The Future: Cities, Not Suburbs, Not Small Towns Either

It makes sense to build dense cities, and use trains to move people out of them for recreation. Cities may be our greatest invention. Apparently, suburbs, are among our worst.

It makes sense to build dense cities, and use trains to move people out of them for recreation. Cities may be our greatest invention. Apparently, suburbs, are among our worst.

Two out of three Americans live in a single-unit building that is not attached to another building. It’s a standalone home. The American Dream is real for so many people, it’s difficult to conceive of a shift in the status quo.

The key concept is “density”—the number of dwelling units per acre. A nice American home is situated on about 1/4 or 1/3 of an acre, even nicer homes are part of acre lots. With that level of density, the only economically viable means of transportation is the car. (Lots of expense, pollution, etc.) To rationalize a bus, we need to up the game to 10-20 dwellings per acre: low-slung apartment buildings. Rail transportation begins to make sense at around 30-40 dwellings per acre, but it really sings when there are 100 or more. How do find enough space for 100 dwellings on a single acre? Don’t think in terms of ground area; instead, think up.

Interesting idea, but that’s not the way America works. Instead of thinking up, we think sprawl. That’s a tough philosophy for the economy and the environment.. At 25 dwellings per acre, the entire population of the world would fit inside the state of Texas.

Density only begins the discussion. Metropolitan areas—including cities and their suburbs—account for 90 percent of the US GDP and 86% of all jobs. The economic output of Chicagoland (city and suburbs) is greater than 42 of the 50 states. But that’s misleading.

coverbigAccording to the authors of Triumph of the City (Professor Edward Glaeser) and A Country of Cities (Noted Architect Vishaan Chakrabarti), dense cities (New York City) are very, very good ideas, and n0n-dense cities (Los Angeles) and the vast majority of suburbs throughout the world are very, very, very bad ideas. Why?

I like Mr. Chakrabati’s analysis of the self-sustaining economy and ecology of Hong Kong—a city-state where all resources are used for the good of the dense city, one that is surrounded by natural surroundings to be enjoyed by all. He contrasts Hong Kong with Los Angeles, which must contribute its considerable revenues to the state of California, and the U.S. government, leaving this metropolitan area with insufficient resources to, well, be all it can be. The same is true for most cities—they generate tremendous value, but they subsidize the far-less-productive suburbs and rural areas.

artbook_2273_30465543In the view of both authors, what we need to do is perfect our invention of the cities not only for our own good, and for the multitude of productive relationships that result from people living and working near one another, but also for the sake of the planet. Currently, in large part due to cars, suburbs, and inefficient systems, earth’s consumption rate is about 1/3 greater than our capacity. Shift to the American consumption rate—based, largely, upon suburban lifestyles—is over five times greater than our capacity. If When some of the developing economies reach the U.S. consumption rate, we’re more or less doomed (authors love to write this kind of stuff). We’ve all read the stories before: more commuting means less happy marriages, greater obesity rates, and (no surprise) a much higher per-capita rate of gun ownership.

Here, it’s easy to understand the growth of cities and the rest of America in terms of red and blue states.  Many of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas are located in blue states: east of the Mississippi River and north of North Carolina, and along the Pacific Ocean. But the U.S. government and the U.S. economy is not built to support cities. That’s why we spend more than twice as much on highways than air and rail travel—both far kinder to the environment, and in the long run, far more efficient. Instead, we support suburban living. We build more roads to more places, and more cars show up to take advantage of lost costly single family homes just that much farther away from the city center. What’s more, for every one taxpayer who takes advantage of the Mortgage Interest Deduction to achieve the American Dream, three do not—simply, Americans subsidize home ownership in a very significant way.

Should we? According to Mr. Chakrabati, the answer is no. Instead, he suggests that we fund a much more robust, livable, safe, easier urban lifestyle by eventually shunting those funds, and a roughly equal amount raised by a $1 increase in the Federal Excise Tax, to generate $3.5 trillion dollars to improve “economic and social prosperity, environmental sustainability, and equalizing real access to the American dream of home (but not necessarily house) ownership.

