The Court of Public Art

by Jack Sommer

There’s a basketball court in a small Parisian neighborhood of Pigalle that has become increasingly popular - not just for kids shooting hoops, but for anyone that loves public art.

The streetwear fashion brand Pigalle, which shares the name of the neighborhood, has been giving a local court a continual makeover of epic design proportions. Pigalle's brand team works with a design studio to come up with a dynamic and unique look for the court, filled with bright colors and patterns. The latest refresh is a collaboration co-sponsored by NikeLab. The new hues, inspired by a 90′s basketball aesthetic, was created with the goal to “explore the relationship between sport, art and culture and its emergence as a powerful socio-cultural indicator of a period in time.”

tumblr_owyiz84Wuj1v52z56o1_1280.jpg

Public art has the ability to draw people to a place that they might not be aware of or interested to visit. More brands should act like art patrons and help invest in similar installations that become a win for sponsor awareness and the promoted artist(s). Local neighborhood businesses also benefit from the visitors who come to see work in the town, take pictures, and spend time and money nearby.

Just make sure you're wearing the right sneakers if you decide to step onto the court!

tumblr_owyiz84Wuj1v52z56o4_r1_1280.jpg

Connecting So You Can Disconnect

by Jack Sommer

Tentrr is a travel booking platform for specialized camping experiences. If you get the inspiration and desire to go live in nature for the weekend, you can do so on a whim with camping gear set-up provided by hosts.

The niche platform provides two key services. One is the booking platform, where listings of campsite locations to rent are provided to choose from - all on privately owned land. The listings tell you about the host, where exactly the site is located and how secluded (with a map link), what activities are nearby (like swimming, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, farmer’s market), details on the camp equipment that’s provided, as well as reviews about the location.

An important aspect to the Tentrr service is providing the camping equipment. This includes the deck, bed, canvas tent, chairs, picnic table, outdoor toilet, sun-shower, and campfire grill. Tentrr assembles it on-site for the campsite owners, making sure you always have a consistent experience across locations.

tumblr_orv7ewrjlF1v52z56o1_r1_1280.jpg

Some hardcore campers may consider this a little more glamorous than their self-sufficient DIY adventures and their own expensive camping gear. However, there’s a lot of people who don’t want to deal with the camp equipment investment - nor storage, transporting, and setting everything up. For example, people who may have before been day-explorers may now extend their trips to enjoy more time in the wilderness thanks to Tentrr. Camping becomes about the adventure of the retreat and finding solitude with nature, but without a lot of preparation hassle. Since the sites on private property, there’s comfort knowing your time away is private and secure (all hosts are always nearby if there are any issues).

tumblr_orv7ewrjlF1v52z56o5_r1_1280.jpg

While certain services like Airbnb provide a level of convenience, brand familiarity, and consistency of finding places to stay across a wide range of locations - Tentrr is focusing on outdoor enthusiasts, which allows for a certain level of specificity and dedication on making sure this type of experience is the best it can be.

an-ex-wall-street-banker-is-offering-luxury-camping-rentals-that-could-be-the-future-of-weekend-getaways.jpg

Currently, they are only operating in the Northeast (mostly New York), but Tentrr plans to expand more soon. We're eager to take a trip Upstate and find out for ourselves. We recommend getting out of town either before the summer ends or when the Fall comes and the leaves change colors. Either way, it would surely be a great opportunity to recharge in locations as beautiful as the ones Tentrr offers on its site.

The URL's of the Physical World

by Jack Sommer

It can be frustrating when you're trying to meet up with someone and you want to meet in a specific location that doesn't have an exact address. Perhaps it's in Central Park by a particular bench or in the middle of a particular trail in the woods. Maybe there's a certain entrance to an office or stadium that's not showing up because the address pin is just dropping in the middle of the building. You're stuck trying to describe nearby landmarks ("There's a Starbucks next to a Pine tree!").

Every little section on Earth deserves an address. That's the theory of what3words, who has divided the world into 3x3 meter (or 10x10 feet) squares and assigned each with a combination of three words from the a wordlist of up to 40,000 options (an example being "dog.chair.whistle" or "myth.hitchhiked.feels"). That works out to 57 trillion squares total.

