Identifying the “New Normal”

carol_coletta_photoCheck out Carol Coletta’s piece on the Good Magazine blog that discusses the need to come up with a new narrative for what will define the “good life” in cities as the outdated trend of moving out to the suburbs to live the old American dream makes a big U-turn.  What will be the new American dream to replace the tattered vision of suburban splendor as more and more people move back to cities?  SUITE 2046 has been working with Carol’s organization, CEOs for Cities, on launching their VELOCITY movement in mid-September.  Hence all the recent posts on Grand Rapids, as that is the host city for the inaugural VELOCITY Salon. For more food for thought on the topic of cities, listen to Carol’s nationally-syndicated public radio show, Smart City.

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Commercial Creativity

With all the high-pitched squealing around yet another season of inspiring Kodak moments with Don Draper, it’s small wonder that the Tribeca Film Fest blog and newsletter has been publicizing Art & Copy, Doug Pray’s new documentary about advertising, as “The Real Mad Men.” (See how they’re tying it in to something that’s hot and current to generate WOM?  Presto, marketing!)  Anyway, you don’t have to be an AdHunt reading dork like myself to appreciate the significance of great creative advertising.  Seriously, like what would have happened to all those dairy farmers without Got Milk? And let’s face it — Nike commercials can make grown men cry.  If I were Rupert Murdoch, I would create a channel that ran only award-winning commercials from around the world (subtitled, of course) 24-7.  The Ad Channel, if you will.  Nothing to TiVo out — all ads, all the time.  The content pays for itself!  I’d especially tune in for the Japan hour to see everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Brad Pitt sell brands.  Anyway, my brain fart of the day.

Art & Copy opens tomorrow (8/21) at the IFC Center in New York, as well as other select markets.

Update: I saw this on Saturday and really enjoyed it despite the fact that there were a lot of gaps and questions that I wished they’d pursued, like what’s the impact of all this media fragmentation on the future of creating iconic, everyone-remembers-it advertising?  Is the communal TV experience just being replaced by the forwarding of YouTube virals?  In many ways the film felt like a eulogy for a golden age in advertising that will never return.  The days when there were fewer channels and fewer billboards and no such thing as banner ads; the days when you could air a 30-second commercial and expect half the country to have seen it by lunchtime.  The film definitely tended toward the nostalgic rather than giving us any sense of what to really expect in the future; which is fine, fair enough. For me it was just refreshing to see the celebration of truly great advertising while acknowledging that most everything else the industry produces is pure garbage. As a marketer, I don’t think I could have sat through another over-simplified Adbusters-esque “this is why advertising is evil and melting your brain” torture session. It’s great that this film is giving much deserved shout-outs to the visionaries who created the concept, art and copy for some of the most culture-defining public messages of our time.

Self-Sufficiency and the City

The Waterpod (Photo by Michael Nagle for the NYT)
The Waterpod (Photo by Michael Nagle for the NYT)

Living on a sustainable floating barge for the entire summer sounds like a complete nightmare to me as I tend to require the finer things in life like flushing toilets, air conditioning, and the occasional burger.  However, a leisurely visit to observe a bunch of other people doing exactly that?  Well that sounds like a dreamy way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Currently docked near Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Waterpod is an eco-artistic experiment in sustainable living that was launched in June by photographer Mary Mattingly with the help of funders both public and private.  A cluster of white domes made from recycled materials like old billboards provides shelter for the people and plants living on-board, and all power is generated through solar panels and bike-pedaling.  Nourishment comes from what they grow themselves, and the freshwater supply is collected rainwater.  A few egg-laying hens are the only source of non-vegetable food they have on the Pod so it’s definitely no picnic for the carnivorously inclined.

