11 May 2013

Are the Suburbs Undergoing a Metamorphosis? (Reposted from the Progressive Press)

The Global Economic Crash of 2008 was a watershed which is continuing to have effects in all aspects of the economy, politics and society. However, it was merely an exclamation mark within the developing trends in the U.S. that are pertinent to suburbanization in the country, such as:
-The national economy will not bounce back to pre-2008 in the foreseeable future with continued slow growth
-Demographics have changed (Baby Boomers retiring, smaller family sizes, more single adults, more ethnic diversity etc.)
-The smaller labor force in manufacturing requiring unskilled labor
-A decline in the middle class’s purchasing power due to declining wages
-Increasing individuals in poverty
-Unemployment/under-employment of young adults and those ‘near-retirement” group (55-70)
-Increasing energy costs
-Changing view of what cities should offer and lifestyle (i.e., ’24/7″ city)
-Oversupply and over valuing of housing with tighter credit
-Diminished hyper-consumerism
In suburban/exurban surroundings, one can see these elements having effects on the suburban landscape:
-Large houses are standing vacant
-Subdivision of single owner housing being converted into duplexes or multifamily dwelling units
-Partially built-out subdivisions
-Denser development, even for upper incomes
-More rental properties instead of single family ownership
-“Mini slum” development
-Vacant or partially occupied shopping malls; 1950s-1980s era
-Abandoned factories
-Neighborhoods composed largely of ‘empty nesters’

There are many who are convinced that once the American economy fully recovers things will return to ‘normal’, with more housing construction in the suburbs and subsequent additional growth in commercial development. However, the trends belie this and are pointing in a different direction.

The unraveling of traditional suburbs is not a transition related to the economic downturn, but a permanent transition due to structural changes.

A significant amount of young adults, older empty-nesters (‘baby boomers’) and new immigrants are being drawn to the central city in urbanized areas. Many former industrial and dilapidated areas are being transformed into mixed used developments. Older neighborhoods are being gentrified.Former downtowns are now being filled with small shops, restaurants, cafés, and individual offices. Although this is not new, it appears to be a rapidly increasing trend that was once encouraged by the government, but now it is driven by a developing market.

The vision of the suburb that was fueled by the American Dream is gone forever. There is no longer single family households with one member, usually male, working and the wife as the homemaker. No more gleaming shopping centers catering to a growing consumer market, and a neighborhood full of children of all ages who walk to school and recreation.

The trend of urban sprawl appears to be coming to an end after more that fifty years of constant expansion.
Alan Ehrenhalt (2012, p. 15) stated in reference to the demographic changes in the U.S. (smaller families, more people sharing housing, later marriages, ‘empty nest’ households etc.) that:
…it is hard to escape the notion that we have managed to combine virtually all of the significant elements that make a demographic inversion not only possible but likely. We are moving toward a society in which millions of people with substantial earning power or ample savings will have the option of living wherever they want, and many—we call only guess how many—will decide in favor of central cities and against distant suburbs. As they do this, others will find themselves forced to live in places less desirable—places farther from the center of the metropolis. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau in October 2011 revealed that in the first decade of the new century, poverty increased by 53 percent in the nation’s suburbs, compared to only 26 percent in the cities.
Are suburbs dying?  No, but they are transforming from endless tract developments, strip malls, enclosed malls and multi-lane arterials and expressways into something different. The catharsis of the above mention factors could be the cause of alarm among many segments of society that always thought that suburbs would continue on forever in the same manner.

Local governments can flounder around while worrying about reductions in funding, the stagnant local economy and accept the current situation as temporary, one that will resolve by itself ‘when the market picks-up.’  However, ‘smart cities’ can anticipate and facilitate the new form of urbanization by:
-Encouraging temporary or pop-up developments in suburbs (McAdams, 2013)
-Conversion of vacant strip commercial development and malls into mixed use developments
-Revision of zoning to allow for mixed use development and abandon Euclidean zoning (separate areas for commercial, residential and industrial uses)
-Revision of subdivision regulations to allow for zero lot lines, narrow streets, etc. for more walkable communities
-Development of alternative suburban public transportation modes for low density areas (i.e. subsidized shared-ride taxi, fixed route flexible services etc.) and providing high quality traditional public transportation
-Creation of high density transit oriented development
-Conversion of former urbanized areas to agricultural areas or allowance of small farms
-Regional and inter-suburban cooperation (McAdams, 2012)
-Consolidation and merger of suburbs and services
-More freedom in annexation for cities
-Allowance for affordable housing
-Creation of commercial/industrial centers

As center cities are gaining population, the suburbs will be forced to transition. It will be considered traumatic to some who have become mired in the past. However, this transition can bring renewed vitality to suburbs.
Cities and regions must come together and cooperatively develop plans.These are issues that involve everyone in a metropolitan area more than merely selecting problem areas such as an abandoned shopping center and aiding in its redevelopment. Regions as a whole must determine how all segments of society, including governments, can enhance economic development, education, infrastructure, and social-economic justice to transform suburbs and central cities with an overall goal of creating a dynamic sustainable environment.

