What Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Mission Means For Retail

Virtually, Amazon is as daunting as the river it shares a name with: by total sales and market capitalization, it’s the largest Internet retailer in the world. Having begun its run in 1994 as a modest online bookstore, the tech giant has expanded rapidly to offer consumer electronics, apparel, furniture, cloud infrastructure, and even streaming services with original movies and TV.

Now, Amazon is expanding its raging waters from the online space into brick-and-mortar retail. After opening a bookstore in Seattle in 2015 and two more in San Diego and Portland, Amazon will reach the east coast later this year with a new store in Manhattan, NY. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 4,000 square-foot Midtown location will be located in the Shops at Columbus Circle just south of Central Park.

The company is also considering a location in the new Hudson Yards development, which would be slated to open in 2018. This is alongside other plans for Amazon Books locations in Chicago and Denham, Massachusetts.

It’s an interesting time for retail to be certain, especially since we’ve seen the mass closing of malls, department stores, and small businesses in recent years. What is it about Amazon that will succeed in a physical space, especially in a world where ecommerce is only slated to rise? And does their move into brick-and-mortar bode well for the world of retail, or signify its demise?

As always, we can only speculate about the answer to these questions. But one certainty about Amazon Books is that it has a future-forward approach to shopping. Instead of listing prices, shoppers use their phones to find the best price online and read reviews. This necessitates that shoppers download Amazon’s app, yes—but on the bright side, doing so gets you the best price possible, and unlocks reviews by real readers instead of just literary critics on the back cover.

Shoppers can check out and search the store for inventory virtually, and are even recognized for being Prime members. It’s the best of both worlds when it comes to book shopping: the convenience of tech plus the physical pleasure of rifling through pages (plus occasionally sniffing them for that classic new-book smell).

Amazon Books is also revolutionizing retail by basing their merchandise on online data culled from sales. According to National Real Estate Investor, “Books in the physical stores are stocked based on titles that have garnered the best sales, popularity on Goodreads, high customer ratings and many pre-orders, according to the company’s website.”

All of this is to say, Amazon’s retail is different than retail of the past, and this may just be the key to retail’s future. Luckily for Amazon, they don’t have to compete with ecommerce because they are ecommerce, but if other brick-and-mortar stores want to get in on the action they may need to take a leaf or two out of Amazon Books.

Integrating mobile devices into the physical shopping experience is one way other retail stores can recreate Amazon’s model, whether through apps or beacon technology. Stores might also consider using data to create a more user-friendly (and Internet-friendly) experience for shoppers. For retailers, embracing technology may be the only way to make Amazon’s presence less stifling, and truly run with the flow of innovation’s ever-moving stream.

By |2018-10-31T18:17:39+00:00May 16th, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|

Bodegas in New York City: Convenience for the Ages

It’s not completely a convenience store, not completely a deli, you know one when you see one, but they’re not a total cinch to define. Uniquely of and representative of New York City, the bodega is a place every New Yorker regularly visits for their day to day needs. Whether for a daily coffee and bagel or an emergency 2 AM cereal run, the local bodega is a neighborhood cornerstone.

But where exactly did these places emerge from? As with many traditions, a combination of various ethnic traditions led to what we know know as a bodega. In a city as richly diverse as New York, it comes as no great shock that our corner stores contain the legacies of several generations of immigrants.

For one, it would appear that the post-WWII influx of migrants from Puerto Rico established the foothold that allowed modern-day bodegas to multiply. Rooted in the Spanish word for “storeroom” or “wine cellar” (but eventually coming to mean “grocery store”), many of the early examples simply advertised themselves with that one word splashed across a sign out front. Their customers knew what they’d find inside.

Of course, the idea of a small corner store didn’t start exactly there. Earlier sandwich shops in Jewish enclaves held the same position as an indispensable neighborhood establishment. However, these shops and grocery stores in those days hadn’t evolved into the self-service stores we visit today. Most still were run by the “grocer” who would find your items for you, and many more were sit-down eateries. It took a few decades before things sped up to the satisfaction of all New Yorkers.

Another example of such is the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights, where the old-country tradition of the colmado is an important part of the bodega’s local role. These convenient stores also function as a meeting place, where locals can meet up with neighbors and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Groups of people chatting in folding chairs outside the store is a not very unusual sight. The same can be found not only in Washington Heights but in bodegas across the city. Their position as impromptu meeting points underscores the importance of bodegas to their communities.

More recently, a growing number of bodegas are operated by immigrants of Middle Eastern origin. As the latest set of arrivals to set down entrepreneurial roots in the city, these owners face the same challenges as those who came before them, along with a few unique ones. The idea of selling pork products or alcohol is for many Arab bodega owners a source of conflict, but many have assimilated and accept this practice without partaking in it themselves.  

