Community Networking July 2012
Demographic changes in developing countries will affect future economic landscapes. The UK Office for National Statistics (Newport, Wales) recently predicted that if current trends continue, men's life expectancy should match women's in the United Kingdom by 2030. Similar developments in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere portend a situation in which aging retirees will face financial challenges as a result of longer reliance on existing funds. Finding ways for seniors to live in communal environments has become an important consideration in developed countries. In the United States, the concept of villages—groups of neighbors linked to assist seniors within the community—is gaining popularity, and nearly 200 such schemes are in the works. Interestingly, John Shepherd—a geographer at Birkbeck, University of London (London, England)—found that retirees in the United Kingdom are increasingly moving inland, slowing the long-standing trend of retirees selecting seaside towns. Shepherd suggests the development is occurring partly because the seniors of today are more healthy and active than the seniors of 20 years ago and partly because of changes in the perception of what constitutes a nice area to live. A survey of US adults conducted by Belden Russonello Strategists (formerly Belden, Russonello & Stewart; Washington, DC) found that perceptions are certainly changing in the United States: Some 60% of Americans would sacrifice a bigger house to live in a walkable and convenient neighborhood with a mix of houses, stores, and businesses.
Novel commercial approaches also reflect a growing desire for community. The Netherlands is witnessing the growing trend of repair cafes—coffee shops in which locals can interact with skilled volunteers adept at repairing electronics, clothes, or other products. In the United States, Panera Bread (Saint Louis, Missouri) is pursuing a different approach with a focus on communal values. The chain is opening more of its pay-what-you-want cafes, allowing customers to pay according to their means. This concept is part of a corporate effort to tackle hunger. Whereas 15% to 20% of customers choose to pay less than the marked price or nothing, another 15% to 20% of customers choose to pay more. The calculus works: The stores are able to break even.