Archive: August 2012

August 31st, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

The city, the future, and you – beyond conformity

This is Part 2 of Chapter 2 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

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CHAPTER TWO – Part 2
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

Will the future be any different than the past? Will we continue to dream of cars as we dream of lovers? Will they always express our fantasies; fulfill our desires? Or will they become a distant memory like the horse and buggy?

America’s love affair with cars began as soon as they were invented. As Americans were lured to the suburbs, the construction of better highways made the transition possible. The Sunday drive became a peculiarly American phenomenon. The affair matured into a marriage, then became an addiction. Until just the past couple of years Americans drove more every year. To be without a car in the United States is to be almost in exile.

Millions of men moved seamlessly from the regimentation and conformity of the armed forces in World War II to the corporations that were rapidly growing with the American economy. They endured the endless frustration of conforming, of being trapped in the corporate rat race day after day, only to return every evening to a house in the suburbs. Fifties conformity meant long rows of new, identical prefabricated suburban houses; the acceptance of a uniform set of home appliances and very little social unrest. It was a time of intolerance for difference.

Conformity had its price. Beneath the calm image of the suburbs for those left stranded during the day there existed a growing sense of desperate isolation from the rest of the world. Women, housewives were stranded miles away from their families and friends they had grown up with in the city.

The United States in the 1950′s was a culture of contradictions, even in the midst of conformity a “something for everyone” culture flourished in the paradoxical era of Eisenhower era. Comic books entertained the young, rock n’ roll encouraged rebellion and defiant sexuality, while television dulled the mind. That time came to an end in the 1960s and today it is happening again in the midst of a profound shift in America’s social mood, a shift that will match and reflect your personality. This shift will focus on the needs of the community more than the individual.

The cities that realize that have begun the cultural and economic changes that will redefine them in the competitive new world to come. The new competitiveness will mean that cities must become great. And that kind of greatness will take resilience and sustainability. We are at a turning point with our species but time is running out. Cities cannot continue to grow and operate without being sustainable. Future cities may be more dangerous, less peaceful, and more polluted in 20 years. But they do not have to be.

Unlike your parents and grandparents who may have devoted their lives to a career and conformity, you will put lifestyle, family and friends above work and be drawn to the places you want to live rather than to work You and I have a responsibility to change the world. You (and your generation) have the motivation and power to do just that. To be truly great cities will need money and talent. It is no wonder that cities are trying to make themselves attractive to you. Everywhere cities are broken, or on the path to transformation, plain and simple. You will be the ones to transform them. The word revolution catches the spirit of what lies ahead. It is your time to shine.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]

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August 30th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

The city, the future, and you – futurama

This year Canadian futurist and writer Dennis Walsh and I began a conversation about a book on the future of cities. As the conversation continued the concept moved toward a discussion of cities but more so of the personal choices we face if we are to make cities and by extension the planet a sustainable place to live. These choices loom large for young people as they shape their own lives, and, we hope, save the future. Now we are writing, and have decided to release the first draft of the book as a blog serial. This is part 1 of Chapter 2. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation.” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

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CHAPTER TWO – Part 1
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

In the America of our memories we think of ourselves as a rural people, a pioneer people, a country of courageous loners heading off into the wilderness to carve out a new place. We dream this dream of the past although even the early immigrant settlers gathered in villages and towns as much as they lived on lonely homesteads.

The anti-urban bias in our history is very old. Thomas Jefferson derided cities as “sores.” Tracing mistrust of cities all the way back to George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, the historian Thomas Bender has written: “Are cities American? Yes and no. Cities and their populations have never been completely excluded from the promise of American life, but neither have they yet been wholly accepted.”

Perhaps they have never been wholly accepted, but cities have always been growing larger. By 1900, while 60% of Americans lived in rural areas, New York housed over 1.4 million people, Chicago 1.7 million, Philadelphia 1.3 million. As the 20th Century dawned the first urban explosion was just beginning. The final industrial revolution was drawing people like a magnet from the country to the city. By 1920 New York had ballooned to 5.6 million, Chicago to 2.7 million, Philadelphia to 1.8 million. There were over 20 cites in the U.S with populations over 300,000 by the end of that second decade of the 20th Century.

