December 16, 2018  |  permalink

The URBAN-X ‘Zine #2: Rules


As the “urbanist-in-residence” at URBAN-X — the tech accelerator founded by BMW MINI — one of my favorite duties is writing and editing the “zine” published twice a year on Demo Day. The second issue, “Rules,” explores how startups and citizens are augmenting increasingly machine-readable cities. Now that public space has been quantifiably proven to be a critical, social reactor powering urban life, how will we prevent companies from exploiting it? The obvious solution is to simply put a price on everything. But in doing so, will we learn the value of nothing?

The centerpiece of the issue is an oral history of public space after the smartphone (which you can download here), along with profiles and Q&A of several startups and vignettes from a kitchen-sink dystopian future in which every square inch of the city is priced. Sign up here for a physical copy.

On November 27, URBAN-X hosted a special launch event starring Tech Reset Canada’s Biance Wylie as well as past and present cohort members and special guest stars. Daniel Wu wrote an extensive summary of the event I’d encourage you to read.

The issue’s editor’s letter is reprinted below. Stay tuned for issue #3 in April 2019!

In his novel The City & The City, author China Miéville describes a pair of conjoined cities that are illegible to each other but occupy the same ground. Residents are taught from birth to “unsee” their counterparts with terrible consequences for those who break the rules. Miéville’s story is an allegory for the unwritten rules governing cities and for public goods and public space.

If there is a guiding principle for urbantech startups, it’s making invisible rules more visible. Using various combinations of data, sensors, and smartphones — surrogates for citizens — past and present cohort members of URBAN-X have exposed the price and risks things like a strip of road, the value of a patch of greenery (and who can use it), and codified the fraught relationship between landlords and tenants. They have broken these rules to extract value from the public realm.

The second edition of the URBAN-X Zine explores how startups and citizens are augmenting increasingly machine-readable cities. Now that public space has been quantifiably proven to be a critical, social reactor powering urban life, how will we prevent companies from exploiting it? The obvious solution is to simply put a price on everything. But in doing so, will we learn the value of nothing?

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December 12, 2018  |  permalink

The State of Play: Connected Mobility in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit


(First published at CityLab on December 10, 2018.)

This summer, CityLab Insights published “The State of Play: Connected Mobility + U.S. Cities,” a snapshot of the technologies and actors roiling transportation policy and a briefing for public officials struggling to follow it all. Building on the success of that report, earlier this fall CityLab convened a series of dinners in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit attracting nearly a hundred public officials, transit professionals, startup founders, technology executives, non-profit directors, designers, academics, and more.

Although each dinner had a theme—mobility-as-a-service, the potential impacts of electric and autonomous vehicles on land use, and whether the public or private sectors should drive transportation policy—several themes emerged that cross-cut all three conversations, regardless of participants or geography. A few are summarized below:

1. The public vs. private debate rages on (and on)

Held in early autumn, in the wake of public officials deciding whether to ban, cap, or begrudgingly allow free-range electric bicycles and scooters in cities ranging from New York to Santa Monica to San Francisco, all three dinners were to varying degrees a microcosm of the debate raging in mobility circles for nearly a decade now – will private companies or the public sector define the future of urban mobility? It was a debate everyone present professed to have no interest in re-fighting… and then did so anyway.

In San Francisco, Lime’s chief programs officer Scott Kubly—who was previously director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation—lamented cities’ approach to regulation, at least when it comes to micromobility. “Many governments are regulating a service, scooters, that is addressing its policy goals of affordability, climate change, and reducing congestion instead of figuring out how to encourage their use,” he said. Rather than grading firms or services on performance, arbitrary caps on vehicles and other measures were largely performative—signaling to voters that the scooter menace won’t be tolerated, and to companies that they won’t get fooled again as they were by ride-hailing.

Work with us was a clear and persistent refrain by private sector participants to their public counterparts. Set objectives, define goals, and let us help you achieve them. If the solution to ride-hailing clogging city streets is to price roads and use the proceeds to fund transit, then why not partner with them to achieve exactly that? (Uber and Lyft both tend to favor broadly-applied road pricing over city-imposed surcharges on ride-hailing.)

But this line of thinking obscures a critical difference between vendors and would-be disruptors. In Detroit, guests mused on what Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi really meant when he said, “I want to run the bus systems for a city.” They unanimously agreed he likely had no interest in running buses as we know them – as heavily-subsidized public goods with a relatively high degree of equity.