No matter who they are owned by, bodegas survive by serving their community. More and more frequently this means offering healthy options alongside the usual snack cakes and sodas. New, so-called “organic bodegas” offer up kombucha and organic pasta to their customers looking for hip, nutritional fare in their neighborhoods. City leaders have gotten in on the act as well, with several initiatives aimed at improving access to healthy food in all communities.

Beloved by all New Yorkers for many years, it’s hard to imagine the city without these ultra-convenient quick-shopping stores. Whether you’ve been here all your life or are new to the city, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the neighborhood bodega.

By |2018-10-31T18:15:55+00:00May 16th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

How Minecraft Democratizes Urban Design

There’s a reason young people love Minecraft. Called a “sandbox” video game, Minecraft is a blank slate that enables players to build brand new worlds using only building blocks and the contents of their imagination, then take on three-dimensional adventures from there.

If this sounds like paradise for the future architect or urban planner, you’re not the only one that thinks so. The United Nations’ Block by Block program operates based on the notion that, since urban planning is a community effort, community members young and old can take part in public redesign projects. According to their website, Block by Block uses Minecraft as “a community participation tool in urban design and fund the implementation of public space projects all over the world, with a focus on poor communities in developing countries.”

The beauty of Minecraft, in this regard, is its ease of use. Young people with big imaginations take to it easily, but so can adults, whether or not they are familiar with similar software. In Haiti, for example, a group of fishermen with no computer experience—let alone reading or writing—successfully designed a seawall to prevent flooding at Place de la Paix, complete with public toilets, and presented it to architects.

Block by Block is a partnership between Mojang, Minecraft’s maker, and UN-Habitat, the UN’s program for sustainable cities. UN-Habitat is determined to upgrade 300 public spaces in the next three years with its Global Public Space Program, of which Block by Block is a part.

Democratizing Urban Planning

With cities and public places specifically, a democratic, collaborative approach makes sense— because it’s something everyone has a stake in, and which everyone will use and share.

Public spaces include parks, marketplaces, and public squares; they are the shared areas where people are free to walk, relax, and mingle. Public space adds to the health of a city, and in developing countries can make a huge difference since foot traffic stimulates economic growth.

New York City has made public space a priority (in fact it’s currently comprised of 60% public space). Other cities can take this example to expand public places with the input of locals. Technology like Minecraft is one way to get the public engaged and involved in planning the future of the communities they live, work, and entertain themselves in.

According to the Guardian, “Governments are…waking up to the idea that the public are not only users, but also a powerful resource – and that engaging them online is easier than ever before.” Technology like Minecraft is one way communities can be a force for change in their own neighborhoods.

More generally, tech and new media are providing tools for the public to offer up ideas, point out issues, and connect to advocate for collective needs. From apps, to crowdsourcing platforms, social media and augmented reality, emerging new media and digital technologies invite the public to take part without significant limitations. In other words, innovation levels the playing field.

Minecraft and Beyond

Minecraft is unique in its appeal to younger individuals, and its ability to gamify urban planning, making it attractive to a wide range of people regardless of experience level. With Block by Block, citizen players, architects, and government workers can walk around the virtual space and make important decisions together. In this way, it truly democratizes the important job of urban design.

But Minecraft is far from the only technology opening urban planning to the public. There’s Zooniverse, an online platform that organizations can use to launch citizen science projects, and the US National Archives’ Citizen Archive dashboard, which lets citizens transcribe and digitize handwritten documents. Then there are more city-specific projects like FixMyStreet, which lets locals flag problems in their neighborhood digitally.

According to the Guardian, “It’s examples like these, where governments use technology to bring communities together, that demonstrates the benefit of embracing innovation.”

Indeed, the mutual benefits are clear when citizens get involved in public efforts to improve either specific communities or society at large. As the saying goes, many hands make little work. Well, many blocks can make big, monumental changes. Perhaps the urban planners of the future will look back and wonder how and why it was done any other way. 

By |2018-10-31T18:13:55+00:00May 1st, 2017|Culture, Current Events, Technology, Urban Planning|

The Trump Administration’s Impending Pipeline and Protest Boom

When the Obama administration vetoed continuation of the Keystone Pipeline after months of passionate protests, it looked like American oil and natural gas pipeline builders were in trouble. The victory of the Dakota tribes and their supporters was unquestionably a triumph for the anti-pipeline movement.

Of course, that now seems like a lifetime ago. With Donald Trump in the White House, it’s already looking like the regulatory environment is going to swing even further into the pro-business camp, which almost certainly means more pipelines, which will mean more protests.