The future – if we are to have one worth living – belongs to you, the younger generation. It is time to get ready; time to make critical choices like, “how are you going to spend the rest of your life”, “where will you live”, “what work will you chose”.

It has been said that you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. The past is not a map to where you are going, it’s a record of where you have been. A map of the past can serve you by reminding you of lessons learned so you can avoid them in the future. Where better to look than to the auto industry?

With the Roaring ‘20′s, the automobile era was underway, changing the nature of cities dramatically. By 1940 Detroit and Los Angeles, each a creature of the auto age and each with more than 1.5 million residents, had replaced Cleveland and St. Louis among the five largest of U.S. cities and 56% of Americans had settled in urban areas. The nation had become a collection of cities.

It is this later history of American cities and culture that we want to explore next, the period of 1940 up to more recent days. It was the cultural dynamics of these years, more than any other period that shaped the cities that you have inherited.

The ultimate suburban dream began, arguably, at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and ’40. “Highways and Horizons,” better known as “Futurama,” was overwhelmingly the fair’s most popular exhibit; perhaps 10 percent of the American population saw it. At the heart of the exhibit was a scale model, covering an area about the size of a football field, that showed what American cities and towns might look like in 1960.

Visitors watched matchbox-sized cars zip down wide highways. Gone were the crowded tenements of the time; 1960s Americans would live in stand-alone houses with spacious yards and attached garages. By todays standards, the exhibit would not impress us, but at the time, it inspired wonder. E. B. White wrote in Harper’s, “A ride on the Futurama … induces approximately the same emotional response as a trip through the Cathedral of St. John the Divine … I didn’t want to wake up.”

Just six years later World War II came to an end and millions of the displaced were more or less resettled. European and Asian cities began to be rebuilt from ashes and piles of rubble. Ironically, the most destructive war in history brought about the emergence of the strongest and biggest economy in the world. Some feared that the end of the War would lead the United States back to depression. Today, others argue that the country’s participation in World War II finally saved it from the Great Depression. It makes better sense that way. After all, the entire economy was propelled by war. By 1950, the United States economy was growing rapidly.

While most major economies were slow to recover, war placed the United States at an advantage over both its allies and its enemies. World War II accelerated the pace of change, in weaponry, transportation, communications, electronics, medicine, and technology. The War provided opportunities that would later be manifested. America’s products went overseas. That in-itself was an introduction to new markets and a taste of what would later become known as globalization.

War recruited millions of Americans to the “front”. Factories were built to produce guns and ammunitions, military transport, tanks, fighter planes and bombers. Investments were made in defense of the country. Fuelled by billions in government spending, industry hired hundreds of thousands of workers in major factories. Jobs gave life to industries. And for the first time, women were given the opportunity to work outside the home to participate in nation building.

Americans hoped for much and achieved much. We put our faith in institutions, social and political. That both strengthened and shook us, often at the same time and sometimes by the same events. The war changed everything. Victory brought confidence, in the government and the economy. And consumer demand spurred growth. The newspaper business, the agriculture industry, transport, automobile, aviation, electronics, housing and even Hollywood prospered. New homes meant furniture and appliances as well as new cars.

An acute post-war housing shortage had developed when millions of veterans came home, got married, and started families. The primary solution to this problem was to make futurama real. When you explore an historic city you can find suburbs that existed even centuries ago – often houses on the hill from which people commuted to the town center by foot, cart or horse. But nothing matched the scale of the new suburbs. Invented by William J. Levitt, who applied Henry Ford’s mass production techniques for cars to building homes, the new Levittowns broke the mold on city building. He divided home construction into 27 separate steps, each one being handled by a separate team specializing in that step. The modern suburb was born.

Post-war prosperity in the economy further encouraged suburban growth. With higher wages and lower interest rates, Americans could afford to live in newer residential developments farther away from urban areas. In 1940, over half of the U.S. population resided in rural or densely populated areas, whereas only 15% lived in suburban areas.

Americans were sold, and quit eagerly bought notions of workers escaping the noise, crime and pollution of city life to the perceived calm of the suburbs. Zoning ordinances separated residential development from commercial and industrial. A type of segregation removed people from where they worked, shopped and recreated, making the automobile indispensable. As Americans were lured to the suburbs, the construction of better highways made the transition possible.

The Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration loan programs in the years following the Second World War provided mortgages for over eleven million new homes. These mortgages, which typically cost less per month than paying rent, were directed at new single-family suburban construction. Intentionally or not, the FHA and VA programs discouraged the renovation of existing housing stock, while turning their back on the construction of row houses, mixed-use buildings, and other urban housing types.

With the post-WWII boom in home construction under way, in 1953 President Eisenhower appointed the then-president of General Motors, Charles Wilson, as Secretary of Defense and DuPont’s chief, Secretary of Transportation (DuPont was GM’s biggest investor). These two set out to pave over America for the auto. DuPont got Eisenhower to set up the Highway Trust Fund that funneled gasoline tax money into highway construction. Two thirds of these funds went to build inner-city freeways. Meanwhile, GM, recognizing the limits of bus sales as contrasted with automobiles, changed its tactics, and convinced the House of Representatives to deny all funding for public transportation, hoping to reduce bus service. The money was diverted to freeways. By the 1950′s buses were disappearing and everyone was opting for a car. While post-war Europe and Japan were rebuilding their rail transit, America was destroying hers.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]

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August 29th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

The city, the future, you – managing the megacity

This year Canadian futurist and writer Dennis Walsh and I began a conversation about a book on the future of cities. As the conversation continued the concept moved toward a discussion of cities but more so of the personal choices we face if we are to make cities and by extension the planet a sustainable place to live. These choices loom large for young people as they shape their own lives, and, we hope, save the future. Now we are writing, and have decided to release the first draft of the book as a blog serial. This is part 3 of Chapter 1. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We have two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation.” What do you think?

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CHAPTER ONE – Part 3
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

By the year 2030, more than five billion people will live in cities, our greatest invention. Cities generate wealth, bringing people jobs, and everything else that is needed for economic growth and creative living. The late great Jane Jacobs pointed out that cities are engines of innovation and that concentrations of talented, creative people promote and accelerate that growth. Cities have precious little to stop them from growing bigger than ever before — except the governments that run them. The McKinsey Global Institute thinks there is no limit set by technology or infrastructure to how big or how fast cities can grow. The only glitch is that government leaders must be able to manage the complexity that comes with super sizing.

But cities are far from earthly paradises. They face serious problems and challenges. Cities have the potential for further growth and poverty reduction across many emerging markets, but measured by any yardstick the world’s cities are in trouble.

The economic crisis hit cities hard. Sunbelt cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, which were once among the fastest growing in the nation, faced rampant housing foreclosures and very high unemployment. Rustbelt cities like Detroit have been devastated by deindustrialization and staggering job loss. They are facing some difficult choices.

It isn’t pretty. There are many examples of dysfunctional cities elsewhere across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The United Nations forecasts that, in a dozen years or so, half of all Asians will be city dwellers in mega-cities that struggle with water, sanitation, and pollution. Understandably, this has enormous implications for the environment. If they are not managed well, cities decay and become less and less livable, even as people pour into them. As more of the world’s population lives in cities, accommodating them has the potential to make existing environmental and socio-economic problems worse. Yet at the same time a well-managed city can be the most energy efficient, water conserving, pollution abating and land preserving place for humans to live, while simultaneously enabling the height of human creativity and contact.

Time is running short. The world can no longer wait for governments alone to provide solutions. You “get that” too. Everyone should be concerned about the environment, about human rights, about the growing cultural, political and economic divides that separate Americans. Economic and class divides have been getting worse for 30 years or more, undercutting the greatest experiment in equality of opportunity and growth of a middle class that the world has seen to date. From the London riots to struggles over gentrification to Occupy Wall Street, cities have become centers of political activism and discontent. Countless millions feel increasingly disconnected and truly disadvantaged.

This is not a new problem. From Jakarta to Lagos, Cairo to Manila and Nairobi, more than one billion people live in slums in desperate need of rudimentary water and sewer infrastructure, basic housing and schools. But radical change isn’t about controversy and conflict. It is about community, collaboration, and interconnectedness. Ironically, in spite of these challenges, our very problems can be the source of innovative civic and policy solutions. Cities and their leaders have been pioneering pragmatic approaches to economic revitalization, bubbling up organically from community groups, non-profits and residents; people just like you.