Sources citied:
Kaid Benfield. “How history killed the suburb.” The Atlantic, 25 April 2011. Web. 28 April 2013.
Duany, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Suburban nation: The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American dream. North Point Press, 2001.
Dunham-Jones, Ellen. “Suburban Retrofits, Demographics, and Sustainability [Retrofitting Suburbia].” Places 17.2 (2005).Print/Web. 28 April 2013.
Ehrenhalt, Alan. The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. Random House Digital, Inc., 2012.
Leinberger, Christopher B. “The Next Slum?” The Atlantic. 1 March 2008. Web. 28 April 2013.
Leinberger, Christopher B. “The Death of the Fringe Suburb.” The New York Times. 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.
Linn, Allison. “Sprawling and Struggling: Poverty Hits America’s Suburbs.” CNBC. 22 Mar 2013. Web. 28 April 2013.
McGirr, Lisa. “The new suburban poverty.” The New York Times. 19 March 2012. Web. 28 April 2013.
McAdams, Michael. “The Pop-up City: Making Something Out of Nothing.” The Progressive Press. 20
April 2013. Web. 1 May 2013.
McAdams, Michael . “Revitalizing the Suburbs through Cooperation: The Michigan Suburban Alliance Shows the Way.” The Chaotic, Fractal and Complex City. 16 September 2012.  Web. 1 May 2013.
Smith, Carissa Turner. “D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: Redeeming The Spiritual Geography Of Suburbia.” Renascence 63.4 (2011): 307-324.
Image source:  Pensions and Investments

06 May 2013

Could 3-D Printing Change the Society and the City? (Reposted from the Progressive Press)

(Reprinted from the Progressive Press article)

3-D printing combined with its increasing affordability could be an important element in accelerating the world away from the Post-Industrial to the Information Age.  

3-D printing is the process of producing a physical object from a digital blue print or a scanned object. It is an additive process, not a subtractive process, as used in the machine tooling for a metal or plastic object. It relies on a mold that is inserted with a material (plastic, iron, copper etc.) to make a finished product.

Using a digital schematic, the 3-D printer builds a series of layers using material such as: plastic, glass, metal, ceramics or even cells to produce a single seamless product. One could think of this as similar to making a cake by putting down the different layers. This one machine might revolutionize manufacturing, the global economy and cities (Blua, 2013).

The cost may vary from as low as $1,000 to as high as $600,000 which is affordable to many businesses. What this realizes is that the companies and individuals can produce many parts with just a digital blueprint or scanned object, a 3-D machine and the appropriate material such as plastic, ceramics, steel and even cells. Produced objects could be as simple as making plastic figurines or mugs to even automobiles, houses or maybe a liver.

This sounds like the ‘replicator in Star Trek, doesn’t it?’  but it is not at this stage yet. It is not a Buck Rogers fantasy as presented in such magazines as Popular Science. 3-D printers are being manufactured and there are companies making objects with it. Surprisingly, 3-D printing was invented in the 1983 by Chuck Hall, but at this time, it was only in the experimental stage and CAD was in its infancy (Ziamou, 2013).

The first automobile to be made by a 3-D printer is now underway. This is being undertaken by RedEye. The process takes about 2,500 hours to make one car. The labor costs are limited to a few people. The cost for the prototype was $50,000. They can also make parts that are no longer available for vintage or older cars. There are claims that this new car because of its weight will travel from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of pure ethanol (George, 2013).

Based on geographic data or Computer Aided Design (CAD) data, 3 D printers can also create 3D models of entire cities or specific sites in the present or future, assisting city management/planning and improving public participation (Jaffee, 2013).  

There are several trials underway to make houses from 3 D printers. Part of the house can be printed off-site in about a week and then assembled in one day. Various materials such as plastic bottles or even starch can be used to build the components of a house. (Dorrier, 2013).

The use of recycled materials and labor reduction costs could significantly reduce the price of housing. Also, it saves energy and wisely uses natural resources.

As illustrated in the above examples, the pace that 3 D printing is developing is phenomenal. The proliferation of 3 D printing as a major element of the manufacturing of all goods may not be a twenty or thirty year horizon, but ten years or less.

3-D printing itself will not bring about a new industrial revolution, but it will be one more block in the accelerating Information Age revolution; combined with a tremendously faster Internet which will fully realize the potential of cloud computing, and intelligent robots.

If I am ‘reading the tea leaves’ correctly manufacturing will soon be changed forever. The result will be incredible efficiency in the production of goods that are cheaper, less capital and labor intensive. Added to this will be lessened energy consumption of petroleum products because of decreased transportation costs, and decreased extraction of non-renewable material resources such as iron, copper etc. When combined with greater efficiency in alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal, which equipment could also be made with 3 D printers, the globe could be on its way to a sustainable future.

The reports of the speed and promise of the blinding light of 3-D printing combined with the development of technology which appears to be accelerating at a mind numbing pace, can send the mind reeling at its promise. But, the consequences are often being overlooked in this flurry of information ‘spun’ by numerous sources. Take a ‘journey down Google lane’ and you will see a plethora of articles on 3 D printing promoting its attributes, but with no substantial reflective comments.

