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Posts tagged trends

from "Cities and the Census," by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox, City Journal, 6 April 2011

For years, academics, the media, and big-city developers have been suggesting that suburbs were dying and that people were flocking back to the cities that they had fled in the 1970s. The Obama administration has taken this as gospel. “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development,” Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan opined in 2010. “People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.” Yet of the 51 metropolitan areas that have more than 1 million residents, only three—Boston, Providence, and Oklahoma City—saw their core cities grow faster than their suburbs. (And both Boston and Providence grew slowly; their suburbs just grew more slowly. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, built suburban residences on the plentiful undeveloped land within city limits.)

All this suburbanization means that the best unit for comparison may be, not the core city, but the metropolitan area; and the census shows clearly which metropolitan areas are growing and which are not. The top ten population gainers—growing by 20 percent, twice the national average or more—are the metropolitan areas surrounding Las Vegas, Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Riverside–San Bernardino, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, and Atlanta. These areas are largely suburban. None developed the large, dense core cities that dominated America before the post–World War II suburban boom began. By contrast, many of the metropolitan areas that grew at rates half the national average or less—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, New York—have core areas that are the old, dense variety. Planners and pundits may like density, but people, for the most part, continue to prefer more space.

from Trading Places, by Alan Erhenhalt, The New Republic, 13 August 2008 :: via Big Contrarian :: first posted here 9 August 2008

What makes [Vancouver] unusual—indeed, at this point unique in all of North America—is that roughly 20 percent of its residents live within a couple of square miles of each other in the city’s center. Downtown Vancouver is a forest of slender, green, condo skyscrapers, many of them with three-story townhouse units forming a kind of podium at the base. Each morning, there are nearly as many people commuting out of the center to jobs in the suburbs as there are commuting in. Two public elementary schools have opened in downtown Vancouver in the past few years. A large proportion of the city’s 600,000 residents, especially those with money, want to live downtown.

No American city looks like Vancouver at the moment. But quite a few are moving in this direction. Demographic inversions of one sort or another are occurring in urban pockets scattered all across America, many of them in seemingly unlikely places. Charlotte, North Carolina, is in the midst of a downtown building boom dominated by new mixed-use high-rise buildings, with office space on the bottom and condos or rental units above. Even at a moment of economic weakness, the condos are still selling briskly.

We are not witnessing the abandonment of the suburbs or a movement of millions of people back to the city all at once. But we are living at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end. For several decades now, cities in the United States have wished for a “24/7” downtown, a place where people live as well as work, and keep the streets busy, interesting, and safe at all times of day. This is what urbanist Jane Jacobs preached in the 1960s, and it has long since become the accepted goal of urban planners. Only when significant numbers of people lived downtown, planners believed, could central cities regain their historic role as magnets for culture and as a source of identity and pride for the metropolitan areas they served. Now that’s starting to happen, fueled by the changing mores of the young and by gasoline prices fast approaching $5-per-gallon. In many of its urbanized regions, an America that seemed destined for everincreasing individualization and sprawl is experimenting with new versions of community and sociability.

from "It's Hip to be Round," by Guy Trebay, The New York Times, 12 August 2009

...this year an unexpected element has been added to the [Brooklyn hipster] look, and that is a burgeoning potbelly one might term the Ralph Kramden.

Too pronounced to be blamed on the slouchy cut of a T-shirt, too modest in size to be termed a proper beer gut, developed too young to come under the heading of a paunch, the Ralph Kramden is everywhere to be seen lately, or at least it is in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, the McCarren Park Greenmarket and pretty much any place one is apt to encounter fans of Grizzly Bear.

What the trucker cap and wallet chain were to hipsters of a moment ago, the Kramden is to what my colleague Mike Albo refers to as the “coolios” of now. Leading with a belly is a male privilege of long standing, of course, a symbol of prosperity in most cultures and of freedom from anxieties about body image that have plagued women since Eve.

from "A new idea in travel: Airline for pets," by Andrea K. Walker, Baltimore Sun, 15 July 2009

Dan Wiesel and his wife, Alysa Binder, remember the guilt they felt after their Jack Russell terrier Zoe had to fly cross country in the cargo area of a plane when they moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Florida. “When she came out she just wasn’t herself,” Binder said. “We thought there had to be a better way.” The couple’s answer is Pet Airways, a new airline just for cats and dogs that the couple founded. The airline had its inaugural flights Tuesday from several airports, including BWI Marshall Airport.