A special shout-out to Ryan Lovett who filled many pages of A Country of Cities with clear, direct illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and just a few infographics. The result is an extremely appealing combination of a visual book that’s easy / fun / provocative to browse, and the well-c0nsidered arguments presented in detailed text by the author. At first, I simply enjoyed holding and paging through this elegant book. In time, I came to appreciate the reality of Mr. Chakrabati’s vision in terms I could understand: his SHoP is a top architectural firm responsible for Barclay Center, a multi-use arena that will anchor the future of downtown Brooklyn, NY with (you knew this was coming) a very high-density series of structures with massive amounts of homes, offices and retail, plus open areas that make city life that much more livable.

In fact, Barclay Center is walking distance from an earlier version of urban planning success: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the classy old apartment buildings nearby.

Here’s a look at SHoP’s plans for a high-density development surrounding their Barclay Center area in downtown Brooklyn.

Here’s a look at SHoP’s plans for a high-density development surrounding their Barclay Center area in downtown Brooklyn.

This is provocative stuff. And, happily, it’s best presented in the form of a solid $30 hardcover book from a publisher whose work impresses me more each season: ARTBOOK / D.A.P. / Metropolis Books.

Thanks, Bill!

GinLane

Hogarth worked out every minute detail of even image: the angle of the robe behind the gin-soaked mother so that the eye is draw directly to her head; the leering muncher of the large bone, the position of the pawnbroker’s sign above their heads as a kind of upside down religious symbol; the distant grey of the growing city in which these denizens would never take part; so much more. That was the painter, and illustrator, William Hogarth’s intent: to tell remarkable, compelling stories through a series of images sold in a subscription series. His work was widely pirated.

If Bill Hogarth’s father, Richard, was alive today, he’d probably be writing a blog, cleaning up Wikipedia articles, and spending far too much time watching TED Talks. He was always busy writing what he hoped would be a popular play or a textbook for schoolchildren. As a boy, Bill tagged along with his father as he made the rounds from one coffee house to another, for that’s where the printers tended to meet their clients, customers, and friends. In a word, coffee houses in 1700s London were places to network. In time, Richard Hogarth managed to sell of his manuscripts to a a London printer named Curll; it would become a book that would “bring joy to learning through the playing of games” enabling (a then-radical) idea of learning without the direct assistance of a teacher. With tears of joy in his eyes, Richard Hogarth signed the publishing contract, and that, as would be inevitable in a story of this sort, was his undoing. When Curll demanded money to pay printing costs, Hogarth could not pay the bill, could not fulfill the requirements of a contract that he clearly did not understand. Richard Hogarth was placed in debtor’s prison, a nasty place where bribery could, at least, secure better living quarters for the fledgling author and his small family.

Son William was fortunate to secure an apprenticeship with an engraver, made some contacts, eventually earned some money, and became quite popular as both a painter and a storyteller. His prints, including the one pictured at the top of this article, were published in series, offered by subscription. The originals made money, but they were often copied (pirated) by unscrupulous printers throughout London. As he worked his way up London’s economic and social ladder, William Hogarth became a very popular painter, busy with commissions until the very last years of his long career. Battling syphilis (a very common theme in stories of this era), frequently lusting after young women (especially in his younger years), Hogarth often considered the fate of his father, and devoted much of his life to steering clear of any such problems.

Benefitting from his upscale connections, Hogarth began to pursue a new law, one that would protect creative people from piracy.  At the time, this was extraordinary; in London, and elsewhere, piracy was simply part of the system. Nobody much questioned the many illegal copies of an artist’s work. Printers published whatever they wanted to publish.  Standard business practices were uncommon. An artist who fought the system ran the risk of speaking truth to power, and could well end up in debtor’s prison, or worse (that is,  murders under dark bridges were extremely common at the time).

Hogarth had been painting, on commission, for a Select Committee of Parliament as they investigated gaols (now: “jails”). Hogarth painted the deliberations of the committee, made a friend of Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk. In time, Hogarth visited the influential man in his home, and over tea and gooseberry tarts, they considered a plan. There was an act of Parliament from Queen Anne’s time that protected writers, so Sir Archibald, in his strong Scots accent, thought aloud:

The connection to the other Act is gud. They like laws that build on other laws.”

