21st century cities: D is for Disasters

This month, I’m writing a series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. In previous entries, I explored Artificial Intelligence, Backward Futures  and Co-creation. Today is disasters.

and Brazil are suffering deadly disasters; I hope you recover rapidly and fully.


One year ago, Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. Over 300,000 people were killed. The core of Port-Au-Prince was virtually leveled. One year later, less than 5% of the rubble has been removed. One million people remain homeless, living in tent cities.

The first disaster happened on January 12, 2010. The second one is ongoing. It’s a double crime – unsafe construction and terrible response.

For 21st century cities, disasters are a way of life

Do you have a nagging sense that there’s an uptick in disasters? It’s true. There are four times as many natural disasters as twenty years ago. The trend is still climbing.

No one is immune. Fifty poorer countries led by India will suffer the most deaths. A recent report estimates we will see one million deaths a year by 2030 . Industrialized countries will pay more in economic and infrastructure loss, estimated at $157 billion annually.

Disasters are reshaping our human geography.

  •     Over one billion people  in over 100 countries are at risk of becoming climate refugees; 98% live in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Middle East (pictured Lilypad2 Refugee Floating Island).
  •     The current number of climate refugees is 50 million people, mostly displaced by flooding. By 2050, the UN estimates as many as 200 million climate refugees.
  •     People will migrate to places with food, water, security, education, health, and jobs, away from floods, disease, famine, drought, and conflict.
  •     In the US , the predicted hurricane damage on the gulf coast by 2030 is $350 billion , equal to a Hurricane Katrina every 7 years. New York and Miami  hold the highest risk for massive infrastructure damage.
  •     NBC news reporter Ann Curry’s tweet helped doctors and medicine land at a Haitian airstrip.  Is twitter a robust grassroots communication network ready to serve in disasters?

Have you been caught a disaster?

If so, were you ready? It’s more than just individual procrastination; we even vote to avoid fixing infrastructure.

  •     Elected officials get cheered and then re-elected when they respond to a disaster, as they should. But amazingly, when they beef up infrastructure, they lose elections. For every $1 spent in preparation, we save $15 in recovery.

“The benefits of prevention are not tangible; they are the disasters that did not happen.” Kofi Annan

  •     Nature or humans? Imagine if Haiti’s construction had been quake-resistant? In New Orleans, Katrina wasn’t the killer, a failed levee was. The two are so deeply intertwined, it’s always both.
  •     Mississippi and Alabama, each devastated by Katrina, refuse to enact building codes. Florida suffered 40-50% less damage and fewer deaths.
  •     Some recoveries take half a century, like Berlin. Others leap forward, like London. Still others take centuries and even millennia, like Rome.
  •     Flooding may steal the great coastal cities from future generations; there may not be future “Romes” to serve as historic markers of today.

Can we rebuild better than before?

Some cities revitalize and thrive after a catastrophic event. Others collapse, becoming a shadow of their most robust past. Jared Diamond believes collapse occurs when a society fails to adapt to new ecological or economic environments.

In other words, to recover, a city has to clearly imagine a revitalized future in a dramatically altered landscape and have the capacity and resources to act.

  •     The best time (if there is such a thing) to experience a major disaster is when your country or region is on a growth cycle. The worst is when your city’s in decline already.
  •     Will disasters become the reality tv of tomorrow?
Rotterdam is a miracle of resilience
After a catastrophic flood in 1953, Rotterdam leaders decided to rebuild beyond anyone’s imagination. Forty four years later, the Maeslant Barrier opened. It is an engineering marvel, designed to withstand a 10,000 year flood event.
  • Gumption. Building on Boyd’s OODA decision-making loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act),Vinay Gupta identifies Drive as the missing link between orientation and deciding to act, in other words, leadership and vision.
  • Wrong-mindedness. The most difficult problem is not inaction but wrong-minded action. Is New York rebuilding a 2050 future or a 1950 rehash?
  • Mindfulness. In contrast, after the 1989 earthquake destroyed the massive Embarcadero highway, San Francisco tore it down and re-established access to the bay from the adjacent neighborhoods. They chose a new, unique future.
  • A future of parity. For New Orleans to build a levee system for a 500 year flood event the estimate is $70 billion. The current repair to the levees is costing $15 billion for a 100 year flood. The entire city’s future remains unstable.

Images of the future

A number of organizations are fully mobilized such as the UN’s Resilient Cities program and Architecture for Humanity. Here’s a few still in the future.

  •     Communication networks include our mobile phones. Flying disaster relief robots support a local network.
  •     Video games can aid in preparation and emergency response training.
  •     Sensor networks provide real time data on locations of people and resources.
  •     Mobile hospitals will be flown into remote locations, such as solar airships.
  •    Temporary housing is being designed as prefab or created locally with salvaged materials.
  •     Future housing will be created on-site via 3d printers.
  •     Modular solar power enables off the grid energy.
  •     Geoengineering attempts to turn back atmospheric change to avoid the most extreme consequences of global warming.
  •     Sensors for emergency alert systems continue to improve

 Disaster-ready future cities

Several trends help: localism for food, distributed power especially the use of solar energy, walkable and biking neighborhoods w/ shops and services, DIY initiatives for making things, bartering/trading/sharing networks, communication networks such as twitter and other mobile devices, and so on.  A global push for city response plans, strengthening infrastructure, implementing building codes, and building higher and away from oceans is critical.

