Why bookstores are NOT going to ‘die’ out

There’s been a lot of ridiculous hype that bookstores are going to be dead in the near future. These people mainly contribute it to the rising use of eBooks and how Kindles are making bookstores obsolete and whatnot.

I personally would like to call it BS. I’m not going to go into super factual analysis or attempt to dig up a lot of links to prove any assertions or whatever; I’m just going to suggest you go to your favorite search engine instead or add some of your own logic here.

Borders bookstore Detroit airport by brewbooks

People point out that Borders Group Inc., an international book and media retailer got bankrupt this year, suggesting the premise of bookstores in the future. Thing is, Borders was totally slow in being competitive. For a long while, Borders didn’t sell any books online; they outsourced it to Amazon until about a year or two ago, and Barnes & Noble got a earlier head start as well. Barnes & Noble also brought in their Nook as soon as they could, while it took about 2 years later for Borders to get a Kobo in their stores. Check it out from Forbes. The gist is, is that Borders didn’t have good management and direction as to what consumers want, and they didn’t adapt quickly enough.

So digital sales may have some part to do with some bookstores closing out. But there has to be more than just digital sales. Do a lot of people you know or see own Kindles or Nooks or other eReaders? Maybe it’s just me, but I may see a couple sometimes, but they’re not as prevalent as the online world would like you to believe.

Here’s my theory. Something many media outlets haven’t touched on when they talked about Borders going down is:

  • the rise in secondhand bookstores
  • the rise in library check-outs
  • people buying online at cheaper prices

I know it’s all anecdotal, but I don’t buy books as much as I used to when I was younger. It may have to do with how books have risen like a dollar per paperback (from $3.99 to $4.99) in the past couple of years, and how being an adult means I’ve got to use my money more sparingly. Books are a luxury in a way. It’s not totally necessary for survival, but they can be educational or entertaining. I mostly bought books for entertainment through mystery fiction.

When I can, I mostly go to the library to get books. Sure, there are downsides to not owning them: having to return it back on time (or renew), dealing with any potential nastiness from being used for a long time, and so on. But I usually read my fiction books only once, and rarely ever again. So it makes sense for me to avoid books that are a one-time only thing. If I like it a lot, I may buy a personal copy somewhere.

That’s when I might usually hit a secondhand bookstore, but they are usually farther for me from where I live, so I might head to a national chain bookstore (usually Barnes & Noble) instead. Independents don’t really show up on the radar where I live, and the perks and selection of Barnes & Noble is hard to resist, so sorry independent owners. Borders had few locations in this city, so it wasn’t usually a place I visited, though I like the store’s atmosphere as well.

Also, a lot of people sell books on Amazon.com for cheap. So that helps a ton. I usually bought out-of-print books, that bookstores don’t usually keep since they’re a bit outdated.

I personally don’t care about the eBook craze at the moment. I can’t justify spending over a $100 for an eReader when printed books work fine for me, and I don’t have to deal with DRM issues if I wanted to read elsewhere, or ensure I have a physical back-up. The DRM issue is what hits me the most, and prevents me from even considering buying an eBook until that gets resolved. I kind of wish Microsoft might offer a solution at some point soon.

Plus I like to think any business model will at least try to change and adapt first, before it dies out. I see so many possibilities for bookstores before anything digital will overtake them. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I’m an idea guy and could think of a lot of ways bookstores can be even better than what’s out there.

Bookstores in some form will be here to stay for a long time. Whether it’s a big-chain selling a big selection with discounts and a built-in coffee shop, or a specialized independent, or a secondhand place, I don’t see them dying off in droves.

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The future of digital music distribution and the Microsoft factor

In this post, I’d like to explore what I see in the near-future (30-50 years) regarding digital music distribution, and taking into account where I see Microsoft falling into this.

The big four record companies (Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Warner Music Group) control about 75% of the market. They know that people, given the knowledge, can easily pirate music if they want to. Unless they can get tougher laws regarding websites or users, or force ISPs to report on piracy to them, it doesn’t look like piracy will change much. Of course, within reason, people will pay for music if they think it’s worth paying for. Here are the best models (with enhancements) that I think will benefit both the record labels and consumers for the near future:

  • Free streaming subscription with ads – Everyone loves the idea of free, even with constraints. Users to a music service can stream music via the web for free, and as long as you’re connected, you’re good. That’s about it. Access to a library where you search and hope you find it. However, you probably won’t have access to the full library (maybe not the latest songs for a month or two, premiums, or classics), no free downloads, there will be audio ads every so often you can’t disable, and probably limits on the quantity of playlists and content inside them, and other stuff. (best examples: Pandora Radio, Slacker).
  • Paid subscriptionUnlimited library access for how long the subscription lasts. Ability to download for offline use with special DRM that takes expiration into account. Algorithm-created playlists or recommendations based on you or a specific piece on the fly. Ability to keep at least a certain amount of tracks DRM-free, high bit-rate, any audio format after the subscription ends. No downsides, except when the subscription expires, you lose access to the complete store library. Reasonable monthly price range should range from $5-$15, and less per month if on a longer contract. Possibility of music extras like those mentioned in ‘a la carte’ bullet. (Best examples: Zune Marketplace, Rhapsody, Napster, Spotify, MOG, Rdio)
  • A la carteHigh quality bit-rate, DRM-free, any audio format of any track or album you’d like to keep. Complimentary extras like lyrics, music videos, liner notes, performance videos, exclusive clips, and more are included for free. Pricing would ideally be 99 cents a song, though no more than $2 if wanting to charge extra for high quality downloads or very recent music. The only downside is cost if you can’t afford it, which does rack up if you’re a big music listener. Producing music isn’t free though, so I don’t really consider it a downside. (best examples: iTunes Store, Zune Marketplace)
  • FreemiumFree DRM-free tracks to download. Idea behind this is that most money for record labels is made on merchandising, concert events, and other stuff, while music purchases are not usually as much. So why not make free, or at least some of it, and available to all so everyone can share your work and give you publicity? Downside of course is likely limited availability. (Free Music Archive, Clearbits, MadeLoud)

Paid subscriptions fit with the Open Music Model that MIT tried to push. However, due to the record companies, royalties and whatnot, I don’t think there are any large size systems that fit the open file format and open file sharing benchmarks. It’s also worth mentioning that some services offer both a basic free streaming with ads model, and a paid subscription model.

AM and FM radio stations will continue to be popular. Though you don’t get the same person fine-tuning, and there are still ads, people still love it. They can get live traffic feeds on the go, get notified of anything major around the area, and of course the usual giveaways and shout outs. Satellite radio will also still be popular with it’s high sound quality, professionally-produced content, and access anywhere are the key differentiators.

Do retail stores still figure into the equation? In my opinion, yes. Why? Even as access to tech is trickling down, not everyone will have personal access to a computer or more likely, high speed internet. Also, people generally love the retail experience where you can peruse through stuff physically. So I think some digital kiosks selling media to download straight to a device or update a subscription can still be cool. I posted a bit more down below where I’d like to see Microsoft figure into this.

So how would I like to see Microsoft going about digital music in the near future? Here’s what I think:

  • Adopt all the models – If Microsoft could manage to have a slice of every vertical, they could really grow a large user base. They’re already firmly implanted in the ‘a la carte’ and paid subscription models, but I’d like to see if they could also do free ad streaming and freemium as well.
  • Strengthen Zune brand mindshare – The tech world knows Zune offers great stuff, yet the masses haven’t followed. Microsoft needs to increase mindshare by getting music artists to try it out and promote their product, sponsor concerts and other big music events, more giveaways so more people can see it on the streets, etc.
  • Fix up Zune Social – Zune Social is neat, but they really need to strengthen this concept. I’d like to see music videos count as music plays, closer integration with Windows Live identity, Last.fm integration, ability to make groups/forums, and more. Maybe an optional Facebook integration with users favorites artists, songs, etc.? Also more detail bios, pictures, websites, twitter, etc. on artists pages.
  • Expand internationally faster – Apple has led the way in accessing global markets and signing deals with many record companies. Microsoft needs to work on this. Developing markets are also a prime target, because usually the first ones there tend to stay in that position. I’m sure users in Africa, Asia, and Latin America wouldn’t mind a legit music/media store that does stuff right.
  • Get better label agreements – Zune pretty much has all the major stuff, but often depending on special artists, not everything is available on Zune Pass. Some won’t allow you to use a song credit to keep their song, and others won’t even let you stream the full song. It’s mostly rare, but still disconcerting. Internationally, only 4 other markets have a Zune Pass, and though they cost just about the same, they don’t get the free 10 songs at the end of the subscription. Obviously, better label deals would be appreciated.

Possible interesting ideas Microsoft could also try, not necessarily major:

  • Maybe allow Zune experience on non-MS platforms? – Zune is a very competitive service, and many would like it on other platforms. However, this could hurt Microsoft’s competitive edge in promoting their own products. With a Zune Pass, you can access music on Zune.net through a web browser, but it’s not the same as a native app. So it’ll be interesting whether or not MS will go this route.
  • Selling media in a physical store? – As I mentioned above, not everyone will always have a computer or high-speed internet, and others like a retail experience, so selling digital in a physical store format isn’t too crazy. I think it’d be neat if Microsoft could sell Surface 2.0 tables to independent music stores or even big retail stores (Best Buy, Target, etc.) to sell Zune Marketplace media directly to devices or USB sticks, and renew Zune Pass subscriptions on. Retailers of course get a cut on the items sold, but it might be worth it for all parties.