Thankfully in the midst of all the chaos the quest for meaning and for spirit are alive and well. There are those who still yearn for a sense of community and are searching for meaning. If you are among them, you can make a difference at a personal level if only by creating meaningful change through social media and day to-day consumer actions. But the opportunity runs much deeper than that.

Growing up in schools and universities, you have a certain enlightened advantage – learning to work with people of all faiths, colors, and sexual orientations. Your generation elected the first black President of the United States. Your generation will bring new innovation, ideas and tools to the table because of your diversity. The world is waiting, the future is eager for the new to begin. Think of it as hitting the “restart” button on the 21st Century. That’s where we are.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]

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August 28th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

The city, the future, you and butterflies

This year Canadian futurist and writer Dennis Walsh and I began a conversation about a book on the future of cities. As the conversation continued the concept moved toward a discussion of cities but more so of the personal choices we face if we are to make cities and by extension the planet a sustainable place to live. These choices loom large for young people as they shape their own lives, and, we hope, save the future. Now we are writing, and have decided to release the first draft of the book as a blog serial. This is part 2 of Chapter 1. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We have two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form.

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CHAPTER ONE – Part 2
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

Cities will shape the future. But with the anticipated growth of cities, they are at a crossroad. Become great, or deteriorate. Cities at a crossroad is an interesting concept. Interesting in that cities have choices to make on the way to a great future. You too have choices to make and where you will live is one of them.

You may have already decided that for now. Then again, you may not have thought that through. The choices you make now will profoundly affect your future. Every choice you make, no matter how small, is a chance for you to shine because you can make a difference.

Have you heard about the “butterfly effect”? Some people believe that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tornado somewhere else in the world. It is complicated. Not only is it possible for the weather to be affected, but even animals could feel the effects because of complex predator-prey dynamics that make them prone to a “boom” and “bust” environment. It is like this. Natural biological systems are a tangled mix of “order” and “chaos”. A better way to look at it is to compare the butterfly effect to the “ripple effect” – drop a pebble into a pond and the little circles move outward to affect the rest of the water.

You can make a difference. At every stage the choices you make in life will have a butterfly effect. Every time you make the right choice, you lead by example pointing to a better direction. Doing good things will make more good happen. But it works both ways. Ripples and butterflies are not inherently evil but they can both make nasty things happen. Thoughtless, careless actions can cause a ripple that creates bad experiences for others.

Nearly fifty years ago, people just like you were faced with choices. Society was broken and needed fixing. University students were the wild card that had a butterfly effect on our nation. They began questioning rampant materialism. They wanted personal revelation. University students dropped pebbles in ponds of thought, and started a social revolution. It was by no means all of them, but enough of them to matter. You have the same power that they had then. The numbers are on your side. The future is worth fighting for. If you care enough to “do the right thing” you can literally change history. If not, why should you have any reason to think that the future will be any different than it is right now?

We are at a turning point. The boom times as we knew them are not coming back. A sci-fi future is unlikely unless someone can come up with trillions of new disposable dollars – or unless we get creative and bold, fast. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually imagine roadways in the sky and living in a sustainable natural world? We must make choices. You must make choices to save the planet and thus yourself. It is up to you to think differently. Make decisions differently. Why? Revolution lies ahead, a revolution in thought, a cultural and social revolution

Your high-octane generation may be our best hope for a bright future. But for the first time ever, there is now more student debt than credit card debt in America. The average college student today is $24,000 in debt. You were not made for that. You were designed to win. The cells of your body, your brain, your muscles, the consciousness of your soul, the interactions you have with others – were designed for you to win. You were built to succeed. And you know it. But if you are looking for insight to some tough questions, and new ways of thinking, this book will help you to become the winner you were designed to be.

You will change the world more than the world will change you. By sheer weight of numbers – let alone the laws of economics – your generation will have a big say in how companies, workplaces, organizations work. Big corporations cannot afford to be left behind. They are already on shaky ground. Startups are dominating the workforce for the youth demographic in today’s economy. If large corporations want to remain competitive, they need you and they need new ways of thinking. The best organizations will embrace that.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]

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