Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Grow Lexington's Economy With Beer?

For those of you interested in our rise in craft breweries and in how they can grow our local economy, or just those who like to buy local, mark your calendars for January 10, 2013.

That is the date for a Webinar titled ”How Can a Microbrewery Grow Your Local Economy?” . Any body truly wanting to grow our local economy will want to hear how other communities are progressing and what their mis-steps were.

It is recognized that microbreweries offer substantial opportunities for communities and that they allow for re-using vacant space, they also create local jobs; attract new companies or expand existing ones; and increase the tax base. We have already seen some of this in Lexington's fledgling efforts.

While registration is not cheap($95 for IEDC members, $135 for Non-members) the information offered could pay dividends all of Central Kentucky.  Please share your comments on what you learn.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Black Boxes For Your Shiney Metal Boxes

Is anyone ready for some startling news out of Washington DC.

Our Federal regulators are making ready some new rules which will require event data recorders - also called "black boxes" - in all new cars and light trucks. Currently 91.6 percent of all U.S. autos have them. Since automakers have been surreptitiously doing this for years - despite privacy concerns – I wonder why all the uproar now.

These devices record driver actions and vehicle response for accident investigation, or that is the stated reason for their use. With the nano-miniaturization these days, they can record well more than the last 10 seconds of active use or the 15 data types of the early models. Some investigators have identified around 80 data points which could be useful.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to release the rules in the next few days making these devices mandatory equipment and record at least 30 data types. There will be no opt-out, but many of the most popular models have had these things since the early ‘90s (about the time that they began OnStar). This information was only divulged in the last 3 months.

"Most people who are operating a motor vehicle have no idea this technology is integrated into their vehicle." said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group. I will go one better, most people who are operating a motor vehicle have no idea that they are driving a cell phone on wheels.

The fact that the auto can do a self diagnosis and call you with the results would raise many more privacy concerns than the last 10 seconds before an accident. Your auto has the ability to call OnStar (or just about anybody else) with or without alerting you first. The progress being made on driver-less vehicles is depending on this inter-vehicle communication for spacing and collision avoidance. Who knows when else they could talk between themselves. (Grillebook as a social medium, anyone?)

Despite privacy complaints, the government so far hasn't put any limits on how the information can be used. Right now there are no bounds or consequences, either to the government or any commercial venture, legal or not. Cell phone “aps” which will allow you limited operation of your auto remotely may not be as secure as they would have you believe.

Recorder data from some vehicles has already contributed to the traffic safety administration's conclusion to the problem of sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could jam them. They have also shown several high profile celebrities to have been at fault for traffic cases. Data that could be gathered from the other OnStar like systems would show where people shop, work and live, maybe that is currently being done also.

In the Senate’s transportation bill, passed earlier this year, the vehicle’s owner was designated as the owner of the required, recorded data. I wonder how much money one could get for collecting their own data and selling it on the open market. Would you be willing to sell your data for the right price? This provision was removed in a House/Senate conference negotiation, ostensibly for privacy reason but maybe to limit your ability to profit from your information This may be a slippery slope toward big government and Big Brother as noted by Rep. Bill Shuster, (R-Pa) but many of us on that slope are moving fast and picking up speed.

When I first read about this, the online comments ranged from “I'll not buy a new car again” (Well that works for Cuba) to “A powerful magnet will render it useless in no time”. Not buying a new car, in the type of urban development we have now, may be possible if very few communities and certainly not in Lexington. Being limited by the public transit systems in most places will be more unpleasant than having the insurance company know how (not where) you are driving. And speaking of the insurance companies, how do you think that they will react when they know that you have disabled a required “safety” device.

Ironically, the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers is to the government requiring recorders in all vehicles, yet I doubt that this rises from any privacy concerns. Whenever the government gets involved or legitimizes an effort that you or your industry is doing, then they get to apply arbitrary rules and direct industry standards. Not that the industry could not also make some unsavory, arbitrary rules for their own good. Who do you trust, the government or private industry?