Overall, I hope to see record labels truly embracing the digital world, rather than going against it. I don’t really have to mention it, but the RIAA hasn’t generally had such a good history to it as far as most people would care. As a Microsoft fan, I think Microsoft could truly deliver a wonderful music experience if they keep working on it.

It’ll be interesting to see if music distribution will be any more different than these enhanced tried-and-true models, and if piracy will keep going unfettered.

Technology Trends in the upcoming 10 years

I’m always thinking towards the future, so I’ve thought a lot about how technology might be different in the future.Here are 10 trends I expect to see with the upcoming 10-20 years in no particular order:

  1. More computer/TV hybrids – Both a TV and a computer require a screen to view its contents, so why not merge both? Many people already do so by using their TV set as a monitor to their computer or using their computer and TV tuner card as a TV set. My dream concept would be an 1080p HD OLED wall mounted hybrid with all the computer components, ports, and slots on the sides or through a wireless base, webcam at the top, along with a wireless keyboard and touchpad/mouse. It ideally saves space and costs less than buying two separate machines. In fact, such a thing already exists with Medion’s X9613 all-in-one multi touch PC.
  2. More all-in-one portable devices – Imagine having a PMP (portable media player), cell phone, camera, GPS unit, calculator, remote control, and maybe even a thermometer all in ONE device. In fact, that’s already possible with the most ubiquitous example being the iPhone along with other fancy smartphones. These super devices offer a lot of functionality through it’s hardware and built-in apps, and extended ones with third party applications. The portability, extensive functionality, and the slickness of some of these devices make all-in-ones very keen to have. They can only get more popular as the years go by.
  3. Less standalone GPS unitsGPS units can easily get lost, stolen, or useless when the subscription expires. There have been many cases where thieves have broken windshields to get a GPS unit. These days, GPS functionality is becoming very popular with cars having them built-in or on the user’s cell phone, so standalone GPS units are going to continue to be decline in popularity, except for the ones that are used for hiking outdoors.
  4. More wireless controllable devices – The simplicity of being able to control your devices on one remote, instead of having to go to each and manually activate them is very appealing. Remote controls do most things, but not everything. I can see Bluetooth equipped touchscreen phones serving as our new remote controls, rather than the standard IR soft button remotes. Bluetooth appears very more precise and fast for connection between device, and the touchscreen will make the controls more flexible and show just the buttons you need when you need them. Controlling things will be even better with home automation.
  5. More biometric technologyBiometric data can be very secure, and not as easy to be tampered with, as compared to just a password. More airports will use them, more computers will have biometric scanners, more government agencies will have them, etc. Perhaps there will be a super secure database of all the country’s citizens with biometric data, that will be used for verifying people’s identities for security reasons. Only limited data is shown, unless the person accessing it has biometric clearance to dig in deeper. Probably the only data most people that have these scanners will see is just a picture ID and name.
  6. Less use of portable physical storage mediums – Floppy disks have died, CD’s are going away with DVD’s and USB flash drives, and now simple file sharing or streaming over the Web has become the way of transferring data. Why? It doesn’t take up space, it’s less riskier to lose data, and it’s convenient. Physical hard drives will still be there of course, for backup and security reasons, but when going portable, it will be much simpler to send things over the web or through streaming. While portable USB flash drives are convenient method right now, they usually easily get lost and the data can be very crucial. I’ve lost my SanDisk flash one and haven’t been able to find it since. So I really think that transferring data through the Internet or streaming will be the trend.
  7. More electronic kiosks – Would you rather deal directly with an employee, or would you rather deal with an easy-to-use electronic kiosk? I’d pick the kiosk. If designed very well, kiosks should easily let you pick exactly what it is you want, exclude things you might not want (like contents of a burger or hotel package), add notes to supply additional info., and is very easy to pay through. Your order goes from the machine to the staff and they respond to it efficiently with the information you supplied, and in no time they’ve got it done. You do not have to deal with communication barriers (language, speech irregularities, etc.), scornful attitudes, and all that other stuff with direct communication. With a well designed electronic kiosk, you tell exactly what you want, pay, receive, and that’s it. I really believe that electronic kiosks are the way to go for efficiency and better service.
  8. Less oversaturation in particular markets – There’s got to be like a bazillion different cellphones, cameras, and computer models out there. Many often with names like the HP G60t laptops, or the Sony Ericsson W380a, or even the Canon PowerShot SD990 IS. Horrible names you’d probably never remember. Now there’s nothing wrong with choices of course; choices are great. However, flooding the market with a bunch of similar-sounding devices the have only one or two difference but a completely different name is both confusing and ultimately disliked by consumers. If a camera comes in 7 different colors, should there be 7 different model names? Not in my opinion. Consumers love it when there are choices that have clearly distinguishable features, very good ecosystem of accessories or 3rd party add-ons, and well known so it’s easy to find help or content for it. Apple has generally done a very good job of diversifying their products just enough, without making obscure variations or multiple names of pretty much the same product. Buy some generic dumbphone or an obscure PMP from some random company’s product lines or a computer model that’s hasn’t been popular and you just don’t get the same benefits.
  9. More paperless workspacePaper is often inefficient at any workplace. Organizing them, sorting them, transporting them, spending money on them, and the waste they create when going to landfills instead of recycling facilities is troubling. Those among other reasons are why people will move towards paperless offices, and not having to deal with the inefficiency of paper. There will probably still be paper for important documents or archiving, but probably most things will be created and sent digitally. A paperless office or school would make working so much better to deal with, and the fact it saves trees is even better.
  10. Telecommuting anywhere and everywhere – As more office work is being done on computers, there is less need to physically go to the workplace to do work. You can communicate to coworkers and bosses by e-mail, IM, or videoconferencing. As long as the person is still productive wherever he/she is, I don’t really see a problem with telecommuting, though I doubt very private and important documents will ever leave the workplace, due to the risk of a stranger seeing the document on the employee’s screen. There was an article in the paper the other day about how coffee shops are becoming places to work with sometimes free WiFi, good coffee and a somewhat relaxing environment. Most owners don’t mind as long as you buy something. In fact, there’s a business in Houston, called Caroline Collective, that dedicates itself to serving independent employees who need a good office space with amenities, for a flat fee every month.