The words are randomly selected using a mathematical algorithm and they are unrelated to both the area around them or the other squares. It partially sorts this by simpler, more common words are used in more populated areas. You can then navigate using these assigned addresses using their own what3words app.

Not only does it give people an accurate way to share their location, it also (and arguably, more importantly) gives a physical address to the 75% of the world's population who don't otherwise have a designated postal address. This is also in the language of the location, but can be translated to any language as well.

This is especially important in areas of low population or resources where prior an ambulance could take half a day to respond, compared to now a much quicker response. It's literally a matter of life and death. Mongolia even adapted it last year as their official format for their address system, a country who had mostly no addresses for a lot of the country prior.

The technology can also be helpful when navigating roads and using GPS for anyone - especially with the rise of Voice Assistant, where you can say 15 Broad Avenue and it may interpret it as 50 Broad Avenue and lead you 10 minutes out of the way to the wrong address. Or even worse, you could go on a five hour drive in the wrong direction in a foreign country - like this tourist in Iceland - for being one letter off on a hard-to-pronounce and hard-to-spell town name. What3words takes care of this by making sure that addresses with similar three-word-names are in drastically different places. So you know that if you're trying to drive from New Jersey to Pennsylvania but your address is a letter off, and it may give you a location on the other side of the world, like in Australia, so that you know you've made a mistake.

DAAE3fZWAAEA6l3.jpg

What3words offers a global universal address solution that seems so obvious that it makes you wonder how no one else had thought of it before. Even The Atlantic went as far as saying: "Postal addresses are a technology. They are the URLs of the physical world." We can't argue with that, so we're glad to see someone is cracking the code.

Being that what3words has already covered the whole world, and the addresses are permanently set forever, it's now more a matter of just getting more and more people to actually use it. With our habits so engrained in normal addresses and Google Maps, it will certainly be an adjustment to get people to use the technology and service. However, in those areas with lack of addresses or accuracy - it will likely grow very rapidly and become the norm. And with a trial monetization policy around a business being able to brand a location with a secondary layer (on top of the base three word name), so that it's easily searchable, what3words has 57 trillion options to sell squares for $1.50 each and become a trillion dollar company even if they only sell a percentage of them. Regardless, with such a great platform, the future is looking bright.

D.I.Y Gone Postal

by Jack Sommer

There are plenty of companies making electric cars and trying to figure out new ways to get a piece of the cake. In Germany, a surprising innovator in the field has emerged - their national post office. Duetsche Post AG's involvement was born out of a gap they recognized in the market. They couldn't find a delivery van that was zero-emission and met all their needs. So, acting like a startup out of Palo Alto, they decided to make one themselves.

The "StreetScooters" vans are a bold yellow e-vehicle that can travel around 50 miles per charge (to put that into some perspective: one driver who was an early tester of the van only had a 12 mile route). Minimalistic in its design - with no passenger seat, air conditioning, or radio - it's sleek design and electric nature has proved to be popular. So much so that the post office is even going to be selling them soon, proving to be an unlikely auto-industry competitor.

“It’s extremely annoying to me," said Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller. “I am asking myself why Deutsche Post didn’t work with us on this." Maybe because, like many other startup cases, they wanted to get something made to support their own business. They felt they could do it better themselves and do it faster, easier, cheaper than anyone else.

After 2,500 units sold, the Deutsche Post says it'll already break even on the project. They're planning to make 10,000 annually starting this year raise that to 15,000 if need be. They're also going to electrify the rest of their nearly 100,000 global car fleet and may very well become their own biggest customer. This will put the StreetScooter as the top electrified light commercial vehicle in Europe, if all goes to plan. Not bad for a government-run post office that recognized that delivering packages required a bootstrapping approach with innovative results.

Taking Cover Under A Modern and Affordable Shelter

by Jack Sommer

The home architectural design world is not immune to digital disruption. Cover is a new startup company that offers inexpensive yet beautiful home designs, construction documents, and manufacturing cost options - all for $250. This is a fraction of the tens of thousands of dollars and the many months that a traditional architectural firm may take for such work.

