Economist 4/27/16

  1. In 2014, nearly 37,000 elderly  Japanese couples parted ways, a figure that rose 70% over the previous quarter-century. That is partly a by-product of the ageing population: about a quarter of Japanese are 65 or older. But the growing number of grey divorces also reflects a more poignant reality. During their workaholic years salarymen often spend little time at home; at retirement they might be rejected by long-ignored wives as “sodai gomi”, the large items of rubbish left out monthly, bound for the dump. Recently, though, the trend seems to be reversing: increasingly it is the men, rather than the women, doing the spring cleaning.
  2. CANNABIS users around the world recently lit up in celebration of April 20th, 420 day. Although the origins of the link are obscure (the earliest credible story attributes it to 4.20pm being the time a group of Bay Area students in the 1970s met by a statue of Louis Pasteur to get high) the number, and the date, are so synonymous with cannabis culture that business travellers may want to take notice.The reason is that 420 related items have become stoner trophies. Road signs are one target: road markers bearing the number 420 in Colorado have had to be replaced with 419.99, for instance. Hotel rooms have become another, forcing some hotels to phase out the room number altogether. This is partly to stop the stealing of room numbers but mainly to prevent the rooms being used as “hot boxes” for cannabis parties.
  3. Space is not the only frontier that billionaires want to conquer. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, hopes to give meat a makeover by growing it from stem cells. Mr Musk desires to “reinvent” railways by shooting passengers down hermetically sealed tubes. Tycoons are particularly keen on schemes to cheat the grim reaper. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, proclaims that “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life to a problem to be solved.”History is full of examples of rich men with big ideas.Howard Hughes spent the 1930s testing innovative aircraft and setting aeronautical records, almost killing himself in the process. None of today’s billionaires spends serious money on universal peace. But the psychology of the very rich seems the same.There is a lot of ego involved—the minted are competing with each other to produce the most eye-catching schemes, much as they vie to run the most successful businesses.There is also a lot of misdirected effort. The gift of $100m by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has not dramatically improved Newark’s schools.Yet the madness does far more good than harm. Deep-pocketed entrepreneurs not only add to the number of moonshot projects, literal or metaphorical, they also introduce fresh thinking.
  4. Florida rivals southern California as the rich world’s most inventive, exuberant urban laboratory.Today the fad in south Florida is not golf villages or retro towns but ready-made city centres. Half an hour’s drive south of Sunrise, another Metropica-like development, City Place Doral, is under construction. Two others with even taller towers, Miami Worldcentre and Brickell City Centre, are going up in central Miami.All will combine “walkable” shopping streets, offices and homes—mostly two- and three-bedroom flats in towers. Like a rash, similar developments are popping up in other American states and as far away as China and Vietnam.Builders call these developments “mixed-use”, a term that fails to capture what they are up to. The idea of combining flats, offices and shops even in a single building is not new: look at an old New York district like Chelsea.
  5. Foreigners want to own them (most of the people buying flats in Metropica are Latin Americans) and young Americans want to rent them, partly because they find it hard to get mortgages to buy family homes. The towers are growing bigger: 48% of flats constructed in America in 2014 were in buildings with at least 50 units.Mixed-use development is also being pushed by politicians. They have tweaked the zoning rules that normally separate homes, offices and shops, and allowed taller buildings: Miami approved a more relaxed zoning code in 2009.Suburbs are growing denser and more diverse; urban cores are greener, cleaner and often less densely populated than they were.But creating the appearance of urbanity is not the same as making a city. Cities are supposed to be cosmopolitan and surprising; they ought to change in unpredictable ways. Mixed-use developments, by contrast, are fully-formed when they are built—and are too costly for the poor. They are not supposed to be diverse.In fact, the low-rise 1960s suburb where Metropica is being built is already full of cosmopolitan surprise. Behind those monotonous lawns lives a diverse population: one-third of the 88,000 people who live in Sunrise are black and one-quarter are Hispanic.
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