So, the barn door is open and the Genie is almost out of the bottle. How do you feel about this: a government intrusion or apt regulation?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Prepare For The Glut, Geezers

I am part of a large and stable group of people. I used to think a lot like the majority of them do but recently things have begun to shift. I am a “Baby Boomer”. Though not one of the early ones, I am early enough to see our situations may not be as rosy as we once believed them to be.

I am now informed that I may consider myself to be part of the “Geezer Glut”. Eighty-eight million of us who have shaped this country's economy and culture for the last 50 years and then shipped it globally. We did it our way and it was fun, wasn't it?

As Ben Brown put it “We’re in the middle of one of our periodic – and probably our last – reality denial exercises.” With the science and technology that we have developed over our run, can our playtime can extend into infinity (and beyond)?  Have we learned nothing from watching our grandparents age and pass on, and then our parents?

Well, some have learned that if we place them in an “age-segregated housing unit” where they can socialize with their peers, we can continue our “active“ lives until it is time for them to go. Remember to visit often and take the kids.

I have posted about this three times over the past 2 years. How we possibly need to rethink the way we have arranged our community so as to accommodate our loved ones. How we may need to look at the legacy of a city that we will leave our children. How we might have been so busy living our “active” life that we misjudged how we will use the deceleration lane. 

And I am not alone.
We suffer from a severe lack of foresight, a shortage of personal and community planning when it comes to where and how to age. We’ve separated our elders from their extended families without replacing what their relatives might once have provided: a decent quality of life, until the very end.”
Linda Selin Davis on The Atlantic Cities blog of October 3
As I have said before, I am reading the book Walkable City and looking to relate what I read to what I know about Lexington.  Part of the idea of building a walkable city is to diversify the city life experience for all of residents of a city. It is not just making the roadways capable of accommodating pedestrians, but for pedestrians of all ages and capabilities. It is not about the distance one can walk, whether it be exercise or not, but the ability to use walking as a mode of everyday travel.

What was once a series of neighborhoods, each with their central civic amenities (schools, church, retail...), diverse housing types and not so readily apparent edges, are now expanses of residential sameness separating those now edge defining, civic amenities. Is it so easy to tell where one transitions from Ashland Park to Chevy Chase and yet the jump from Palomar to Beaumont is quite dramatic? The areas which do have a somewhat centralized component of non-residential uses, are of such massive size as to deter all but auto-centric access.

This shortage of personal and community planning, the planning for unaided interpersonal connectivity, has brought on a certain level of isolation. Isolation which the Millienials have recognized and seem to be rejecting. This same isolation will complicate every challenge found in old age as it is designed into the places most American Boomers call home.
Most Boomers will age in neighborhoods that are unlikely to sustain any kind of care network system. That is fine, if you don't need the care or are responsible for one who does. While it is often a complicated endeavor to drive the kids to their daily destinations, what will be the solution for the aged? The presumed connectivity by car will exile anyone without the ability or desire to drive.
The $51 billion industry, which is the “retirement community” movement has a less than stellar reputation, as documented in numerous places, and at this point of our fiscal health may become a less likely option for most. Our home builders and re-modelers can certainly provide scenarios for aging at home. But aging in places that isolate seniors in their homes, regardless of how easy it is to live in, barely scratches the surface of the problem.

What we need are strategies that will allow for "successful" aging in place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has amassed a lot of research about ways neighborhood design and transportation policy affect community health. Just as we have a concept of “Safe by Design”, can we not dovetail a “Healthy by Design” into the dialogue?

It may be that for so long we have been designing and planning our community for who we are or who is already here and not for who we will become or who we want to come. I am part of the Geezer Glut and we will be part of the future, but we are not the future. We had that chance and I am not so sure that we did a good job. 

 Now is a time for better thought.