being taken from tube stations during ‘Night Tube’ hours, indicating that instead of taking a cab home the whole way, people were now using the Night Tube for most of the journey, and then transferring to an Uber for the last mile.

However, the recent IPO released by Uber states in no uncertain terms that they see public transport as a key competitor and that public transport riders are a key part of the market they seek to win over. Greg Lindsay, director of applied research, NewCities, argues that this should come as no surprise, given that TNCs such as Uber are only profitable in highly dense urban contexts such as central London. He argues that in lower density areas Uber still has to highly subsidise all journeys.

The second involves fears of “privatizing the streets:”

Even if road pricing is effectively implemented for CAVs, Greg Lindsay argues that it potentially puts in motion a dangerous precedent in which every inch of street space is progressively adopted into a market system for the pricing of its use. It is contended that such a model may lead to the unintended consequences of the complete privatisation of all street space in the city. This would contradict the idea that the street is the most radically democratic of all spaces in the city. Moreover, Greg Lindsay notes that it may lead to situations where only companies with greater purchasing power are able to afford the cost of operating on the streets, thus creating a monopoly of service. This might mean that one ridesharing company becomes entirely dominant and therefore able to set the price of rides as they wish.

You can download the entire report here.

 

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December 08, 2019  |  permalink

Brighter Talks #2: James Timberlake

(The second episode of “Brighter Talks,” a podcast series by the German plastics giant Covestro I happen to host , is live — and you can listen to it above. A recap of the episode is below.)

What does the city of the future look like? That is what several experts are discussing in our series #MyFutureCity. In this essay, American architect James Timberlake explains how our houses will be built – and why we might soon be living in transparent plastic houses.

Protecting the environment is a global priority. World leaders are beginning to take steps to prevent climate change, millions of people worldwide are protesting to demand action on climate change – and in the architectural industry, sustainability has moved to the forefront of the design conversation.

“We need to rethink architecture,” explains world-renowned architect James Timberlake. With 33 percent of the global energy use coming from buildings, and 20 percent of human generated CO₂-emissions coming from energy used in buildings, “this needs to change.”

The main issue: Keeping up with the demand
“We must manage our resources more responsibly,” says Timberlake. “The UN cites that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, but the current supply of new housing in all market segments does not meet the demand – we outpace our housing needs by nearly 3 to 4 times annually.”

Simply ‘keeping up’ is a mantra all countries and localities face, as “maintaining a supply of affordable, equitable, sustainable housing for all is a complex problem for every country, from the richest and most socially progressive to the poorest,” he adds. To solve this crisis, we need to think both locally and globally.

The hurdles: Collective intelligence
“Codes and regulations are different throughout the world, and each country and local jurisdiction has uneven measures toward quality planning resources.” Universal planning principles for housing placement – for instance, using brownfield sites rather than greenfield site –are necessary to promote environmental ethics worldwide.

Also, a critical part of increasing housing supply is having enough land resources to build upon. Land ownership is different in each country. Open land opportunities are few and shifting with the effects of climate change. Planning and coordination with resource management agencies can help address the proper placement and availability of land going forward.

According to Timberlake, interdisciplinary collaboration is critical to solving the sustainability challenges of our time and even more important in the years ahead: “Specialists in disciplines outside of architecture should be part of every architectural team. We need special skill sets and knowledge for every single architectural project of the future.”

Climate scientists, environmental managers and materials engineers are just some of the experts who will help plan and create buildings sustainably in the future. “With our collective intelligence, we can develop buildings to manage our natural resources more ethically,” he explains, “and reduce our waste – both the material waste and the waste of energy that takes place in a building.”

The method: New materials
Timberlake would also like to see advancements in both materials and construction methods for new housing. Current modular housing materials range widely, from lightweight, low carbon, wood product “spatial” options to higher carbon, heavyweight panelized options, each with their own logistical and supply chain issues.

“Future materials should be evaluated for low-carbon impact, high resilience, life-cycle benefits, and economy,” says Timberlake. Wood is one such material; it can be regrown naturally and sequesters carbon.

“We have used wood often in modular construction, but we have also explored aluminum and various plastics in our buildings.” Aluminum is not only durable, flexible, light, efficient and low-cost, but it’s also recyclable. The sustainable materials of the future might be hybrid combinations of wood, plastics, and metals, optimized for durability and a low carbon footprint.

