Sunday, October 24, 2010

Harvest Festivals. Community. Simple pleasures.

Today at the Del Mar Fairgrounds I joined what seemed like thousands of others interested in hand-crafted arts and crafts, artisanal food and baked goods, toys carved out of wood, unique metal jewelry, original music and every other thing like these you can imagine, typically found at the world's best street fairs. I admit, I expected to find a bunch of older ladies, hair done up, looking for quilts, silk flowers, and selling things that had no practical use at all. My mind's stereotype was pleasantly blown.

The vendors were as diverse at the world in which we live - young, old, gay, straight, Americans, immigrants, families and eclectic individuals whom I imagined live in funky outposts in small town Arizona or New Mexico, or coastal California towns no one has ever heard of.

It was packed. And it was cool. There was a happiness and peace in the air. Those of us buying were doing something "good", supporting local artists directly, and those who were selling were clearly proud of their creations, many very in touch with the ebbs and flows of this crazy world we live in, like the silver pendants with motivational sayings designed to make you feel ok about "making it through", or the belt buckle switchblade knife combo that comes with a card quoting the penal code appropriate to a concealed weapon (it is not one ... apparently one inch more and it would be), or the cupcakes made with some famous ingredient used by the native Americans that promote energy and are appropriate for vegans, or every kind of fruit and herb-infused olive oil imaginable.

I have been to many street and craft fairs, and this one was the best. I was struck by the energy, and the fun everyone was having supporting the artisan movement. It didn't feel like a Sunday afternoon for old ladies who drive beat up gold cars too slowly. And it made me reflect again on "community" and what it means.

Two years ago we asked our home shoppers how they spent their free time. Almost 50% said "dining out". Today, that has dropped to just over 10%. Glad I am not in the restaurant business... And in answer to that same question about free time, two years ago just 2% said "spending time visiting friends and neighbors in my community". Today that number has increased more than five times.

Maybe there's a correlation, maybe not, but there's a line in a song somewhere about enjoying what you have, not wanting what you don't. If ever there was a time to just turn it down a notch and enjoy what's right around us, including the creative gifts of others, it's now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is it just a cycle - or has it changed forever?

At the ULI Fall Conference last week there was a lot of talk about things like, "when will it come back?" or "when will it return/recover to what was?".

Understandable questions for so many who spend their time and lives creating communities and building real estate. I think this question though is a moot point. The premise behind it is the real estate business is cyclical, beholden to the ebbs and flows of the economy, the political economy, job creation/retraction. So we are all wondering when these conditions will improve. In my humble opinion, that is the right question. But wondering when it will "come back" and the American consumer will go back to consuming like before is not as relevant as spending our time trying to understand how this American consumer will fulfill the belief in personal attainment, and opportunity, in a world that has forever changed.

The convergence of a number of factors - technological, environmental, demographic, gender roles, and global economics - have all dramatically changed our culture and our society, and forever altered the way we live, relate, consume and express ourselves. I think if we stop looking backwards and look at what is we would mostly all agree with that. AND, what has not changed is the American consumers' belief in opportunity, and their ability to create a future of their own making. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think more can be learned and gained about looking forward to the cues and signs from this new reality than worrying about the loss of old.

It's an exciting and motivating time to be alive!