Category Archives: Equity and Local Economy

Native Advertising and Online Retail – Green or Greedy?

You’re standing at the bus stop, waiting for the 5.20pm 209 to take you home.  Busses now all run on solar electric (they top up at each stop when they stop over the wireless charging plates in the road, themselves networked back to the district grid) and you’re happy to catch them on your 3 days at the city office, especially since you sold off your 2nd car and are hiring out the remaining one during work hours to earn some credit.

Bus stop shelters all carry dynamic advertising boards that update products based on the people standing at the stop at the time. The hyper-connectivity of your hand-held and wearable tech with the city network means that the retailer’s advertising algorithms can flash up products that they know you favour, based on past spending activity. Bread, milk, a curry and some greenery for dinner.. oh yeah, and a selection of fresh-cut flowers and cards given that it’s your partner’s birthday tomorrow.

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Image from JCDecaux, York St, Sydney (now I feel like Tim Tams!)

You take the bait and wave your phone over each selected image, confirming the purchase and immediate delivery. The items will be dispatched by drone and arrive home within 40 minutes.

What’s just taken place is known as ‘native advertising’, and most of what you just read is already real and happening out there.

Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed (Wikipedia)

This is an emerging dimension of online shopping, which is the fastest growing mode of retail in the developed world. We can already make purchases through our computer, tablet device or hand-held… in many cases without even visiting a store.

And the current mode of native advertising is only the beginning. We’re already on the way towards what I’d call ‘ambush native advertising’; you’re sitting on the bus and are feeling like you have a cold coming on. Your clothing has enough sensors built in that it can measure your increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and it knows you’re getting a cold. This information then triggers a push advertisement onto your handheld right before your eyes… ‘Feeling Flat? Try Mr Trippy’s Blue Pill. Select Enter to make your purchase and activate delivery’.

Will native advertising break down our already weak guard and convince us to spend more, or will it simply prompt us to make more targeted and useful purchases as we need them? Whichever way it goes, it’s likely that the push of retailing into our devices is going to reduce the need for physical shops.

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I actually look forward to some aspects of this connected future, but seeing images like the one above, when ‘fresh food’ becomes nothing more than an image on a wall, fills me with a touch of sadness (but a dose of resolve). We are already too disconnected from nature, and much of this trend threatens to cut us off altogether – a dystopian future? As with all things – appropriate technology is the way.

Is Retail Under Threat From the Sharing Economy?

Are you an e-bay addict? Been to a garage sale? Picked up something cool from the kerb? Simply swapped something or given it away?

There is a growing sub-culture of ‘sharing’ that may threaten to undermine the traditional retail outlet and drive down shop sizes, if by no other mechanism than by reducing the demand for new goods. In instalment #3 of our look at ‘Green Retail Trends‘ we explore the culture of ‘collaborative consumption’.

green retail

I first got connected with this idea of ‘collaborative consumption’ when I heard Rachel Botsman present in Sydney a few years ago. Collaborative consumption is the notion of sharing, borrowing, swapping, leasing etc. as distinct from buying something wholly then keeping it forever. At least theoretically the growth of this approach to procuring goods (and services) would be reducing the demand for new goods via traditional retail.

And this approach to temporary ownership seems to be gathering pace – it seems that wherever we look now we can find channels for sharing. Here are just a few;

Car Sharing (e.g. GoGets] – if you live in Australia you might have already seen these around. Rather than own a car, you join up with the scheme and just borrow the car when you need it, based on a booking system and user-pays rates. This scheme has taken off like crazy over the past few years [now Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney]. Other brands have set up also.

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Car sharing – Car Next Door: With this scheme, you put your own car up for loan, and when a neighbour borrows it you get a little cash in return. You can also borrow a neighbour’s car and pay them. Think of this one as a community version of GoGets. Many of us have cars sitting idle in the driveway during the working day – this one’s a good way to get a little more value out of them.

car next door

Food sharing; Grow It Local: I’ve posted about this movement before – people sharing their back yards to grow food, and food swapping in the neighbourhood – all using web-based platforms. These sharing schemes have sprung up all around Australia.

Adelaide SA: RipeNearMe

ripe near me

Sydney: Grow It Local:

grow it local

Even Google is in on the act with Urban Food Maps – showing where you can find food growing on public land or hanging over fences. Obviously only as good as the info people put in, but a great idea nonetheless.

Tushare – an Australian start-up that facilitates the giving away of stuff we no longer want. Old bike for example? Post it on Tushare, and someone else can simply claim it and organise collection or pickup. This is not selling and buying – it’s simply giving away. Deal done. I love this one – have told my wife about this one in the hope that it dampens the household’s e-bay costs : )

tushare

This notion of exchanging, sharing, borrowing, leasing or even simply giving away is gaining traction.. we’re becoming more comfortable with the idea that we don’t necessarily have to own everything.

