• Youniversal branding At the core of all consumer trends Is the new consumer, who creates his or her own playground, own comfort zone, own universe. It's the 'empowered' and 'better informed' and 'switched on' consumer combined into something profound, something we've dubbed MASTER OF THE YOUNI-VERSE. At the core is control: psychologists don't agree on much, except for the belief that human beings want to be in charge of their own destiny. Or at least have the illusion of being in charge.
• Curated consumption ... make way for the emerging trend of CURATED CONSUMPTION: millions of consumers following and obeying the new curators of style, of taste, of eruditeness, in an ever-growing number of B2C industries (Martha and home decorating was really just the beginning ;-). And it's not just one way: in this uber-connected world, the new curators enjoy unprecedented access to broadcasting and publishing channels to reach their audience, from their own blogs to niche TV channels.
• Nouveau niche BusinessWeek called it The Vanishing Mass Market, Wired Magazine spoke of the Lost Boys and the Long Tail. Others talk about Niche Mania, Stuck in the Middle, or Commoditization Chaos. We at TRENDWATCHING.COM dubbed it NOUVEAU NICHE: the new riches will come from servicing the new niches! And while all of this may smack of wordplay, the drivers behind this trend have been building for years.
• Branded brands In plain English: BRANDED BRANDS means you will get a pizza from Pizzeria Uno on an American Airlines flight. And onboard perks offered by United Airlines include Starbucks Coffee, Mrs. Fields Cookies and even a McDonald's 'Friendly Skies Meal', including the ubiquitous promo-toy. Cars aren't immune either: Lexus proudly promotes their Mark Levinson audio systems. It all points to consumers on the road increasingly wanting to find the brands they trust and enjoy at home.
• Being spaces With face-to-face communication being rapidly replaced by email and chat, goods and services being purchased online, and big city apartments shrinking year by year, urban dwellers are trading their lonely, cramped living rooms for the reallife buzz of BEING SPACES: commercial living-room-like settings, where catering and entertainment aren't just the main attraction, but are there to facilitate small office/living room activities like watching a movie, reading a book, meeting friends and colleagues, or doing your admin.
how vibrant their cultural scene is in terms of these institutions. For many, still, culture simply equates to museums, galleries and theatres and not a great deal else. For this reason, mobilizing these institutions remains central to cultural policy.
Architects, lighting engineers and billboard animators stand in the centre, seeking to dazzle, amaze and stun their audience. The level at which this is executed depends on the city's role in the larger world urban hierarchy. Think of the historic 'boulevards of dreams' and their resonance. They once played on a larger stage, but many now live off memories of a past heyday. They tend to attract an older audience now as their hipness has been drained out of them. The Champs-Elysées, once a place which fed desires and a synonym for Parisian chic, has lost some of its lustre and glamour, dominated as it is by airline offices and car showrooms, though it is still the site of fashion houses and expensive restaurants. Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street in London have suffered a similar fate. The Ramblas in Barcelona is perhaps overrun now by tourists, but at its best you can still watch the world and not be contained in a fence of consumption. There is Düsseldorfs Königsallee, which the locals avoid when the tourists swarm in, or Berlin's Kurfürstendamm, whose energy is waning. In the Malecon in Havana, the flow of old classic cars and the music excite, but on the down side you are aware of the clash between tourists and poor locals. The latter are tied into an oppressive relationship with the tourist; their relaxed, laid-back lifestyle contrasts with the need to hassle and compete for tourists. Ginza in Tokyo is a byword for its department stores, such as Mitsukoshi or Matsuya, into which are interspersed the trendsetting shops like Sony or the cool and sleek Apple Store. All are kept in trim by stylish new architectural insertions.
The louder response is best seen in East Asia, although Eastern Europe is also making its mark. Adverts become increasingly vertiginous - six stories high as in Hsimenting in Taipei, where to attract the young Taipei hipsters the music also pounds out so loud that the ground shakes. New York's Times Square is another instance, as is the Strip in Las Vegas. For a sheer blast of colour, action and head-spinning animated billboards, perhaps none can rival Dotonbori in Osaka, packed with people at night. It uses every latest advertising gizmo and its craziness has an outlandish beauty. To get an idea of what the future may hold in store, Japan is instructive. Its aesthetics so different from European sensibilities, it combines the stark crassness of Osaka's
Electric Town or Tokyo's Akihabara computer district with the sublime beauty of the perfectly crafted object, shop front or urban setting. They come together in Kyoto around Kiyamachi-dori and Kawaramachi-dori, calm yet exalting Zen gardens with buildings built by architects seemingly inspired by watching Star Wars on acid. Vegas looks tame and controlled by contrast. China, in frenzied growth zones like Shenzhen, is beginning to rival this new aesthetic. Cities use every trick they have to 'spectacularize' themselves: image, media and trophy buildings by 'star' architects are brought into harness.