Unless Uber wants to own the “holistic experience,” argued Chris Thomas, co-founder and president of the Detroit Mobility Lab and until recently a co-founder and partner of Fontinalis Partners. “They want to own every aspect of that transaction. If they have the opportunity to own the entire food chain,” selling bus tickets will be worth it. And between a flurry of deals to add bike-sharing, car-sharing, and public transportation to its app, it would appear Uber is poised to do just that, with Lyft and Ford among others in hot pursuit.

All of which points to a wrinkle which is rarely discussed openly in polite mobility circles, which is whether these massively-valued companies are content to act as innovative vendors versus uncontrollable disruptors. Given the volatility of their business models—pivoting from ride-hailing to electric bicycles and scooters, for instance—several guests wondered whether they were even stable enough to be effective partners for cities.

2. What cities should do… but won’t

Early in San Francisco’s dinner, Timothy Papandreou—former chief innovation officer of the SFMTA and now founder of Emerging Transport Advisors—passionately argued what cities should do, which is rethink their entire approach. “We haven’t done a good job of asking what is the right price to move a person from A to B?” he said. “Or asking: what is the best way to move people in the most efficient, effective, and safest manner? Quantify that. And then ask, Are you part of this? If so, great. If you’re not, you’re no longer welcome in our city. But I haven’t heard that happen.”

Guests in Detroit framed this approach as performance-based regulation, with an emphasis on ends rather than means. “Should we be thinking about regulating markets or paying for performance?” asked a senior private mobility executive who was present. There was general agreement on both sides of the public/private divide that cities must do a better job in articulating their policy goals.

From there, the question was how. In all three dinners, talk eventually turned to implementing open APIs such as GTFS, GBFS, and LADOT’s proposed Mobility Data Specification as a means for creating a marketplace to achieve those goals. Without them, cities face the prospect of regulating competing, vertically-integrated walled gardens. “Either we’ll have open APIs to which you can plug in, or there will be a fait accompli with a system placed on top,” said Chris Thomas.

3. But they still need the data to do it

Open APIs are great, but compelling private mobility operators to share data granular enough to be useful remains a fruitless exercise, whether cities employ carrots or sticks. While there have been a handful of high-profile partnerships (such as Ford’s, Uber’s, and Lyft’s commitments to NACTO’s SharedStreets initative), new mobility operators remain loath to even allow price discovery, let alone allow their data to be aggregated for mobility-as-a-service. The idea of performance-based regulation is moot if cities have no way to evaluate performance.

“It’s very difficult to act when you don’t know what’s going on,” said Regina Clewlow, a former research scientist and CEO of the mobility data platform for cities, Populus. “The metrics both government agencies and the public sector care about is safety, sustainability, and equity – but we can’t actually make progress if we’re not measuring them.”

One form of information is prices. In Boston, Coord CEO Stephen Smyth described his firm’s ambition to create “a world in which every square foot is priced.” This “asphalt marketplace,” realized through open standards and the Internet of Things, would allocate and re-allocate curbspace and lanespace according to cities’ wishes, as manifested in dynamic pricing.

4. What are streets for, and how should we value (rather than price) them?

In response to several proposals to slice-and-dice city streets in response to mounting pressure from new mobility services, several participants from Gehl Architects and Greenfield Labs—a collaboration between Ford Smart Mobility and IDEO with support from Gehl—demanded guests take a step back and ask what streets are really for.

In San Francisco, Gehl’s chief innovation officer Jeff Risom called for a new means of engaging the public to imagine what streets could be. The now-familiar phenomenon of “bikelash” underscores how cities’ efforts to reclaim streetspace for new uses have faced nearly universal opposition from car owners. “If we want to state new policy goals, we need a new kind of conversation—one that can include a broad number of people and be facilitated in a way that’s productive,” he said.

To that end, Greenfield Labs has launched the National Street Service, a pilot organization recruiting local volunteers capable of leading those kinds of conversations. In Boston, Greenfield Labs researcher Tiffany Obser argued these new roles and institutions will be essential in changing informal rules of the road to promote safety and defuse bikelash. “There’s a lot of fear by residents about all of these modes sharing space, so cities create more rules to govern these systems,” she explained. “The more rules we create, the more fear it induces, and it becomes a vicious cycle. We’re trying to understand where we can move the needle.”

