Millennial City: How a new generation can save the future, Ch. 10-3

January 30th, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Cities | Comments Off

This is the final chapter of our forthcoming book, Millennial City, with the conclusion to follow in this initial serial blog version of the book. The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 3 of Chapter 10. We will publish Millennial City as an e-book when the serialization is completed. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.

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CHAPTER Ten – Part 3
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

It seems like we always want what we can’t have. We’re always chasing after something, right? No one has it all. There’s no such thing. The economy is tough. Everyone seems to feel as if they’re walking on egg shells.

People feel insecure about their jobs and with good reason. Apple assembles iPhones in southern China, outsourcing to a company called Foxconn who employs 230,000 workers. The Foxconn campus is referred to as “iPod City.” Do the math. The average manufacturing wage in China has been $2.00 an hour, a small fraction of American wages. That’s why we haven’t produced iPhones here.

But that may be changing. Companies, including Apple are waking up to the fact that issues of quality, higher energy costs, and delivery and systems management delays can eat into the savings from low wages (which are rising in China and other low wage countries anyway). Manufacturing offshore works when products don’t change much, but the most valuable products these days have short life cycles for features and models, necessitating constant change. A movement is beginning to shift some of the lost manufacturing back to the U.S. There will be fewer manufacturing jobs in more automated factories, but this is an important shift.

Still, we are not about to put tens of thousands of workers in rows and rows assembling some tech item. This is probably not your idea of a preferred future anyway. In ten years robotic machines will see, hear, move and manipulate objects at less than the cost of an average car. Robots are as inevitable as airplanes. That’s not so bad thing if you think people shouldn’t be doing repetitive and boring tasks.

But even if some manufacturing returns, we could still face a future where an unacceptable percentage of the American workforce is unemployed. Think about it. Where will the jobs come from?

All of us are going to spend the rest of our lives in the future. We can do nothing to change the past, but we have enormous power to shape the future. Between a hyper-competitive global economy and massive outsourcing, the world has changed. Many people will change jobs five or six times, the new “stint-based” style of working. If we don’t embrace a more innovative future, life could easily become an emotional rollercoaster.

“Transition Towns” are one global development through which people are coping with the changed world. The movement came out of the UK and has grown in countries around the world. People with foresight will find themselves thinking more about self-sufficiency and working cooperatively with nature and with each other. Some of these forward thinkers may look for ways to resolve global sustainability and justice. They might event decide that – if the planet makes it through the next 50 years – it will be because of some kind of Transition Town process.

Foresight tells some of us that the high-consumption, unsustainable road we’re on has a dead-end. We’re looking for the exit off to a low-growth or even zero-growth economy, a way to participatory democracy, away from an affluent society to one that isn’t driven purely by the desire to gain in material possessions. Foresight is looking for a simpler way that focusses on what’s best for cities and towns, rather than on what’s best for a few competing individuals. But foresight suggests we must be willing to live more simply, not in hardship but seeking a good quality of life. If we can do that, we will have built a new economy under the old one.

In the unlikely event that the old economy collapses completely, we would still be able to provide for ourselves from local resources and systems. Frankly, some of us don’t have that much to lose and a lot to gain. It’s happening already. All over the world, groups of people from all walks of life are coming together to search for ways forward. In time, resource scarcity may come looking for us all. Cities around the world know it. They’re in transition, doing all sorts of good things to make themselves great. Community gardens, food co-ops, recycling centers, farmers’ markets, urban agriculture are all part of the transition.

This is not a call for revolution. But, with or without us, the more this trend continues the more likely it is to create a new society within and around our cities. It’s up to you, but in the words of the Rolling Stones; “We can’t always get what we want … But if we try real hard, we might just get what we need.”
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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]