In terms of construction methods, Timberlake observes, “Planners, architects, developers, and governmental agencies believe that off-site and modular housing, manufactured in plants, with lower time to market, are the way forward. But investors have not broadly embraced this approach. Enticing investors to participate in this market is where true change might happen.”

Examples: SmartWrap and Cellophane House
Timberlake has shown the potential of building with unconventional materials and construction methods: In 2003, he and his partner Stephen Kieran invented SmartWrap, a trademarked energy-generating and lightweight envelope that is wrapped around the frame of a building. “It is made of PET, a recyclable thermoplastic polymer,” says Timberlake, “a transparent, inexpensive, colorless material.”

SmartWrap has several layers to add functions: One layer to moderate temperature. A second one to supply light and allow for information display, as if on a computer screen. And a third, final layer to collect solar energy, integrating all the functions of a conventional wall into a thin, transparent plastic film.

And in 2008, Timberlake developed this even further. His firm KieranTimberlake built “Cellophane House,” a complete five-story house made up of refined SmartWrap envelopes tensioned on an aluminum frame. The refined SmartWrap was made up of four layers: The first one served as a weather barrier, and the second one included photovoltaic cells. The third layer contained solar heat and UV blocking film – and finally, a fourth, interior layer of PET. With this, it was possible to trap heat in winter and vent it in summer. “The different technologies assembled in the envelope of Cellophane House really helped us understand how and where energy loss occurs in a building envelope and how we can improve the design to mitigate the losses,” says Timberlake.

Our future: Learning from the past
Cellophane House was an example of a more sustainable architecture presented at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for almost six months. Yet it was more than just an exhibition piece: “It was a way to build our ideas and learn from them,” says Timberlake.

He adds: “And it is still only the beginning. Looking to the future, beyond the current models and modalities of living, and beyond the housing shortages, we’ll see an evolution in how people live, what they desire in their living arrangements, and a continuation of diverse options to address those housing needs affordably.”

“We will need to completely rethink our way of living,” he adds, “but we will also need to learn from our mistakes and think about an urban platform that blends our past and our future.”

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December 07, 2019  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Green New Deal Flow

The “Green New Deal” has quickly become shorthand for a last-ditch effort to prevent climate change – one in which technological breakthroughs and market-based solutions take a back seat to public policy. What role does innovation have to play in the fight to save cities and the planet? And are cash-ravenous startups doing more harm than good?

On Dec. 4th in Brooklyn, URBAN-X convened a roundtable of entrepreneurs, environmental justice advocates, and investors to debate the roles of government, startups, and venture capital in forging a path forward, and launch “Better,” Issue 03 of the URBAN-X Zine. Video from the event is above; a list of speakers is below. I moderated the event as my final duty as the inaugural URBAN-X Urbanist-in-residence.

Speakers:
Savannah Goodman, Lead of Modeling and Simulation, Blueprint Power
Shaun Abrahamson, Founder and Managing Partner, Urban Us
Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director / Director of Policy Initiatives, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

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December 03, 2019  |  permalink

CoMotion Podcasts: Rethinking Real Estate; India’s Micromobility; AI Buses, and More

(CoMotion LA 2019 is in the rear-view mirror, but the CoMotion Mobility Podcast goes on. Here’s what you’ve missed if you haven’t been listening:)

Episode 53. (above) Greg Lindsay chats with Dror Poleg, author of Rethinking Real Estate, about the intersection of mobility and real estate. As autonomous vehicles, drones, and delivery bots become better integrated into our daily lives, the face of real estate will begin to change. As technology advances, the value of real estate assets will fluctuate in new and interesting ways.

Episode 52. Greg Lindsay chats with Aayushi Jain, Director of Policy and Government Partnerships at Bounce. Bounce is a Bangalore-based startup that operates an electric scooter sharing enterprise. These aren’t your Birds and Limes — these are full mopeds that can cover the first mile/last mile of your multimodal transit trip, or be your main mode of transport to/from work or school. Bounce aims to seriously improve India’s devastating traffic congestion.