5. Land use and mobility remains a Gordian Knot

Several guests noted who wasn’t at the table—real estate developers, housing experts, and others who can help cut the Gordian knot of mobility and land use.

“Many cities and transportation authorities have challenges beyond their control, especially around land use,” said Clewlow in San Francisco. “We have last mile problems because we created them through terrible housing policy. They’re set up to fail.”

One approach is to work closely with residential developers to offer mobility-as-an-amenity in lieu of parking, which adds substantially to construction costs and is reflected in higher rents. Justin Holmes, Zipcar’s director of public policy, described in Boston how his company partners with cities and developers to provide its car-sharing service as part of mobility bundles. “Not only is it a great opportunity to serve a viable market, but you’re reaching people at a moment when they’re making a life change and thinking differently about their mobility choices,” he said.

But simply providing alternate modes for the first/last mile problem doesn’t actually solve the first/last mile problem, argued Soofa CEO Sandra Richter. Reflecting on her own upbringing in Europe, she noted that American neighborhoods are missing crucial pieces by design. Until we know exactly what those pieces are—jobs? schools?—we’ll never understand what generates trips in the first place, let alone what modes could solve them. Cities are trying to solve traffic congestion when perhaps they should be patching holes in the urban fabric.

Looming over this issue is the accelerating demographic trend of Millennials entering their long-delayed peak child-rearing years. Boston guests lamented the informal selection process facing anyone (especially parents) wishing to live a car-free lifestyle—finding the right combination of schools, commuter rail service, and walkability that fits within their budget. Could AVs provide first/last mile solutions for families, the elderly, and others precluded from using micromobility to expand the scope of car-free neighborhoods?

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December 12, 2018  |  permalink

LA CoMotion 2018

Last month in Los Angeles, I was proud and delighted to co-host the second installment of LA CoMotion, the first of its kind (in America at least) auto show for everything that isn’t a car, ranging from electric bicycles to scooters to autonomous shuttles, to good old fashioned buses, to “hover skates.”

More than 1,400 CEOs, policymakers, and experts from all over the world — along with several thousand Angelenos — flocked to the Arts District of Downtown LA for three exceptional days of insightful conversations, great speakers and exciting demos. Nearly 200 start-ups and early-stage companies in the mobility field were present at LA CoMotion this year, along with public officials from over 100 municipalities across the US and across the planet.

For my part, I was delighted to co-host the main stage events, as well as moderate the opening discussion (embedded above) between Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson, Avis Budget Group CEO Larry D. De Shon, and UITP Secretary General Mohamed Mezghani.

I was also fortunate to interview BMW Group board member Peter Schwarzenbauer (below) about his plans for MINI (where I’m the “urbanist-in-residence”) and BMW’s multi-billion dollar push into electrification. I also moderated Woods Bagot’s workshop on “More LA” (more on that here) re-imagining Los Angeles’ glut of parking spaces. All-in-all, it was a busy week — and I had strep throat the entire time, to boot.

LA CoMotion will return for a third annual installment on November 14-16, 2019. Until then, please enjoy the highlights video at bottom, which features a cameo of my green trousers (more below).


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November 26, 2018  |  permalink

LA CoMotion & Woods Bagot: More LA


Earlier this month at LA CoMotion (more to come on that, btw), Woods Bagot — Australia’s pre-eminent architecture firm — unveiled “More LA,” their remarkable study of Los Angeles’ 101 square miles of parking lots and what to do with them. Using a remarkable tool — play with it here — to test how converting parking to housing or parks would alter the city, its architects also produced gorgeous renderings of what those plots could be.

I was fortunate to moderate a panel during the launch of More LA at LA CoMotion, as well as participate in a workshop further exploring how these visions could be realized. You can download the pamphlet describing the project here. Watch this space for more More LA soon.

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November 26, 2018  |  permalink

The CoMotion Mobility Podcast, Pt. 2

LA CoMotion 2018 is in the books — more on that above and soon — but earlier this fall, I hosted a series of podcasts published in tandem with the event’s weekly newsletter. I’ve published a small selection here for posterity, including:

• LADOT general manager Seleta Reynolds (embedded above), who spoke about the LA City Council’s decision to legalize the so-called “scooter menace” and who intends to keep a handle on thousands of scooters through the “mobility data specification,” a data standard defined by her office.

• Moovel North America CEO Nat Parker (below), who chatted about mobility-as-a-service and the need for open standards and APIs versus Uber’s, Lyft’s, etc. vertically-integrated walled gardens.