Sir Archibald wrote letters to several important people in Parliament. Hogarth hoped that James Oglethorpe would be one of them, but his London home was boarded-up. Sir Archibald explained that Oglethorpe was in the colonies, founding a new one called Georgia. A short time later, Oglethorpe returned, and Hogarth gained his support:

Of course, I’ll support you. The book trade is run by scoundrels and idle incompetents. Always has been, always will be. But we’ll fire a few shots at them, eh, Hogarth?…Show me where to sign!”

Hogarth’s Law eventually passed and became law. Of course, his very next set of prints were his poorest sellers to date–he probably made more money on the previous subscription series, even with the piracy. And then, of course, there was the matter of enforcement of the new law–uneven because there was no system to police the bookseller’s constant practices. Still, times did change, and we benefit from Mr. Hogarth’s good work today.

So: the next time you’re in London, make your way to Leicester Square (Leicester Fields in his day), and take note of the statue of the man who made the world safe for creative professionals.

And, if the story intrigues you, pick up a copy of a lovely novelization of his life entitled I, Hogarth by Michael Dean, from which this article is derived. There is much more to Hogarth’s story–a lusty one, in parts–intentionally reminiscent, in its way, of early British novels that were developing at the same time Bill Hogarth was telling his stories in pictures.

I-Hogarth-1-copy

Media Shift / Cutting the Cable

Although I am probably late to the game, I just discovered two very useful tools. The first is a blog post and the second is the blog itself.

Blog post: 2012 Guide to Cutting the Cable

Blog: Media Shift

One at a time:

The article explains the available hardware and software, then provides several case studies of users who have cut the cable, and ends with a very useful list of other articles on the subject.

The blog is stupendous. Here’s local, national and international news and commentary on shifts in just about every modern media industry. The coverage gets down to the hyper-local level, and also offers an extremely wide view of, say, the recent announcement of a merger between two of U.S. publishing’s giants: Penguin and Random House (the latter wins). That article, and this blog, does what so few do: it provides context. So the article about book publishers looks not only at consolidation’s impact on publishing, but also compares the situation with consolidation in the music industry.

Kudos to PBS for this lesser-known project. I now plan to read Media Shift every day.

Infographic: US Education Spending vs. Results

Doing some research, I came upon this colorful infographic that compares educational investment and results in a dozen different countries. No big surprises, but it’s easy to follow. It’s clear that Mexico spends a very small amount per student and achieves only modest results, and it makes sense to see France in the middle of per-capita spending and also in the middle of the results. Clearly, the US and the UK are out of whack–spending is high, but their results are middling. Why the mismatch? And why is the US’s purple circle so much larger than any other circle? Population accounts for only part of the reason why.

U.S. Education versus the World via Master of Arts in Teaching at USC
Via: MAT@USC | Master’s of Arts in Teaching

The Magical Watercolours of Joseph Zbukvic

Joseph Zbukvic is one of the world’s best watercolor painters. In an era when technology dominates art, it’s wonderful to see what this man can do with paint, water, brushes and paper.

I encourage you to watch the entire 20-plus minutes of the video (link below). If you want to get right to the good stuff, pick it up around 2-3 minutes in. This is an Australian TV series. Put Some Colour in Your Life. You will want to start paying close attention when the artist begins his version of “working in Photoshop”–a digital-free approach to thinking through a picture. I watched, I paint, and I learned more in twenty minutes than I’ve learned from dozens of how-to books. This is phenomenal work, gimmick-free, technology-free, just the good stuff. Click here to watch.

Here’s a look at some of the artist’s work. Be sure to visit the gallery section of the artist’s website.

Peru: Serious Food Gaining Global Popularity

Ceviche with a Chinese influence, as served at El Tule in Lambertville, New Jersey. In the US, New Jersey is a significant population center for Peruvians. Sharing its menu with Mexican food, El Tule provides superior examples of traditional Peruvian dishes.

Start with a (non-alcoholic) iced glass of Chicha Morada, traditionally made from purple maize blended with pineapple, quinces, cinnamon and cloves. Then, have a look at the menu, a mix of traditional Latino cuisine with (of all things) Chinese influences.

Lomo Saltado is a good example of the cultural mix. Beef strips are marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, and spices, then stir-fried with tomatoes, yellow peppers, and red onions. It’s typically served with cut potatoes that resemble thick french fries, and with rice.