Once thought to be getting close to its peak, the oil production industry in the United States has boomed over the past decade. New methods of searching and extraction, along with President Obama’s lifting of a restriction on the exportation of oil have led to a surge nationwide, especially in the upper and far midwest where oil and natural gas “boomtowns” resembling those of the late 19th century have popped up across the landscape.

The Keystone XL veto may turn out to be merely a small obstacle to the huge continuation of oil production and development in the United States. Already, there are many new pipeline projects that will be under the purview of the Trump administration, totaling well over $10 billion dollars in building costs. The new president has shown no hint that he’ll slow the progression of these lines in any way, but several nascent and long-running protest movements will be present to make their voices heard.

The Water is Life Movement, one of the more prominent organizations devoted to fighting all pipelines and extensions, oversees a national network of protestors and provides resources and information to spread their message. Their website maintains a running list of all current and upcoming oil and natural gas pipelines and allows visitors to look up where their local opposition branches meet. As seen in the Standing Rock protests, these actions have the capability to capture the nation’s attention for weeks at a time.  

Protesters have not wasted any time in getting involved in demonstrating against the new pipelines. Mass gatherings in Washington, D.C., Memphis, TN, rural Pennsylvania, and Albany, NY to name a few have gotten notable media attention, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Journalists following the movement closely are certain that the anti-pipeline message is spreading. It’s not unreasonable to suppose, as NPR’s Jeff Brady does, that the fact that we now have a vehemently pro-business president in the White House is leading more and more citizens to join the opposition. It’s often looked at as one of, if not the only options.

It’s not just the potential environmental issues that have protestors angry. The Keystone XL project, as well as other pipelines, appear poised to utilize the always-controversial eminent domain in their projects. Pro-pipeline state governments do have the power to seize private land, but the potential for public pushback is sizeable, especially if it’s perceived as the government taking private citizen’s property for a private corporation’s benefit. However, it’s already underway in Montana and South Dakota, and pending approval in Nebraska. The protest movement is poised to make their voices heard on this issue, as well.

President Trump certainly has his work cut out for him. The oil and natural gas industries in this country are among the most massive and powerful corporate concerns in the country. With their lobbying power now combined, they’ll hold a great deal of sway over federal and state legislatures. This power seems to only embolden the protest movement, and bolster its numbers with more and more concerned citizens. Time will tell on how the administration deals with these two opposing forces.

By |2020-05-07T19:17:34+00:00April 10th, 2017|Culture, Current Events|

What The New ‘Tactical Urbanism’ Design Guide Means for Cities

You may not know the term tactical urbanism, but you have probably seen evidence of this recent movement if you live in or near a city. Tactical urbanism can look like a parking space converted into a mini park; handmade pedestrian signs; manmade public spaces, reclaimed from the road; sidewalk gardens; and pop-up markets, to name a few examples. Tactical urbanism is essentially citizens taking city planning into their own hands through small-scale, transient projects meant to enhance their lives and their neighbors’ lives by improving their urban environment.

The movement fits into a pattern of citizen activism and limited civic funds, thanks to the recent economic downturn, while addressing the reality of aging infrastructure. City dwellers have responded by taking matters into their own hands, with the aim of improving matters short term, demonstrating proof of concept, and solidifying changes in the long term through official channels.

Tactical urbanism is iterative, like the agile development processes of many startups and tech companies. Projects are thrown up overnight (in some cases literally), and citizens see what sticks. The tactical urbanism handbook, published by the Street Plans Collaborative, is similarly adaptable. The first edition of the handbook Short-term Action for Long-term Change is credited with helping to popularize the movement by collecting and publishing tried-and-true techniques for other municipalities to replicate. The strategies outlined in the guide have been vetted on the ground, and this may be likelier to succeed long term. The tactics are also assessed through case studies focusing on different cities. While these reforms are scaleable in the sense that they can be replicated, they are by nature community-instigated, they don’t lose their grassroots.

The most recent edition of the DIY urban intervention manual focuses on materials. “The Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials and Design dives into the details of pop-up urbanism: when to use tape or paint or chalk, how to choose the right materials for temporary barriers, and more.” Temporary materials are usually cheaper, and also often the better choice for the job. Tactical urbanism sometimes runs up existing regulations, like traffic lanes, for example. The project might be reversed immediately, so wasting money and effort on expensive permanent materials serves no purpose. Often these projects illustrate a desired improvement to city planners and government officials, who would be responsible for making it permanent.

Although tactical urbanism cannot solve larger issues like infrastructure, it can make cities more livable and comfortable in the immediate future. It also creates an open channel of communication between citizens and government officials, encouraging dialogue with residents about neighborhoods improvements. Some have expressed concern that tactical urbanism can exacerbate inequality: that only the privileged can dedicate time to such projects, and that engaging in activities that skirt the law is riskier for some. In the spirit of tactical urbanism, projects intended to benefit the community must be conceived as inclusive and accessible to all.