Episode 51. Greg Lindsay chats with Nexar Co-Founder and CEO Eran Shir and RTC Senior Director of Engineering John Peñuelas about how Nexar’s pilot in Las Vegas is a successful example of how the public and private sector can collaborate to increase road safety. Thanks to Nexar’s City Stream, a connected network of smart dash cameras which can identify road hazards, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is able to better understand and manage the city’s traffic, especially around construction zones. Greg, John and Eran chat about the pilot’s expansion and issues surrounding privacy and the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Episode 50. Greg Lindsay chats with Roni Floman, the VP of Marketing at Optibus, an Israel-based startup that is using A.I. to build optimized scheduling software for creating the most efficient paths for fixed-route bus services. Greg and Roni dive into how Optibus is working to revolutionize public transit by using advanced computer technology to create better bus schedules to help cities, commuters, and bus drivers to better do their jobs, and get where they’re going. Optibus hopes to use optimization algorithms and A.I. to create new solutions for current scheduling inefficiencies.

Episode 49. Greg Lindsay chats with Richard Bruce, Director of Energy, Technology and Innovation at the UK’s Department for Transport, about how all the simultaneous changes happening in the mobility ecosystem can be leveraged to deliver basic environmental improvements. Richard Bruce outlines the UK’s key strategies for the future of urban mobility and highlights the necessity of modernizing the regulatory framework in order to better embrace new modes of transportation.

Episode 48. Greg Lindsay chats with Andrei Greenawalt, Head of Public Policy at Via, about how shared, on-demand micro-transit can get people out of the private vehicle. Andrei explains how Via is working with nearly 100 cities and transit agencies to provide optimized and equitable first/last mile mobility solutions. Greg and Andrei discuss Via’s numerous deployments, from its recently launched shared autonomous on-demand service in Irvine, CA to its partnership with New York City’s yellow school bus fleet.

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December 02, 2019  |  permalink

URBAN-X ZINE 03: BETTER

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As part of my duties as the inaugural “Urbanist-in-residence” at URBAN-X — the startup accelerator founded by BMW MINI — I guest edited the first three issues of its annual magazine. The third and final issue appears this month, with the theme of “BETTER,” as in the startup catechism “…and make the world a better place.” But as the stories in this issue make clear, “better” is a subjective choice at best.

To commemorate its publication, you can download a complete PDF of the issue here, while the editor’s letter appears below. You can also read articles about the URBAN-X startups Toggle and Treau and how they hope to wriggle free of the Jevons Paradox, and a Q&A with Thrilling co-founder Shilla Kim-Parker about why we need to slow down fast fashion and why vintage shopping is good for cities. And don’t miss the artist scientist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsburg on her efforts to recreate the scents of extinct flowers and what it says about our notions of “better” – more of which is in the editor’s note below.

Finally, if you’re in New York on Dec. 4th, please join us at the official issue launch party, featuring a live version of the “Green New Deal Flow” roundtable discussion that anchors the issue. I hope to see you there.


***

The flower Hibiscadelphus woodii was thought to be extinct until this spring, when the Hawaiian National Tropical Botanical Garden announced it had discovered a few hardy specimens clinging to a cliff. Before that, the artist Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg had spent a year reconstructing the scent of another long-dead hibiscus, prompting her to wonder which world is better – one where the technology exists to resurrect the scent of lost flowers, or one in which they never went extinct at all? While the answer may seem obvious, in our rush to create better cities she reminds us to inquire: “What is better? Whose better? Who decides?”

Technology promises to solve many of our problems, including challenges that are part of our urban lives. Yet under the premise of greater efficiency, accessibility, enhanced experiences, and betterness, are we really solving challenges or simply creating new ones? Our relationship with the environment is under threat, and while this might be seen as the consequence of a selfish human condition, it’s reflective of our own limitations – nature doesn’t need us, we need nature.

The third edition of the URBAN-X Zine unpacks better against the backdrop of the Anthropocene Era, in which it is fair to question what progress means for climate change. In this issue’s centerpiece about green-impact investing, the German Marshall Fund’s David Zipper notes that the Green New Deal resolution is framed in a vision of social justice, asserting a different notion of better than purely market forces would dictate. We profile URBAN-X Cohort 05 members Toggle and Treau who interrogate the Jevons Paradox, which states that every attempt at better energy efficiency eventually becomes its own undoing. As climate change gathers speed, it is equally imperative to decide what a “better place” is, in order to invest in and invent the technology to achieve it.

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November 26, 2019  |  permalink

Brighter Talks: A New Podcast Series by Covestro

(Because one podcast isn’t enough, I’m hosting a new limited-edition series named “Brighter Talks” sponsored by the German plastics giant Covestro. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of how to improve urban life, with only a passing nod to better living through chemistry. Listen to the first episode on Spotify with Alanus von Radecki, who leads the Competence Team Urban Governance Innovation at Fraunhofer IAO and the innovation network “Morgenstadt: City Insights.” He is also the Lead Expert for the URBACT network “SmartImpact” and advises cities on the digital transformation of urban systems. Covestro’s highlights from the episode are below.)