• Transdev North America CEO Yann Leriche (second below), who covered a lot of ground but described his company’s efforts at creating bespoke autonomous solutions (such as an AV schoolbus) for the master-planned suburban community of Babcock Ranch, Florida.

• Lyft senior director of transportation policy Lilly Shoup (bottom), who talked about the company’s scooter launch in Santa Monica and gamely responded to my charge that Lyft was ultimately detrimental to cities.

Please give them a listen.

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October 30, 2018  |  permalink

MAS Summit: Why Autonomous Vehicles Won’t Save Us

Earlier this month, I was invited by the Municipal Art Society to moderate a session on “The Impact of Autonomous Vehicles” at its annual summit. I was fortunate to be joined by an all-star cast of urbanists and designers without an ounce of AV hype: Nelson/Nygard’s Meritxell Font; WXY’s Adam Lubinsky; Gehl Institute’s Shin-Pei Tsay; and BuroHappold’s Sabina Uffer. The entire session is available for viewing above.

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September 24, 2018  |  permalink

Why Companies Are Creating Their Own Coworking Spaces


(Haworth’s Gabor Nagy and I have just published an essay at Harvard Business Review on what might be called “corporate-to-corporate coworking” — essentially shared workspaces run by companies for the benefit of their employees. Drawing on his research and my reporting, we teased out lessons from the best spaces and argue why we believe this is the next big trend in coworking. I’ve republished the text below.)

Nestled in the Silicon Sentier district of Paris, the Villa Bonne Nouvelle (“House of Good News”), or VBN, initially appears to be another new coworking space. But what sets it apart is that only half of its 60 occupants are freelancers. The remainder work for Orange (née French Telecom), which launched VBN in 2014 to teach its programmers and engineers how to work with and learn from people outside of the company.

The experiment succeeded: Teams temporarily stationed there worked better and faster than colleagues elsewhere, and they reported greater satisfaction and engagement (along with bouts of depression upon returning to the office). Even the HR executives managing the space were surprised by their bonhomie. More villas are now in the works.

Orange describes its approach as “corpoworking,” a cousin to coworking. It’s not alone in trying to jump on the trend of shared workspaces, of which there are now around 19,000 worldwide. Dozens of companies, ranging from telcos (Sprint, AT&T), to tech giants (SAP, IBM), to automakers and insurance companies (MINI, State Farm) have launched similar experiments. The real revolution in coworking may have less to do with freelancers or startups than with employees of large companies working beyond the boundaries of their organizations.

A case in point is WeWork, the provider of coworking spaces, which has grown its enterprise customer base in the last year by 370%. As of June 2018, corporate occupiers make up roughly one-quarter of WeWork’s members and revenues. It’s also creating stand-alone locations for individual clients such as IBM, UBS, and Facebook.

It’s typically assumed these companies are seeking a jolt of hipness. But our research and reporting show this isn’t the case. We’ve separately toured and interviewed principals in more than a dozen corporate coworking spaces in the U.S., South America, and Europe over the last three years. We’ve found that these companies and their employees are searching for the same qualities freelancers and entrepreneurs report from their experiences in shared workspaces — learning skills faster, making more connections, and feeling inspired and in control.

» Continue reading...

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September 18, 2018  |  permalink

Alstom’s “Orchestrating Future Mobility”


(The French transport company Alstom has published an interview with me as part of its new whitepaper “Orchestrating Future Mobility.” Please find the interview republished below.)

“An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation,” said Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who has transformed the city’s transit system by introducing a bus rapid transit system and hundreds of kilometres of bike lanes, among other innovations.

However, as Mr Penalosa and others have found, creating a well-functioning public transport system that spans multiple modes is easier said than done. The key to bringing about true multimodal transport may be the advent of new business models, which are starting to appear in some cities, such as Helsinki. The Finnish capital aims to make it unnecessary for any city resident to own a private car by 2025.

As stated by consultancy Deloitte, “the goal is to make it so convenient for users to get around that they opt to give up their personal vehicles for city commuting, not because they’re forced to, but because the alternative is more appealing.”

The hope is that this will lead to cities that are less congested, less polluted, safer and easier to get around, as well as being more environmentally friendly, because there are fewer cars, being used more efficiently, while public transport becomes a more attractive option. Is this the likely future for cities? We asked Greg Lindsay, a senior fellow at NewCities, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to making cities more inclusive, connected, healthy and vibrant.

