Monday, November 16, 2009

Bungee Families

It is possible that the large family home might come in vogue again. If children move in and out of the house and grandparents live longer, healthier lives as the trends now suggest, that oversized house might actually have more use than just touting financial success. It is possible that many families might go back to three generational living (or four in some cases). We know that children are going through puberty earlier and earlier. Until we are able to understand why and change those conditions, there might be a teen period between ages nine and age fourteen or fifteen, and then a youthful parent stage between 15-16 and 30. Education might be earlier for those who manage not to have children and later for others. The general age of people in tertiary studies is going up, and that could well continue.

Childcare could be everyone’s responsibility and families will have to learn to clearly define their duties in relation to the children or the children will learn to manipulate very early. Where there are several children with their families, it will be even more important to define duties and responsibilities. The grandparent who gets to spoil their grandchildren will be few and far between. More people in the family will have to work in order to support the larger family group, but the major bread winners could be those between 30 to70 or even 75+ for those who are really healthy. The dream of having health, no responsibility and money could be a passing fancy.

With puberty coming younger and physical development staying much the same as it has for centuries, a space could open for a wise elder or two to be the family leader. The term "grand" parent might take on new meaning and Asian ancestor worship might be reinstituted. There will still be a role for young and older parents as well as grandparents to keep the immature children with a full-blown lust drive distracted by other interests and developmental activities. The pressure of being popular, liked and even loved could be pushed down to very young years which would be shocking for older generations. The relatively stable family home might provide some security for children that they might not have gotten in a nuclear family. Naturally, an extended family that is dysfunctional will not leave all the problems behind them. A split family or an individual might rejoin or create a new family much as is the trend today. It will not be easy to survive alone in a big family culture.

Not everyone will be able to purchase, build or maintain a family home. In that case, they might rent a number of apartments in the same building and make renting more respectable as it will not be a temporary solution, but a more permanent one. More independent oriented family members might like to be able to shut the door on their family and have a bit of alone time with a smaller group behind a locked door!

Given the logical consequences of more drastic weather and rising water levels, there could be lots of people on the move. They will try to move with their families and within their culture groups. Finding larger homes to house them and the land to place them on that isn’t appropriate for food production will be difficult. It will mean that density will push cities farther past their limits than they are now until people realize that they can’t have so many children as there is no room or food for them. As the total population comes down, stress illness and problems within families will start to ease off. Housing architecture will change. In some areas, housing clusters might develop with groups of small houses that share a larger kitchen and recreation area, while sleeping and storage areas will be separate. They will be surrounded by gardens, and places for the whole family to exercise. Other creative solutions to complex family living will surely develop. Families with a same sex partners will not make a bit of difference as many will choose to have children and will have older parents living with them. If children are not born into a family, the dynamics will be less complicated and when those family homes become empty, they will then be a contribution to a very slow moving housing market.

The swing generation in these families will have a difficult time adjusting to the loss of what they had dreamed would be their older years. Those having grown up in multi-generational households will have an easier time adjusting. It is very possible that Bungee families are just the beginning of this multi-generational living. Get ready to love the ones you are with, there will be less chance to run away or avoid generational problems.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Transportation with perspective

In the search for alternative transportation that gets us out of our cars, but gives all the advantages of the automobile some are choosing monorail solutions. They can be built over current streets and highways so they require no major land appropriation. Even on the ground, only pillars and possibly stations will take up space. Monorails get up us up over the town, and while we won’t get a bird’s eye view, we will be viewing cities from a new perspective. We might have huge glazed buildings on either side of us or, all the glass left over from thoughts of endless oil, giving us a view into people’s offices and work lives. Window shopping might take another turn, stores might be on the second or third floor and we will see their displays as we wiz by.

Some buildings will still be low enough to see their roofs, maybe even gardens on those roofs where food for the lunch we will eat later is growing. In more open terrain we might have lovely views of rivers, living areas with houses and parks. Concert music may waif up to us as we fly by the bandstand in the park.

This might sound like a tale of the future, but in Uppsala, not far from the capitol of Stockholm, Sweden, a Korean firm is testing the impact of weather upon a monorail system. Safety has already been approved by Swedish Rail and the first of three cities is gearing up. In 1994, A Tale of the Future, a book written from the research of 35 budding Futurists, described the motivations for a monorail system like this:

“The Monorail project is based on the vision that the Monorail should facilitate harmony in the life of the city. The Monorail was designed with the view to contribute to all of man’s various possibilities to live a good life in the city and not just get to work. The designers have seen to the totality of man’s needs. The trip on board the Monorail is organized so that the riders will have a pleasant, inspired, and educational ride, since people’s lives continue even during a trip. Eating, working or studying are possible on board. It is even possible to relax in peace and quiet, socialize or be alone. The monorail is also built to be pleasant even for those not onboard. It runs quietly and is built a little above ground so that it doesn’t cut across any walkways or bicycle paths.” (A Tale of the Future is available without cost online.

