Category Archives: cities

Frank Lloyd Wright Hated Cities?


… the flip side of Wright’s deep love of the natural world—the inspiration for many of his designs—was a loathing of the urban. “To look at the plan of a great City is to look at something like the cross-section of a fibrous tumor,” he once wrote.

But not all of his work is to be found in the boonies. CityLab offers a nice list of Wright buildings that are either in or near urban areas.

After all, we are celebrating the great man’s 150 birthday!

Here is a peek inside the LA Hollyhock House

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Another image

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Why Startup Hubs are Not the Answer

It is the current fad – and indeed, no city with any ambition at all is without its “startup hub” development policy. The idea appears to make sense. After all, Silicon Valley, Boulder, Boston, New York, etc. all have vibrant startup cultures that add value. Why not us?

The answer is two-fold.

First, start ups are inherently high risk operations. Most fail. That failure rate may go up to 90% or so, depending on how you measure failure  Not only that, serial entrepreneurs often fail numerous times. In other words, the reality of nurturing a startup hub is nurturing a huge amount of failure. Most people do not have the inner fortitude to live with those kinds of risks, praying each night that a few of these ventures will hit it big and lift the city.

Keep repeating this mantra

Very few creative sparks result in an invention and very few inventions become innovations.

Not only that, it often takes a long period (upwards of 20 years) for inventions to beomce innovations that are widely adopted. And startup hubs are investments in creativity to produce invention that leads to innovation.

Just as concerning, the startups that do not fail do not necessarily contribute back to the community where they started up. Some grow fast and then fizzle.  Some move out altogether. Some stay but benefit only a few employees and owners, exaccerbating income inequality.

The data on this is murky, but looking at it from the  most opimisticperspective, you have to scratch your head. We need more and better thinking about how to promote locality.

Here are a few thoughts on what should work better

  • better strategic positioning of firms to identify where innovation will pay off.
  • better promotion of “rising local standards”. Local residents are more likely to invest locally when they believe in the future prospects of their home town.
  • better networking between folks who see opportunities, folks with ideas about how to exploit opportunities, and folks who do the actual exploiting.

You might notice that the above focuses on informatoin flow. You might think of it as a process of creative collaboration.

Re-Thinking the Olympics

Like a lot of things in our modern world that are media driven, the Olympics are out of control. They were not always that way. But most important, the cost of building the infrastructure that is needed to host the event means that local citizens get smacked with a huge tab.

That is why Boston just said “no” to hosting the 2024summer games. 

This quote says it all

it is important to remember we should never be planning our cities around three-week events, or planning our cities around visitors. We should be planning our cities in a way that will work for decades, and will benefit the residents of the city.

What to do? I propose that we pick a single site and keep the olumpicsthere. Greece would be pretty cool.

What do you think?

The Hubs are Coming!

We start this intellectual adventure with some old news. That old news is that certain locations (like Silicon Valley) have managed to attract lots of brainy people, capital and entrepreneurs. As a result, these places are magnets for start ups. They are so called “start up hubs”.

Another bit of old hubs. Localities thta cannot be called “start up hubs” are envious. They want to be innovative and wealthy too. And so they have tried to copy the start up hubs. This has worked — but only to a limited degree.

Now for the new idea. folks are just starting to real.ize that the secret sauce here is inter-connection. Locality — getting people together in a single place — is only part of the game. Equally important is modularity — fitting your great ideas into larger discussions about the topic. If so, a network of hubs can outperform a single big hub.

At least that is the theory. And in Germany, this theory is being put to the test.

Will this work? Of course it will — if the network brings in regional hubs to a broader exchange of thinking, deciding, investing and implementing. In other words, the decision trail gets more complicated in a network. But that can be sorted out by great leadership.

Stay tuned!

What is holding cities back?

Cities are attractive places to live, especially for young folks. But suburbs are growing faster in many places. What is wrong? Has the city renaissance been overstated?

CityLab puts its finger on the main culprit

As Justin Fox pointed out at Bloomberg, we’re bumping up against the limits of supply in cities. More and more Americans, especially young adults, want to live in cities, but the supply of housing there is constrained, and growing only slowly—which is why rents have spiked in cities. And while more households may be locating in less dense neighborhoods, the price of housing in suburbs has fallen relative to that in city centers.

It is an old problem that we have not solved. How to expand the supply of low and medium cost housing in densely populated areas.  That is easier in the early days of city growth when there are more vacant properties. But as a city grows, those spaces are used up.

So? If we want cities to thrive, we will need better policies to allow more diverse groups of people to live in cities. Sounds simple. In reality, it is not.

Welcome the Copenhagen Wheel!

If you bike a lot,  you notice three things a lot. The first is traffic. Cars go faster than you do, and you have to worry that one of them will give you a discrete bump as it whizzes by, sending you aloft.  Second are hills. A few mild hills are ok. But those whoppers are deadly, especially when it is hot outside. The third is the weather. Rain especially can be a bummer.

The weather is less of a problem if you have good rain gear. But cars and hills? Forst those, an electric motor comes in very handy. And the geeks over at MIT have been working on a very cool electric motor that can be installed on any bike. It is called the Copenhagen Wheel and it looks like this

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CityLab gives it a review, which is mainly positive.

Turbo mode could not have made me happier. I laughed out loud from the surprise of smoothly overtaking a car with speed and shouted calls of glee as I climbed a hill without any extra effort. The Copenhagen Wheel’s signature red hub might be ostentatious, but its power is discreet and makes no sound. It’s like being some sort of bike ninja.

There are a few downsides. And the alternatives — though not as cool — have some advantages (like battery swapping and mid-chassis construction).  Also, it aint cheap.

But I want one.

Where the Startup Money is

This figure from a Wired article is pretty wild

In 2006, companies in the Bay Area brought in 21 percent of all venture capital invested in tech in the US. By 2016, that figure had risen to 35 percent.

by way of contrast, other cities are pulling in far, far less. Denver, for example, less than 1%.

That is a big issue, and not just because of the availability of high-risk capital. As you read the above article, the main problem is finding the connections that you need to move an idea into a minimum viable product. That takes some money, and it takes designers, programmers, etc. An ecology that is oriented around high risk/high growth projects.