Perhaps these trends are obvious, and perhaps they might seem peculiar. That’s just the way I see things going.

What are trends that you think will happen in the the next 10 years?

The Future: Shift from Suburban to Urban

I predict that the ideal suburban life that Americans have been dreaming and living upon for a century, may eventually die out someday. The traditional idea of the suburban lifestyle is that the suburbs offer a wonderful choice for a middle-class person that wants a nice bigger home to live and raise a family in, easy to drive around, some greenery, an oasis away from the dirty busy city, and friendly neighbors and such. Or for wealthy people, the suburbs offer a place to have a big sprawling estate, ritzy McMansions, and not be too far from downtown or the central business district. You know, have easy convenience to needs, but can get away from the city. The lower class has pretty much the same ideals as the middle class regarding suburbs.

However, having experience living in the suburbs outside of NW Houston myself, I know that these ideals are quickly dying out. The American dream that suburbs are the place to live, is quickly getting outdated.

I’ve noticed these common misconceptions about suburbs that are not usually true to this day:

  1. People can easily drive around to where they need to go – That’s a mistake that I notice a lot. At first, in a new development, there’s relatively little traffic to deal with. However, as more and more roads and streets are laid out, and more communities and strip malls pop out, traffic increases sharply and it becomes harder to get around quickly. Also with rising fuel prices it’s getting more costly to get around. Cars also can be very expensive to buy and maintain. You have to take in consideration that to have a car lifestyle, you got to have money to pay for driver’s ed, getting a permit or license, fuel, repairs, auto insurance, toll roads, etc. It’s not as simple as it seems. Not to mention the pollution cars offer, and the lack of alternatives for biking, walking or taking mass transit in the suburbs. Commute time can be very LONG, as places just aren’t around the corner or convenient enough to walk over to, and you’re trying to get on the road with many other suburbanites.
  2. Kids are better raised in the suburbs than the city – Not really true. The idea that suburbs have good school districts, encourage kids to play outside and be healthy in a safe environment, and such are a complete fallacy. It’s true that school districts in suburban areas are generally better than the urban ones, but that’s only because suburban school districts have more wealthier people living in the area, contributing to property taxes that help fund schools and such. Often, urban areas have been left to the really poor, and thus school district have less adequate funding to make these schools better. Until laws change, it will generally always be this way. You’d think kids, living in the suburbs with yards some parks, and less busy streets are going to be healthy and good. WRONG! It might have been in the old days, but these days, kids are too preoccupied with video games, TV, text messaging, and other things that keep them coop up in the house. Yards are nothing more than something to look at, and maintain extensively and women (or men) don’t seem to garden as much anymore. Also, with teenagers commuting only by driving, they become more obese. Also AIR QUALITY is increasingly becoming worse in suburban communities, as people drive more and more and depend on cars that emit many emissions and fumes. Urban kids on the other hand are less likely to be obese, and have more civic pride. Middle class children are generally more spoiled, and have become increasingly self-absorbed and becoming less altruistic.
  3. Citizens can be closer to nature and have access to better air quality – I wish, but that isn’t quite right. Truly rich nature is often far away from the suburbs. Urban sprawl diminishes nature until there’s nothing more but a few clumps of trees, a bunch of critters, and litter strewn throughout, especially in cities/counties where zoning isn’t placed. You hardly ever see larger creatures than a cat out there. Also, many residents would prefer nature to be diminished actually, because they don’t want animals crossing the road in front of their cars, or they think they could build some type of development on top of it. Air quality is also not as great as you would think. I bike around a lot, and it can be pretty nasty out there. I’ve noticed a large amount of stench, usually around the bayous, and depending on what part of the day. Exhaust fumes aren’t that great either. Suburbs = car haven = more air pollution