  • The 9/11 Report described New York as a failure of imagination. Can imagination help us?
  • The strongest efforts come from within a community. Someone steps up; some vision captures hearts and minds. People begin a million small actions towards recovery.
  • If a catastrophic event hits your city, are you ready? Is your neighborhood? Your family? How will you be safe? How resilient is your city?

Disasters destroy normal. Many cities and communities find their true mission, and rebuild even better. It can be a moment of deep reflection and learning, committing, and inspiring.

The next post, E is for Education. I am failing at my goal to post daily so I will try some new strategies. Thank you for reading, tweeting, commenting!

Images: Disaster historic statistics, Haiti tent city, Rotterdam Maeslantkering, Pakistani flood refugees, Lilypad2 floating city, flying disaster relief robots, video games.


Future of Money – Futurists’ Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat #futureofmoney

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its second twitter chat on Thursday, November 18, 2010 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. Use these hashtags: #apf #futrchat. 

Venessa Miemis  will join us as an invited guest  to share thoughts from  her recentSIBOS  keynote presentation and FOM research.


The Future of Money 

Beyond the currency arguments between nations, another more fundamental debate brews. You could say that it’s the difference between people who trust the traditional banking system and those that believe there’s a better way based on transparency, open data, and social bonds.   

Venessa Miemis ,Gabriel Shalom , and Jay Cousins developed a short film,“The Future of Money,”  for the recentSIBOS conference  in Amsterdam. In a series of interviews, Gen Y’s say why they feel distrust or a disconnection with the current system and what they see emerging in the social currency space.  


On twitter, you can find tweets by searching for #futureofmoney. Here’s some recent posts pertaining to SIBOS.

  • Venessa believes that traditional financiers and Gen Y’s areliving in different worlds.   Her proposals and concerns: 
    1. Intelligent investing opportunities likeGroupon  local deals but for investing.
    2. Real-time data visualizations for money management likemint.com .
    3. Social network analysis for co-production opportunities that helps visualize network connections
    4. Local currency projects such asMetacurrency .com
  • Gabriel Shalom  comments on responses to the film andthe future of the FOM .
  • Chris Skinner , a financial expert and co-founder of Shaping Tomorrow website, attended Sibos and executive produced the video. He wroteblog responses  to Venessa’s ideas and added a number of other points.

And here’s a few developments since SIBOS.


What do you think?

I’m watching to see what people believe about money. We all use it and by necessity, we each manage it for ourselves and/or for businesses. Is there anything more emotional than the power of currency? And how do you define currency? Economic, social, environmental, political, cultural?

What is money? What does it do and what does it mean? Are you worried about the future of money? Or is it all roses ahead? What drivers could plague money, and cause drastic change? Are we at or nearing a turning point? Is there a significant, fundamental gap between financial experts and us, the regular people? If so, is the gap in communications, worldviews or something else? Is the distinction or gap useful or an us against them battle? Will it be useful in the future?

I wonder if we will see a range of ideas, conflicts of opinions, or will we agree quite readily on the future of money. What, do you believe, are the big issues for money by 2020? Or by 2030? Is it social/community, trust, transparency, or are other lumps or gems on the horizon?

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and say what you believe will be the future of money. At our premier chat last month on the future of education, an intensive hour flew by and the results gave a snapshot of many varied perspectives and experiences, like a speed scan or survey.

As we did last month, Jennifer Jarratt will pitch provocative questions and I will cajole, contribute, coax, and retweet the saltiest items. You can do the same, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and teach, inform, persuade, thrill, or terrify us about the future of money.

What do you think will be the future of money?

Image: Organic Grapefruit onThe Value of a Dollar Project by Jonathan Blaustein

The Future of Education: A Twitter Chat #apf #futrchat


The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting our first tweetchat.

  • Thursday October 14, 2010 from 4:00- 5:00 Eastern time, Washington DC/New York (check your time zone via world clock )
  • Topic: Future of Education
  • Hashtags: #futrchat #apf

 We welcome anyone that is interested in the future and/or education to join us.

Jennifer Jarratt  and I plan to co-host; I think Jennifer will be throwing out questions and I’ll try to spark conversations. If you have ideas for questions, please send them to either of us.

What’s a TweetChat?

For those who haven’t participated in tweetchats before, here are a couple of how-to’s by Content Maven Meryl.net (pt 1  and 2 ).

You can view the tweet chat a couple of different ways:

  • Tweetchat  is a special site just for this purpose.
  • Tweetdeck  you can search for the hashtag #futrchat which will open a column with all the tweets in a timeline.
  • Tweetgrid you can search for multiple terms: #futrchat, #apf, education, future, or any of our twitter names.

I have participated and lurked on a few chats over the past six months. What I’ve learned is:

  1. Always include the hashtags #apf #futrchat somewhere in the tweet.
  2. When you arrive, say hello and introduce yourself briefly.  
  3. Always start your response with the number of the question, Q1, Q2 and so on.
  4. If you like someone’s comment, retweet it so that others see it.
  5. Add links if appropriate, which builds value. People can read these later.
  6. Comment as often as you think of something, at least once per question.More comments are better.
  7. Ask other people direct questions if they say something that intrigues you.

We are building a community and exploring a topic. I hope in the end we have a transcript from Tweetchat to share. More importantly, I hope we learn something together.