All this hype has contributed to the utopian visioning of an information city or “informational city ” (Castells, 1996), (McAdams, 2008). But, due to this rapid development of technology, the ‘digital divide’ could become much more dramatic with this shift in the efficiency of automation and productivity. The need for labor could be only for a relatively few who have technological skills. The need for low-skilled labor would be exclusively in service jobs. There have been dramatic advances in creating sizable middle class populations in cities in high middle income countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, India and China; with still vast sectors of their population living in poverty. This progress could be undone by manufacturing needing less labor.
There could be a major disruption in the global economy with this new type of technology if the plutocracy continues to amass fortunes and drain the money from increases in productivity. The prosperity will only be limited to the very rich and corporations. Who will buy the goods if technology creates a disproportional amount of prosperity for one group and the remainder gets a small fraction or no portion of it.
Manuel Castells states that an information city is creating  a dual city or :
“An urban system socially and spatially polarized between high value-making groups and functions on the one hand and devalued social groups and downgraded spaces on the other hand. This polarization induces increasing integration of the social and spatial core of the urban system, at the same time that it fragments devalued spaces and groups, and threatens them with social irrelevance (Castells, 1996).”
At the present moment, the world politics are dominated by international plutocrats who are by their business practices, and dominance in global financial and political institutions are significantly reducing the the middle class in developed world and creating a permanent worldwide population living at poverty level. There is no doubt that further improvements in technology without means to redistribute the prosperity will result in accelerating income disparities in both developed and developing countries.

Viewed from another angle, the 3-D printer is could be seen as the impetus of start-up companies or even individuals doing small scale manufacturing. This could be an affront for large multinational companies which are based on economy of scale, cheap labor and dependent upon an international supply chain. This also could open an alternative economy of worker-owned companies. There could be a major battle over patents, copyrights etc., as corporations struggle to maintain their ‘over-the top’ profits.

Emerging technologies, such as the 3-D printer is rapidly changing all aspects of culture, the economy, speed of globalization and politics. There is ample evidence that recently adopted technology has already made permanent changes to all aspects of how our present society functions (i.e., computers, jet airplanes, advanced telecommunications, including internet).  

Major shifts in the history of mankind can be strongly related to changes in technology (i.e., use of refining of bronze, copper, iron, the plow, the gun; steam engine; electricity, the telephone, the automobile, etc.). The difference, between nations that have technology greater than other nations, has been the cause of those civilizations ceasing to exist (i.e., Aztecs, Incans etc.).  

The ruins of those that misused technology to cause social turmoil at the hands of elitist governments and environmental degradation are also present (i.e. Mayans, Easter Island etc.). This is explained in detail by Jared Diamond in his books Guns, Germs and Steel (2005) and Collapse (2011 ).

However, the future does not have to continue to cause with environmental damage, burgeoning cities in the developed world with large areas of poverty, increased income inequality, and depletion of natural resources with the plutocracy fighting to drain the global economy. Technology, such as the 3 D printer can be used to increase the wealth of the entire global community.

Sources cited:

Blua, Antoine. “A New Industrial Revolution: The Brave New World of 3D Printing.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. 6 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Castells, Manuel. The Informational City is a Dual City: Can It Be Reversed?, High Technology and Low-Income Communities: Prospects for the Positive Use of Advanced Information Technology.” MIT Press. 1996. Web. 9 April 2013.

Chacos, Brad. “Staples to Offer “Easy 3D” Printing in 2013.”LAPTOP. 30 November 2012. Web. 8 April 2013.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995. Print.

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005. Print.
Dorrier, Jason.” First Fully 3D Printed Building May Take Shape This Year.” Singularity Hub. 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo. “Urbee 2 Is the 3D-Printed Car of the Future.”Mashable. 1 March 2013. Web. 8 April 2013.

George, Alexander. “3-D Printed Car Is as Strong as Steel, Half the Weight, and Nearing Production. Wired. 27 February 2013.Web. 8 April 2013.

Jaffe, Eric. “In Louisville, Urban Planning Goes 3D.” The Atlantic Cities.  24 September 2012. Web. 12 April 2013.

Johnston, Cat. “Why 3-D Printing Matters.”metroactive. 22 March 2012. Web. 12 March 2013.

McAdams, Michael A. “The Information Age City: A Bourgeois Utopian Dream.” Urbana: Urban Affairs and Public Policy. Vol. 8 (Autumn 2008).Web. 8 April 2008.

Petronzio, Matt “How 3D Printing Actually Works.” Mashable.com. Web. Mar 28, 2013. 8 April 2013.

Rosenbach, Marcel and Schulz, Thomas. “3-D Printing: Technology May Bring New Industrial Revolution.” 
Spiegel Online International. 4 January 2013. Web. 8 April 2013. 
“A Third Industrial Revolution.” The Economist. 21 April 2012. Web. 8 April 2013.
Wollerton, Megan. “Wild 3D-printed House Can Be Assembled ‘in a Day’” DVICE. 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.

Ziamou, Lilia. “Interview: Avi Reichental on the 3D Printing Revolution (Part 1).” Huffington Post. 21 March 2013. Web. 12 April 2013.