New York City is a hotbed of engaged citizens with good ideas, useful skill sets, and activist tendencies, all living in a sprawling urban jungle, where pedestrians constantly wage war against cars. Unsurprisingly, tactical urbanism has already been deployed here to good effect, and sometimes initiated by the city itself. The oasis in Time Square that reclaims street space for pedestrians is an example of a temporary measure becoming permanent after it was well received. Sidewalk gardens, pop-up markets, and other creative city hacks are already a commonplace sight around the five boroughs. Tactical urbanism will undoubtedly continue and thrive here, deepening the dialogue between an engaged citizenry and their local government.

By |2018-10-31T18:10:45+00:00April 5th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

Social Media is Ruining the Art of Storytelling

What does it take to tell a story? And more importantly, what does it matter?

These days, a string of tweets suffices as a story. Try telling Hemingway or Proust that a “tweetstorm” of 140-character blurbs, prefaced with THREAD (1/13), is a good story, and they’d laugh you out of your compute chair. Try telling Ansel Adams that a selfie on Instagram tells a valuable story, and so would he.

It makes sense that people would take advantage of the Internet and the new tools that come with it to express their stories: both the everyday kind and the artistic kind. But is doing so to anyone’s benefit, really? Or is it just eroding the types of stories we’ve come to cherish and connect with each other?

On very human level, I think social media serves more to diminish the power of storytelling than enhance it. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, social media has a bad tendency to reduce real stories to very basic bits of baloney, to put it bluntly.

I think there are several main problems. The first is that social media is a fast-moving vehicle for limitless content, which happens instead of being told at the expense of actual depth. Feeds of updates, photos, and blog posts communicate stories differently than one-on-one time: they pile up, reduced to pixels; they’re stripped of sentimental value. The casual user can take it or leave it when they see it, and when they choose to absorb it, do so at an arm’s length.

After all, you can poke or like someone through a screen, but actually touching someone through it is much harder—especially when there’s so much more out there at the scroll of a mouse.

This problem permeates all areas of digital storytelling: journalism, blogging, social sharing, you name it. The nature of social media feeds showcase quantity rather than quality, and amidst all the noise, indulging wholly in a story–let alone deriving value from it–is a lofty goal. Second-long “impressions” may be well and good for Verizon Wireless or Coca Cola, but when was the last time you enjoyed anything in one glance?

This is what happens when brands begin to act like people and people, like brands. It all appears the same: gimmicky, cheap, and a little exploitative. Most of all, it extinguishes the element that really makes for good stories: intimacy.

This brings us to the second issue: the necessity of intention and willing engagement when telling a story. Storytelling takes nuanced intention and a willing audience. The better defined these areas are, the better the story. When we use social media, these aspects become nebulous quickly. What is the intent of a picture of a person at the beach? Who is the audience? The story becomes less “I went to Mexico and had a great time and I missed you” than it is “Everyone look my bikini.”

Good stories make people feel good, or evoke emotion–even if the story isn’t a happy one. Social media has proven to do the opposite: it’s isolating, and all but forces us to compare ourselves with one another as we sit around waiting for likes to roll in. It minimizes emotions and maximizes appearances. Worse, it all but erases strife as we carefully curate our lives to look better than they actually are.

When it comes to storytelling, the best stories happen organically. They strengthen human connections, friendships, and relationships. On social media, not so much. Why bother catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile if you already know what he’s been up to, thanks to social media? Why call your sister to tell her about your life if she saw a hackneyed version of it on Snapchat already?

Real stories–whether written or spoken–communicate raw and complicated truths instead of spewing filtered sunshine into a crowd of self-centered busibodies. Keep it up, and a time may come when you don’t have much of a story to tell anymore because your phone was in the way the whole time.

Social media isn’t going anywhere, and while I do think it’s doing some damage, it’s not all bad. My advice is not to delete your account, but to place less value on what you consume and share there and invest more in real life relationships. Ask for stories and tell stories in person, because if a picture’s worth a thousand words, half of them are probably lying. Only intimacy can dig up the fascinating specifics.

And perhaps most importantly, continue to experience things that can’t be encapsulated by social media (by keeping your phone in your pocket). When you really and truly share your story, it might actually mean something for a change.

By |2018-10-31T18:09:54+00:00April 5th, 2017|Culture, Technology|

How NYC’s Public Sector Is Tackling Innovation

In New York City, the goal to merge innovation with government is apparent on various fronts. This objective has been about a decade in the making, and while we’re only scratching the service of its potential, NYC has made great strides.