In our new series #MyFutureCity, we invite experts from different industries to explore answers for tackling the future of urbanization. Here, Alanus von Radecki writes about the effect of digital transformation on a city’s infrastructure and why street lighting can play an important role in building a smart city.

Today, more than 50 percent of the human population lives in cities, where they consume approximately 70 percent of global man-made energy. “Population growth is quite a challenge for metropolitan areas because their systems simply haven’t been designed to manage such large numbers or the increasingly networked lifestyles of modern city dwellers,” says von Radecki.

Already, urban infrastructure is struggling to adequately respond to citizens’ current needs, and the population still continues to grow steadily. “There’s no way around modernizing our infrastructures,” shares von Radecki. As a result, a tremendous paradigm shift in our innovation system is necessary. In the past, cities have evolved as by-product of digital technologies, but to create a more livable urban future, this digital dynamic must be changed.

“We need to make sure that cities don’t just react to progress; they must become proactive,” explains von Radecki. “We need to develop technologies for cities, responding with innovation to the needs of urban citizens.” We have the capacity to deliberately shape our infrastructural systems: Digital transformation is already well underway, and artificial intelligence (AI), 5G networks and the Internet of Things (IoT) have the power to set the minds of engineers, architects and urban planners into a creative spin.

How to get creative with infrastructure
There are many starting points for developing new urban infrastructures or successively revamping parts of existing infrastructures with more intelligent solutions. One example is to focus on streetlights. Up to 50 percent of municipal energy budgets go toward illuminating streets, alleyways and neighborhoods. “What if we switched to LED lighting? Making this swap would significantly increase energy efficiency, reducing streetlights’ electricity consumption by up to 80 percent,” calculates von Radecki.

Moreover, these LED streetlamps have the potential to become smart. “If LED streetlamps were digitally interconnected, we could program them to stop the always-on, careless wastage of megawatts,” says von Radecki “Instead, a lamp would only shine if there were someone nearby. We could even teach these streetlights to send out various types and intensities of light as well as make them reactive to the natural light of our days and nights. All this would help manage energy and reduce light pollution.”

But smart lighting systems can do more than just contribute to energy management. LED streetlamps, as well as many other urban infrastructure elements, can collect interesting data and information about our city and everyday life between buildings. “We can use smart streetlamps to measure air pollution, monitor traffic and or oversee pedestrian flows at big events,” notes von Radecki. All this recorded data can then be sent to and used by the responsible city department.

For example, data relevant for air quality would be transferred to a city administration’s environmental department, road congestions would be reported to the local traffic control center and lighting would be controlled by the department of utilities. This data would enable all these service units to act and react precisely and efficiently, saving valuable resources. “It’s all about interconnecting singular technologies. The networking part is key.”

Smart Infrastructure, a shiny dream of the future?
Some cities have already adopted smart lighting networks – for example, Singapore or Stockholm. In San Diego, there are also plans to install 3,000 sensors in streetlights, with the intention to create an interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) and eventually transform the metropolis into a smart city. These are just three example cities embracing digitalization, but there are many other metropolises around the globe planning to innovate their infrastructure, aiming to create value for their citizens and make their hometowns brighter places.

In the cities where digital transformation is in full swing, the experience is proving to be positive. But there’s no one-fits-all solution. What works for Stockholm may not work for Quito. Every city is unique and needs tailor-made answers.

Each town has its own blend of citizens, and they all have different priorities. They attach their individual values to different solutions and services. “By using what we call ‘living labs,’ we can test solutions in different cities,” says von Radecki. “If something doesn’t work as well as anticipated, we can adapt or alter the solution to fit that specific city. If something does work, we can scale it up.”

When will it happen?
“We can’t keep tinkering forever,” the scientist warns. “We want to reduce carbon emissions drastically within the next 15 to 20 years.” These ambitious goals can best be achieved by a meaningful digitization of our urban infrastructures.

“We need to focus on gaining momentum so that in 10 years time, the majority of metropolitan areas will run on enhanced and interconnected smart infrastructure systems, creating real value for the city dwellers, reducing emissions and making each city a brighter place to live in,” explains von Radecki. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us!”