Have fun exploring these instead of heading to the shops : )

 

 

Solar Seed Funding – Will Your Next Client Pay it Forward?

Have you seen the movie Pay it Forward? I bet you’ve always wondered how we could do that and help drive economies of scale in our rooftop solar industry, right?

I wrote about this one over a year ago and re-visited recently thanks to a now constant flow of queries around solar leasing options in Australia. This particular model works like this;

  1. The original investor [think of them as ‘your project or client’] installs a solar system on a recipient’s roof;
  2. The recipient leases the solar panels on their roof from the investor;
  3. The recipient enjoys reduced energy costs overall, compared to grid-price electricity, so they start saving money;
  4. The investor, rather than paying down their original investment as quickly as they can, reinvests the income back into the seed fund, helping to set up the next recipient with another solar system.
Solar%20Seed%20Fund%20Infographic

Check out http://www.solarseedfund.org for more detail on how it works

So the investor has put up the cost of the first system. Sound unfair? Well, clients are already willing to pay for Green Power [a renewable energy product in Australia], carbon offset credits or other ‘licence to operate’ costs. So if they’re committed to spending the money, why not spend it where it creates the most community uplift?

It’s not too difficult to visualise a way in which development projects could roll out extensive community solar schemes using a version of this model. Even if the lease payments help in part to pay down the install costs, it’s still a great way to make solar energy more accessible to entire neighbourhoods.

Anyone interested in setting up a crowd fund to kick-start one of these in a needy community?

Remember, if you’d like to help me get the message out there, vote for Green Futures this month. Thanks!

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Pop Up Retail – Greener Than You Think?

How often have you been asked to spend time in your job removing something rather than adding? It’s actually really challenging and many people fail miserably at simplifying a complex issue.

But a trend is emerging where city Councils work to remove bureaucratic obstacles such as high license fees and onerous operating requirements, and allow small operators, start ups, artists and students to open their own retail store or shopfront in a temporary location, even if it’s just for a few days or a week.

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There are many smaller operators who just need temporary space in order to promote their wares, refine their products or pitch, and get out there into the marketplace. Pop-up stores, whether they be stand alone prefabricated stores or simply empty space in a tenancy that hasn’t been let, offer a great opportunity for emerging businesses to get started.

What I’m loving about this trend is the range of benefits for community resilience. Here are just a few examples;

  •  activation of failed spaces; they bring new crowds and interest into urban places that have not worked;
  • diverse street life; changing pop-ups over weeks or months add a new dynamic to the street – you never know what you’ll encounter;
  • utilisation of idle floor space; much better for an empty shop to be used for something rather than nothing – it’s a subtle way of making the city more efficient;
  • sparking local economy; some councils and even developers are offering low or no rent periods for pop-ups in order to help an area reach a critical mass of activity and visitors;
  • they allow an agile demand and supply relationship to be maintained – if the market quickly decides it wants something else, the pop-up approach can rapidly evolve to cater for this, thereby making the local economy more robust;
  • they tend to be more design / art focussed, further adding to the character and interest of a place;
  • they are a low cost way to test retail or business configurations to see what works best in a location.

You might find it tenuous to link retail with sustainable cities, but the notion of a thriving, robust and diverse local economy is absolutely vital in making local communities more resilient, and this trend towards a more dynamic retail model is evolving our old sense of shop-based retail into something more like a community event.

There are even Council-led or privately developed programs that help build on this momentum, including free Apps that tell you  what’s happening and where on any given day. Splash Adelaide is worth checking out to see how a Council might support  this culture through digital platforms and social media – an enticing glimpse into a treasure-hunt future? I’m hoping that my next visit there will coincide with a fleet of mobile food vendors in the city : )

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If you’d like to help get this thinking ‘out there’, please vote for Green Futures in the People’s Choice blog awards. Thanks!

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Will Your Health Insurance Rise Because Your Neighbourhood is Hot?

Picture a not-too-distant future where your health insurer pegs your premium to how well your neighbourhood has prepared itself for the impacts of climate change, in particular increased heat events.

Don’t think it will happen? Well, we’ve already seen the introduction of telematics into the motoring industry; at present you are able to opt to have a driver-monitoring device installed in your car, and your insurer can then decide what premium to charge you based on the data it collects about how you drive… wouldn’t bother me personally as long as I don’t get penalised for my language.

We now have data linking increased death rates during heat events to specific urban environmental conditions. Whilst there are other indicators such as isolation, age, population density and so forth, the stand-out neighbourhood design factors are those around ‘heat island’.

paris heat island

Paris heat island effect – the air temperature around Paris.

Heat island is a term used to describe how urban environments get hotter than their natural surrounds due to high levels of hard surfaces such as concrete and bitumen, and lower amounts of shaded and landscaped areas.