  4.  Suburbs are safer than the inner city – You’d think with a more wealthier population and people around and about, that it’d be safer. It’s not necessarily true though. Wealthy people can still commit crimes, just like any poor person can commit a crime. There’s less police and fire protection, as stations are often far away, and police and firefighters have a more expansive, sprawling area to cover. Suburban streets are also hotspots for crime, as children don’t play around outside much, and people aren’t that particular about their lawns, thus there’s less witnesses. I’ve had two really fancy looking trees stolen from my front yard, in two separate burglaries. I also heard someone’s house was broken into on my street. Considering my home is in a relatively new development with homes reaching to the $200K+, it’s not just apartment complexes or such anymore.
  5. Housing is more prettier and affordable – Another incorrect idea. At least in my opinion. Houses are very generic looking in the suburbs, especially among newer homes. Subdivisions often employ one or two home builders to build houses roughly around the same price, and with few floor and exterior plans, it’s all very similar. Sometimes its hard for friends and even family members to remember which house on the street belongs to the person they’re visiting. Also, the same old designs of bricks and stonework really bore me. You’d think these builders could be a bit more diverse and use some new ideas. Affordable? It’s true that you do have to pay less per square foot then in denser urban areas, but do you really need all this space? You may say yes, especially if you’re raising a family, but I’ve seen people live in smaller housing before, and they do fine. Most people want the extra square feet so they can have room for extra junk they don’t feel like giving up yet, or redundant pieces of furniture or fixtures that are just there for looks. It’s the same thing for many Americans that just love to waste. Really, if you need the space, just get a townhouse. It’s also not that affordable as utilities typically cost more (since it’s expensive to build infrastructure out in less dense areas), HOA dues, the expense of the car lifestyle, yard and house maintenance, etc.
  6. Neighborhood quality is great – In the old days perhaps, but in modern times, it’s usually not true. Maybe you’ve seen movies or TV series that take place in the suburbs, and you got your funny neighbors doing stuff outside or in the yard, parks where the kids and mommies bond, people out on the street exercising, neighbors visiting each other and having parties, etc. It’d be nice if this were common, but it’s not. Neighbors usually keep to themselves, and maybe a polite hand wave, but not really any bonding unless there’s (bad) desperate measures, like pooling in together in natural disasters, disputes about nuisances, etc. I don’t even know the surnames of my neighbors! Parks are often poorly made and poorly maintained. My local park has a tiny children’s playground, a small kidney shaped pool, and a view of ‘the lake’ (bayou/detention pond). That really does not encourage teenagers to bond much, well except the pool, but it’s often too hot to go there and not much room for swimming. People do exercise or walk dogs sometimes, but in the early morning, and again, they’re not so social about it. Parties? Ha! Like I said, people have big houses to occupy their lives, and they’re not interested much in neighbors, unless they’re really hot and single. The photo below shows the usual major suburban road with a messy smorgasbord of telephone/electric wires, signs, big box stores and many cars.

These are just the general discrepancies I notice in how people view the suburbs, and then the reality of how it actually is, or will at some point be. I noticed this poll on SocialVibe earlier this year, and it seem that more youths are also seeing the plus side of living in the city, or even the country. In this poll, it appears that suburbs are the least popular. Of course, this is not a scientific poll of any type, but it does seem like a good indicator of the trends I’m expecting to happen within the next few decades.

I expect this to become a trend; Americans becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the suburban lifestyle, amid fuel prices, general goods, and utilities spiking up. You can try to make a suburban house more ‘greener’ and try to consume less, but at some point, it’s going to become too much. Either the suburbs will have to be redesigned from the ground up, or there will be a mass migration to the city or the country. Here are the scenarios that I think may happen:

SCENARIO 1: Suburbs are redesigned for the 21st century

(Sophisticated modern townhome style with parking garages underground)

This is a more likely scenario, as us Americans will always still want larger houses to raise families in, and buy and store lots of junk, but that’s how it may probably be. The best way for this scenario to work would be:

  1. Suburbs adopting mode denser development codes – It won’t exactly become as dense as an urban city, but a bit more denser. No more ranch houses or lanky two-story homes with big lawns. New housing will be either a more sophisticated townhouse style with room for a patio and a mini-yard or the traditional American style architecture but with little or no lawns, and room for a porch and possibly a gate. Apartment complexes will transform into apartment buildings or condos with more better amenities. Old-style housing won’t necessarily be all destroyed, but a potential push away from that style. Businesses will also see a change. Most retail businesses will expand by floor, rather than expanding outwards, and accommodate more bikers and pedestrians, and less cars. Office businesses will be located in more office towers or office complexes, rather than strip malls or stand-alone buildings. Parking lots will transform into small parking garages. More condense shopping centers will replace strip malls.
  2. Suburbs develop a non-car dependent transportation system – Like I pointed out, cars have too many downfalls that people get tired of this system. Alternative modes will be considered. Expect bike lanes to be placed on major roads, wider sidewalk system installed (thanks to the stronger denser development codes, its more feasible), and even an extension of the city’s bus or light rail system from the city to the suburbs. Bike racks and facilities for bikers will pop up throughout, and shaded awning or tree-lined streets for pedestrians. This will help bring the ‘local’ town feel to suburbs that people who live in small quaint towns experience and like. With more transportation options, car owners will most likely only need to use their cars for much longer commute or to carry bulk items to and fro.
  3. Increase in mixed-use type of developments – I’m talking about the type of development that combines either housing, commercial, institutional, office or other types of uses in one place or building. This type of development makes it very convenient for residents who can sleep upstairs and pop in downstairs, or to an adjacent building. A group of mixed used developments connected by sidewalks or a bike lane make it an ideal place to live, without requiring the use of a car to take you about for some typical stuff. I think this mixed-use developments will inevitably replace strip malls.
  4. Benefits of a suburban lifestyle remains intact – These are still suburbs, even though the appear to be more city-like. What would make these updated suburbs be distinguishable as a ‘suburb’? Even though I’ve derided suburbs a lot, there are the still silly benefits like they are ‘family-friendly’, offer a more quiet, private sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the even more denser city, and more affordable. Parks should remain, and even be expanded or have upgraded facilities to accommodate more dense growth. Even though a suburb doesn’t usually have a “one-with-nature’” feel to it, it would also be nice if some portions of land were preserved for natural habitats to thrive in. It would give the suburban area a more of a nature characteristic. Golf courses, and all that type of development can and should stay the same.

That’s pretty much how I expect suburbs to adapt to America’s new desires in Scenario 1. Basically, the suburbs will be more of a mixture between a small town and a city. It would be at a level of density that has the familiarity and quaintness of a small town, but dense enough where you can have access to some of the many conveniences urban dwellers have. An ideal city in Scenario 1 would be just like this. Examples of such places are:

  • Hercules, California
  • The Woodlands, Texas (I love this place)
  • HafenCity, Hamburg
  • Prospect New Town near Longmont, Colorado
  • Celebration, Florida

SCENARIO 2: Suburbs die out, become slummy and slowly disappear

This is a more extreme scenario in which suburbanites totally drop the suburban concept for either the urban or country living. How? Well since Americans still have some strange fondness for suburban sprawl, I guess it would take sharp rising fuel prices, a housing bubble, downfalls of a car lifestyle are more perceptible, among other things that will cause a major exodus in suburbanites moving towards the cities, and maybe some to the countryside.

The transition won’t be easy. Despite the downfalls to suburbs, these suburbanites also see cities as having downfalls too, particularly if they want/have a family and don’t think urban-areas are ‘family-friendly’ enough. Common fears of suburbanites of the city are:

  • They’re not kid-friendly – They claim that cities have horrible public schools, more expensive private schools, lack safe greenspace for kids to play, and the potential for their child’s innocence to be lost with so many different types of people living in the city
  • Annoying neighbors – Neighbors can be above, below or to the side of you, and you have to be considerate not to bother them or hope they don’t bother you in some way. You know, like turning on the stereo very loud, setting things on fire, etc.
  • Not car friendly – Like I said, people have some strange attachment to cars. In a really dense urban area, it costs more to maintain a car lifestyle.
  • Crime – People report hearing a lot of crimes in the city

All of those reasons should be non-issues by now. Why? Well I’d like to counteract by saying that:

  • They can be kid-friendly – If enough middle-class people resided in the area, schools would have more funding from property taxes, and thus they’d become more better. Private schools are still an iffy thing, but public school could be a good option again. There are plenty of parks for children to hang out at, or they could walk over to an arcade or library. Children should be exposed to what type of people there are in society, instead of being sheltered and ignorant.
  • Neighbors can become friends – Chat with your neighbors. Get a chance to meet them and have dinner together or something. You may find some common ground you can work with. In the end, you may become friends, or at least both sides can be civil
  • Pedestrian friendly – Stop being lazy. Car culture has made Americans sadly too dependent on car, and its going to be good not having to need to use it so much, and having a fatter wallet at the end of the month
  • Crime isn’t as bad as you think – It’s a common misconception. You may here more crimes happening in the city, but you do have to take into account there’s more people living here per square mile, so the ratio of crime to population isn’t as large as one would think. Also, police protection is generally more prevalent and common in cities.