 

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November 11, 2019  |  permalink

All Things Urban Interview: Autonomous Mobility, Twitter and Blade Runner

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(All Things Urban’s Anastasia Sukhoroslova was kind enough to interview me ahead of this week’s CoMotion LA. The original interview is here; I’ve reposted below.)

Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker on the future of cities, technology, and mobility. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion, as well as a co-author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

In the run-up to the CoMotion LA Leadership Conference, we spoke with Greg about his career in urbanism, what brought him to the field and how he envisions the future of cities and urban mobility.

Your career started in journalism. How did it shift to urbanism?

It’s like the line from The Sun Also Rises about bankruptcy: gradually, and then suddenly. My interest in cities was awoken by the fact that ultimately every fundamental challenge of the 21st century — whether climate change or inequality, mobility or opportunity — are all urban challenges as well. The city is where these problems and paradoxes are made flesh. And so that’s where I found myself trying to make sense of the world.

What was the most exciting project you worked on, and what was special about it?

From a purely intellectual standpoint, it was when I was asked by the architect Jeanne Gang to join her team for a 2011-2012 MoMA exhibition named “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” It was an effort to grapple with what had gone wrong before and after the Great Recession and foreclosure crisis, and whether there was anything designers could do about it. It was fascinating for me because, as a journalist, it was my first time sitting on the same side of the table as architects and understanding how they see the world. For me, everything is a story — what is our narrative arc and who are our characters? — and ideas are hung on that framework. For them, it was: what is our site, and what is our program? Meaning: what do we build and where do we build it? In this case, the site was Cicero, Illinois — no longer the hideout of Al Capone but an overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood — and our program was to invent new, more flexible ways of living and working that wasn’t necessarily tied to ownership. In 2012, we didn’t have a name for it, but today you would call it co-housing designed with the needs of local residents in mind. So, I’d like to think we were onto something, even though it never made it out of the museum.

A lot of your work is focused on the future of cities and urban mobility. Can you name three trends that seem most important to you?

Number one is the slow decline of public transport as we know it in the United States, and the causes are both clear (e.g. cars) and complex. On the one hand, a decade-long bull market means a lot of people have bought cars, even though Americans have unprecedented levels of auto debt and the length of car loans are beginning to exceed the length of actually owning the car — seven years, give or take. While that’s happening, bus ridership has declined across America due to disinvestment. (Congestion caused by ride-hailing is making the problem worse.)

The second is mobility-as-a-service, which started as a theoretical means for public agencies to embrace innovative private services while reasserting the importance of mass transit. Instead, the biggest enthusiasts are Uber and Lyft, which are building proprietary “walled gardens” to cross-subsidize operations and build moats around their business. We’re now in an arms race, and I hope cities embracing tools like LADOT’s Mobility Data Specification will swiftly create open standards for public mobility-as-a-service.

Third is autonomy. Not autonomous cars, but autonomy as a general capability that will trickle down to scooters and deliverybots and other forms of robotics that may only vaguely look vehicles. Autonomy will be a lot stranger than most people expect, and I’m anxious to see how cities will regulate them — and whether they will regulate them enough.

What advice would you give to those who are just starting their career in urbanism? What skills will be crucial in the next 5-10 years?

I’m honestly not sure. My core skills are pattern recognition and storytelling, and I don’t think you can go wrong using those to make sense of the world. Find the smartest people you can wherever you can and learn from them. Honestly, the most important tool in my kit is listening to conversations on Twitter.

What are the most thought-provoking books about cities that you’ve recently encountered?

The most thought-provoking book I haven’t read yet is Anthony Townsend’s GHOST ROAD. The best book on smart cities might be Tim Maughan’s INFINITE DETAIL or Bruce Sterling THE EPIC STRUGGLE OF THE INTERNET OF THINGS.

And also BLADE RUNNER, because if you recall the opening credits, the film is set in Los Angeles, November 2019. It’s not the future anymore, but a retro-future, a dystopia-that-could-have-been.

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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.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Blog

February 13, 2020

Brighter Talks #3: Thomas Deloison

January 29, 2020

The Takeaways Podcast, Live From NAIOP Southern Nevada

January 11, 2020

ULI Triangle Emerging Trends 2019

January 01, 2020

New London Architecture: Future Streets

» More blog posts

Articles by Greg Lindsay

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ZINE 03: BETTER

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