There are no human passengers aboard Pet Airways flights, just animals, which are called “pawsengers…”

The airline is sold out for its first two months, Binder said. Pet Airways serves Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, but Binder said the company hopes to expand to 25 cities in a couple of years. Ticket prices average $250, Binder said. Other airlines charge $75 to $275 for pets, with prices varying depending on where the pets ride. In May, Southwest began allowing people to bring small pets on board for $75.

One airline expert said there is a niche for people who want to take their pets on vacation and other travels. But it is unclear if this airline is the answer.

It may be complicated for passengers to plan their flights with their pet’s flights, said Robert Mann, president of airline consulting firm R.W. Mann & Co. Inc.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Mann said. “There is a need for it. The key question is if this particular concept really meets that need. Time will tell, as it usually does.”

from "Down with Twitter," by Melissa Wiginton, Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog, 1 July 2009

Some young pastors want to posts tweets on a screen where everyone can see them during worship, I guess to connect by knowing what others are thinking. One said, “You know our generation. We want our voices heard.”

Now, I have learned a few things along the way and one is this: We all want our voices heard. But self-expression is what happens when we tweet. Being heard happens when we listen. It’s not the same thing.


A deep problem is the replacement, in the medical profession as in the legal profession, of a professional model of service with a business model. In the professional model, the service provider is assured a good but not extravagant income by limitations on competition, and in exchange he is expected to avoid exploiting the ignorance of patients as he could do by performing unnecessary or low-value procedures. In the business model, the service provider endeavors to maximize his net revenues. In the case of medicine, the disparity of knowledge between provider and patient, coupled with the fear and desperation that serious illness (or just the possibility of it) engenders, enables the profit-maximizing provider often to convince the patient to undergo costly low-value treatments. Certainly the profit-maximizing health-care provider will be very relucant to refuse to provide a treatment that the patient insists upon, his insistence being made convincing by the fact that insurance will pay all or most of the cost. Insurers do try to limit their costs by refusing to approve low-value procedures—but in the face of combined pressure by provider and patient, the insurer is often forced to back down.

To return to the initial puzzle of why our peer nations are able to provide what seems, judging by outcomes, a level of health equal or superior to that of Americans at far lower cost, the only convincing answer is that the health-care providers in those nations limit treatment. I am not sure of the explanation, but the possibilities include: the professional model is more tenacious in societies less committed to free markets and a commercial culture than the United States; more of their hospitals are public and more of their doctors are public employees, who are therefore salaried rather than entrepreneurial; and Americans, being less fatalistic than most other peoples, have a more intense demand for life-extending procedures.


In the mid-1990s, firms like Sputnik, the Zandl Group, Teenage Research Unlimited, and Lambesis were getting hired by companies such as Reebok, Burlington, and PepsiCo to enlist and study allegedly trendsetting teens. “We did no research,” Irma Zandl, who has been in the trend business since 1986, once told Time magazine of her early days as a professional Magic Person. “I just had a golden gut.” By the early 2000s, her company claimed a network of three thousand carefully selected young people whose take on the zeitgeist was funneled into a newsletter sold to the likes of GM, Coke, and Disney, for $15,000 a year. Some key people from Lambesis formed Look-Look, which claimed a network of twenty thousand. The results of these businesses have been mixed. Aprons for men was one legendary trend-spotting gaffe that emerged from the mining of Magic People thoughts. In the mid-1990s, Sputnik predicted such trends as “guys in vinyl skirts,” “see-through track shoes,” and “suspenders with African-print shirts.”


Many of the consumers that McVeigh interviewed about Hello Kitty complained about corporations targeting them, making them buy things—things like more Hello Kitty products. But as he pointed out, “Capitalist forces do not simply foist knickknacks on the masses, and we must give credit to the individual consumer who, after all, chooses to purchase certain incarnations of Hello Kitty but not others (or chooses not to buy Hello Kitty at all).” After all, if Sanrio’s managers could create dozens of Hello Kittys, they most certainly would—and they are trying all the time. In more than three decades of effort, they have never come close.

Not only can logos have meaning, and not only can that meaning be manufactured—it can be manufactured by consumers. Ultimately, a cultural symbol that catches on is almost never simply imposed, but rather is created and then tacitly agreed upon by those who choose to accept its meaning, wherever that meaning may have originated. . . .

Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.