Future of Education

A few of the futurists in APF specialize in education and plan to participate. I worked on nearly 100 education facilities as an architect and teach in higher ed.

That’s the thing about education – we all have a vested interest. Education matters. People are immersed in today’s education problems; the key here is to think long-term.

What will be our problems, our needs, our realities in 2020, 2030, or 2050?

In terms of education, are we preparing people for careers in 1990 or 2030? How do we deal with the explosion of change? Longer life spans? Who are the students? What is knowledge in 2030 or 2050? Its speedy obsolescence? New technologies? What tools, new or old? Preparing teachers? Building schools? Engaged and integrated in communities, at home, or in classrooms? Participatory action learning? Global connections? Remote teaching, remote learning? Creativity, practical vocations, science, math emphasized? If everyone learns differently, how do we build learning communities?

Dr. Michael Wensch, an inspiring teacher and cultural anthropologist, studies the effects of technology on students. I recently saw him speak at a TEDxKC event, a treat.

You are the key!

I hope you will join us! Thursday October 14, 2010 – 4:00 East coast US time. Let me know if you have any questions, here or on twitter as @urbanverse.

We plan to do these on the second Thursday of the month. Your ideas for improvements, new topics, and questions are appreciated. We may invite special guests at future chats, including some APF members.

Here’s a few education links from my delicious site.

Images: Kids learning: School Gate, The Times Online; Millau Bridge, Arctic Puppy on Flickr CC

An Extraordinary Year of Blogging: an Architect’s View #letsblogoff

This week, Let’s Blog Off asks: “Are blogs as important as bloggers think they are?” I think my colleagues have answered the basic question. Paul Anatar gives statistics. Veronika Miller and Saxon Henry merge blogging, travel and design. Architects Steve Mouzon and Bob Borson talk about the importance of blogging; Steve to build sustainably, and Bob for insights as a residential architect. All agree: blogging is important, especially for designers.

So let me rephrase it: “Why blog?” More specifically, why should architects, designers, engineers, contractors, or anyone in the construction industry blog? and what I’ve learned from blogging.

Why Blog?

Seth Godin and Tom Peters, blogging and publishing giants, praise the life changing effects of blogging. Blogging makes us think. And, it’s FREE!

I have blogged for about a year. It’s my 50/50/50 milestone. Over 50 blogs in 50 weeks for over 50,000 people. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, and I humbly say, thanks to all that read and comment! The best moments are when you leave some pithy remark, exuberant cheers, tell me I’m full of crap, or extend the ideas.

One thing I assure you is: it’s not free. It takes time. It takes effort, commitment, ideas, organization, focus, and consistency. It’s a substantial investment, both personally and professionally. And it pays dividends. You sort through ideas, you take risks, engage with people. And you learn enormously.

Yet, blogging takes courage.

Not the kind of courage that makes you charge in battle, pull a child from a burning building, or climb Mount Everest. Yet still utterly risky.

Exposing your ideas shows you have gumption, plenty of it.

No one forces you blog, or even asks you to. You blog because you have an urge to contribute beyond your normal duties. You have more to say, something to share. You want to engage people and influence memes. Blogging builds ideas and stretches our thinking, our beliefs. It’s creative, experimental, at times uncomfortable and even a bit crazy.

But when you write a blog,  it’s your choice, your creation. The entire burden rests on your shoulders. That’s brave. and also thrilling.

Frankly I have at least as many posts in my “void” file as those posted. They’re incubating for future use. I learned from every one of them. These posts are not yet ready for you to invest your time in them. Attention is the new currency.

Why architects need to blog (and all design/build pros)


We simply don’t learn to write or even to communicate well in architecture school, and perhaps not in the field either. We practice designing, drawing and modeling. We learn by making things, not necessarily by speaking and writing, except for marketing and specs (yes, I said specs, thoroughly lacking in readability.)

Blogging cures that gap. When architects blog, we practice explaining our ideas, what we think about, and most importantly perhaps, what we believe. Rather than every few weeks to a client, we have to do it regularly, sitting at a computer, and then put it out there for you to respond: “Aha! Now I get it.” Or: “That’s crap, no way!”

Mostly design pros and contractors talk to each other. Isn’t that true? Think how much of your week is spent talking to people outside the industry about the industry? Blogging goes well beyond our everyday communications; we actually have to cut out the jargon, or at least explain it. (A client cursed me roundly for calling a drawing of the building exterior an elevation. whew, a stinger.)

Why do I blog?

I blog to rev up the idea chain, engage in conversations, and learn. Some of my blogging looks to the future, like “Twitter for Futurists,” my series on 21st century cities, and my current True Green series. Other posts focus on my opinion laced with some facts, such as last week’s outrage about the US pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai. From my blog, it looks like opinion posts get more comments, while informative pieces get more views. Maybe when my voice is more front stage, so is yours? It’s one thought.


I wonder why we still ask about the value of blogging? Then I imagine, the Cistercian monks probably argued against the Gutenberg press for years too, maybe centuries! “Who will read all those Bibles?” doh! Eventually blogs will be accepted as a central part of the communication media chain, the part that gives each of us a megaphone.

Surely every blog post changes the world, some far more than others.

You can find more of my blogging colleagues responses to “Are blogs important?” here.