For various reasons, the public sector often lags behind when it comes to technology and innovation. While some of such reasons are valid, the tendency can be overcome. Opportunities aplenty lie in wake, especially on a city level where governments have more autonomy.

Partnering with the private sector is the best strategy thus far for bringing innovative solutions to public sector issues. Following are some of the most notable ways NYC’s public sector is bringing innovation into its governing, and what this means for the future of city government.

NYC’s Office of Tech and Innovation

In 2014, New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation (MOTI) was launched. According to their website, the office “facilitates citywide coordination and collaboration on technology issues, serves as a catalyst for and advises agencies on innovation, and interacts with the wider New York City technology ecosystem.”

The office was started by Mayor De Blasio, who made it his mission to help New York City become the most innovative city in the world. Whether you love or hate De Blasio, this initiative has already made a measurable impact in its creation of tech-driven public initiatives.

The idea, according to the Mayor’s office, is to “expand economic opportunity and reinvent government for the 21st century.” MOTI’s website continues, “We will continue to attract the top talent to New York City, deepen our efforts to grow and foster local talent through education and workforce development programs.”

It should be mentioned that New York City has been leaning into private-public partnerships long before De Blasio. As one example, NYC BigApp competitions have been happening annually since 2009, challenging “developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to create functional, marketable tech tools that help solve pressing civic challenges.”

Innovative Projects

What BigApp has been accomplishing for seven years is similar to what MOTI is currently undertaking in different city departments. The city puts out calls for innovation (CFIs) and accepts proposals from individuals, startups, and companies.

CFIs are “an open solicitation of ideas and proposals that aims to help define the urban challenges facing our city.” There are currently several CFIs: two from the New York City Housing Authority, seeking solutions for electrical and heating issues, one from the NYC Department of Education, seeking data models for public schools, and one seeking ideas to bring broadband internet to all New Yorkers.

Besides from CFIs, MOTI has over a dozen innovative projects underway already. One of these is LinkNYC, “a system of 7,500+ high-tech public communications structures that….will each provide completely free, ultra-high speed encrypted Wi-Fi service (up to 1 Gigabit in speed) out to a radius of 150 feet….[and] provide free domestic phone calls, free emergency 911 calls and non-emergency 311 calls, and free cell phone charging stations.”

Other projects include the Department of Transportation’s Midtown in Motion, a program meant to improve traffic using sensors and data collection; the NYPD’s IdeaScale pilot project, which allows neighborhood residents submit issues they want addressed by their local precincts; and the Department of Education’s Short Cycle Evaluation Challenge, which lets educators pilot new edtech products.

Looking to the future

As we push further into the future, technology is quickly, and inevitably, following suit. We will all be in good shape is the government stays as up-to-date as possible. When innovation is saturated in both the public and private sector, and the two work together to public benefit, the economy and people will thrive as a result. NYC is a great example of this theory in action, and hopefully other cities will follow its example.

By |2021-06-21T19:05:11+00:00March 21st, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|

5 Startling Ways Humans Are Completely Phone-Dependent

Smartphones have become a crutch–a portable hub–for many users in our permanently plugged-in society. Although they can make our lives infinitely easier, the control and influence they exert over our habits can be alarming. The limitations of current technology (battery life, for examples) impacts us in an exaggerated fashion.

I’m often put out when I see people checking their phones during dinner, for example; it’s as if basic etiquette has been erased by a base desire for connection. It’s true that smartphones have some great qualities improving society and humanity, but they are also driving mass dependence.

Here are five surprising ways in which people rely on their smart phones.

1. Information Directory

Many people use their phone as a kind of external hard drive for the storage of vital information, like phone numbers and other contact information. Your phone may also store passwords and house other critical access information, as phones are often used in money management and health monitoring.

Even something as simple and powerful as your location can be monitored by your phone and used to personalize directions for your convenience. If your phone dies while out and about, you could lose directions to where you’re going and not know what number to call to let your friends know.

According to research by Canadian psychologists published in Computers in Human Behavior, “those who think more intuitively and less analytically when given reasoning problems were more likely to rely on their Smartphones (i.e., extended mind) for information in their everyday lives.” In other words, offloading information to technology erodes our ability to think intuitively, effortfully, and analytically.

2. Internet Access

Some people rely on their phone for internet access, choosing to forgo service from internet providers like Fios, Comcast, or Time Warner in favor of a simple cellular data plan. In this case, your phone serves as a conduit to the vast and increasingly vital data stream that is the internet. Like an umbilical cord, this option makes it almost impossible to disconnect.