Now, being that it's so much dramatically cheaper, you might be thinking the designs must be awful cookie cutter boxes. However, Cover's team comes from a luxury building design background and are experts in pre-fab homes and computational software design, so they are able to customize each home - which usually are one to two bedroom units.

So how do they do it then? To start a project, you answer 50-100 questions about your lifestyle and living patterns to provide information to make the build bespoke. They might ask about what appliances are must-haves or question about view requirements. Your answers build the base floor plan, in combination with Cover's own algorithmic software and other data inputs - such as the sun's path on site location to determine window placements or ratio of solid to opaque surfaces that affect temperature and light, to maximize energy efficiency.

Cover separates itself from other prefab companies by bringing their sophisticated customization abilities into their floor plans, which usually only custom-build contractors can do. Another difference is the level of precision their manufacturing techniques offer, with software used from the aerospace and car design industry, to create the perfectly sized building materials that snap together like Lego bricks. Not only does this reduce cost, but it makes the physical construction easier too. Finally, the biggest unique point of difference from other prefab companies is that these building parts are waterproofed and embedded with electrical wiring and plumbing.

The Cover process is not only affordable, it's fast. The design stage takes about three days, the permitting and site survey takes between two and five months, and construction takes 12 weeks. In as little as five months, you can get your Cover unit. But, it's only available in LA (for now).

*Originally covered by Fast Company.

Alexa's Got Eyes For Your Outfit

by Jack Sommer

The Alexa family has birthed a new member for our households. The new addition, named Echo Look, is related to Dot and Tap - and has the same voice functions - but also has eyes for you in the bedroom. You see, it has an integrated camera you can activate by just saying out loud "Alexa, take a picture" (or video) for the perfect fashion shot.

Taking a snapshot or video of your daily fashions with Echo Look is another use case for the Alexa line. It fulfills a consumer need to take hands-free selfies when it matters most: when you're getting ready to go to work or getting ready to go out for a night on the town. With integrated LED lighting and a special blurred background feature, it gives you higher quality images focused on your clothing and not your messy room. 

Another interesting feature is "Style Check" (which pairs to the Echo Look app), which gives you fashion advice from algorithms that are based on fit, color, styling, and current trends. This robo advice is also informed by opinions and guidance from real fashion experts. After taking the images, you have the option both to save those images to share on social media or to just to keep a private personal lookbook within the app. 

echo look closet shelf.jpg

Besides Amazon coming to market first with this new product type, the real genius behind this is the ability to integrate the AmazonFashion section of their e-commerce site. Considering that the Echo Look also helps you discover new brands and styles inspired by your lookbook and wardrobe, it wouldn't be surprising if partnerships were even formed with brands to give them a higher chance of getting suggested - or at least offering special targeted deals. There's even a feature in the Echo Look app that offers this opportunity up on a silver platter. It's called "Inspired by Your Look" and it suggests brands compatible with your style. 

We could even see the device being used in retail stores, where people could ask their friends/audience in real time which shirt or pair of shoes they're deciding on buying looks better. Not to mention, of course, posting daily outfit photos on social media. With shoppable images (like Pinterest) becoming more of a reality, too, where items someone is wearing could link out to where to buy them - this could also tie into other influencer/commerce related opportunities.

Observing what the users of Echo Look are wearing, through AI learning, will also be valuable longterm information for Amazon. The Echo Look will continue to gather data on what's being worn most often in the home and in the store (although the information will be limited to just among those who like to take pictures of what they're wearing). This real-time data is not unlike what Uber gathers with drivers information as it moves towards improved AI for its platform (and driverless technology, ultimately). And, of course, this data should translate into valuable analytics for sales planning.

Echo Look may not be the closet computer from Clueless, but for $200, we're sure that fashion-types will give it a shot (or a whole photoshoot, or a video). Plus, with appeal to both consumers and brands alike, we could easily see the Echo Look helping Alexa to expand its lead further in the increasingly competitive virtual assistant appliance category.  

Galleries As A Multi-Entertainment Experience

by Jack Sommer

Galleries are traditionally thought of as spaces to see or buy art. However, what if they were more than that? What if they were places to hang out, eat a meal, do art research, spend a night, browse gardens, work on creative projects, see a concert, buy and browse books - all under one roof. Welcome to the emerging world of mega-gallery spaces.