And for your amusement, Jon Stewart skewers blogging, or rather, eviscerates it.


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Blogs Must Be Crazy
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook


Twitter for Futurists #apf #futrchat #socialmedia


The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is planning to host a new apf #futrchat. The inaugural chat is Thursday Oct 14, 2010, 4:00-5:00 pm EST on The Future of Education. Use #futrchat #apf; we’d love for others to join in.

Some members asked for a quick intro for using twitter.Here’s the basics.

  1. Sign up . It’s simple; requires a 160 character bio, avatar image, and eventually a background. All which can be changed later.
  2. Build your community. To find futurists, start with my list . Frank Spencer @frankspencer runs a futurist twibe . Sign up. Follow intriguing accounts, people you know. You are beginning to build a network.
  3. Join the conversation. Please let me know you’ve arrived, just cc: @urbanverse  in the tweet and I will see it. Then I’ll reply/tweet back and others will see you. Re: content, I rarely post what I am doing. Breakfast news? Naw. Giving a presentation? Sure. Peak oil stats, a new vertical farm, those are worthy. Post a link to an article or something meaningful about the day, your work.

Not: What are you doing? It’s: What can you share?

As you converse and follow, your community grows. Twitter is a light, loose tool; you make it what you want. You can see others’ conversations and they can see yours – get used to it. It’s all public. Follow whomever you want, theQueen of Jordan or the local bakery to catch today’s specials. 

Tweetdeck allows you to have multiple columns open simultaneously and group people according to interests. This is the “client” tool I use for most of my tweets because I’m working from a desktop or laptop. Hootsuite enables sharing, managing, and analyzing from a single dashboard. Close to half of all tweets are from mobile devices so people use other applications.

What’s different for futurists?  

What is particularly useful for futurists? In a word: Search. While searching is perhaps intriguing to others, it’s the lifeblood of futures work. On twitter, you see real time stories by witnesses and advocates (recognizing the pitfalls of immediacy), articles posted by authors, links via experts (such as my futurists list), and information through news feeds like @nytimes. It’s a bit like RSS or Google with expert guides, who are the people and organizations that you follow. You shape your experience with those follows and your searches by topic. When you open your twitter homepage, you will see in your feed what we (the people you follow) are searching today.


The best way to search on twitter is to build your network and watch for patterns. It’s the most time consuming too. Some tools will help you organize specific searches

  1. For particular topics, try the Twitter.com search box or the advanced search.
  2. Tweetdeck allows you to have multiple search columns open simultaneously.
  3. Addictomatic and Tweetgrid give you a dashboard of multiple searches.
  4. Here’s a comparison of six search services.
  5. This list of 50 ways to search twitter should satisfy your needs.

Initially, you might find primarily today’s news. Many search apps focus on trending topics, which are frequently curious and amusing but rarely useful. I did get a sense that the average twitter age was decreasing based on trends, long before stats came out. But that was more of a casual observation than a research project, a sense because I was in the space daily. To get better hits efficiently, you need to craft your search terms, build a network of trusted sources, and monitor patterns.

The Agora

Twitter is not a stand-alone site. It’s a screen for monitoring and connecting. Darren Rouse @problogger calls it, an outpost. He puts his blog in the center of his web presence; that’s the way to think for monetization purposes. You want to attract people to your site, your storefront.

For accessing the public brain, twitter is the center. It makes sites, ideas, people, events, causes visible. It is the agora, the public square. As a futurist and researcher, I think in terms of open knowledge, (pre)emergent ideas, and a shared community that is accessible on twitter.

If your interest is to influence as a thought leader, then you want to spend far more time on blog content development, follow lists of influencers (different than early signals), engage them on twitter and on their blogs, and track twitter and your blog traffic daily with analytics.


What’s Your Experience?

I wonder how other futurists use twitter and the other social media sites?

Do non-futurists use it in a similar way? Or do you have a different take?

Ok, new users (or current users), does this help? Make sense? I have internalized a lot of the early steps, so please, if you have questions, just ask.  

images: 17 ways to visualize the twitter universe. on Flowing Data.


FTF Architects, New Media, and New Brains: #AIA2010 Highlights


Here’s one paradox of online friends. I know an incredible community of people via social networks. Now, thanks to the generous tweets during AIA2010, I realize I have far more reasons to actually BE at the convention.

I experienced an oddly compelling separation anxiety. Why wasn’t I there, dancing in the street with Tabitha Ponte @designstudio26 and Susan Welker @ladyaia? How did I miss @stevemouzon’s presentation? Or Mike Plotnik @somechum, Ned Cramer @architectmag, and Marc Kushner @architizer’s panel?

In other words, paradoxically, online engagement makes real life ftf meetings more essential. Next year in New Orleans, I’ll be there. A tweet up, anyone?

Best Session 1 – Dan Pink
Two sessions stood out via tweets. These sessions just so happened to begin and end the convention. Some folks weren’t there yet on Thursday at 8 and others were gone by Saturday afternoon. Too bad.

The convention formally opened with Daniel Pink’s keynote Thursday. I own several of Pink’s books so his topic “The Role of Right-Brain Thinking in a Modern Economy” grabbed my attention. “People need to teach children to think like an architect.” Well, what self-righteous architect would argue with that? He suggested the US economy should be concerned about Asia, automation and abundance. By abundance, I think he means watch out for scarcity thinking. There’s not just one pie to divide up; make more pies. To take advantage of our right-brains, we need to think in terms of design, stories, and symphony.

