Seeing college as part of the earlier steps of life

In thinking about how I have passed the statistical midpoint of my life, a rough calculation based on life expectancy figures from the CDC, I am reminded that the college years tend to occur early on in many people’s lives. If students graduate from college anywhere between age 21 and 26, they will have, on average, more than fifty years of life after college.

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These numbers present a different perspective than a description sometimes attached to college: “the best years of your life.” They may be good, interesting, unique years. (They also may not be.) But, if they are the “best years,” what does this mean for the decades of life after college? What happens with all of those years after graduation?

This perspective of decades of life post-college might also provide depth to the idea of life-long learning. Even as college happens relatively early in life and it is a relatively short experience, there is potential for the content, relationships, patterns, and dispositions learned and formed to affect multiple decades afterward. Many are worried about what job or career comes right after the college degree; a longer-term view puts college in the context of a longer life with more twists and turns.

As people age, a college experience recedes further and further back in years. In the growing decades after college, what remains from college?

Roots versus mobility: living a whole life in one suburban house

Offered money for her suburban home for a new industrial project, an 86-year-old woman responded this way:

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“She said, ‘Where will I go?’ How do you start your life again when you’ve lived your whole life in one house?” Kristie Purner said.

What I found interesting in this comment is comparing it to the more regular mobility of Americans in the suburban era. The US government has tracked this since 1947. For several decades after World War Two, the percent of Americans who moved each year hovered around 20%. During mass suburbanization and relatively prosperity, more people moved regularly. Many metropolitan regions, including the Chicago area, boomed during this time. Some of this suburbanization and prosperity was present before the Great Depression as well.

Given all of this, how many Americans can say they lived same place for decades? How many suburbanites stayed in one home? My guess is that it is a relatively small number of people.

Perhaps this might change in the coming decades with decreased levels of mobility among Americans. At the same time, it is hard to imagine a suburbia that is marked by permanence rather than continued growth and change.

Inflation also affects infrastructure projects

Rising inflation in the United States is impacting large-scale infrastructure projects:

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The price of a foot of water pipe in Tucson, Arizona: up 19%. The cost of a ton of asphalt in a small Massachusetts town: up 37%. The estimate to build a new airport terminal in Des Moines, Iowa: 69% higher, with a several year delay.

Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S., driving up costs so much that state and local officials are postponing projects, scaling back others and reprioritizing their needs.

The price hikes already are diminishing the value of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan President Joe Biden signed into law just seven months ago. That law had included, among other things, a roughly 25% increase in regular highway program funding for states.

“Those dollars are essentially evaporating,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “The cost of those projects is going up by 20%, by 30%, and just wiping out that increase from the federal government that they were so excited about earlier in the year.”

Because a number of these projects have to get done, it sounds like the primary effect of inflation is to delay projects. This has a cascading effect on getting better infrastructure in place, jobs, construction and its consequences, and more.

I wonder if there are any brewing stories where inflation plus cost overruns, which can happen on large complicated projects, lead to big price tags.

More warehouses coming to the Chicago region

Chicagoland will be adding a lot more warehouse space in the near term:

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Molto plans to break ground this month on a 1.1-million-square-foot distribution facility, the first phase of its 110-acre Minooka Ridge Business Park in Minooka, a village near I-80 and southwest of Joliet. The company is also developing Weber55 Logistics Park, a two-building complex on 60 acres at the northeast corner of Weber and Taylor roads in Romeoville, another Joliet suburb. That site will include distribution facilities of 627,840 square feet and 270,000 square feet…

Other developers are just as active. At the end of March, 44 buildings of more than 200,000 square feet, a record-breaking 23.7 million square feet in total, were underway across the Chicago metropolitan area, according to Colliers International.

And tenants are plentiful. In the second quarter alone, Amazon leased a 1-million-square-foot warehouse in Joliet, and another in Kenosha, while other companies, including NFI, SC Johnson and RJW Logistics, signed deals for more than 500,000 square feet.

The amount of big-box industrial space that is vacant in the Chicago area tanked during the first quarter of 2022 because so much space was leased or occupied. The industrial vacancy rate fell ”by more than a full percentage point to 2.61%, a record low by a wide margin,” Colliers reported.

As shopping malls and downtown brick and mortar sales struggle, warehouse space is booming. This helps service online shopping as well as big box stores.

Elsewhere in the article, the increase in warehouse space is tied to jobs and possibly cheaper prices for consumers. But, adding such space may not always work out so well in comparison to how else land could be used. And the locations cited in the article suggest Will County is a warehouse center as are other locations more on the edges of the Chicago region.

The billions in sales generated in a big suburban edge city

Joel Garreau defined an edge city as a suburban place with lots of office and retail space. Just how much retail activity takes place? A recent report found the edge city of Naperville, Illinois generated billions in sales in 2021:

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Naperville continues to reign as the top suburb in retail sales for the fifth year in a row, a recent report shows.