In a totally different part of the world, namely, Caracas, Venezuela, politicians struggle with the huge, steep slum areas that get more permanent every day. A think tank came up with the idea of providing transportation where none existed. One area, the San Augustine Neighborhood is visible from the city due to its hillside location, but transportation to Caracas is very poor. This one neighborhood houses 40,000 people and was a good place to try urban cable cars (pictured above), with five stations around which services would be built, health care, day care, supermarkets, and recreation facilities.

These transportation systems with perspective may be a sign of what to expect in mass transit in the next 50 years, but like energy and many other problems that need new solutions, the result may well be different, and adjusted to local conditions. A wonderful consequence of this is that when we travel in the future, the true promise of going to another part of the world will be fulfilled once again. We will once again see variety in how people get from place to place and live their lives because local conditions will have been satisfied. Perspective will not only come from traveling with the birds, but from realizing that copying the West will be a dimming trend and solving the problem of sustainability will be the leading motivation.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In the earlier days of brain research most of the results were function identification. Discovering where the different parts of the brain began and ended was the question of the day. As that became clearer, the next question was what was the function of each part? We got right brain and left brain concepts from that phase of research. With the invention of MRI and fMRI neurologist have been able to see how the different parts of the brain react with each other and even with the rest of the body. That line of questioning has moved scientists from linear thinking to complex thinking.

Some people in the field of education did not wait for science to validate their insights and created their own pedagogies such as Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female medical doctor in Italy. Dr. Montessori based her ideas upon observation of mentally disturbed and uncared for children and after success with them she applied her learning to healthy children. Maria Montessori was not the first, but one of several who tried to influence pedagogy with their observations of how children actually learned. Meanwhile, neurologist worked in their own laboratories trying to understand the workings of the brain as opposed to the behavioral results of brain activity. There was very little contact between neurologist and educators. This was not unusual given that all professions up until about fifteen years ago were considered separate entities. This was fueled by the belief that teachers were not considered capable of understanding neuroscience.

Now on an increasing scale, educators, pedagogues and neurologist have begun to research together, testing the various activities that can enhance various qualities and skills found in the brain. This collective effort has moved education into the beginning of a new paradigm of teaching and learning. It is being called Brain-based education and describes the link between the results of brain research and the pedagogic actions taken in the classroom. It is multi-disciplinary because we now understand that the whole person has to be educated precipitating interaction between sociologists, physical fitness experts, psychiatrists, nutritionist, psychologists, and cognitive scientists and the classroom teacher.

Have a look at Signs of the Times for more practical information.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The un-development of towns and Towns Rethink Self-Reliance as Finances Worsen

In the current Signs of the Times we have focused upon local solutions that are towns and parts of larger cities taking collective action to form new, local, economies and develop a sense of community. Local farmers join in with city folk eager for fresh vegetables and fruit, street corners develop as a place to meet, talk and maybe swap a book or children’s toys. Neighbors turning their yards into gardens and swapping or selling produce and eggs to one another.

This Signs of the Times we present two other ways of saving local areas. In Sweden, a town replaces industrial production with technology and research. From being a huge producer of textile products to a focus on design and research, the city of Borås has slowly evolved to a city that has moved from textiles to woven goods. Instead of sheeting and other house hold items, the local research center has focused upon other woven products that have increased applications, like stronger woven materials for bulletproof vests, materials that block the sun or deliver vitamins. In other words, they are developing tomorrow’s products for totally new markets while using knowledge of woven products that has existed in the workforce for generations.

The other survival method comes from the United States where the concept of dissolution is being discussed. When small towns and villages become in able to meet their legal commitments of policing, firefighting, health or education services, the citizens are inadvertently punished. But if the next largest authority agrees to take them in and provide those services in exchange for their taxes, the problem may be solved. However, finding the right authority to take in these citizens may not be easy. There are surely other solutions to the problems small towns are facing today, which ones will your town choose or create?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The cost of living alone up, health and environment down

An addition to a Sign of the Times dated April 4, 2009 where I reported on the increase in individuals in cities who live alone and the social consequences of this behavior titled The Lonely American.

