Greg Lindsay

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Greg Lindsay co-authored the smart book, Aerotropolis, which I’ve blogged about before. In the New York Times, he has a new article about work places arranging their space to overcome “structural holes,” hoping to “engineer” serendipity and creativity. An excerpt:

“ONE reason structural holes persist is our overwhelming preference for face-to-face interactions. Almost 40 years ago, Thomas J. Allen, a professor of management and engineering at M.I.T., found that colleagues who are out of sight are frequently out of mind — we are four times as likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting six feet away from us as we are with someone 60 feet away, and almost never with colleagues in separate buildings or floors.

And we get a particular intellectual charge from sharing ideas in person. In a paper published last year, researchers at Arizona State University used sensors and surveys to study creativity within teams. Participants felt most creative on days spent in motion meeting people, not working for long stretches at their desks.

The sensors in the A.S.U. study were supplied by Sociometric Solutions, a spinoff company of the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Laboratory that uses ‘sociometric badges’ to measure workers’ movements, speech and conversational partners. One discovery, says Ben Waber, a co-founder of the company and a visiting scientist at M.I.T., was that employees who ate at cafeteria tables designed for 12 were more productive than those at tables for four, thanks to more chance conversations and larger social networks. That, along with things like companywide lunch hours and the cafes Google is so fond of, can boost individual productivity by as much as 25 percent.

‘If you just think of serendipity as an interaction with an unintended outcome, you can orchestrate pleasant surprises,’ says Scott Doorley, a creative director at Stanford University’s Institute of Design.”


Northeast Asia Trade Tower, New Songdo. (Image by Wikipedia.)

The result of Greg Lindsay’s collaboration with John D. Kasarda, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, grew from a 2010 article the journalist wrote for Fast Company about New Songdo City, South Korea’s ambitious airport-centric, insta-city. The opening:

Stan Gale is exultant. The chairman of Gale International yanks off his tie, hitches up his pants, and mops the sweat and floppy hair from his brow. He’s beaming like a proud new papa, sprung from the waiting room and handing out cigars to whoever happens by. Beckoning me to follow, he saunters across eight lanes of traffic toward his baby, delivered prematurely days before.

Ten years ago, Gale was a builder and flipper of office parks who would eventually become known for knocking down the Boston landmark Filene’s Basement and replacing it with a hole in the ground. But Gale’s fate began to change in 2001 with a phone call from South Korea. The Korean government had found his firm on the Internet and made an offer everyone else had refused. The brief: Gale would borrow $35 billion from Korea’s banks and its biggest steel company, and use the money to build from scratch a city the size of downtown Boston, only taller and denser, on a muddy man-made island in the Yellow Sea. When Gale arrived to see the site, it was miles of open water. He signed anyway.

New Songdo City won’t be finished until 2015 at least, but in August, Gale cut the ribbon on the 100-acre ‘Central Park’ modeled, like so much of the city, on Manhattan’s. Climbing on all sides will be a mix of low-rises and sleek spires — condos, offices, even South Korea’s tallest building, the 1,001-foot Northeast Asia Trade Tower. Strolling along the park’s canal, we hear cicadas buzzing, saws whining, and pile drivers pounding down to bedrock. I ask whether he’s stocked the canal with fish yet. ‘It’s four days old!’ he splutters, forgetting he isn’t supposed to rest until the seventh.

As far as playing God (or SimCity) goes, New Songdo is the most ambitious instant city since Brasília 50 years ago. Brasília, of course, was an instant disaster: grandiose, monstrously overscale, and immediately encircled by slums. New Songdo has to be better because there’s a lot more riding on it than whether Gale can repay his loans. It has been hailed since conception as the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. A green city, it was LEED-certified from the get-go, designed to emit a third of the greenhouse gases of a typical metropolis its size (about 300,000 people during the day). It’s an ‘international business district’ and an ‘aerotropolis’ — a Western-oriented city more focused on the airport and China beyond than on Seoul. And it’s supposed to be a ‘smart city,’ studded with chips talking to one another, designated as such years before IBM found its ‘Smarter Planet’ religion.”


A Cisco video about Songdo:

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A book that was seemingly written specifically for me (and anyone else who spends way too much time thinking about airports), Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay, predicts that airport-centric insta-cities will be the next wave. Probably not going to happen outside of a few autocratic states, but it’s still a fun thought project. From the introduction of an interview with Lindsay at BLDG:

“If Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were to become its own country, its annual workforce and user base would make it ‘the twelfth most populous nation on Earth,’ as John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay explain in Aerotropolis; even today, it is the largest employer in the state of Georgia. 

As J.G. Ballard once wrote, and as is quoted on the frontispiece of Aerotropolis:

I suspect that the airport will be the true city of the 21st century. The great airports are already the suburbs of an invisible world capital, a virtual metropolis whose fauborgs are named Heathrow, Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Nagoya, a centripetal city whose population forever circles its notional center, and will never need to gain access to its dark heart.

The remarkable claims of John Kasarda’s and Greg Lindsay’s new book are made evident by its subtitle: the aerotropolis, or airport-city, is nothing less than ‘the way we’ll live next.’ It is a new kind of human settlement, they suggest, one that ‘represents the logic of globalization made flesh in the form of cities.’ Through a kind of spatial transubstantiation, the aerotropolis turns abstract economic flows—disembodied currents of raw capital—into the shining city form of tomorrow.

The world of the aerotropolis is a world of instant cities—urbanization-on-demand—where nations like China and Saudi Arabia can simply ‘roll out cities’ one after the other. ‘Each will be built faster, better, and more cheaply than the ones that came before,’ Aerotropolis suggests: whole cities created by the warehousing demands of international shipping firms. In fact, they are “cities that shipping and handling built,’ Lindsay and Kasarda quip—urbanism in the age of Amazon Prime.” 


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