Hauser & Wirth is leading the charge into mega-galleries. Last year, the gallery opened their fourth international outpost - this one in Los Angeles, California. They transformed a 100,000 sq ft space in an old flour mill, which takes up a whole city block on East 3rd Street in the Arts District. It's about the size of an average Home Depot, bigger than the current Met Breuer (aka the old Whitney Museum building), and bigger than the New Museum of NYC.

The Hauser & Wirth LA location includes a great restaurant, a bookstore, a research area, a community planting garden (which has a water fountain for dogs), an education lab, and a public breezeway.

IMG_0433.jpg
hauser-wirth-mural-LOSANGELES0217.jpg

The restaurant, called Manuela, is meant to be an informal gathering place where they serve local and seasonal food. "Food comprises a pivotal element of the experience of Hauser & Wirth’s galleries... the galleries are centered around a series of bars and restaurants conceived as social gathering spaces," it says on their site. This reflects the gallery owners enthusiasm for hospitality, gastronomy, and community. There's even a small lot garden with fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. The education lab hosts lectures, concerts, and events for kids. The research room has information related to the current ongoing shows. The bookstore is done in partnership with Artbook, who Hauser & Wirth works together with to curate a large section of books around exhibits and themes that are rotated out every few months. It also has a range of books on modern art in general, as well as children's art books and a section for kids to play. 

Hauser & Wirth represent about 60 different artists and rotates shows. They focus on letting the artists make the work they want and providing extraordinary spaces to showcase that work. "When we started our gallery in 1992, most of the important painters were taken, and local collectors already had strong relationships with galleries. So the niche for us was artists who were making more complicated work, work that needed support, that was highly important but not commercially successful. A lot of the artists we take on don’t have a market — our job is to build it,” said Iwan Wirth, the founder. In that same Vogue profile in 2013, it said that he estimates he spends around 95% of his time working with and for his artists and the other 5% on art sales in the secondary market.

The artwork currently being shown in the LA space is that of the late Jason Rhoades, who passed away in 2006. This mega-installation covers nearly the entire 100,000 sq ft within four rooms, with a depth and scale of the artist's work that cannot be matched. It's like walking into a alternative universe of Rhoades' art. 

Having a multifaceted gallery experience seems like an inevitable way for these spaces to operate, both drawing diverse crowds while giving people more reasons to stay longer and come back to their space more often. You could even compare it to social media giants like Facebook/Instagram expanding their array of services to extend the time you spend on their platform by offering more possibilities of entertainment and consumption. 

Hauser & Wirth has other mega-gallery locations in other places around the world, like their location in Somerset - a small town in England with a small post office and a couple of pubs. The Somerset gallery has become a major art tourism draw for the town. The gallery includes a farmhouse where people can stay overnight, browse a landscape garden, see art in renovated historical buildings, and walk through the meadow land... and, of course, buy art.

The way galleries transform into entertainment hubs and community centers will be interesting to see evolve, but it's clear they have no intention of staying inside a traditional white box gallery. 

church2.jpg

VR May Redefine The Architect As A Filmmaker, Too

by Jack Sommer

The way architects work is changing. Blueprints and floor plans may be on the way to the recycle bin, at least for consumer buyers. Pencils, paper, or PDFs of architectural plans have evolved towards 3D renderings and, now, Virtual Reality (VR) films as selling tools. As technology reduces cost and improves quality, the latter (3D/VR) may become embedded into architects design process and even replace floor plans altogether. 

Planning and shaping your design is no longer a flat two-dimensional space, now it’s interactive and filled with layers of choices. While looking at the piece of architecture through VR goggles, you can see within seconds how the lighting inside your creation may look on a sunny day, cloudy day, sunset, or night time. While in some ways it adds to the complexity of the initial scope, VR also makes the process more detailed, easier to adjust, and fulfilling. It provides a more complete, immersive, and understanding experience for a consumer buyer. The technology continues to evolve. This video shows an example of these features in action.