Best Session 2 – New Media 
At the Saturday afternoon New Media panel, the dynamic trio of Mike Plotnik @SomeChum @HOKNetwork, Ned Cramer @Architizer, and Marc Kushner @architectmag covered all the bases– architecture firm, print/online media, and architects’ social network.

  • Ned Cramer @architectmag says that online media tries give the feel of the print experience, its materiality. You can see that’s their goal in Architect Magazine’s page-flip format; it even mimics page flipping. To avoid the sins of pure eye candy (as much as we architects appreciate gorgeous buildings), they balance culture, technology, practice, and design.
  • Marc Kushner @architizer set out to create a new model of information exchange for architects. They want to be what LinkedIn can’t be for architecture – a purely open sourced network. I would say Architizer operates a lot like a wiki; part firm brochure, part resume, part architecture culture, part social. The amount of material is exploding.
  • Mike Plotnik @SomeChum of @HOKNetwork made the statement that stuck most in my mind: social media should be more about sociology than technology. Isn’t that true about architecture and urban design too? Shouldn’t we be considering a human approach?

Mike described HOK’s process of setting up HOKLife in 2008. Because of a dearth of prior architecture models for social blogging, they visited the new media lab at the University of Virginia. HOK’s site now has what he refers to as a “living room AND a family room;” meaning the formal marketing portion and the blogging portion. He sees the two merging in the future. Their social media component has helped “solve a true business challenge,” that is, recruiting new talent.

His final thought: “It’s important not just to be on social media nodes, but to have a point of view.” You bet it is. That’s always been true about architecture. I’m seconding that.

[Mike recently invited me to write the first guest post for HOKLife, an excellent experience for me. including a couple of new friends.]

Architects Social?
With social media, we have to express our philosophy in words AND in buildings. In a social world, people can judge our words better than they can understand our architectural designs. We lose the mystical veil of expertise and have to simply talk with people.

I’m hopeful we can make the shift to the new sociability; are you?

See you in New Orleans May 2011? I’m thinking about a social tech session. Who would you want to hear? What should we cover?

Gratitude and resources:
Photo credit @liraluis posted “one of the more innovative booth designs” http://ping.fm/Ir4PL. Let her explain that one. It confused and amused people all week. Hint: Rhino modeling.
Daniel Pink’s Keynote — thank you Susan Welker @ladyaia and @archaerie!
New Media Panel – thank you @stevemouzon, @GinaRMiller, and @Architizer!
You can see handouts online: http://tinyurl.com/244vj8x (Thank you, Heather West @heatherwestpr).
I was intrigued by WorldViz’s booth on virtual reality, always looking towards next innovations.

Trust: The New Golden Handcuffs | Life at HOK

Mike Plotnik, HOK, invited me to be the first guest blogger on HOKLife. Here’s the verbatim post. Thanks to Mike and HOK for sharing their incredible platform, one of the most socially engaging architectural sites.

I invited Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, an accomplished architect, educator, researcher and blogger, to share some insights on the value and potential of online communities like ours. Prepare to be inspired, challenged and enriched…


How do you build your professional reputation? There’s an old way and a new way.

In the old way, you work for a star firm, build expertise, cultivate relationships, get recognition, awards, advancement, grab a couple of friends, and bolt for the door. Voila, the birth of a next-generation firm where you can spread your wings, design, lead, and develop your expertise.

The cost to the mother ship is enormous. They lose their best people. Project knowledge vanishes, as do friendships, clients, and projects. In short, the most talented people outgrow the firm. In the old way, influence was finite.

There’s a new scenario developing. You can see it at HOKLife. While inside the firm, you build your own brand. You express your views using the firm’s resources. Your brilliance appears on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. People come to HOK specifically to find you, ask your opinion, and seek your expertise. Your influence can literally extend globally; you are limited only by the strength of your ideas. When your influence grows, so does HOK’s.

From HOK and Me to We’

Paradoxically, by giving you freedom to express your ideas, HOK increases the stickiness of its network. Trust is the new golden handcuffs. You stay with a company because they allow you to directly shape that collective persona. Rather than a monolithic top-down message, HOK becomes an aggregation of many voices and moves the relationship from the firm and me, to we. Those voices bloom every day on HOKLife and change the public face of the business.

Freedom of expression generates greater resilience for the firm and breeds a new type of brand, more inventive and diverse through multiple voices. While HOK benefits by drawing more deeply on the resources of individuals, each blogger gains the HOK presence which lends immediate credibility. The public, including clients, experience the vast levels of knowledge and resources that comprise the entire organization.

HOKLife offers a megaphone to cultivate stronger bonds with the firm’s most precious resource – you. It’s a gamble. Yet I wager that no field benefits more from high-performing social technologies and open leadership approach than the design professions. Because each firm member is a professional expert, it generates a competitive advantage previously constrained by the limits of specific project roles. Digital territory offers every person infinite free space for engagement and consequently influence.

Models for Social Engagement



I recently met one of the leading social technology analysts, Jeremiah Owyang of The Altimeter Group. He identifies five organizational models for social engagement: centralized, organic, coordinated, hub and spoke, and holistic or “honeycombed.” From what I see, HOK works as a coordinated or multiple hub and spoke model. People from Hong Kong to St. Louis across disciplines and interests contribute. Most comments come from inside, with a few external comments on blogs and Facebook. Those blog posts and comments begin the conversation.