Why the Chinese influence? Apparently, roughly 1 in 10 people living in Peru are Chinese or claim Chinese origin. The history dates back to the 1850s, when contract workers from Macau (in the day’s vernacular, “coolies”) who replaced the slaves on the sugar plantations and guano mines. As their contracts expired in the 1860s and 1870s, they brought family, married Peruvian women, and opened small businesses, including restaurants. In fact, the largest Chinatown in Latin America is located in Lima: El Barrio Chino de Lima.

As with most Latin cuisines, the roots cross with other cultures (often, conquering cultures), but the deepest layers are native. In this vein, the ancient Carapulcra stew is based up0n a rich mix of pork, spice, a thick and richly flavored brown sauce, and potatoes.

In fact, Peruvian vegetables are fascinating in their own right, a range of vegetables that has not yet reached public markets and popular tastes in the US: caigua, or stuffing cucumber, similar to a pumpkin; yuca, also known as cassava, which replaces the potato (and must be carefully prepared to remove the toxic cyanide); and maiz morado, or purple corn. There’s an emphasis on root vegetables, and, in some cases, health benefits (explained on the linked page).

Escabeche is a Spanish dish, imported by Peru and by a large number of other Spanish-conquered nations. Meat or fish is marinated in an acidic mixture, sometimes with vinegar, sometimes with a citrus juice.

Ceviche is also common to many cultures, but Peruvians have evolved an impressive range of ceviche variations. Start with the basics: a white fish, lemon and/or lime juice (and there are all sorts of ongoing arguments about which lemon, which lime, because there are many varieties), salt, garlic, cilantro, and, often, some sort of fish concentrate. There’s a nice introduction to the Lima street version of ceviche here, and it includes some video. The roots of ceviche precede the Spanish conquest, and, according to this article, it was the Spaniards who added onions and lime. Ceviche is not easy to cook–the timing of the acid must be perfect, the balance of flavors is difficult to manage, especially in a busy restaurant kitchen.

One key ingredient, distinctive to Peru, is a spice called  huacatay.  A relative of the marigold, it’s also known as Peruvian black mint. Another is the aji, or pepper, some quite hot. Sweet potatoes are also common: recently, I tried the Peruvian version of a tamale, with mashed corn replaced by sweet potato (and excellent idea).

For more about Peruvian food, try these links:

World’s Best

The one familiar piece of local Peruvian cooking that has made its way to the US, the UK, and elsewhere is quinoa, a grain. Clearly, there’s lots more to explore. Here’s a list of restaurants and menus that specialize in traditional food from Peru:

Lima’s Taste, Greenwich Village, NY

Panca, Greenwich Village, NY

Macchu Picchu, Chicago, IL

Andina, Portland, OR

Puro Peru, Sunnyvale, CA

Aromas del Peru, Coral Gables (near Miami), FL

Sabor a Peru, Miami, FL

Ceviche, London, UK

Inca’s, New South Wales, Australia

Astrid & Gaston, various global locations, mostly in Latin America

Italian + Peruvian – Taranta, Boston

Thai + Peruvian – Thai Peru, Ventura, CA

Mexican + Peruvian - El Tule, Lambertville, NJ

As I scanned a wide range of websites, many promised that Peruvian cooking would be the next big thing. Some were old, some were new. All made me hungry.

Just as a reminder, here’s Peru on the map of South America.

(Digital) Money, Honey

We pay for just about everything with a credit card, a debit card, PayPal. Even parking meters accept card payments. Cash is dirty, difficult to store, easy to lose, and (for better or for worse) leaves no trace. The end of money has been predicted for a long time. Maybe now’s the time that money, like photographic film, drive-in theaters, and typewriters, fades away.

That’s the theory behind WIRED contributing editor David Wolman’s book, The End of Money published by Da Capo. The book is an easy read, filled with anecdotes, interesting histories, and a great many examples of alternatives to our current cash-and-coins conception of valuable exchange. Wolman points out the present system is, in fact, quite new, and that most of human history did not involve pennies, pfennigs, or pesos. He estimates that one of every twenty British coins is counterfeit. He points to cash on ice both in Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ freezer and also in a visit to the fallen Icelandic economy. (There are so many wonderful slang terms: cold hard cash among them). He explores alternative currencies. The one about Liberty Dollars–”a private voluntary free-market currency backed entirely by silver and gold.”–is a long trip through the complexities of alternative currencies and contemporary Federal conceptions of money.