What's really interesting is that architects are likely to become VR experts sooner than most, and maybe even at such a level of understanding that architects could become early masters of VR filmmaking. That's because they have a business model that currently supports using it as a tool to sell product already. An interesting side business for these VR architect filmmakers could be to take on the role of virtual set designers. As content-focused VR filmmakers are looking for amazing spaces to set their stories, they could rent or license out an architect's already-designed VR space to use in their VR films - almost like renting a house for a movie shoot. The architectural profession will be interesting to watch over the next decade or so as VR filmmaking matures.

A Room Without A View

by Jack Sommer

Banksy is back, this time with a hotel. But of course with Banksy, not in a traditional sense. It's also a protest, museum, and gallery all combined. The Walled Off Hotel has a sign out front that's filled with mini circular lightbulbs aligning the inside of each letter, suggesting a pristine or flashy aesthetic. And it proudly boasts of its claim to fame (the worst view of any hotel in the world). 

That statement is not a joke. Each room literally looks out at a concrete slab wall separating Israel from Palestinian territories. The hotel itself is a site officially in Area C of the West Bank, which means both Israelis and Palestinians are allowed to visit. However, Israelis have no "legal" way to actually reach Area C. Regardless, Banksy and his team hope "art-loving" Israelis will find a way to come see and discuss the installation. Banksy has confirmed the hotel is an entirely independent project set up and financed by himself with no affiliation to any political movement. All are welcome to visit and discover its "beauty" for themselves. 

TWOH2.jpg

Banksy has an ongoing connection with the city of Bethlehem. He came to the area several times over a decade ago and created a series of artwork pieces on the Israeli-Palestine barrier wall. Subsequently, the artworks have become a tourist destination (or a favorite Instagram hotspot). The hope is The Walled Off Hotel will have similar appeal again, providing a needed increase in local jobs and tourism to the depressed area while spurring dialogue about what is up with the wall. 

As background, the building is a former pottery workshop, but with a dystopian colonial theme - including a reception and tea-room a disconcerting take on a gentlemen’s club with a self-playing piano. The decor serves as a reference to Britain's role in the region's history, marked by a one hundred year anniversary (happening in 2017) of Britain taking control of Palestine and expressing support for a Jewish homeland in the country, aiding in starting this still-ongoing period of confusion and conflict. 

All 10 rooms each have their own style, some more luxurious than others. For example, one feels like an army barracks while another is a presidential suite with its own mini-theater, study, bar, and jacuzzi. However, notably, they each only get 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day - a testimony to the "excellent" views of the Israeli West Bank barrier. And, of course, Banksy has original artworks in some of the rooms.

News was even unveiled that there will be concerts every night in the lobby at 9pm. The inaugural performance was given remotely by Elton John, who addressed the crowd before and while he played. Other artists who are slated to play will include Robert Del Naja aka 3D from Massive Attack, listed as an Artist In Residence, as well as Hans Zimmer, Flea, and Trent Razor. 

Additional upcoming events include a Gallery Book Launch on March 26th, a Palestine Marathon on March 31st, and a Palestine Music Expo on April 4th to 7th. 

Bookings will open to guests on March 11th and will be able to be reserved through the website

Airbnb Expands Their Vision

by Jack Sommer

Last summer we wrote a post about how a partnership of Amazon's Alexa and Airbnb would make sense in making people's stay at their rented destinations more simple and practical. It was an idea that Airbnb had been playing around with following an employee hackathon. In our post, we talked about how we could see hosts providing a few of their favorite local attractions, eats, or activities - information that Airbnb could use to provide curated selections for travelers, picking the most popular choices from all of the local hosts. Basically, using the community's insight to create a sophisticated hyperlocal travel content system. 

Fast forward a few months and Airbnb officially announced it's transition in November 2016 from not only being a short-term rental service but additionally to grow into an all-encompassing more complete travel company with the addition of their "Trips" service. Where as before Airbnb only offered accommodations, now "Experiences" - such as activities like tours - are a curated product feature, too. Examples they've given so far include a Secret Surfing Trip in Malibu or Truffle Hunting in Tuscany or a Samurai Swordplay workshop in Tokyo. During 2017, the company plans to roll out more Experience packages.