HOKLife may evolve to the holistic “honeycombed” approach. Each employee is empowered to experiment. The social portion of the website grows according to each action and becomes the firm’s voice. The result is a seamlessly integrated engagement between employees and clients. Eventually, HOK’s website can merge with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Known as a Freemium business approach, general research knowledge is shared openly to grow influence while clients pay for customized design services. The industry, HOK, and you as an influential expert benefit.

Building Influence and Trust Communities

In some ways, websites didn’t do professional design firms any favors. They set the stage for static sites centrally controlled which freezes social potential. At one time merely having a web presence represented a leap of innovation. Not now. It’s the difference between walking into an empty room versus a room full of engaged people.

Rather than merely broadcasting, social technologies enable dialogue and let the site ebb and flow based on the energy of the conversation. The visitor’s experience shifts from an online brochure to an ongoing roundtable discussion. Firms who still believe in the brochure model will be left behind.

In the new social engagement model, clients and the public don’t visit just to become familiar with HOK. People return repeatedly as though it’s a combination of coffee shop conversation, resource library, television broadcasting, and newspaper stand. You create a must-stop location. While building careers and reputation, you’re cultivating relationships and developing communities based on trust. When people want an expert opinion, they will come to HOK to find you.

What’s Next?

HOK people already blogging are brave scouts; you opened new territory. Here’s some thoughts about your next opportunities to expand your influence and relevance.

  1. Comment, comment, comment. Create a commenting frenzy that builds high quality dialog. That energy and vitality will attract others to the table.
  2. More firm leaders join the conversation by writing and commenting on others’ postings.
  3. Highlight particularly vital conversations so others join in.
  4. Find your clients online; share information at those sites.
  5. Link clients and colleagues to specific blog posts and conversations.
  6. Expose projects on the boards or under construction, which truly are social as much as they are technology.
  7. Think in terms of: what do our clients need to know? What keeps them up at night? Write about that.

The work that HOK does is thrilling; you plan, design, and build cities every day. A website can have the energy and vitality of a job site or design studio. When people begin to frequent the site simply to engage and find expertise, HOK will have a valuable asset. So will each committed person that built it. Using HOKLife to engage people and blur the boundaries of the firm brings richness and experience unique in the design and planning professions.

Instead of bricks and mortar storefronts, the new geography is digital; space is free. Consequently, time becomes the most precious commodity. Can you attract the attention of influencers? Moreover, can you gain their trust? You attract people through intriguing ideas; you capture their hearts and minds by developing real relationships.

Owyang, Jeremiah. “Four Laws of Social Business.” Presentation Slides from Smash Summit, May 2010. (image source for social engagement models)

More Links at http://delicious.com/cindyfw key words: socialmedia, socialmediabiz, twitterstories

Image credit: Cadenhead, Rogers, Rcade. “Newseum: Do You Trust Blogs.” Uploaded 19 Feb 2009, Flickr Creative Commons.


Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, LEED AP, founded and operated an architecture firm for 20 years before merging it with another design firm in order to shift her focus to long-term strategies for designing and building cities. Example projects are Kansas City Downtown Civic Mall Master Plan for 60 blocks of the central business district; Kansas City, Missouri Police Department Facilities Master Plan; Charles E. Whittaker United States Courthouse Interiors; and the Ilus W. Davis Park, a civic park in downtown Kansas City. She teaches in the Graduate Program in Futures Studies at the University of Houston as an adjunct professor and at the University of Kansas. Frewen Wuellner is currently writing a book on how social technologies are transforming the ways we use and build cities. Web site: http://urbanverse.posterous.com; Connect at Twitter and LinkedIn.


Ten Ways to Build Strong Communities – Notes from Free State Social

Last week, three hundred people experienced an energy tornado at the Free State Social. Thanks to the hard working Ben Smith and Whitney Mathews, folks from Kansas, Missouri and points beyond spent a couple of days with social media geniuses.

These folks blew me away. Two days of cyclonic SM. If cities used this gale of ideas, our communities would be knit tighter than Mayberry. Here’s my top ten for cities.


Jeremiah, Ben, and Chris

1.       Brogan’s Be Nice Club. Shawna Coronado, green gardening guru and author, said that’s all the advice Chris Brogan, New Marketing Labs, gave her. Be nice. Not just a feel-good platitude; it’s the core belief of social. The seed in the center of the fruit. “Do Something.” Don’t wait for people to ask. Go find them. Then give them whatever they need, tools, ideas, words, to make it happen. Communities flourish with hyper-focused, big-hearted nice. Contagious.

2.       Blog early and often in multi-media. Make your posts short and fast (whoop, that’s advice I need!) Shawna says accessible words, shorter sentences and paragraphs, with personal touches. Then parlay one idea into two, three, even four posts, using texts, pictures, podcasts and videos. Mix it up. Ramsey Mohsen’s (Digital Evolution) video of the opening of the first downtown KC grocery story in recent memory attracted his most viewers and was picked up by the news media. Community videos tell the story of people and place.

