Jan 9 2012

Say it with me: 2012 is the year

Happy New Year! I’ve been traveling since the start of the year. It’s been exciting that, everywhere I have been, there has been a palpable feeling that this is going to be a great year. I admit there is some selection bias going on, but it’s really energizing nevertheless.

Whatever industry you are in, if you’re working on changing “business as usual,” you probably feel it too. In everything from farming, to transportation, housing, finance, or education- from the East Coast to the West Coast and in between- in cities and in small towns- very many “alternative” ways of doing things seem poised to go mainstream in 2012. We’re at the convergence of many exciting tipping points all at once.

Why 2012? I think the Millenials just woke up to our shared values, collective buying power, and creativity. Strap yourself in.

The “Co” Generation

There is a common thread to these tipping points: the disarmingly-innocent, power-packed prefix “co.” Co-working, co-ops, co-ownership, co-learning, and co-living, oh my!

Those two tellingly circular little letters carry a wealth of meaning for our generation. They mean we understand we’re all in this together. They mean we like strong communities more than amassing personal wealth. They mean we like sharing good times and successes and failures. From my vantage point, those two little letters are the reason behind the sea changes all of these industries are experiencing.

Maybe up until this point we were helping out on an urban farm on the side, or choosing to ditch our cars, or getting into dangerous ideas like sustainability or social entrepreneurship. But whatever we did, if you were like me, you probably felt that these experiments were on the fringe of the mainstream, not the norm. And they were.

Then, overnight- as we reached the point in our lives where we are buying property, creating new companies, and investing in each other’s- we somehow became aware of each other’s little experiments. We took stock of our values and priorities and realized there are many things we share.

We had all been thinking these thoughts on our own- whispering our crazy ideas quietly to each other on the playground, passing notes discretely to our friends under our desks- but now that we have discovered we are not alone, we are putting our capital where our hearts are. Realizing our unity, we picked up a megaphone and shouted to whoever would listen:

The age of the Rugged Individualist is dead. He is not Us. That’s not our style. We like each other too much. We’re in this together!

If you are working in any of these industries, have you felt it? If you have been slogging away at bringing about these changes for the last 40 years and paving the way to make these changes possible now, thanks! We owe you and appreciate your foresight.


Out with the single family home in the ‘burbs. In with the community house, the shared backyard, the grange, and… the yurt?

The Doghouse in Brooklyn

There’s a reason college was one of the best times of our lives; we had community all around us, all the time. We remember that. We also remember suburbia; we experienced it at its height. We have weighed them both and made our decision: we have found the one acre and two-car garage in the ‘burbs wanting. We like to live together.

The McMansions baby boomers built with their accumulated wealth, and then didn’t need or couldn’t afford, are going for a steal. If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re buying them and turning them into networks of intentional communities we can live in through all stages of our lives so that, even though we are more mobile than past generations, wherever we go we will be living in stronger communities, sharing the burden of chores, sharing the responsibility for parenting, and getting more living space for our money.

Several married couples I know are living together in group houses. Three separate groups of friends are buying land and starting farming cooperatives together. New Leaf at Penn State is buying an old frat house and turning it into a community for students and professionals working on sustainability projects together. The Embassy Network is buying properties in major cities that will be converted into houses with co-working on the first floor, a short-term stay floor (the “hostel”) above that, and a floor for long-term residents at the top, with reciprocal membership between each “node” of the Network.


It’s amazing to watch the speed of change in this industry. Do you remember the world before Omnivore’s Dilemma? Do you remember when you hadn’t heard of a food co-op, before all of your neighbors were in one? Do you remember easy mac, frozen dinners, and our fast food diets?

If you work in industrial farming, start looking for another job. We don’t want your turkeys that are bred to never stand up. We don’t want the syrup of your mono-culture corn fields. We want to be get fresh veggies from the local co-ops our friends are starting. We want to get our meat from one of the hundreds of small, crop-rotating farms Joel Salatin has inspired, or from the restaurants like Chipotle that do. Farmers markets are exploding. Buying artisan food from your neighbor is back. Trading the extra tomatoes from my little garden for your extra squash is in.

In the short space of time since we left school, these things have gone from alternative to mainstream. In some places I visit, the old mainstream has become outright taboo. Try serving up McDonalds at the next birthday party in Charlottesville and see if the other moms ever accept an invitation for another play date.


Cubicle? Career for life? Maximize shareholder value? No thanks. We tried that. We like to work on lots of interesting projects that stretch us and challenge us and allow us to make a contribution to the world. We don’t care if we’re going to get the opportunity to do that from a corporation, a startup, or ourselves.

Many of us are showing up “at work” now at the many buzzing co-working spaces that are proliferating wherever we are, like Hub DC, the General Assembly, and Bull City Forward.