But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity material as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves—to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.

video Objectified

from "Objectified: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit," 5 January 2009 :: via Daring Fireball
from "The best and the brightest," by Seth Godin, Seth's Blog, 18 December 2008 :: via Steve Johnson

Perhaps we’re on the verge at getting much better at making useful things, spreading ideas that matter and helping people, and not quite so good at leveraging capital for financial institutions. Imagine what would happen if 5,000 investment bankers or 500 M & A lawyers put their talents to work doing something else…

As I look through all the notes and applications I received for the program I’m running next year, I’m not just optimistic. I’m thrilled. There must be hundreds of thousands of movers and shakers out there, people of all ages who are smart and get things done. And more and more, they’re being motivated by the quest, or the outcome, or the people they work with, not just the cash payout. It’s exciting beyond words. The ten people I’ve chosen are just astonishing, each and every one of them.

If you can’t find people like these, you’re not looking in the right places. And if you can’t figure out how to work with them, you’re missing out.

from "The Trouble with Twitter," by Ben Kunz, BusinessWeek, 18 August 2008

Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of the Ethernet, noticed that communication networks tend to increase exponentially with each single addition, a logic that today is called Metcalfe’s Law. Think of a fax machine sitting alone and unplugged in your office; it has little value by itself. But plug it into a network of fax machines around the world, and suddenly that communications tool has huge potential. . . .

But Metcalfe’s concept doesn’t apply to Twitter. The explanation why comes from two fellows named Zipf and Dunbar. Back in 1935, linguist George Zipf noticed that words in the English language are used in an interesting pattern. “The” is spoken most commonly, making up 7% of all utterances; “of” is the second-most common word, used exactly one-half as often as “the”…and the pattern continues with the 100th word in popularity being used only 1/100th as often. Zipf’s Law suggests that each subsequent thing in any series (such as your Twitter contacts) has predictable diminishing value. Your spouse is more important than your best friend, who outranks your boss, colleague, and that guy you met on a plane from Chicago. Inside the 2.3 million-strong Twitter network, not all connections are equal, and some will never be used at all. You will probably never send tweets to ice skaters in Finland.

Further depressing Twitter’s internal value is a concept from British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noted in 1992 that humans—like other primates—can handle only 150 relationships. If we try to add many more connections, our little brains get overloaded.

These are just theories, but they point out that Twitter is not a vast communications network of 2.3 million users squared. Rather, it consists of small pools of people with gaps and limits on how they interact. This is important to marketers and investors, because it puts big brakes on how internal communications could propagate inside any social media network.

excerpt The natural way

Phaedra Taylor abstained from sex until marriage. But she began researching birth control methods before she was even engaged, and by the time she married David Taylor, she was already charting her fertility.

Taylor, a fresh-faced 28-year-old who would blend in easily with South Austin bohemians, ruled out taking birth control pills after reading a book that claimed the pill could, in some cases, make the uterus uninhabitable after conception occurred. She viewed that as abortion, which she opposes.

“I just wasn’t willing to risk it,” she said.

Taylor wanted her faith to guide her sexual and reproductive decisions after marriage. Natural family planning felt like the best way to honor God, she said.

Update: See David Taylor’s response to the piece on his blog here. “After all these years of trying to get the Statesman to print something about the church and the arts in Austin I now have the honor of having a portion of my sex life on the front page.” You go, David!

from The global evangelical, by Brian Howell, The Immanent Frame, 28 July 2008

Foreign missions have long been a significant element of Christianity, and everything from the popular books of Victorian missionaries to the stadium crusades of Billy Graham have brought a certain global consciousness to rank-and-file Christians. Unlike that removed and professionalized globalism, however, this is a globalism of the rank-and-file itself. As millions travel to various sites, and millions more hear from their friends and family members about these travels, they gain personal contact with a world that was once just so many pieces of yarn stretched from the picture of a missionary family to their location on the map of the Missionary Bulletin Board in a church basement.

Moreover, this is not a one-way globalism. It is not simply a neocolonial movement redux. These newest internationalists are part of more complex global flows that carry influence in multiple directions. In their article on the Global Issues Survey, Wuthnow and Offutt cite the flows of people, resources and knowledge as far more multidirectional than in the past. While acknowledging the enormous disparity of wealth and influence between American Christians and those in many other countries, they note examples of Brazilian Pentecostal broadcasts finding significant play in the New York City Spanish language market and Ghanaian gospel hip-hop gaining a hearing in Atlanta congregations. In my own research on short-term Christian volunteerism, I have found that those who make these trips or meet with foreign visitors in their home congregations often are struck by similarities. Statements such as “even though I couldn’t speak Spanish [or Portuguese or Chinese or Amharic], I knew we were worshipping the same God” reflect a belief in a unity and connection with non-Western Christians that few evangelicals personally experienced in the past.