3.      Live and die by your database. Chris says don’t just know their business address; know everything you can about who they are, what they like. Jeremiah Owyang, web strategist with Altimeter Group, says future growth is tied to CRM (Customer (for cities, say Citizen) Relations Management); his “New Rules” details strategies. Knowing people as individuals turns a city into a community. You can give them what they need. Connect people with common interests. That’s the magic of turning cities into highly engaged communities.

4.       I know the greatest (fill in the name). Promote other people’s stuff 12 times as much as you talk about yours. That’s Chris’s rule for stirring up a storm of connections. Twelve times! Here’s how it works every day. If we have two hours for social media, spend 30 minutes replying to others’ blogs, 30 minutes on twitter or another networks, and 60 minutes on your own blog. Half content, half networking. Communities who look after each other first forge long-term bonds.

5.      Propose boldly. PR expert Sarah Evans, Sevans Strategy, leverages would-be water cooler conversations into watershed promotions. Within two hours of Chicago’s rare earthquake in 2008, Sarah had tweeted and blogged a sensational story, “sounded like a train,” with fact links that landed her and her company on CNN and the front page of the New York Times. She of course sent her blog to folks she already knew from SM. Similar deal: Shawna sent a proposal to Mexico government for a green eco-tour and got a week’s vacation for her family. They were ready, at the right place, saw an idea, and submitted a proposal. Cities, communities, each of us can leverage our assets, be ready, engaged, and then ask. Miracles happen.


Sarah and Shawna, being good sports.

6.      Create something useful. Sarah invented #journchat that brings together experts on twitter for high speed conversations. Last March, she made a twitter follower list of Academy Award nominees that was picked up by news services globally. She is sourced regularly by big media. Jeremiah asks for people’s career changes and regularly publishes the list. Under his Freemium business model, he shares his major research as free reports. Zena Weist, H&R Block, co-founded the Social Media Club of Kansas City and generously introduces folks better than anyone I know. We connect to Sarah, Jeremiah, and Zena because they are unbelievably warm people who make friends readily and generously share knowledge. They create value that builds communities.

7.      New location rituals. Social media is rapidly invading our every move via rich touch screen mobile devices. Scott Raymond, Gowalla, saw a parallel in Samoa greetings. Not “how are you?” They ask, “Where are you coming from?” and “Where are you going?” Location is key. Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter Online, says Four Square helps folks track shorter ticket lines at stadiums. We have immediate local information from a trusted source. No longer are we traveling alone; we carry our entire network in our pocket, per Jeremiah. Every hungry traveler shares the same information as the native. Every city becomes our stomping grounds. We adopt new places; places would be smart to adopt us.

8.      The one-two punch: causes and money. The blog posts that say how to save money and also be green get far and away the most views, Shawna found. Good cause and frugal. For #beatcancer, Sarah helped raise $160,000 in three weeks! Ramsey hosts an annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party that has raised thousands of dollars for KC charities. SM and causes are like peas and carrots. People grow enormously generous in strong social networks.

9.      Be the provocateur. Tony Botello’s contrarian views make his blog the highest read in Kansas City. Commenting on the Free State crowd versus the Hispanic community he writes for, “There’s a lot more laptops here than in my Westside meetings.” Shawna called her book “Gardening Nude” with a photo of her… yup, in her birthday suit. She catches our attention to sell books; I remembered her immediately on twitter, it works. Communities can distinguish themselves and attract others by creating a unique, memorable perspective.

10.     Where Do We Want This All To Go? Make It Simple. Chris’s last advice closes the deal. Figure out the GPS of your community, business, yourself. Can you say where your community is going? Do you know what you want out of your city? Where do you want it to be in 10 or 20 years? Is that where you will be? Give directions – make it simple.

Are you a community builder? How do you do it?


Free State Social has a blog, bios, and links.

Ben Smith @benasmith shared his pics.

Eric Melin at Spiral 16 posted an excellent recap.

Jeff Smith @jeffisageek gave insights and speakers videos.

John Kreicbergs @patchchord gave his excellent “firehose” synthesis.


How Social Technologies Are Changing Cities for Small Business


As a special treat, today I talked with Kelly Scanlon, Thinking Bigger Business Media, on Talk Radio 1510 AM. We covered social media for the first 15-20 minutes and social technologies and cities for the second. It was a lively, enjoyable, and I hope informative, conversation. Whew, the time flew! 

Heres the recording:http://bit.ly/dAsgA8  

In terms of social media, I am strictly a user, an architect who avidly uses social technologies. Folks at the Social Media Club of Kansas City like Lisa Qualls @lqualls, Jeff Smith @jeffisageek, and Shelly Kramer @shellykramer are my generous and brilliant teachers. I shape the info I learn from them and many others so that it works for architects and small business.