An article entitled Love in the Time of Recession, talks about the effect of relationships on related products like weddings and romance novels. It appears that our living-alone citizens are buying more romance novels and spending more on dating services. It means that living alone is more secure when the economy is up and less secure when the economy is down. If one were to extrapolate to the greater society, does it not partially explain the reason that market based economies tend to prize individual successes and pulling one’s self up by the boot straps and economies with more collective focus tend to promote family harmony, collective gain and unity or solidarity?

Have you noticed that collective approach of President Obama more is more than a little scarry to the over fourty percent of voters that didn't vote for him? His tendencies towards "WE can change", instead of YOU can suceed are a negative signal to them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The establishment reconsiders BNP

In Signs, I reported on the establishment's look at replacing the Gross National Product (GNP)with something new. Naturally, that something new already exists and is being used. Redefining Progress (a think tank) started in 1994 by Ted Halstead has been working toward this goal by developing the Genuine Progress Indicator.

The GPI incorporates personal consumption data just as the GNP. It adjusts those figures for some factors and adds others. The GPI looks at income distribution, adds the value of household and volunteer work and higher education. It looks at the costs for resource depletion due to crime and pollution, long-term environmental damage, negative changes in leisure time. It adds the cost of defense expenditures, accidents, misfortunes, illness or what people spend to prevent any changes in their lifestyle, medical and repair bills, pollution control devices, etc.

The life expectancy of consumer durables and infrastructure like roads, electricity lines can be negative if representing losses. The amount of monetary reserve a nation maintains or borrowed capital it has, is a sign of health or illness. If used for in-country investment it is positive and only becomes negative when used to finance consumption.

If a nation allows its capital stock to decline, or if it finances consumption with borrowed capital, it is living over its resources. The GPI counts net additions to the capital stock as contributions to well-being, and treats money borrowed from abroad as reductions. If the borrowed money is used for investment, the negative effects are canceled out. But if the borrowed money is used to finance consumption, the GPI declines.

The heat could be off the financial system, while other areas like health care will be scrutinized for their ability to keep people healthy!

Changing how we define and measure progress will make a huge difference in our lives, our choices and our way to see the world. Because the traditional measure of national production remains in each measure, we might not feel the change quite as much as if were just replaced, not added to with other measures.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reintroducing of Electric Cars

As a trend watcher and prejudiced by the desire to continue having access to individualized transportation, I have been watching the fast moving trends in automobiles. Originally, I was betting upon sun powered hydrogen, but that hasn't come about yet and then I found out that a rare element was needed to make the system work. Anything that is rare implies exclusivity, only the rich will be able to afford it, and insures the status of those who control it. There is still hope for hydrogen, but as one of several solutions to the zero emissions problem. Here is how the hydrogen project is looking in Europe and Scandinavia. The European hydrogen highway is a network is of partners in various countries who are developing refueling stations from Norway and Sweden and south as far south as Italy. Germany has the largest number, with 26 refueling stations.

Batteries were a problem but the lithium batteries written about in 2004 and 2005 were to utilize nano-technology which can affect the size and durability of the batteries. As I wrote in an earlier “Signs of the Times”: "The three reasons that electric cars have not had larger success has to do with the batteries being too heavy, shorter driving distances, long charging times and expense of electricity. This battery seems to solve all those problems."

In October 2007, I wrote about electrical vehicles, EV’s, which were tested around the United States and then taken away and destroyed, thus following an earlier scheme from the 1920’s to get electric cars off the roads when gasoline became cheaper.

The West with its Better Place is an example of a social economic company. It’s goal is to reintroduce electric cars and a workable infrastructure to governments around the world. They are working to get people paying by the mile not by the tank. Currently, they have projects with the Northern California Bay area region, the governments of Israel, Canada, Australia and Denmark. More are joining every day. Two car manufactures have committed to building electric cars. In this project economic growth and environmental growth are connected.

The infrastructure will provide work in production (building cars, maintaining batteries, charging stations, and in digital and battery design and development and in service). Instead of gas stations there will need to be places for cars to charge their batteries, places to exchange their batteries when taking longer trips and software instead of a gas meter. Battery chargers will be located at workplaces, homes, shops and parking lots. For longer trips over 161 kilometers battery switching will be available. Most of the time one will be able to charge at home. In countries with an abundance of sun, an over production of electricity will be stored in car batteries. We never know which solution for zero emissions will take hold and neither do we know the contribution of electric cars to magnetic fields to which some individuals have physiological reactions or other unhealthy responses that may arise. Personally, I look forward to the quiet and fresh air!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Det Stora Nätverksmötet (The Big Network Meeting)

My time was well spent at a network meeting for Social entrepreneurs on the 12th of February if for no other reason than the excitement of hearing what kinds of projects were happening around the world. The creativity in this field makes the rest of the business world look very sad. First, here is a description of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurship is a name that has been given to businesses that have as their first goal to make a positive difference in society while earning reasonable profits.