So how’s this going to even be possible? Let’s say that a good amount of suburbanites are interested in moving to the urban area of the city, but they want city conditions to be better. Local officials in government take notice of this and start on making plans to help this happen. Why? Getting suburbanites moving into urban areas will help make government work more efficiently, and it will help with the local tax base in revitalizing and improving areas.

The government sets up a special ‘suburbanite’ zone within the city; an area designated as a transition site for suburbanites to live, and maybe even work and play within the city. The government will try to encourage developers with incentives or tax breaks to build more affordable housing that would suit middle-class suburbanites such as townhomes, luxury condo/apartment buildings, etc. The government will also pump some money into the schools in that zone to quickly transform them into more top-notch ones, similar in quality to the schools that exist in suburbs. Also, to discourage habitual suburbanites from turning to their cars to commute around the city, the transportation department will definitely work on making the zone as pedestrian friendly as possible, include quality mass transit, and bike lanes. This is called gentrification, though in my scenario, this is gentrification implemented more heavily throught the government.

(monorail provides a nice and efficient alternative transportation for former suburbanites to use)

Now you may think that’s pretty unfair, that the government is pumping money into this zone for the middle class, rather than helping the poorer classes that need it more. But it’s not as bad as one may think. Trying to increase density in an area, especially with middle class citizens, will greatly help the tax base in this zone. Since middle class citizens pay higher taxes compared to the lower class, the tax base will have more sufficient money to keep schools, public parks, street maintenance and other things in tip-top shape.

Most of these developments, at least the once that took that government’s tax breaks or incentives, are required to have a certain number of units set aside for the lower class, so that the lower class aren’t completely kicked out of this zone. The lower class may not like the idea of having their building or apartments torn down in place for ‘progress’ to happen. Even if they’re promised that it’s only temporarily or that the government will help find other housing places, it still feels bad.

The idea behind the ‘suburbanite’ zone isn’t necessarily to kick out the lower class, but to help revitalize and improve the area by putting in more people and businesses that have the wealth to support the tax base so that revitalization and improvements in the area are made possible financially.

So while the zone progresses, and more and more suburbanites move in and become city dwellers, suburbs dramatically get worse. Lots of houses are up on the block, businesses are disappearing, and not many people who are interested are willing to pay the same price for a declining suburban area. Eventually, the owners will probably sell it for much less than they hoped for, but at least they are rid of it. More or less likely, poorer citizens who may have been displaced by gentrification will move out here. Why? These are probably people who have already dreamed of living the American Dream, and owning (or renting if owners are that desperate) a house will come true for many. These houses left behind be more spacious than where they had lived previously (most likely an apartment or tiny cottage) and with former suburbanites willing to go for lower just to get rid of the place, the American Dream is accomplished not so difficultly as they’d expected.

At this point, you’ve got two major transitions: The middle class moving into the cities, and the lower class moving into the suburbs. So what about the upper class? Most likely they’re still clinging onto their estates, or they already also have a fancy penthouse/condo/townhome in the city so they’re not really that worried. Though they might give up the estate if desperate measures are needed.

Let’s speed it up by 15 years. By now, the urban area has transformed into a much more vibrant and hip area to really live, work, and play in. With many wealthier citizens to help with the tax base, the public school system continues to be superb with a focus on more green mega-schools, parks are complimented with many nice features, and streets feel safer and are much cleaner as automobile use dwindles and people get used to alternative transit. Businesses are booming as lots of foot traffic encourages citizens to go about the city leisurely and citizens actually take a notice to stores and businesses they pass by. Living, working, and playing IN the city has finally became a reality once again.

Suburbs on the other hand, aren’t doing so great. The poor continue to occupy most homes and businesses, and you can really see how slummy the area has gotten. Schools sadly have inevitably become worse, businesses are not doing so well, roads are filled with litter, and even the poor that live out here have gotten tired of this. Many teenagers with poor parenting are off in their ratty cars speeding about, doing crimes and drugs, and making the area worse. Yards are poorly maintained and appear ugly, though a good number of people are trying to be sustainable by growing their own food in the backyard (as well as some livestock…). Graffiti that was once common in inner cities are now seen on more fence posts, garages, and even more buildings. The majority of the lower class, no matter where they live, will continue to exercise the same type of careless attitude to their local place. Shacks and trailers pop up among the land, and wildfires from cigarettes are pretty common. The police and fire departments have a hard time protecting and enforcing such a spread out area with rapid crime soaring.