There’s discussion–not enough for my taste–about smart cards and the use of mobile devices as digital wallets. Here, the focus is on the many small daily transactions that remain cash-intensive, and the potential for a simpler, less costly, more manageable system based upon digital transactions. The upside: you’re never short a quarter for the parking meter; the downside: every time you park your car, you’re making an entry into your permanent record.

Be sure to read the crazy story. It’s just one paragraph on Wikipedia.

It’s interesting to muse on the current use of simulated currencies, if only to understand our possible future behaviors: accumulating gold coins in games, such as World of Warcraft; the possible connections between gamefied badges and currency that can be exchanged for real or virtual goods and services; the use of Quids on the (now gone?) website Superfluid, where “they’re placeholders for favors” (perhaps not unlike the favor/exchange economy that drives power and accomplishment in the nation’s capital). Where might frequent flier miles fit into the money equation? Or Disney Dollars that pay for fun in Orlando (now largely replaced by Disney Gift Cards because they yield far more digital data, and because the residue is easily converted to profit.) How about the barter economy that has been so well-nourished on the internet: you build my website, I do your taxes.

How does taxation fit into any of this? None of us love taxes, but we’ve certainly become attached to, say, our interstate highway system. I suppose most transactions will be digital, and so, there is a trackable moment of exchange, and at that moment, the tax authorities can step-in (digitally) and collect. How about pay checks? Direct deposit eliminates the old-fashioned notion of “cashing the paycheck”–and, perhaps, acknowledging the weirdness of Big Brother, preparing one’s own personal tax return may seem equally old school (armed with your entire digital financial life, the government could certainly outsource your tax return, mine to, to an outfit in Malaysia or Peru).

Are coins and cash going away? Not this year, but maybe in ten years. It’s fascinating to contemplate the possibilities. And, along the way, it’s fun to browse or read The End of Money.

It’s also fun to watch the CBS Sunday Morning report that was inspired by the book. If you can find the link, let me know and I’ll post it (couldn’t find it on the CBS Sunday Morning site).

1 in 25 Work as Creative Pros

Above, an elegant way to think about the global creative economy, as presented in a 400+ page United Nations report.

1 in 25 people–that’s the revised figure for 2010–work in creative industries in the U.S. More than doctors, lawyers, even accountants. Industry sectors above, details below.

In the United States, roughly 150 million people work full-time. Six million of us work in creative professions. We’re writers and performers; musicians and visual artists; marketers and strategists; architects and specialists who invent, improve, or bring ideas to life. In total, more people work as creative professionals in the U.S. than doctors (700,000), lawyers (800,000), accountants (1,300,000), and engineers (1,600,000) combined. The number of creative professionals exceeds the number of teachers (3,500,000 teachers pre-K through high school, plus 1,700,000 more who teach in colleges and universities).

Our output–which provides employment for lawyers, accountants, executives, retailers, and many others–is responsible for more than ten percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

A reasonable global workforce estimate would exceed 10 million creative professionals. Nations with significant creative economies include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, China, India, Canada, Australia, and, among countries with developing industries, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina, Singapore, and Chile. According to the United Nations Creative Economy 2008 report, the export value of creative in 2005 was over $300 billion, or about 2-3% of the global economy. (Yes, I am reviewing the 423 pages of the 2010 report to update these figures–overall, trends are up).

The long list of creative industries was nicely summarized in the 2008 U.N. report, presented at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The orange version, above, makes it all that much more clear.

Within each of these clusters, the professional model is similar. Projects are developed, produced, and distributed. Mostly, revenues are generated through direct transactions with individual consumers (movie admissions; DVDs; iTunes downloads;physical goods such as jewelry), sometimes through subscriptions; or by advertising to consumers who receive goods and services by paying only a modest transaction fee (magazine subscriptions), or no fee at all (most internet sites; broadcast radio and TV).

You can download the 2010 UN report here. (Yes, I will update my 2008 numbers when time permits.)

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