There are some interesting experiences offered such as "Get Juiced" in Los Angeles (where you get to see the process behind the co-founder of the city's first mobile juice company) or Tropical Knitwear in Miami (where a fashion designer provides lessons to knit and crochet). However, the ones that we really find enticing and unique include Funkitup Tokyo (where you get to join a world famous keyboardist for a behind the scenes soundcheck, private show, and meal), hiking in the caves and craters of Narobi with a local photographer (where you get some of Kenya's finest coffee and then explore the depths of the country's wildest natural wonders), or getting a look into the Cuban countryside (where get to see a local farm in a small town and learn how to make delicious Cuban food yourself, led by economists and professors from the University of Havana). Navigating through all of the options, however, is not the easiest feat to do right now - although we're sure this will improve when they release and present the rest of the options this year. 

How it works is that hosts will be able to offer activities that can last anywhere from a few hours (dubbed as "single experiences") to longer adventures that can last up to several days ("immersions"). Queenstown, New Zealand, a prime vacation destination, was among the first regions to experiment with the concept of Experiences. The initiative will start with 12 major cultural capitals from Los Angeles to Havana to Florence to Paris - where it will begin with 500 unique experiences - and grow to 51 cities total by the year's end.

The idea initially came from when Airbnb thought about how the accommodation wasn't being the most interesting part of travel for people. “With our core younger audience craving unique experiences, it became obvious to us that to maintain relevance we should look at trips, and what Trips really means is end-to-end travel,” says Jonathan Mildenhall, the CMO of the company.

They are experimenting with their marketing of it a lot, too. Even just in 2017 so far they have done a 360° Twitter video campaign and been one of the first brands to try out Instagram's new Sponsored Stories format - not to mention initially premiering the concept of the service on Facebook Live campaign. But they aren't only focused on social media. For each experience, they also make a special video for each one (that plays natively on mobile) and a movie-esque poster to promote each of the Experiences. 

But they won't only be working against other companies, they'll also be working with them. Already they've teamed up with Resy, a restaurant booking platform - which they've so far invested $13 million into - that will be available to book at suggested local restaurants, and with Detour, who offers "experiential audio walking tours allowing people to discover neighborhoods in a totally unique and authentic way." 

We think Airbnb might even take their Experience ideas father by tapping into the ride-sharing market in a sense, where hosts could offer rides to specific places. Maybe they form a partnership with Uber and Lyft. But it's still an interesting angle with local hospitality twist.

Airbnb's already changed the hotel industry, and they will continue to. Now they're seeking the whole travel and tourist world. Fellow players better keep up before they get left behind.

Autonomous Cars May Deliver More Public Parks

by Jack Sommer

Across the world, more and more nature and parks are being integrated into urban environments. City governments are recognizing the opportunities to convert outdated, vacant infrastructure into green spaces to provide residents and visitors a refreshing break from the concrete buildings and rush of the urban lifestyle. Recent discussion about the rise of automated vehicle transportation and decreased car ownership has reignited this idea of more park conversions from city infrastructure. The theory of this being that with driverless cars you'll need less parking spaces and roads, so you are able to use that space to create parks.

In a recent article by Lyft co-founder John Zimmer, he writes about this possible new revolution of transportation and ride sharing. "Most of us have grown up in cities built around the automobile, but imagine for a minute, what our world could look like if we found a way to take most of these cars off the road," he says. "It's a world where can construct new housing and small businesses on parking lots across the country — or turn them into green spaces and parks. That's a world built around people, not cars."

This may happen sooner than people may think, but still won't be immediate. Zimmer estimates that private car ownership will be nearing its end in major U.S. cities by 2025. Elon Musk, in a more moderate approach (a rare attribute for him) stated in his Master Plan, Part Deux that he thinks people will still own cars - in his case, Tesla's of course - but will rent them out to people. No matter who you ask, however, anyone paying attention to the automotive industry would be blind to dismiss the reality of how Uber and Lyft have taken over how people now like getting around in big cities.