Separation from phones, then, can lead to a perceived loss of information. According to Psychology Today, “having virtually any fact available at our fingertips creates an enriched environment that may make it more difficult to process information when we’re cut off.”

Our realities have been so changed by access to the Internet — whether it’s Google or SnapChat — that loss of Internet has become akin to loss of a sense like taste or smell, without which the world is totally different.

3. Communication

For all that smart phones now offer a dizzying array of ways to connect–via phone, video conference, text, email, social media and do on–they also seem to serve as a buffer for face-to-face communication. People rely on their phones more and more to communicate virtually, in many cases minimizing in person interaction. And people are handling increasingly intimate and delicate via these digital channels.

The inevitable impact of this effect is evident but the extent remains to be seen, as does the root cause. Maybe phones offer too many communication options. Or maybe people opt to connect with more people via these channels than they could reasonably do in person. Maybe people prefer these channels because they offer more superficial or deeper connections than in-person meetings.

Whatever the case, the ability to communicate digitally has had a measurable effect on people. The way we talk has changed, and studies have found that mobile communication correlates with an increase in face-to-face social anxiety among school-age children.

4. Digital rather than Physical

Just as virtual interaction has increased with the presence of smart phones, so have the online alternatives to physical chores, like shopping. The convenience of the smartphone makes it easier to order something online than to visit the actual store. Thus, the burgeoning digital network is reducing humans’ physical footprint.

The impact of this is manifold. It may seem like an oversimplification to claim it’s made us lazy, but the sheer amount of mobile services available supports this assumption: people can use their phones to delegate errands, order food, buy groceries, tour houses, acquire movies, music, and entertainment, all without leaving their couch.

That doesn’t mean we’re literally dependent on our phones for these things, but it does make physical shopping feel like an inconvenience.

5. Camera

Although virtual reality is now possible with your phone, looking at everything through the camera lens is its own kind of virtual reality. As phones became an increasingly essential part of everyday life, the camera came along for the ride. Now built into almost every smartphone, the camera creates a filter for reality, a Pokémon Go-like overlay, a digital portal.

With a camera accessible at almost all times, pictures, videos, and live streams became an increasingly important stand-in for real life, fueling the immediacy of social networks. When you go about daily life with a camera in hand, you end up looking through a certain kind of lens that can prevent you from fully partaking in the moment. You may even end up conflating your memories of an event with the media context of event records.

Altogether, it’s clear that mobile technology has become a phantom-like limb with new senses that we’ve become very accustomed to. While in some contexts this may seem like a superpower, we’d all do best to keep in mind that there is more to life than tech — and if our dependence level is high enough, we might be missing it.

By |2018-10-31T18:07:53+00:00March 13th, 2017|Culture, Philanthropy, Technology|

6 Stats About Millennials, And What They Mean For Business

We hear a lot about Millennials in the news, and not all of it is flattering. But as one of the older members of this generation—the largest generation in the workforce, and the largest alive—I think it’s time we stop complaining, stop pandering, and start understanding what forces Millennials have set into motion. This could not be truer anywhere than in the corporate world: for many businesses, Millennials are both a key source for employees and a vital customer base.

Businesses shouldn’t treat them like nuisances and children, nor should they expect them to be the same as Generation X or Baby Boomers. This is the connected generation, after all, and these digital natives are highly informed and educated. We have different ideas about everything from careers and politics to shopping. We’re going to impact every facet of the business world, present and future.

I occupy a unique position in the generational breakdown—post-Generation X, nearly pre-Millennial, and part of the overlapping and oft-overlooked Generation Y. As an entrepreneur in the NYC real estate industry, I find this gives me an advantage in business, especially since so many Millennials are renting in the city. For companies without insight on the Millennial end, however, research can be a useful barometer in deciding how to adjust to better suit this generation.

Here are 6 stats about millennials, and what they mean for business. The first three highlight Millennials as consumers, while the last three focus on Millennials in the workplace.

1. Millennials own, on average, 7.7 connected devices

And we use 3.3 of those devices each day. Millennials are ultra-connected, and if they’re not checking email on their smartphone, they’re reading the newspaper on their tablet, or working on a spreadsheet on their laptop. In their free time, they’re watching cat videos on their smart TV or playing an MMO game on their desktop. Or, running successful startups and other businesses (don’t forget, if we’re not your boss now, we will be someday).

The point is this: Millennials are connected across multiple channels all the time. To reach them effectively, businesses must be prepared to go wherever they are, which means creating marketing content that can do just that.

Noz Urbina, a global leader in content strategy, describes this kind of content as adaptive content—or a “content strategy technique designed to support meaningful, personalized interactions across all channels.” Such content is born, brainstormed and built around the context, mood, and aspirations of the customer. In real estate, having engaging and mobile-friendly websites is a must, not to mention complimentary apps like Zillow, and I expect this is similar in other fields of work.