        

(empty stores in an aging strip mall)                                 (abandoned store)                           (senseless litter)

Eventually, the government steps in, and starts to work on fixing the suburbs. The best way to fix this problem? Demolish and destroy suburban sprawl once and for all. The government sets up a special area for these lower class ‘suburbanites’ along the edge of the city. Developers are encouraged to build nice, affordable apartment towers for these citizens to move into. To ensure less crime and mayhem from these folks, the government will try employ its best methods to keep this group happy. The government will try its best to make give schools, clinics, and other institutions in this area better teachers and materials so these kids can really learn. Great after-school activities will be offered so kids have something productive to do. Police will be able to patrol the area easier to remind people who’s in charge. Civic responsibility will increase through special programs. Hopefully the lower class will become better.

At the same time, the government will work on taking down suburbs. New development outside of city limits will be banned, unless given special permission (like a fueling station for automobiles) or it takes place within a nearby town’s city limits. Lower class citizens are encouraged to move into the new lower-class suburbanite zone, with a certificate for a whole year’s free rent plus a chance to enter in contests to win new appliances and such. Those that choose to still remain (a good number of them are middle class folks who never wanted to leave) are left at their own risk. Crews will salvage parts from houses and demolish the rest of the structure, so people cannot move in or lay low in abandoned dwellings.

 

Eventually a good number of houses and strip malls will disappear. Suburban houses or strip malls rarely ever qualify for becoming a “National Historic Landmark”, and the fact that it’s not really great architecture, will have very few protests from people if any at all.

A good number of places will probably be converted for the federal government to use. Like for instance, a couple of streets may be preserved to house citizens under the Witness Protection Program. These citizens can live in a quiet underground community with other witnesses that they can relate to. The government may even construct large nuclear fallout shelters to house citizens in the case a nuclear attack is imminent. Or converting a large strip mall and its parking lot into a place to park military vehicles and have some military offices. The people who continue to insist living in the suburbs will be rather depressed, and may eventually move to the cities.

In the end, the American Dream has become the American Wasteland. Well “American Wasteland” could apply to the present as well…

Anyhow, that’s how I predict suburbs in the future will be like. Suburbs will truly adapt and change, or they just die out. Either way, the current way suburbs are now most likely won’t last the whole century. Here are some links worth checking out:

Claims suburbs will never die – http://www.newgeography.com/content/00300-the-future-suburbs-suburbs-are-future

Viewpoint similar to Scenario 1 –  http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/02/the_future_of_the_suburbs.php

Viewpoints similar to Scenario 2 – http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/subprime

Growing poverty in American suburbs – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16077694/

Feel free to comment and correct me on any mistakes you find. I’d love to hear feedback.

The future of newspapers

Ok, I saw this site called the Newspaper Project, and it had me thinking of the future of printed news media. I’ve said it before, and I’m always a progressive thinker, thinking ahead into the future. Here’s how I think traditional paper companies should deal with the decline in people preferring newsprint if they want to survive into the future:

 

1. Do more LOCAL news coverage – National news is almost everywhere. I can see it on the web, TV networks, news tickers, through friends, etc. What I do want to have more coverage on is local news. Sometimes, newspapers forget that there is local news worth covering. Local news really brings a community or city together, especially if someone you know or something you are a part of is mentioned. Special interest pieces on people that come through tips, or neat little places that a lot of people may not know about and are interested in. That’s the kind of news I think most people want to see more of.

2. Publish news on the web and offer eBook subscriptions – Having a website is pretty vital to success today, as we use technology more often. Have a nicely designed websites that not just publishes news articles, but also offers more pictures and video coverage, weekly podcasts, special interactive features, online classifieds, and even forums/discussion boards. Offer eBook subscriptions to the most popular eBook devices. Go digital.

3. Create a public news kiosk – Ok, this is one of my original ideas. Here’s my news kiosk concept:

Imagine a 30”+ multi-touch OLED screen that’s super thin and set into a wall of a public place (such as a library, light rail/BRT stops, hotel lobbies, airport terminals, etc.). You can drop money into a slot, or swipe your credit card against a scanner, and with the touch of your finger, you can have the latest updated news. A slick interface pops up, and you can navigate around the news page in traditional newsprint-style, or just like a slick webpage. There may be even an option where you can make an account, and just login if you subscribe rather than paying again. You could also use that account to save your favorite articles or comics too. There may even be an option to download some articles onto a mobile phone.

4. Mobile devices – Simply put, newspapers will want to allow users to view their news on a mobile phone of some sort as easily as possible. As more advances in smartphones come out, the more dynamic and feature-rich the content available should be. Maybe if the mobile device has GPS, the news site could use an API that will bring up news related to the current location you are at.

5. Move into televised news reporting – Buddy up with a local TV station or air on the public access channel to report news from the newspaper’s sources. Maybe one day, the newspaper will just transform into another local TV station for news.

So any opinions on this? Some of these options do seem plausible, would you agree? Comment.