A hundred years ago, Henry Ford was a visionary for what came to be the century of the motor car. We built 47,000 miles of Interstate highways, cities sprawled into the suburbs, Main Streets and downtowns declined, cities tore up transit systems, and we collectively and individually spent astounding time and money on automotive travel. These trends, supported by public policy and consumer demand, greatly enriched the automobile and related industries.
Now, Ford Motor Company is — while not exactly leading the way into something different — at least recognizing that many trends are pointing in the opposite direction. Ford wrote an internal report (thank you, Adweek, for providing the link) called Looking Further With Ford: 13 Trends for 2013. Among them, and the most powerful we think, is what Ford calls The Rise of the Intima-City. Essentially it means that people are moving back downtown for excitement, culture, community, and convenience. Suburbs, also, are recognizing this trend and building mixed-use, compact centers. Corporations are relocating downtown because that's where the quality workers want to live. Americans are looking toward transportation alternatives like car-share (available only in cities), transit, walking, and bicycling. Ford cites Carmel, Indiana, an Indianapolis suburb that has built a popular downtown, Zappos's bold project to remake downtown Las Vegas, and popular bike-sharing programs as examples.
Above, Ford graphic on urban trends: 88 percent of millennials want to be in urban settings, 18 percent of housing units purchased are downtown or in urban settings, and the largest chunk of these purchasers are first-time buyers, a rising number of buyers want urban conveniences.
A number of Ford's other big trends are related to the rise of cities. The Economics of Local Pride relates to consumers' growing respect for locally made goods — especially local food. "For every $1 spent at local businesses, 45 cents is reinvested locally," notes the document. Also, Ford calls the mainstreaming of environmental awareness "Post-green." Peer pressure is mounting, Ford says, and bottom-up organizations are leading the way. The car company cities Depave, a Portland nonprofit that is dedicated to removing pavement and turning it into green spaces.
We have to give Ford credit for generally praising these trends, which are good for America but somewhat worrisome from the point of view of an automobile manufacturer.
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