Multimodal transport needs to facilitate multiple layers of people moving at different velocities. You will always want heavy rail for the core trunk routes, but beyond this, there is much more flexibility to introduce measures such as dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes, along with more autonomous vehicles.

If you can create a smart city that helps people move across the city more fluently, it will bring people together, help them find and access the goods and services they need and encourage greater citizen participation by expanding the usable space of cities and connecting disconnected neighbourhoods to the rest of the city.

The biggest challenge of multimodal transport – and the key to its success – will be getting hold of the information needed to make the entire system run smoothly, policy makers should be thinking about how they can orchestrate the whole system and use their regulatory muscle to get vehicle makers to participate in this. There are competing apps out there, so you don’t have a unified system. It is possible to have a seamless system, but everyone seems determined to slug it out in their different silos.

It is crucial that public transport remains at the heart of city mobility, rather than having fleets of autonomous vehicles looking for passengers, which could make congestion even worse than it is today. Transit authorities need to embrace innovation if they want multimodality to be stronger than any single mode of transport. The municipal government has to retain authority through the public transit operator. You need an Authority that sees itself as a mobility manager rather than just a body that makes the trains run on time.

I don’t think the future is the car. Free-floating bike sharing could be part of a viable last-mile solution. As cities prepare for the future, they will need to identify transport solutions that fit their own unique set of needs. But whatever solutions emerge, a multimodal public transport system that allows people to move seamlessly from one form of transport to another will be at the heart of future mobility.

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August 06, 2018  |  permalink

The CoMotion Podcast Series

As LA CoMotion 2018 approaches — buy your super early bird tickets now! — I’ve taken on the duties of hosting the new weekly CoMotion Podcast on Soundcloud. The most recent pair of episodes are embedded here — CityFi’s Gabe Klein above and the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Michelle Boehm below. Listen as Gabe and I riff on what the micromobility revolutions means for automakers (spoiler: not good) and as Michelle gamely answers my question about why we shouldn’t trust Elon Musk. Enjoy.

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July 16, 2018  |  permalink

CityLab Insights: The State of Play in Connected Mobility


The Atlantic’s CityLab has published my 21-page white paper “The State of Play: Connected Mobility + U.S. Cities” as the first installment of its new CityLab Insights series. Intended as a short primer for public officials, it aims to quickly cover everything you need to know about Electric vehicles, AVs, mobility-as-a-service, e-bikes and scooters, deliverybots, and what to do about all of them. Registration is required, so please click through on the link above and download my report!

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About Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

» More about Greg Lindsay

Articles by Greg Lindsay

CityLab  |  December 10, 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit

Harvard Business Review  |  September 24, 2018

Why Companies Are Creating Their Own Coworking Spaces

CityLab  |  July 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility + U.S. Cities

Medium  |  May 1, 2017

The Engine Room

Fast Company  |  January 19, 2017

The Collaboration Software That’s Rejuvenating The Young Global Leaders Of Davos

The Guardian  |  January 13, 2017

What If Uber Kills Public Transport Instead of Cars

Backchannel  |  January 4, 2017

The Office of the Future Is…an Office

New Cities Foundation  |  October 2016

Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport

Inc.  |  October 2016

Why Every Business Should Start in a Co-Working Space

Popular Mechanics  |  May 11, 2016

Can the World’s Worst Traffic Problem Be Solved?

The New Republic  |  January/February 2016

Hacking The City

Fast Company  |  September 22, 2015

We Spent Two Weeks Wearing Employee Trackers: Here’s What We Learned

Fast Company  |  September 21, 2015

HR Meets Data: How Your Boss Will Monitor You To Create The Quantified Workplace

Inc.  |  March 2015

Which Contacts Should You Keep in Touch With? Let This Software Tell You

Inc.  |  March 2015

5 Global Cities of the Future

Global Solution Networks  |  December 2014

Cities on the Move

Medium  |  November 2014

Engineering Serendipity

New York University  |  October 2014

Sin City vs. SimCity

Harvard Business Review  |  October 2014

Workspaces That Move People

Inc.  |  April 2014

The Network Effect

» See all articles


December 16, 2018

The URBAN-X ‘Zine #2: Rules

December 12, 2018

The State of Play: Connected Mobility in San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit

December 12, 2018

LA CoMotion 2018

November 26, 2018

LA CoMotion & Woods Bagot: More LA

» More blog posts