2. 93% of Millennials Read Reviews Before Making a Purchase

Millennials want to hear what unbiased buyers have to say about a product before they go purchase it. This explains the rise of sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Reviews and others. Studies also show that they tend to trust personal recommendations from friends and families much more than branded content and ads.

Clearly, we Millennials don’t want to hear brand promises; we want to see how others have—or haven’t—benefited from a product, and then make their purchase decision accordingly.

Businesses need to pay careful attention to such sites in order to address customer concerns and deal with inefficiencies in their products or services. Initiatives should also be implemented to help the brand spread via word-of-mouth, both online on social media and blogs, and offline in conversations.

Companies can also directly ask for feedback from buyers, as Millennials like to see that a business is listening to their concerns. The ecommerce giant Amazon does a great job of this with its comments, feedback, and ratings system.

3. Millennials Are More Likely To Use A Sharing Economy Service

Compared to other generations, Millennials have a greater tendency to use the sharing economy. For instance, Millennials are 12% more likely than Generation X to use the sharing economy for accommodations. That’s precisely why hotels are having to change their business strategy; they have to find ways to compete with Airbnb. In real estate, this is something we take into account everyday.

When creating a product or service, businesses have to be thinking about access as well as ownership. Millennial are willing to share if it means saving money or less hassle. This shift is occurring for a variety of reasons, including changing opinions on ownership and the trillion dollars of student debt they carry (an amount that is still rising).

4. Millennials value professional growth and career development above all else in the workplace

Millennials have been given an unfair reputation by some in older generations as being lazy and entitled. Research and reality states otherwise. A survey by Quantum Workplace found that professional growth and career development are the most important drivers in retaining and engaging Millennial employees.

Millennials aspire to be better employees, with 72% saying the chance to learn new skills is important in choosing and staying with an employer; only 48% of Baby Boomers prioritize learning new skills.

With two-thirds of Millennials planning to leave their current jobs by 2020, clearly employers aren’t doing enough. If businesses hope to future-proof their organization, they must meet the needs and goals of Millennial employees. They must create a Millennial-driven culture, one where employees are encouraged to learn, collaborate and innovate.

Leaders should provide direction on how to improve. Perks, like with other generations, remain important, but should be more customized in order to satisfy the unique needs of this generation. Freedom to work anytime and anywhere is paramount as well, and businesses should encourage networking and socializing with clients and coworkers.

Overall, the Millennial employee wants professional improvement and flexibility. That desire should be satisfied not only in the work duties and expectations, but also in the company culture.  

5. Millennials Are More Diverse Than Any Generation That Preceded Them

44.2% of Millennials are part of a minority race or ethnic group, which makes the generation far more diverse than previous ones. The Pew Research Center notes that this trend is being driven in large part by the large wave of Asian and Hispanic immigrants over the last half century. This change in demographics offers much opportunity for businesses to be even more successful. The key is in embracing diversity in hiring practices, company culture and networking strategies.

In addition to a more diverse workplace at home, businesses are rapidly becoming more globalized. Operating within such a diverse marketplace necessitates businesses actively recruit and retain a diverse Millennial staff—one that reflects the generation’s diversity. It’s crucial to accessing the insights and experiences of the entire market, not just a portion of it.

By bringing a diverse and talented set of Millennial employees together, teams can benefit from the wide range of perspectives and experiences being brought to the table. Creative ideas can arise, innovation can occur, and new relationships can be made. And a sustainable business can be built.   

6. 84% of Millennials Want To Make A Positive Difference

Millennials want to see that their work has a larger benefit to society. 84% of Millennials believe making a positive difference in the world is more important than getting recognized for professional endeavors, and an amazing 92% of them believe business success should be measured by more than just profit.

All of this places more pressure on businesses to be more socially responsible. If a company gets a bad reputation, my generation won’t work for that company or buy its products.

In addition to providing Millennials with a diverse workplace where opportunities for professional growth are widely available, businesses need to focus on more than just the bottom line if they want to keep top talent.

Companies should promote philanthropic activities, as Millennials want to know their employer is doing its part for society. The products and services developed by businesses must first serve the purpose of helping improve the world. The response from Millennials to the arrival of the Tesla 3, the company’s first mass-produced affordable electric car, is evidence enough that this generation values brands that aim to move humanity forward.

Millennials And The Future of Business

The Millennials are certainly coming; in most ways, we’re already here. Soon, my generation will have the highest income and spending power, meaning our professional dreams and buying behavior are going to carry immense weight.