My rundown, in brief:

Regarding social media and networks:

  1. The key term is community. Social networks are engaged participation. You don’t just push promotions; you become part of a community, or actually, many communities. They eliminate geographic differences.
  2.  Three sites dominate the business side of social networking: Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. 
  3. Facebook, the motherlode site, is a huge reunion of all your family and friends all mashed together from birth to present time, each sharing photos, life details, and items of interest. You will find people you lost track of and keep up with folks you don’t  see every day. As a business or as a government agency, you need to set up a fan page and tell all your business associates so they can become your fan as silly as that may sound. It will take a few hours and then requires daily checking, commenting, and regular posting. 
  4. Twitter is the pulse of news and information  around the world. You  find people and ideas; every day I talk to people on at least three continents, probably five. They have recommended me, engaged me to speak to groups, put me in contact with key folks, and shared a mountain of information; I reciprocate.  I have helped people get employment, new business, new contacts, and information. For me, it’s a search/research site with a multitude of friendly expert guides. Use Addictomatic for intensive searches. Alltop supplies constant updates on most topics, and its founder Guy Kawasaki and his team tweet at an insane pace. Twitters a wide open field a completely public space. Kelly and I chatted about a couple of famous business faux pas on Twitter. Youll find me on twitter most days.
  5. Linked In serves two functions for businesses. First  off, it’s a  business card. Many folks will look you up on Linked In after you meet or even before a formal meeting in preparation. Its essentially an expanded business card, close to a resume. Secondly, the special interest groups host discussions for various industries and issues. Youll meet other folks in your area of expertise. Linked In is more private because you have to know someone or be connected or introduced to them to become linked.
  6. To get started, set up contact information on these 3 sites twitter takes about five minutes, the other two a couple of hours. Make connections which will take initially some more hours and then you will maintain it. and figure on daily checking. A cross section of people from your business should represent your company. The point is, its marketing and business development communities, yes. But its also building technical communities and areas of expertise. Business owners want to meet other business owners. Architects want to meet other architects. And then we also want to meet other people in different fields. For example, I follow a lot of scientists. And they also follow what I do because of my work in futures and forecasting.
  7. Bottom line on social media for business: its essential. And its not just a one-time event. Its a new way of knowing your industry, your city, and where you and your business fit.  Look up my tags on delicious, athttp://delicious.com/cindyfw  key word: socialmedia, socialmedia+, twitter, facebook, twitterbiz, and a personal favorite: twitterstories. Youll find hundreds of links. I know, you want just one. Start with ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, ChrisBrogan, and Problogger.

Regarding social technologies and cities: I gots to go folks, so will return to summarize key points on second half. Friday eve festivities have started. In the meantime, I hope youll listen to our conversation. It begins a few minutes into the recording. 

And what did I really seriously forget? As an expert, blog. Period. It another amazing tool that will get you in touch with so many people and ideas. You can begin with Posterous, as I did, to get your blogging legs so to speak. As a business, you need to add it to your website as soon as you are ready to use it regularly either you or your smartest and brightest people. Just identify who is talking for the company; its not a monolith, for goodness sakes. It’s the best of all of you grouped into a business. That’s transparency and people will find your business far more engaging if you are open.

Kelly is an amazing resource, heres a brief bio: “Eye on Small Business” is a weekly radio show that highlights successful small business owners and small business issues and resources. Broadcast from Kansas City, host Kelly Scanlon interviews small business owners who share the secrets behind their success. She also talks with business experts who share tips that help small businesses grow to the next level. Kelly Scanlon is the owner and publisher of Kansas City Small Business Monthly, Inc., a media company that connects growth-minded business owners with the information and resources that can take them to the next level. Delivery vehicles include a monthly magazine, an annual resource directory, three Web sites, a weekly e-newsletter, a weekly radio show, an annual awards gala and educational workshops and networking events.http://www.iThinkBigger.com 

Will Filtering Reality Build Communities or Fortresses?


While Jamais Cascio is concerned that we will block people we don’t like and live behind blinders that hide contrary ideologies, I think that we might use augmented reality to change our common landscape and city scapes.

What if we can choose what buildings we see? or what the buildings look like? Its a little like colors. I assume that you see red like I see red, but I can only trust our word descriptors. From then on, its a shared cultural reaction that red is a fighting color, a vibrant dress, or a shade of holiday seasons. We know what we mean when we say “he’s seeing red!”

What if you like a red Eiffel Tower and I prefer it in purple? We might stop fighting urban ugliness, and start changing our browser filters to omit signs or trash heaps or sprawling parking lots. The junk will exist, we just wont perceive it.

Perceived, Conceived, and Lived-In Spaces

Henri Lefebrve, an urban sociologist, described our different ways of knowing the world as physical, mental and social realities. We sense or perceive the physical world, conceive or represent mental space like maps and photos, and interpret social lived-in space. Our experience of a place combines all three.

In dense cities, people share sidewalks and subways. However, distinct districts, daily practices, and private transportation separate us and allows each person to know the city a little differently. An architect knows the city differently than a truck driver or a mayor.

Bridging Gulfs or Building Forts?

Augmented reality has the potential to enlarge that gulf, or to reduce it. We could use the digital overlays to communicate more publicly and share our experiences. In this way, we might actually have more in common with people who cross our paths.

While sitting at a stop light, many tweets could be seen, interactions might happen, something deeper than “you #%(%)@I((“. I might spot a bird, post a link, or share a song. (Not my singing of course!)

Augmented reality has the potential to place us in bunkers and forts. Or we can build communities that have greater ties and understanding.

Those are our choices in the future. Seems to me that the conversation of transparency, access, and fairness will test us all, because what previously was simply supplied to us or the purview of a city or a company will become increasingly our individual responsibility.

Some Folks Already Get It, Others Will Hold Out for More Proof

Really, our cities and our lives are already deeply changed. And it is just beginning. Augmented reality is simply another form of social media. Folks that get the meaning of social media, the early adopters, will also see the usefulness and pitfalls of augmented reality.