The city in 2021 recorded sales of $4.3 billion, $540 million more than No. 2 Schaumburg, according to the annual report from Chicago real estate and retail consultants Melaniphy & Associates…

For Naperville, 2021 restaurant and bar sales climbed to a record $443 million, up 34% from 2020′s pandemic plummet to $330 million after hitting $431 million in 2019…

By far the largest contributor to retail sales in Naperville is under the automobile dealership and gasoline category.

In 2021, Naperville figures rose by 33% over the previous year to $1.7 billion, which was the highest percentage increase throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, according to the report.

Some of the lead for Naperville could be tied to their large population and land area. Many suburban communities are not this big. For example, Schaumburg has roughly a little more than half the population of Naperville and about half of the land area.

But, I am more interested in the absolute figures. One suburb had over $4 billion in sales. This is a lot of money in one community. And hundreds of millions were spent in numerous categories, including restaurants, groceries, cars, and lumber, hardware, and building supplies.

Naperville has several areas that help generate these sales. In northeast Naperville, Ogden Avenue and Diehl Road (and adjacent areas) have retailers, restaurants, automobile related businesses, and more. Downtown Naperville is a vibrant food and retail scene. The Naperville area adjacent and near the Fox Valley Mall has a lot of activity. Business activity in southwest Naperville is a more recent addition.

In short, Naperville is not just a bedroom suburb with a high quality of life: it is full of retail activity even as it contains thousands of homes and dozens of subdivisions.

Have a more expensive house, keep the lawn greener with automatic sprinklers

With a recent heat wave plus the upcoming warmer days of summer, different methods for maintaining a green lawn are on full display across suburban neighborhoods. I live in a suburban location where a ten minute walk or run brings me to neighborhoods with homes in multiple different price points. One recent observation about homes at a higher price point: they are more likely to have automatic sprinklers to keep the grass green.

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On my street and with residences at lower price points, I have not seen any automatic sprinklers. I see people out with hoses or sprinklers attached to hoses. Or, some people might do no watering at all or all lawn care is left to a homeowners association.

Step over to a different nearby street with larger and more expensive homes and a morning visit leads to seeing multiple homes with automatic sprinklers. The little black sprinkler heads can be viewed spreading water or the amount of water on the top of the grass blades suggests they were recently in action.

As I have chronicled the efforts of suburbanites to keep their lawn free of dandelions, weeds, and leaves alongside having a well-manicured green grass lawn, seeing the automatic watering of lawns among those with more resources leads to this thought: is the whole system of green lawns held in place by those with money and higher housing values as a means to signaling their status and pride in homeownership? The well-kept lawn is often tied to middle-class values but it costs money and time to keep the yard in a certain condition. And how much does the green lawn connect to higher financial and social standing?

“Journalism is sociology on fast forward”

Listening to 670 The Score at 12:14 PM today, I heard Leila Rehimi say this about journalism:

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Journalism is sociology on fast forward.

I can see the logic in this as journalists and sociologists are interested in finding out what is happening in society. They are interested in trends, institutions, patterns, people in different roles and with different levels of access to power and resources, and narratives.

There are also significant differences in the two fields. One is hinted at in the quote above: different timelines. A typical sociology project from idea to publication in some form could takes 4-6 (a rough average). Journalists usually work on shorter timelines and have stronger pressures to generate content more quickly.

Related to this timing issue is the difference in methods for understanding and analyzing data and evidence. Sociologists use a large number of quantitative and qualitative methods, follow the scientific method, and take longer periods of time to analyze and write up conclusions. Sociologists see themselves more as social scientists, not just describers of social realities.

I am sure there are plenty of sociologists and journalists with thoughts on this. It would be interesting to see where they see convergence and divergence between the two fields.

It cannot be a McMansion if it is valued at over $30 million and has mansion features

Actor Chris Hemsworth has turned a big home into an even bigger and more luxurious home in recent years. Is it a McMansion?

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After buying his Byron Bay family home for $7million back in 2014, Chris, 37, transformed the sprawling property into a compound that has been valued at between $30million and $60million.

The actor carried out extensive renovations on the six-bedroom home, and it now boasts a steam room, gym, media room and games room.

There’s also a stunning outdoor living area, play areas for his three young kids and a 50-metre rooftop infinity pool, which overlooks the ocean…

Angry neighbours were quick to say the rebuild reminded them of a suburban shopping centre, a refurbished RSL club or a regional airport terminal.

Others compared the home, which sits on 4.2 hectares, to a multi-storey car park and a ‘McMansion’.

While there is no mention of the square footage of the home, this description suggests this home is a mansion. Here are several reasons why: it likely has more space that a spacious McMansion (imagine 3,000-6,000 square feet there); it is not a mass-produced, cookie cutter home; it has numerous luxury features; it is not owned or renovated by a regular wealthy person but rather a global film star.

