The American Dream, Part 2

Yesterday, I participated in a program that generated some very interesting discussion. The Urban Land Institute’s event, titled “The New American Dream: The Demands of a New Generation,” brought together four of us with varied backgrounds and perspectives. A few of the ideas on which I focused:

• The American Dream isn’t specific to the postwar suburban boom – it’s a desire for choices and access to ownership (or at least investment) that Americans have long held.  

• The average annual U.S. GDP growth, when examined in constant dollars, has declined each
GDP_Trend_jdecade since the 1940s. The shorthand interpretation is that we have become less able to afford the maintenance of a system of development and financing created during times of economic plenty. Not only is the status quo growing less affordable – it is also saddling us with environmental costs we simply cannot continue to accept.

• Prices do motivate us, including the kind we recognize in full (such as taxes), in part (such as gas, which is heavily subsidized), and the kind we ignore (such as costs associated with stormwater runoff into area waters). As a society, we decide which to recognize and which to ignore, and with rapid improvements in GIS analytics, we can measure costs and benefits more than ever before.

• Younger Americans’ aesthetic is more urban than previous generations, but the extent of this is unclear. For example, even in nearly fully-developed Ramsey County, Minnesota, 70% of 20-24 year olds drive to work solo, as opposed to 75% statewide. Of family households under age 45 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, only 20% live in either of the Twin Cities. (2007 Census data).

I enjoyed the event and the opportunity to engage the prospects for the American Dream, and am enclosing my slides – presented in twenty seconds of fewer each, according to the Pecha Kucha format – here. Contact me for more discussion!

The New American Dream

How does the contemporary American Dream appear? Has it fundamentally changed in recent years as the public will to invest in infrastructure has waned, and Americans grapple with the implications of climate change, fluctuations in energy prices and the current recession? 

What types of development will be in demand in ten or fifteen years in our cities and statewide?

On Thursday, April 16, I will be contributing to an effort to address these questions, and I hope you join me for the event, starting at 3:30pm at the downtown Minneapolis offices of the Dorsey and Whitney law firm. Consistent with a presentation approach called pecha kucha, each of the four speakers will make a brief, rapid-fire series of statements to brew up and engage in a vital discussion.

In their current form, my comments will touch on Athens and Venice, how younger Americans are not as different as they may believe, business improvement districts, and why property taxes may be destined to join the buggy whip and the dodo bird. I hope you will attend and heckle the panel!