The good news is statistics like these display the potential for businesses to benefit greatly from the rise of the Millennial worker and consumer. Don’t infantilize us or bemoan our newfangled tech: we aren’t going to ruin the world, as some pessimists may state. For the most part, my experience and research suggests Millennials are intent on improving it.  

By |2020-05-07T19:23:01+00:00February 24th, 2017|Culture, Technology|

NYC Youth Taking the Reins of Civics, Culture and Community

This generation and the next have large shoes to fill–and extra work to do–when it comes to maintaining the culture, history, and integrity of cities like New York. As time goes by, any community’s essence can be eroded if it isn’t preserved and enhanced. That doesn’t seem to be the case in New York City, where public initiatives, institutions, and charity projects are encouraging young people to take an active interest in their communities.

It takes a passion for civic engagement, culture, and history to ensure a brighter future and a remembered past. It can be a challenge to light such ambitions in young people, and while many older millennials are already on board, teenagers remain especially difficult to reach.

Getting young people involved and dedicated to their city early on is key. Luckily, it seems we’re already nurturing an active and informed youth that will eventually take the reigns when it comes to the betterment of NYC.

Civic engagement

When we think of who is involved on community boards, it’s often an older crowd that comes to mind, and for good reason—one community board in the Bronx, for example, is comprised half of members over age 50. Recently there has been a push for diversity on NYC community boards, and a bill passed to bring down the age limit to 16. Since this bill, five 16- and 17-year olds were appointed in the Bronx, six in Manhattan, and eight in Brooklyn.

Teens bring a unique perspective to the table when it comes to community betterment. They have insight into issues older board members may not, and can bring fresh solutions to the table as well. The hope is that such involvement will not only add depth to the boards, but kickstart young careers in public service.

The problem is that while young people are idealistic and want to change the world, few want to do so through public service. Young people are disenchanted by the political system, and it’s not hard to see why given today’s political climate. Polarization is rampant and hostility high during an election between two historically disliked candidates. Local politics may be slightly better, but numbers indicate that youth would prefer to get involved elsewhere.

We’ll see if the encouragement of groups like Generation Citizen will empower more students to become engaged and effective citizens with bright futures in the political realm.

Cultural institutions

Beyond politics, young people developing interest in cultural institutions will help keep art and culture in New York City at the forefront of its evolution. As the cultural capital of the country, New York City is defined by its many museums and cultural hubs.

In September, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs began an initiative to improve the involvement and diversity at the city’s cultural institutions by financing paid internships for students. Many of these kids will be lower-income or minority students, adding even greater sense of diversity into the equation. According to Cultural Affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, “The idea is not to just expose people in the short term, but encourage the institutions to stay in touch with these young people, foster their growth, and maybe hire them in the long run.”

Cultural institutions and periphery organizations and businesses have been doing their part to get young people involved as well. For example, the National AfterSchool Association partnered with 19 institutions across all five boroughs to sponsor experiential, educational events through a program called Adventures in Innovation. Activities that stimulate curiosity in young minds are good for the future of these institutions and the youth they inspire.

Museums like the Guggenheim are also increasingly courting the Millennial generation as future trustees and donors. By hosting events like the Young Collectors Party, cultural institutions can get young people involved early in a path toward board membership. Says Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums, “The generational shift is something a lot of museums are talking about….The traditional donors are either dying, stepping back or turning it over to their children or grandchildren.”

Charities & Volunteering

Lastly, cities like New York will always thrive when its citizens, old and young, involve themselves in charity work. Unfortunately, volunteering rates have been dropping over the years and it’s not clear exactly why.

There are several hypotheses on white might be keeping younger generations from charity work. For one, youth are often financially constrained, which would certainly hold them back from making donations. This is especially true in NYC where cost of living and education high.  Secondly, technology and social media have become the new normal, potentially rendering in-person volunteering obsolete and uncomfortable.

How do we overcome these potential issues? Charity has changed, becoming increasingly mobile, so nonprofits that can make digital donations easy will have better luck reaching Millennials. Programs that provide educational and career incentives for volunteer work are also key.

Because younger generations are idealists, they want their contributions to count. As a result, nonprofits are courting young startups, many of which are run by millennials, with partnerships. In New York City, businesses that align themselves with causes attract young talent, allowing young people “give back” in a way that doesn’t interfere with busy work schedules.

All things considered, it appears that New York City’s youth have the ability to step up with the help of some great initiatives. It’s clear that New Yorkers of every generation love their city and want to see it thrive beyond our time–if we all work together to preserve and enhance our communities, there is no doubt NYC will continue to be as rich in culture as it is influential and unique. But youngsters, take note: the city won’t maintain itself.

By |2018-10-31T18:02:07+00:00February 21st, 2017|Culture, Philanthropy|
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