So why would a neighbor call it a McMansion instead of a mansion? I would guess that this was done to link the home to a pejorative term and to critique the architectural style of the home. A “mansion” could still be critiqued but the negative connotations are implied in McMansion. The other descriptions by neighbors have to do with the architectural style of the home, whether they are viewed as ugly or not consistent with the surroundings.

Is there a lesson in this? Here is one option: to fight the big home in the neighborhood, call it a McMansion. Label it a mansion and it might just justify the size, features, and architecture.

The reasons there are no bridges over the Amazon River

Even though the Amazon River is over 4,000 miles long, there are good reasons why there are no bridges spanning it:

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The Amazon, for much of its 4,300-mile (6,920 kilometers) length, meanders through areas that are sparsely populated, meaning there are very few major roads for any bridge to connect to. And in the cities and towns that border the river, boats and ferries are an established means of moving goods and people from bank to bank, meaning there is no real need for bridges to be built, other than to make trips slightly quicker…

For example, its extensive marshes and soft soils would necessitate “very long access viaducts [a multi-span bridge crossing extended lower areas] and very deep foundations,” and this would require hefty financial investment, Kaufmann said. Additionally, the changing positions of the river’s course across the seasons, with “pronounced differences” in water depth, would make construction “extremely demanding.” This is due, in part, to the river’s water level rising and falling throughout the year and the soft sediment of the riverbanks eroding and shifting seasonally, according to the Amazon Waters initiative (opens in new tab)

Pontoons, or floating structures, are not a solution that would work in most parts of the Amazon, Kaufmann said, because the river is hugely impacted by seasonal variances, which adds an additional layer of complexity. For instance, during the dry season — between June and November — the Amazon averages a width of between 2 and 6 miles (3.2 and 9.7 km), while in the wet season — December through April — the river can be as wide as 30 miles (48 km), and the water level can be 50 feet (15 meters) higher than it is during the dry season, according to Britannica (opens in new tab)

“I think a bridge would only be built if the need dominates over the difficulties and cost,” Kaufmann said. “Personally, I doubt that this will happen soon, unless there are unforeseen economic developments in the region.”

These are significant challenges, including engineering concerns and the lack of economic justification. Money always matters in big infrastructure projects as the costs can add up and the current system can be deemed okay and more cost-efficient.

So how might this change? I can imagine two scenarios:

  1. A leader, political or otherwise, wants to make a big splash and attach their name to a significant civic project. Government officials often like this as infrastructure lasts a long time and is viewed as furthering the public good. Additionally, attaching their name to a significant structure means they can be recognized longer.
  2. An architect or engineer or related firm wants to make a big splash. Perhaps the bridge is a unique design for the particular environmental conditions or perhaps it is especially green, particularly if there are fears that a bridge would negatively impact the environment.

In either case, to be part of the first bridge over the Amazon would be a notable achievement.

Nextdoor as a kinder, community oriented social media platform and still looking to make money

Nextdoor wants to offer more positive content but is also trying to figure out how to increase profits:

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“We actually have data that shows that in the short run, toxic content absolutely drives more engagement,” Nextdoor Chief Executive Officer Sarah Friar said in a recent interview. “But over a six month period, it drives down overall engagement.”

It explains why the company chose the ticker KIND when it went public on the New York Stock Exchange last year. Nextdoor wants to distinguish itself from social media peers like Twitter Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook as a friendly, down-to-earth platform that fosters connections between real neighbors, not anonymous trolls and scammy bots. There’s also local utility: Users can find a couch to buy, a plumber to fix a leak or a barbecue to attend…

The strategy has not translated into profitability for Nextdoor, which reported a loss in 2021 on revenue of $192.2 million, almost all of it from advertising. Friar says the company is in “investment mode” with plans to expand abroad in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Denmark and Australia. It’s ramping up marketing and trying to figure out a way to capture more small businesses beyond the 30,000 that currently advertise on the platform. The company is focused on the hyperlocal, but large national advertisers are still how it makes most of its money.

But Nextdoor is competing for those accounts with advertising behemoths, and its users are still older and whiter than other social media networks, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Its $51 million in first quarter revenue is a 48% year-over-year jump, but a blip compared to advertising giants like Meta and Twitter, which posted revenues of $27.9 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. Frontdoor Inc., a platform for home services and repairs, and Yelp Inc., both eclipsed $250 million for the quarter. Unlike Nextdoor, all of them have been profitable. 

This description of the platform raises multiple questions. Here are a few in my mind:

  1. Is profitability in the social media space now inextricably tied to anger and provocative content?
  2. Platforms offer different affordances, features for users and groups to utilize. How much can these features specific to different platforms tame negative content and behavior or is this a problem endemic to social media or society at large?
  3. Can a social media platform be more of a public service than a profitable private company?
  4. Once a social media platform has an established base – other parts of the article discuss Nextdoor’s appeal to suburbanites interested in crime and safety – can it actually change audiences and purposes?
  5. What happens if Nextdoor is acquired by another tech or media company?

As a Nextdoor member, I will keep my eye on this.