The recent NYTimes piece by Melena Ryzik provides a more complete picture of what the past couple of months has been like for the rotating cast of pod-dwellers, as well as some interesting trend commentary:

Situated at the intersection of recession escapism, do-it-yourself culture and ecomania, the Pod neatly sums up many current lifestyle trends — the compost container gets a lot of “this is how we should do it at home” comments from visitors. “It’s navigating our relationship with the environment in a capacity that doesn’t occur when you live in the city,” said Matthew Aaron Goodman, 34, a novelist from Brooklyn who visited the Waterpod when it was docked at Governors Island in July. “The advancement of technology has limited our ability to know what we can do with our own capacity. Something like this reminds us.”

While few of us would be willing to live on a solar-powered barge anytime soon, it’s undeniable that an increasing number of urbanites are finding ways to be more self-sufficient.  Even if you’re not raising chickens in the back of your apartment à la the current craze, you’re probably behaving a lot more eco-frugally than before and discovering that there are a lot of things you can do without.  The convergence of the forces of recession and environmental urgency has resulted in a trend towards conscious consumption.  Even if it’s led more by a concern for the wallet rather than concern for the planet, what matters is that more people today are actually stopping to think before they consume.  Why pay for a cab when you can bike or take the subway? Why own a car when you can share ZipCars with your community?  Why buy herbs when you can grow them on your fire escape?  Why buy a new pair of shoes when you can resole the ones you have?  (Unless of course, the purchase of a pair means someone else who really needs them also gets a pair.)  You get the point.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the vast majority of us still love to have things as much as ever, but as the recent popularity of farmer’s markets, flea markets and crafts fairs suggest, I think the types of things we’re buying are shifting.  We care a lot more about where the stuff is coming from and where the stuff is going…not just from an environmental point of view but from that of desiring human connections.  This shift is pretty fundamental and I don’t think it’s just because that happens to be the trendy thing to do right now.

In any case, if you’re in NYC this Sunday you can head over to the Waterpod to experience all sorts of urban gardening fun and games like a lesson in hydroponics by Bushwick’s very own Boswyck Farms, and a DIY window farm building workshop by The Window Farms Project.  God, I love this city.

Jon Burgerman’s American Summer

Jon Burgerman GRNYNot sure how great UK artist Jon Burgerman‘s summer in NYC was this year given the inclement weather, but at least he also got to spend some time out in LA where (500) Days of Summer isn’t just a movie, it’s a way of life.  Anyway, if you are unlucky enough to be trapped in the swampy apple this month, Giant Robot’s NY gallery will be exhibiting the creative results of Burgerman’s summer in America starting August 15.  GRNY is one of the best places in this city to find affordable original art, because it’s actually super well-curated and not some art school students’ free-for-all.  A lot of now-famous artists like Kozyndan (now collaborating with Puma) and the folks behind the Uglydolls owe a lot to Giant Robot for their early successes.  I’ve discovered some of my favorite artists at this gallery (as well as their galleries in LA & SF) over the years, and you should too.  Can’t fully vouch for Burgerman’s show cus I haven’t seen it yet, but if it’s anywhere near as awesome as this hand drawn font he did for Hype for Type recently, it’s sure to be a smashing time.  Opening reception: Saturday, August 15 at 6:30pm

Will Ferrell’s Sunscreen for Charity

Will Ferrell SunscreenYeah, I did a double-take too.  It’s hard to believe but these Will Ferrell sunscreens are very much the real deal and are available for purchase via retailers like Fred Flare.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of Sun Stroke and Sexy Hot Tan go to a non-profit charity called Cancer for College, founded by two-time cancer survivor Craig Pollard who went to college with the Anchorman.  Believe me, it took me a while to realize that this charity was not a fake.  It has been around since 1993 and has granted nearly half a million dollars in scholarships to more than 400 cancer survivors so it’s no laughing matter!  According to a recent press release, they just sold their 10,000th bottle after two months of sales.  Not bad, given it’s not exactly lining the shelves of your local drugstore just yet.  What a great way to not only build buzz but raise some serious money for a good cause.  Nothing says sexy like Will Ferrell in a speedo!  Pollard believes that in order to go through something as difficult as cancer, one must never lose their sense of humor.  He is currently writing a book of funny stories called The Lighter Side of Cancer.  Again, no joke!