Spud Marshall @ New Leaf Initiative, hard at work

We shop at REI. We or our friends studied abroad and have seen the way other countries value family, vacation and balance. We realize that there are other options for how companies can work, and we don’t want to work for those that don’t get it. When we start our own companies, we’re not just forming corporations. We’re forming co-ops and B Corps. If you don’t know what those are, you’re late to the party. And the party’s not waiting for you.

We want to share leadership. We want workers to be co-owners of their own companies, fates, and daily decisions. I don’t know a company starting this year that isn’t working that deeply into their organizational structure.


You’re dreaming if you think we’re going to pay $160k to send our kids to listen to fours years of lectures by droning professors in giant auditoriums. We can’t get all of the knowledge we need to solve the world’s problems from the past and from experts. Realizing that, we’re getting better at practicing the art of co-creating our own educational experiences together, just like we’ll be expected to do in our work. This year, Khan Academy, Skillshare and Free Schools, MITx and a free Stanford Artificial Intelligence course with 130,000 students captured our imagination.

There’s no turning back now. Thanks to the growing acceptance of these types of peer education practices, both on and off campuses, our kids are going to have a lot more options than we ever did for getting an awesome education for less money. Lecture halls are already being converted. If you visit the new UVA Med School building, you will find, instead of lecture halls, a big circular room filled with teams of students working together on problem sets, with a coach instead of a lecturer in the middle, quizzing, and asking groups to share and explain their answers.


Collaborative consumption, co-ownership, and services are inOwning is out.

We’re getting our books on Kindle, our music from Pandora, and our mobility from Metros, Megabus, Bikeshare and Zipcars. We’re the first generation to think that texting is cooler than owning a car. (Is there any greater evidence that we love our communities?). Friends are selling shares of their cars to their friends and putting several names on their driver’s insurance.

“The recovery” is not going to be coming from Detroit or from the RIAA.


Private Banks are outNonprofit, community banking is in.

I’ll let Kyle Theirmann explain:

What Next?

The list above is only scratching the surface. There is so much more happening.

Mom, dad. You gave us good values. You gave us good skills. You taught us that winning isn’t everything. You taught us to share and to put things back like we found them. You taught us that we were capable of changing the world and, more importantly, endowed us with a sometimes arrogant belief that we could.

We also learned from you how to build our dreams into businesses, how to get things done. We’re going to start putting all of those things to work.


Apr 18 2011

Adams Morgan Pedestrian Mall

Night Train attended a December hearing on whether to grant a $46m tax abatement to Beztak Properties, Brian Friedman of Friedman Capital, Ian Schrager and Marriott for the development of a proposed 10-story hotel in the distinctive 4-story neighborhood of Adams Morgan. At that hearing, the two main reasons given in defense of this gift were that the hotel would bring more day-time foot traffic to Adams Morgan while increasing the area’s economic vitality and tax base.

(A special note: the proponents of the hotel were not talking about just any foot traffic; they wanted us to know that the quality of the clientele they would bring to the area would be higher than those of us who currently patronize businesses along 18th St.)

There was also some discussion of creating local jobs, though neighborhood commissioners raised concerns about how those promises would be enforced. Either way, the discussion of the project’s impact on the wellbeing of the Adams Morgan community was limited to economic arguments.

We have an alternative proposal to increase daytime foot traffic and economic vitality in Adams Morgan:


Make 18th St. from Florida to Columbia a Pedestrian Mall

We have seen how dramatically such efforts have reinvigorated communities and businesses in places as diverse as downtown Charlottesville, VA; Boulder, CO; every major city in Europe; and one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Shanghai, Xin Tian Di.  Times Square in NYC is even creating a car-free zone.

The benefits of these projects have not been just economic, of course; in addition to increasing foot traffic and economic vitality, they have also strengthened the social fabric and very character of their surrounding neighborhoods in many intangible ways.

This particular proposal has been seen before, on the Adams Morgan community listserv in 2009, albeit with some concerns about how to divert bus traffic and emergency vehicles (though, we’re sure that parking, buses, and a range of other concerns could be worked out easily with the eager willingness City Council Member Jim Graham and his colleagues have shown in working with developers to bend zoning laws and height restrictions to make this hotel development possible).

Mr. Graham, in order that we may grant you the premise that you are fighting hard to win tens of millions of dollars in tax abatements for the developers of this hotel because you are deeply interested in hearing the best ideas our collective creativity can garner to benefit the wellbeing of the Adams Morgan community, would it be possible to see a comparison made of the impact on day-time foot traffic and economic vitality of Adams Morgan of the proposed hotel versus an 18th Street pedestrian mall?

If you have the means to do so, we dare you to extend your comparison to include either project’s impact on the wellbeing of Adams Morgan.

Photo Cr.ed.it.s