Like the mass popularization of smiley face buttons in the early 1970s, which coincided with another oil and economic crisis, Life is good T-shirts have caught on among people who feel the products are spreading a positive message in a troubled world.

The invention of the smiley face is largely credited to Harvey Ross Ball, an advertising executive from Worcester, Mass., who drew the symbol in 1963 to improve worker morale at an insurance company that had merged with another.

It later became a fad when printed with the slogan “Have a nice day,” selling countless pieces of merchandise as an almost subversively counterintuitive message that in many ways seems to be repeating with “Life is good” today.

“The years when the company has thrived the most have been the most economically, politically and socially challenged years,” Mr. Jacobs said, adding that the company is on track to reach $135 million in sales this year through retail stores and a Web site. (In addition to the 4,500 stores that carry the Life is good merchandise, there are about 105 independently owned shops in airports and cities across the country that sell only Life is good products.) “The people who face the most adversity are the ones who embrace ‘Life is good’ the most,” he said.

from The End of White Flight, by Conor Dougherty,, 19 July 2008

Today, cities are refashioning themselves as trendy centers devoid of suburban ills like strip malls and long commutes. In Atlanta, which has among the longest commute times of any U.S. city, the white population rose by 26,000 between 2000 and 2006, while the black population decreased by 8,900. Overall the white proportion has increased to 35% in 2006 from 31% in 2000.

In other cities, whites are still leaving, but more blacks are moving out. Boston lost about 6,000 black residents between 2000 and 2006, but only about 3,000 whites. In 2006, whites accounted for 50.2% of the city’s population, up from 49.5% in 2000. That’s the first increase in roughly a century.

excerpt Currying favor
from "Cosmic Cuisine", a review of Lizzie Collingham's Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers, by Robert Eric Frykenberg, Books & Culture, May/June 2008

Curry’s conquest of the world began with the conquest of India by the East India Company. Madras curry in its various forms (the word deriving from the Tamil kari and the Telugu kara, as also from similar sounding terms in Kannada and Malayalam), became the most hybrid and ubiquitous of all India’s spicy (masala) sauces and stews. Normally this was served with rice in the south and with soft wheat breads such as chapattis, parathas, puris, or simple nan in the north. The author is not quite correct when she says that the British invented curry: there is not a respectable household anywhere in the countryside that does not produce its own unique curries, with secrets handed down from mother to daughter. But it is true that, starting in Madras, a hybrid Anglo-Indian cuisine spread and became ubiquitous, not only throughout all of the subcontinent (including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), but gradually throughout the rest of Asia and Africa, and finally to Europe and the Americas.

Google Trends

In the 2004 movie “The Butterfly Effect”  - we watched it so you don’t have to - Ashton Kutcher travels back in time, altering his troubled childhood in order to influence the present, though with dismal results. In 1990’s “Havana,” Robert Redford, a math-wise gambler, tells Lena Olin, “A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. They can even calculate the odds.”

Such borrowings of Lorenz’s idea might seem authoritative to unsuspecting viewers, but they share one major problem: They get his insight precisely backwards. The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can’t.

a Boing Boing post by Mark Frauenfelder, 9 June 2008

Kevin Kelly says:

  Warren Buffett recently bet an ambitious hedge fund operator $1 million that they won’t beat the returns of S&P 500 after their extremely hefty fees are accounted for. Buffett claims investors will do as well with a no-load index fund over the ten years of the bet. He has long been critical of the performance claims of hedge funds, and his bet is intended to put his money where his mouth is.

Buffett’s million dollar bet was made on Long Bets, the accountability mechanism founded in 2002 by Stewart Brand and myself, and operated by Long Now Foundation. The intention of Long Bets is to encourage responsibility in prediction-making (by keeping a public roster of predictions), to encourage long-term thinking (by offering a opportunity to shape a long-term bet), and to sharpen the logic of forecasting (by recording the logic of predictions and bets.)

In order to make a Long Bet, bettors need to lay out their reasoning. It’s worth reading the two sides’ very short arguments about investing because the two extremes of investment advice are contrasted in them. Buffett, as usual, is stunningly clear in his argument, which ends:

A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.