STATE OF AMERICA
The New Normal Economy – The economy may be coming back, but the question for many businesses is what the “New Normal” looks like. The extraordinary rise of solitary living marks a seismic departure from the quintessential suburban household that brands are used to creating for. Who needs Costco when people are living in single apartments. Or a massive food processor when 9 times out of 10 they order in or cook for one. With these single folks as well as others migrating to urban-centric neighborhoods, lawn mowers, minivans and sectional sofas will soon become a thing of the past. For the first time in nine decades, walkable cities are growing faster than suburbs. With people living in areas where mostly everything is accessible by walking it’s no surprise that Americans are driving less. This behavior, tied to the collapse of new-car sales, means one of the biggest industries in the United States will not soon regain the explosive growth of the early 2000s. This economic recovery has a clear narrative and these big changes are just the beginning.
BRAVE NEW CONSUMER
A Renter’s Market – The nation’s apartment vacancy rate, which has declined since hitting 8% in the aftermath of the financial crisis, fell to 4.5% recently. The rate is the lowest since 2001’s third quarter. Vacancy rates fell in some of the markets hit hardest by the housing bust, including Phoenix and in Orlando. It’s no surprise than that rent prices are rising across the nation while mortgage rates remain near record lows. Scraping together a down payment to buy a home remains tough for many consumers and tight mortgage standards are forcing many who might like to buy a home to continue renting. Furthermore, many people like being able to easily pick up and move for a new job. “We are heading to being more of a renter nation,” said Jeff Donnelly, a real-estate analyst with Wells Fargo Securities LLC. “Young people today, they put much higher value on flexibility.” It doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Dodge Allows People To Crowdfund Cars- In the spirit of this “New Normal” economy, Dodge is allowing engaged couples to register for a car and ask family and friends to pitch in. The site allows customers to configure and customize the car, then set a goal for how much money they need in order to make it theirs. Family or friends can sponsor specific parts of the new car, such as an engine or a steering wheel. This campaign aims to give people a new way of purchasing a car. With Kickstarter alone seeing over two million contributors give more than $319 million in pledges in 2012, crowdfunding has officially become a viable funding alternative.
MacBook Rental Vending Machine –
In a move towards dis-ownership, people can forgo buying laptops for college by just renting them. Philadelphia’s Drexel University gives students, staff and faculty the ability to rent a MacBook for up to five hours at a time for free. The MacBooks are being dispensed via a vending machine built by Laptops Anytime that automatically charges the batteries and wipes clean the hard drive for the next person to use. Reluctant to commit to big-ticket purchases and with technology continuously being updated, people are increasingly opting for choices that require a less than permanent commitment.
ON THE RADAR
Read This: In Going Solo sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg takes a look at the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boom: the increasing number of people who choose to live alone. Today roughly one out of every seven adults lives alone. Klinenberg looks at the appeal of living alone and the new ways of living that single people are crafting in the process.
Try This Site: RelayRides is a peer-to- peer car-sharing service that taps into the pre- existing community of underutilized vehicles and connects local car owners with people looking to rent a vehicle. A recent partnership with General Motors enables renters to unlock OnStar-enabled cars via their smartphone so owners don’t even have to find time to hand off their keys in person. Membership is free, all drivers are screened, and the service provides $1 million insurance on every rental.
Know This: Ikea is building a new neighborhood in East London and its design will be devoted to walkability. The new community, called Strand East, is being developed on 26 acres of land in Stratford. Its focus on walkability means that Strand East will join a growing list of car-free urban communities in Europe. In addition to many car-free zones, cars that do enter the area will be parked out of sight in underground parking lots.