A 2013 study my Monash University has mapped the statistical rises in heat-related death rates during heat events for Australia’s main cities, suburb by suburb. This is pretty gruesome stuff but the evidence all points to urban heat island being a major part of the problem. The report is definitely worth a read, particularly to understand the various factors that all combine to make your suburb potentially vulnerable to heat events.

heat vulnerability study monash

The Monash Uni study. Click image for source.

So now we have this data, meaning your health insurer does too, and they can gain an understanding of your suburb’s ‘Vulnerability Index’… just sayin’…

sydney heat map

Sydney’s increased heat-related deaths. Lifted from the Monash study. click.

By focussing our efforts on refurbishing our existing neighbourhoods and making them more resilient (and cooler : ) we stand a good chance of heading off this sad story. Stay tuned for some awesome things we can do to tackle this… all multiple-benefit value-adds for our communities.

The Pocket Neighbourhood

Have you ever been drawn into a fence dispute with a neighbour? We’ve certainly had our fair share… I’m not sure if it’s because of or despite the fact that my wife and I are from an architectural background. To us it’s a pretty straightforward deal: follow the local planning controls and fencing Acts, run a string-line along the boundary, agree on materials and select a quote, and boof! – there’s your fence. Simple, right?

Noooooo. Not on your life. The more I’ve shared our latest escapade with friends the more I’m convinced that this is Newton’s Fourth Law – Friction is directly proportional to the length of a new fence. It seems that most people have to suffer when installing a shared boundary fence.

Perhaps it’s this recent experience that has sent me off looking for the opposite effects (Newton’s Third Law?) – an approach to community design that negates the fence fights and acts to bring neighbours together.

A friend sent me this ‘pocket neighbourhoods’ link [by Ross Chapin] during the week and as soon as I jumped in it took me back to the period when I was doing a lot of retirement village master planning – maybe it’s the denominator of ‘common cause’ and a stronger focus on pedestrianism that made me sentimental, but in exploring this site I’m thinking ‘how can we decant that into larger urban scale development?’

pocket neighb

My ability with words isn’t a patch on the photos on this site so just take a look for yourself… but look for the sustainable community attributes of these pocket neighbourhoods – how they deal with the commons and shared spaces (shared infrastructure), public-private (reduced land consumption), transport (reduced emissions), pedestrian connections (social and physical health) and so forth.

This site also has some good links to other urban sustainability sites – worth a cruise during your Friday lunch time.

Enjoy.

Front Yard Blitz #1 – Undergrounding the Cables

I’ve had enough of these crazy backyard-renovation-blitz shows. Never do they pay attention to streetscape, neighbourhood, place making or community. They don’t create any legacy. So I’m running my own series right here – the Front Yard Blitz series.

The goal is to see how we might refurbish our suburban streets to become more resilient, more engaging, environmentally restorative and maybe even healthy for us.

This first instalment looks at the dog’s breakfast of overhead power cables lining most existing neighbourhood streets.

In 1838 Samuel Morse kicked off the telegraph revolution and still today we’re adding more junk to the very same infrastructure that was built for the telegraph. The reason we’re not witnessing a nation-wide project to put it all underground is mostly due to up-front cost.

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For reasons that will become clear, getting the cables underground is perhaps the key enabler for this green street project. Besides the reduction in storm damage, reduced road deaths and bushfires, if we can get the cables underground it lets us proceed with a whole range of value-adds which we’ll explore as we go.

So the question is, ‘how much?’.

I’ve found a range of figures online for Australia, and the average cost per-household seems to be around $12,000. Of course this is based on a range of assumptions and conditions, and for the sake of argument let’s say $15,000 per household for a typical suburban neighbourhood with detached or semi-detached homes.

This might go up or down depending on what other works are being undertaken at the time, e.g. footpath or road resurfacing. Some utilities require you to pay the entire bill (e.g. Ausgrid) whilst others (e.g. Western Power in south-west Western Australia) might pay 25%. Local Councils will also usually chip in, sometimes up to 50%, and some State Governments also contribute up to 25%. Naturally I’m too time-pressed to research all of this across all of Australia, but the punchline seems to be that you’d be unlucky to have to pay the entire cost yourself.

In Perth the cost for the resident is down to around $4,500 thanks to the multi-agency contributions. I haven’t been able to determine whether or not this includes the cables from the street to the homes, so there may be some additional cost.

So would you pay $15,000 (assuming no funding support) just to get the cables underground? And what chance do you have of getting the majority of residents in your street to do the same (which is required before the project can proceed)?

An Australian National University study concluded that putting the powerlines underground can increase a home’s value by 3%, which is for example a $15,000 rise on a $500,000 property. ‘Money for jam’ as they say. Street presentation is one of the first selling points in real estate, so a street without all that junk in the air always stands a better chance.

In the next posts we’ll start to explore what is possible if we can remove the encumbrance of the overhead cables.

Information sources;