Not Yet Consumers?

Trend Watching’s recently released “10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2010” certainly has some interesting ideas to consider, from (f)luxury to mass mingling to materialism. But, the topic of most interest to urbanists is number two – urbany. Trend Watching characterizes ‘urbany’ as representing a global consumer arena inhabited by billions of experienced and newly-minted urbanites. The significance here is that consumers are more demanding and more sophisticated, yet also more daring in the goods and services they consume and the experiences, campaigns, and conversations in which they participate. Clarifying, Trend Watching declares “Urban culture is the culture.” However true Trend Watching’s statistics are about the rate of urbanization, it does not seem to follow that these “newly-minted urbanites” are quite the mass consumers they may otherwise seem to be (also, do not discount the fact that the global population coming out of a global recession may prove less willing to participate in the mass consumption culture that characterized pre-recession habits).

Published nearly at the same time as Trend Watching’s report, seemingly coincidentally, Thomas Friedman’s OpEd in The New York Times on November 18, 2009 stated:

“According to the 2006 U.N. population report, ‘The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion…passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.’”

It stands to reason that all of this coming urbanism is largely in the less developed world. In this country and abroad (especially China), there is still a statistically significant preference for suburbia. Urbanists may not agree with such preferences, but the reality holds firm. Over time, the developing world urbanites may prove to be significant consumers of mass marketed products. But, for now, they are likely to be more concerned with finding clean water and electricity than they are buying iPods and Wiis.