The Quotidian

Evolving perspectives on evolving challenges

Month: June, 2009

Why only Apple can save General Motors

by Kai Hsing

The problem with American automakers is not that “liberals” prefer buying foreign brands, but rather that American automakers have a severe design and brand image problem.

Since my last post, I began thinking about my own personal consumer choices and how many of them could be considered “American.” While there is much acrimony about the supposed decline of America as a brand in the world (both commercially and politically), I think that there is still a ways to fall before we hit rock bottom.

Charles J. Brown of Undiplomatic wrote in the Huffington Post recently about, among other things, the problematic perception that American brands enjoy among “lefty/coastie/academic community” liberals. We’re all probably guilty of it in some way or form – it is, as Brown asserts, as part of our self-image as “lattes, Whole Foods, yoga, and Mac laptops.”

Mentioning Apple is interesting, primarily because they are arguably one of the most successful American companies both in terms of their sheer profit and cultural cachet. Apple is unequivocally successful not only in terms of their sales, which remain strong even in these difficult economic times, but also in the fact that they evoke strong positive emotional feelings among these supposedly anti-American liberals. Read the rest of this entry »

Buying patriotism in the age of transparency

by Kai Hsing

Obama’s push to “Buy American” should make us all realize the need for real, raw information to be made readily available to consumers.



Going to work today, I took a train made by an Italian company that was assembled here in California while sipping Ethiopian coffee and reading a book printed in China – a now almost-cliché scenario replicated across communities throughout the U.S. with any combination of products and origins. Whether it’s a car instead of a train or Mexico instead of China, it’s nothing new to say that our economy has long been inevitably and inextricably global.

Which is why President Obama’s push for all of us to “Buy American” seemed to be a rather tired rhetorical device aimed at placating the xenophobic masses. Indeed, we all know that conditions of a globalized economy can be questionable at best, but there will be no return to a feudalistic retrofuturism anytime soon.

But what has changed in our lifetime is that global capitalism has gotten so complex and shape-shifting that we’ve long needed a redefinition of what “Buy American” really means.

A recent article in the New York Times that tried to sort out the anguishing identity crises of labeling automobiles as “American” or “foreign” found that:

… “domestic content” is not domestic at all. For the purposes of the window sticker, the government has decided that domestic content will include parts made in Canada. Under the North American Free Trade Act, domestic is even less clear because it also includes Mexico.

Read the rest of this entry »

No cars go

by Kai Hsing

If you’ve ever wondered what else could be done with a single parking space – here are some ideas.

With PARK(ing) Day 2009 fast approaching, here’s a look back at some of the wonderful projects people came up with for the event in San Francisco a couple years back.

If you’re not familiar, PARK(ing) Day is a one-day, worldwide event that raises awareness about the use of public space and urban planning issues by transforming parking spaces into public parks, guerrilla-style. Ordinary citizens take over one or more parking spaces for the day by feeding the meter and then reinventing their borrowed space by installing a putting green, croquet course, or even a chicken farm.

The San Francisco-based creative collective Rebar started the event in 2005, and it’s been growing steadily every year with more cities across the country and the world participating.

I hope that this video will give you an impression of what an amazing and transformational event this can be. Also, given that PARK(ing) Day 2009 is roughly three months from now, this is the perfect time to start planning your own project for September 18. Check out the PARK(ing) Day 2009 Web site that’s been revamped with wonderful digital tools to help you get inspired and started with a project of your own.

Thanks to Sarah Evershed for her help with producing parts of this piece.

What a $300,000 parking space means for the rest of us

by Kai Hsing

Recently, a parking space in Boston was purchased for $300,000. What does this sale say about our transportation future?



Apparently no one told the buyer of a $300,000 parking space in Boston that there’s a recession going on. Yes, that’s right – a parking space recently sold in the upscale Back Bay neighborhood of Boston for more than the value of the average American home.

Paying exorbitant prices for a slice of personal pavement might be a growing trend in places like Boston, as the winning bidders for the uncovered, outdoor space beat the previous city record of $250,000 that was set just last year by another space in the same neighborhood. At the moment, Boston might even have New York beat for the most expensive parking space in the country, as a space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood went for a mere $225,000 a couple years ago amidst some publicity.

The growing trend in the U.S. of “re-urbanization,” a reversal of post-war flight to the suburbs that now sees the middle class re-orientating towards city centers has been seen by many as necessary to reduce carbon footprints and create more sustainable communities. With density as a key mantra of the movement towards sustainable development, apartments and condos appealing to the middle class have been rising in central areas of cities everywhere from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, offering alternatives to the long commutes and reliance on cars that often plague suburban living.

It’s clear that living in more compact spaces and owning only one car may be a price that more people, especially young professionals and empty nesters, are now willing to pay to be closer to work or local shops and businesses. The surging trend has manifested itself in the various urban renewal projects across the country in recent decades, as well as an increased popularity in the planning ideas of New Urbanism for suburban developments.

However, the $300,000 question becomes twofold for those interested in sustainable development – whether people are willing to dramatically reconsider the role of the automobile in their daily lives, and whether re-urbanization will be economically and socially inclusive. Read the rest of this entry »


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