Segmentation and area character are key, with property prices driving the design quality and focus of any area and its distinctive-ness. Most large cities can be divided into high-end, mainstream, alternative and grotty. Like a Ginza or Sloane Street in London, where high-end architecture, design, image and aspiration mix, strongly fed by media attention and focused on an older, richer crowd. There are the mainstream, less rich areas like Oxford Street in London, where most day-to-day shopping takes place. Then there is the continual search for the new upcoming area. In London once Notting Hill, then Camden and now Hoxton. It is always on the move. The next will be an area that today is still relatively cheap. The very cheapness that makes an area attractive to the young and inventive is the very thing that raises prices over time. With trendspotters on the prowl, providing the media oxygen over time, the edginess is tamed and the gentrification process starts. This is both good and bad and keeping the balance of shabbiness and chic or inventiveness and convention is an immensely difficult trick. Very few places have achieved it. Amsterdam, though, is one instance. This is largely because mainstream retailers, with the profit ratios they demand and minimum size requirements for their stores, cannot impose their templates on to the city. In Amsterdam the intricate physical patterning and structure dominated by canals cannot be broken up. In addition it is extremely difficult for corporations to buy up large areas. The resulting fragmented ownership means that landlords are not always pumping up rents to their highest levels. As a consequence, the sheer number of unique shops is astonishing. Think of the Nine Streets area, the Jordaan and the myriad other small streets that offer surprise.
But when the market has unfettered leeway, the Amsterdam scenario is nearly impossible to sustain. Typically the pioneers discover an area, perhaps an old industrial site such as the
Distillery in Toronto, a set of industrial streets like Tribeca in New York or streets near a university where many young hang out, such as Deptford High Street near Goldsmith's College in London, famous for graduates like artist Damian Hurst. They try out a shop. It might succeed. The cafés come in. The word spreads. Alternatively, larger industrial structures are converted into artists' studios or incubator units for young design companies. A gallery opens; there is a cultural venue which shows fringe material; the bar there becomes popular; a restaurant opens, then another; and the gentrification process begins as it spills into the surrounding area. Gentrification remains a double-edged sword. It is an essential process through which property values rise to make it worthwhile for investors to get involved. On the other hand, it can push out those who make the gentrification process possible in the first place.
In essence, the fate of cities is determined by property prices. When a city like London or Berlin is selling its property to a global market, this will tend to price out less affluent locals. This is why we are faced with a crisis of finding accommodation for people in lower paid but crucial employment such as nurses, teachers and police, without whom a city cannot function. The gentrification of an area can spell the exclusion of key workers if left unchecked. The only solution is to contain the market and to find alternative ways of providing affordable accommodation.
A few places have tried to challenge this logic. Temple Bar in Dublin is an instance. A finely knitted pattern of streets in the heart of the city, it was once threatened with demolition to make way for a transport hub and inevitably declined with this sword of Damocles hanging over it. Many years later, when the plan was rescinded, the area's attractiveness was recognized and redevelopment was planned to make it an artistic hub. The development was controlled by a quasi-public authority which either owned or had influence on leases and tried to obviate the logic of price spirals that were inevitable given Temple Bar's central location. Its lease structures guaranteed affordable, longer-term security for the many arts organizations, such as the Irish Photography Centre, the Irish Film Institute, the Temple Bar Music Centre, the Arthouse Multimedia Centre, Temple Bar Gallery and Studio, and the Gaiety School of Acting. However, the creative vitality that these organizations represent is being threatened by over-popularity and consequent growth in tourist fodder restaurants and meat-market pubs to deal with stag and hen night parties. This has led to TASCQ (Traders in the Area Supporting the Cultural Quarter) encouraging people to stay away.
Normality is increasingly the out-of-town suburban mall associated with mid-America but now wending its way through Europe and into Asia. It is even reconfiguring shopping in India, so long a bastion of thousands of stallholders. At the moment 97 per cent of Indian retailing is by small independents. 'The malling of India', though, has become a recognized phenomenon. When it fully takes hold millions of Indians will have turned from small entrepreneurs to wage slaves. But there is resistance to the chain gang. In Singapore the food hall adjacent to Erskine Road in Chinatown has 140 independent cafés or restaurants, rather than the usual crowd of multinationals who would fit about a dozen brand names into the same space.
Asia is catching up just when the homeland of malls, America, is reconsidering their value. For many, the well-known mass brand names are enough, cosseted next to the big box retailers. Enclosed somewhere, essentially in places of no distinction in the middle of nowhere, the business of shopping can proceed conveniently with an ocean of parking spaces attached. The architecture imitates Classical or Art Deco, built to last a shopping generation that is measured in half-decades. The substance only skin deep, façades hide false ceilings and the sites can be reconfigured when required.
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