Ford Motor Company is constantly tracking and analyzing consumer trends.
At first glance, these trends, released in a slick report every year, might not seem like they have much (if anything) at all to do with cars. However, these trends give a read on national trends on a macro level (even though they are “micro trends, according to Ford) affecting every aspect of consumer culture. Ford then takes these trends and analyzes how they can be implemented in future design and functionality of motor vehicles. Essentially, they’re catering their vehicles according to consumer tastes, which manifests itself in the car in ways both obvious and not.
On the Ford 2016 Global Trends Tour, Ford’s in-house Futurist, Sheryl Connelly, took select members of the press on a trip throughout New York City to illustrate three trends published this year in a functional way.
Our first stop on the tour was a visit to the Carmel Place micro-apartments, an example of the Swiss Army Life trend, the desire for functionality and utility. This project made waves when it was announced, being seen as something of a revolutionary way to provide affordable housing to young or single people hoping to live in Manhattan. A few units have been set aside for formerly homeless veterans, a noble, if perhaps somewhat more symbolic than practical, gesture.
When the affordable housing project was announced under the Bloomberg administration, they put out the call for proposals from architectural firms, a competition that nArchitects eventually won. A few design tweaks and some creative rezoning later, construction at Kips Bay was underway.
Eric Bunge of nArchitects and Christopher Bledsoe of Stage 3 Properties, Inc. took us on a walkthrough of building’s lobby and one of the suites.
The lobby, which was still under construction, is essentially a long hallway with exits on either end, making the space seem more open and spacious. In the lobby are a couple of alcoves that function as a hang-out space of sorts. Attached to the lobby is a gym (also still under construction), about the size you might find in a traditional apartment building (should you be so lucky to have a gym in your complex). Mr. Bunge described the logic behind the roomy public spaces: it’s a way to keep the tenants from feel isolated and closed off. It’s essentially a way to build community in what could be an otherwise claustrophobic environment.
This, in my view, is something of a necessity, for, when we made our way to the apartment itself, I can imagine it might be very easy to feel closed in and cut off. That being said, the room was… surprisingly large. I was expecting something of a Hobbit-like environment — awkwardly small for the average human. But, even with the furniture in the room (the suites come furnished), it felt like a decent-sized bedroom (that just happens to have a kitchen attached). It’s certainly smaller than your typical studio, but the standard Murphy beds (that transform into a couch rather than a wall) give the resident some good wiggle room.
Speaking of wiggle room, the bathroom is decently sized (larger than my bathroom, that’s for sure, and probably larger than yours too if you live in a Manhattan apartment like me), which is a result of having to meet New York City health requirements.
Part of the spacious feeling of the unit (the one we saw was about 300 square feet) relies on clever trickery: the windows are very nearly floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall, and open up to make for a nice little Juliette balcony. The “foyer” is tiled differently than the main area, creating the impression of two different areas.
Now, where the necessity for the common areas comes in: while the apartment itself was lovely and didn’t feel small (even with 14 people crowded around), I began to envision myself living in it full-time. I instantly felt claustrophobic knowing that this was it — the entirely of my home with very little way to differentiate the sleeping space from the working space from the relaxing space. Enter the common area, where, if you begin to feel this way, you can escape to do some work or read a book or whatever. Now, I fully understand this is an personal issue, and some people may have no problem with my perceived confinement. So, take that as you will.
Still, the potential this project has in providing affordable housing to young New Yorkers (and hopefully New Yorkers of a lower income bracket in general) is undeniable. Mr. Bunge even described Carmel Place as a prototype of sorts, stating that they’ve already learned a lot from their work. They hope, he said, to one day roll out and build micro-apartments nationwide.
After we left Carmel place, we went to Alphabet City to experience the second trend: Mindfulness Goes Mainstream.
While mindfulness has been around for centuries (perhaps even millennia), it’s become more and more present in the cultural consciousness over the past decade or so. This is partly due to the resurgence of yogi culture and partly due to numerous studies detailing the beneficial effects of mindfulness on mental health. One of the most prominent implementations of mindfulness in the realm of psychology is in DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
We stopped by the Sacred Sound Tribe (SST) to experience a “meditative gong bath,” led by SST’s founder Lucy Child.
Now, if you’re not entirely certain what a meditative gong bath is that’s okay — neither was I. I’ve long been familiar with mindfulness from a therapeutic standpoint, but I’d never heard of this particular form of meditation.
We made our way to the loft where we saw a few rows of mats and blankets laid out on the floor along with a gong and an assortment of chimes at the front of the room. We took our places, put on our eye masks, and set sail on our journey.
Our journey, we were told, was to last 45 minutes. Now, if you’ve ever tried to meditate, you know that it can be tough to do it for five minutes, let along forty-five (after all, meditation is basically breathing without thinking, a surprisingly difficult task). But, as I told my students back in my daycare days, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” (If the rhyme doesn’t work for you, try putting a little Southern charm in your voice.)
This meditation came with a little warning, which isn’t something that normally comes along with what’s supposed to be a relaxing experience. Some people, Ms. Child told us, find the gong a little frightening. But, if we were to feel that way, then we should just stop and focus on our breathing. I instantly discounted this caution. “I’ll be fine, it’s just a gong.”
Little did I know how much I underestimated the fear-inducing capacity of a gong. At times, it got to be loud and intense, sounding like it could be the score to an art house horror film. However, after about half an hour, Ms. Child switched to the much calmer chimes, traveling around the room spritzing us with perfume.
While I may be sounding a little flippant about the experience, I actually did find it quite relaxing and rejuvenating, even though it was a little Kumbaya bang the tambourine for my taste. I still think 45 minutes is a bit too long to ask of people (especially people who may have never practiced meditative mindfulness before), I found the addition of the gong to be useful. It provides another point of focus beyond the breath to keep the mind at attention.
Our next and final stop on the tour was the wastED popup by Blue Hill, a restaurant just west of Washington Square.
To show us the Waste Not, Want Not trend in action, we were presented with a three-course meal made entirely of food that was repurposed or would be thrown away (think dinged or misshapen fruits that are discarded before they reach store shelves).
The food, which included a “Dumpster Dive Salad” with fruit and vegetable slices with a pesto sauce and “whipped chickpea water” (the water chickpeas comes in, whipped into a froth — yes, I know how it sounds) and a burger with a patty made from carrot and beet pulp. And, as expected, it was all very good, which led to a general consensus around the table of disbelief that people would throw away food that makes for such a delicious meal.
While our tour was over, Ford (so we were told) makes use of these trends in the construction of their vehicles, making them more environmentally conscious and built around the perceived wants and needs of consumers. Now, this brings up the question of whether or not Ford would be making these advancement anyway — everyone’s striving for eco-friendliness for the good of the planet, and anyone who wants to sell anything is going to cater to their consumers. So, is this whole “Ford Trends” deal a genuine business initiative that puts the consumer front and center, or is it something more akin to a clever marketing strategy? I’m not the one to say, but I’d like to believe it’s the former.
But, for everything I did and experienced on my tour of Manhattan, I had one big takeaway: whipped chickpea water — surprisingly good.