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Profile: Anthony Flint

Name: Anthony Flint  
Job title and company: Fellow and director of public affairs, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy 
Degree(s): MS, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; BA, Middlebury College
Professional interests: Urbanism, cities, sustainability, climate change

What are you working on now?

The Raven: The Life of Le Corbusier, a narrative biography of the father of modern architecture and the Steve Jobs of his day, to be published by Amazon Publishing in 2014. I’ve just returned from a pilgrimage to his buildings in France and plan a similar trip to Chandigarh, [India].

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

I’ve tried charades. But, actually, she has long been in the writing and editing business, so she gets it.

What inspired you today?

I attended a conference in honor of the late John Quigley from Berkeley. I’m no economist, but I admired his curiosity and willingness to investigate such a range of topics, and his interest late in life in green buildings and the environment.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?

Typology, but only because I’ve never really fully understood what it means.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

I’m for equal opportunity interaction—an exchange on Twitter, a comment thread on Facebook, comments on a blog post [or] a chat at the coffee break of a thought-leadership summit. I think and reflect, and that is all in private, but then it all opens up to the wider world in these bursts. I almost always learn something.

What are you reading?

There are a few things on the iPad: Loving Frank [by Nancy Horan], Behind the Beautiful Forevers [by Katherine Boo], Beautiful Ruins [by Jess Walter]. I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad [by Jennifer Egan] for its house-of-mirrors narrative structure. Also, Shlomo Angel’s new book, Planet of Cities.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?

A little bit of both, in my own way. I sketch in my spiral notebook. But I also take pictures or videos of absolutely everything with my iPhone—memorial plaques, subway stations, the color and undulation of the Mediterranean. It’s the visual Dictaphone.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

The tumult in the journalism business has taken a great many writers and put them into new circumstances—but not in a bad way. When I left The Boston Globe in 2005, I might not have predicted working in state government for a year, in the Office for Commonwealth Development under Doug Foy. I’m glad to have had that experience. I almost feel like all journalists should have the experience of working in government.

Where is the field of architecture headed?

Technology and smart cities and accommodating the many millions of mostly poor people in megacities will become the central project of our day. There will also be more reinvention and retrofitting, and working with the established fabric—Renzo Piano’s addition to the [Isabella Stewart] Gardner Museum, the Harvard Art Museums and the visitors’ center at [Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in] Ronchamp, [France,] are exemplary.

Can design save the world?

Only if designers truly dedicate themselves to sustainability and decent housing—sounds terribly sober, but that’s what the world is staring down right now. We have until about 2050.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

In This Land, I tried to paint a portrait of the politics and cultural clashes inherent in smart growth. In Wrestling With Moses, I tried to capture the importance of both human-scaled urban neighborhoods and planning for infrastructure. In the narrative biography of Le Corbusier, I hope to show how one man tried to change the way we live through design—anticipating by almost 100 years the explosion of the planet’s urban population. At the Lincoln Institute, I hope to continue to share best practices in urban planning and planning for climate change, in both adaptation and mitigation.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

The who would include Greg Ingram, president of] the Lincoln Institute, and my wife, fellow author Tina Cassidy (not necessarily in that order); the what would probably be education, beginning and ending with the liberal arts. I’m a big believer.

Your least favorite college class?

Computer programming. I knew there was going to be no need to know all that stuff. I just knew it.

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?

Don’t get cocky. Keep from jumping to conclusions. Be more understanding of others.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?

I’ve got Le Corbusier on the brain lately, so I’m tempted to say the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts [at Harvard]—opened 50 years ago this fall and the master’s only executed building in North America. (The United Nations was essentially his design, but he was kicked off the team for being too much of a drama queen.) I’m leading a tour as part of the “Adventures” in TEDxBeaconStreet, of which I am a curator. But I’m going to take it to the next contrarian level and also say Boston City Hall. The mayor says make it a handball court, but somehow it’s grown on me.

Who would you like the BSA to interview next?

[Director of Northeastern University’s School of Architecture] George Thrush FAIA, [Utile’s] Tim Love AIA or [NBBJ’s] Alex Krieger FAIA. Either that or [Danish architect] Bjarke Ingels.

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?

Coming up next, a champion of cities—and a great father.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

In Spite of It All.