Secondly, there is a group of programs that are the venture capitalists behind social entrepreneurs. Ashoka searches and supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. New projects can start at a place like The Hub, which is in seven countries and offers basic office space and services to new starts to work out their ideas and get a prototype made. A stock exchange started in England to help new started social enterprises with access to risk finance for expansion and growth.

Then, we have some examples of the projects themselves. My favorite was Peepoole, a short version of peeing,pooping people. The idea is to bring better sanitation to 2.6billion people who have none at this time. It is a relatively simple concept, which makes it all the more elegant. Take two biodegradable plastic bags, an inner and an outer. Line the inner bag with an enzyme, which combined with urea builds ammonia. The ammonia kills all bacteria and virus, rendering the contents safe enough after four days to sow the seeds of eatable plants. The product has been tested in Africa and the users are largely positive. Lower production costs and moving production to local areas is the next challenge, but the concept works. There are many effects of using these small personal toilets. Women seem to like them best. In a number of cultures, women only feel safe from attack and the view of others when going out at night to relieve themselves. Many drink only just before dark so that they only have to urinate after sunset. Having their own little bag, they can use it in their own home. It can lay there till morning, odor free. Even if it is just tossed on a trash heap, it will be safe within 4-6 days depending upon the weather. The damage caused on land and to waterways disappears, because the contents become fertilizer (with inherent costs savings) and does not just wash into the nearest stream, river or ocean. Proximity to water has traditionally been thought of as the best disposal place, the water washing away feces and diluting urine. However, we now know that diseases and water pollution are the result. These simple bags eliminate that.

Some other exciting initiatives are samples below:
Take a Palestine nerd and an Israeli nerd, add a little hotel called Everest located just on the border (surrounded by the wall) and a gathering of peace loving, computer savvy people, you have motivation and a place to discuss issues without guns.

An elderly man in Soweto, suburb of Johannesburg, saw a hill near his village where violence had taken place and now it was filled with trash. Slowly, the trash disappeared and some of the villagers got involved. The old man planted and created a monument to those who had died there. When the UN summit "Earth" was in Johannesburg in 2002, Kofi Annan came to the hill and made an elegant speech which acknowledged all those who had died on the hill and those who had “recycled” it. The hill remains a source of hope to those for whom hope is a long in coming.

A young woman in the UK wanted to make shoes out of recycled material. Her first attempts fell apart with the first rain. Shortly thereafter, she met a young fellow at a pub and it turned out that his father was a prominent shoe manufacturer. A little help from experts and she is now making her recycled shoes.
Feel inspired?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Keeping up with the Jones' - housing

What is considered current and what is considered a new trend depends a lot upon the audience. The 10 trends are shown in Signs of The Times are not new with professional people but they might be new to people who have not been following anything concerning new home construction.

1. Earth-Friendly Home Design
2. "Prefab" Home Design
3. Adaptive Reuse in Home Design
4. Healthy Home Design
5. Storm-Resistant Home Design
6. Flexible Floor Plans in Home Design
7. Accessible Home Design
8. Outdoor Rooms in Home Design
9. Abundant Storage in Home Design
10. Eastern Ideas in Home Design

Of course, they come from an American source and some will be well integrated in other countries. For example earth-friendly home design has been going on in Germany and other countries for twenty years at least and the trend is just now taking off in the States.

There seem to be dichotomies in house building, those who want to build an environmentally friendly home, but don't realize that a big home and large closets just encourage consumerism, which they have not counted as contributing to global warming. Another dichotomy is between those who build low tech and others who add mile after mile of wiring to have lights, heating, sound systems, heating and energy monitors digitalized and controlled from their mobile telephone. Living costs are a consideration for many as so many who build houses retire.

A small, but important group of Brits dream of warmer climates and renovate old barns, churches and houses all of which are slowly crumbling. Most of this type of renovation goes on in France, Italy and even Spain. Naturally, they make an enormous contribution to their new communities, and many are trying to reuse brick and beams found on the property, but not all are environmentally friendly.

Those lucky enough to find property to build on or renovate in London are using double insolated containers with south facing windows. In addition, they are environmentally sound with green roofs, water collection and small wind turbines outside. Lisbon, Berlin and Toronto are copying London's Village Underground where offices are placed upon an old storage local and are made of old subway cars. Painted and decorated with exciting interior design these new offices may be the first recycling of old subway cars.