This would be a smart and logical improvement from cars just sitting around 96% of the time doing nothing (currently, it's been reported that the average vehicle is only in use 4% of the time). It won't be an easy or quick transition to make, however. Millennials might not be interested in owning cars from here on out, but it will be a tougher battle for people already used to owning cars to give then up. Regardless of whether it makes financial sense or not, we grow intense attachments to our cars and for many it represents a sense of freedom. 

Relinquishing one kind of freedom, however, could also lead to another type of liberty...

In this scenario, parking lots would essentially be the latest type of a public space that was once built for a method of transportation and then become not as necessary and (eventually) abandoned before being used in a new purpose for a park or green space. Just look at one of the most famous examples of The High Line in New York, which used abandoned elevated train tracks in downtown Manhattan and converted them into one of the cities popular tourist and local destinations. Or its predecessor in Paris, a three mile park walkway over century-old train tracks called The Promenade Plantèe (both pictured above). 

The High Line also physically connects on its North end in with an area being built by the name of Hudson Yards, a new community of residential and office buildings that is the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States. By completion in 2025, the project will add more than almost 30 million square feet of office, retail, and housing with a total of approximately 125,000 people either working, living, or visiting there per day. The area it's being built over is the West Side Yard, a rail yard that's been used for years to store commuter rail trains operated by the Long Island Rail Road. Between parking lots and abandoned train tracks, the opportunities for shifting our landscapes are out there just waiting to be converted.

Another urban renewal example is the neighborhood of Buckhead in Atlanta, which was disrupted in the 1990s by being built around cars instead of people. It started a disconnect amongst different sections of the area that has remained since the highway was built. In the three images above, you can see the proposed raised park/bridge called Buckhead Park that is planned to be built there to help re-shape the neighborhood and restore the community connectivity by allowing that access from one part of town to the other and offering a new way to see the city. The park would be built on top of the highway, weaving above and around it, and more easily connected to the tall office buildings surrounding it. So while it's not completely the same situation as abandoned parking lots or train tracks being transformed, it still centers around that idea of taking an existing public transportation infrastructure and using it as part of a way to transform it into a more relevant, people-focused way.

Taking it a step further than Buckhead, a new mixture of a park and bridge in London is simply starting from scratch. Appropriately titled "The Garden Bridge," it will go over The Thames River, the main water passageway of the city that is a big source of transportation in itself, and connect Northern and Southern areas of the city. The bridge will provide a new refreshing way - exempt from cars and instead filled with trees and plants - for pedestrians to cross the river. Currently it's slated for a 2018-19 opening and is planned to be always open, no matter the season. 

The changing facade of public space will undoubtedly incorporate a mix of all of these projects - some completely transforming existing places (The High Line), some adding on and adjusting around existing spaces (Buckhead in Atlanta), and some making something completely new (The Garden Bridge in London). However, if we want to be at our most efficient, it would be in our best interest try to use these places that aren't going to be providing function anymore - and we are starting to get better at it.

The examples above demonstrate a positive trend towards reclaiming or converting public spaces to become people-friendly amenities. Soon, parking lots will be one of the areas to take advantage of, especially as technology only continues to improve the aforementioned areas of driverless vehicles, ride sharing and getting rid of car ownership altogether. As we know in these big cities, every little bit helps to bring cities back to people instead of cars. 

Marriott Adopts Innovation Like A Startup

by Jack Sommer

In the era of disruptive startups like Airbnb, most traditional hotels are implementing new ways to both keep guests coming back and attract new ones through marketing, interior renovations, and price deals. Recent studies from Slice Intelligence show that the rate of return visits for Airbnb has surpassed the amount of all individual traditional hotel brands.

One established hotel brand not satisfied with the status quo, however, is Marriott. This may not be surprising, being that they're the clear market leader for hotels after finalizing a deal in recent weeks in the purchase of Starwood Hotels - totaling over 30 hotel brands and over a million rooms in over 110 countries around the world (making for 1 of every 15 rooms anywhere). Why they're succeeding is that instead of depending on the usual avenues of advertising, they're relying on product innovation and experiential marketing as a point of difference. 

The ideas that Marriott continues to implement are experimental in nature with the company moving at a quick and consistent speed, acting nimble like a startup despite their giant size. Some ideas are based around human engagement, others around connected technology in the rooms, but each innovative.

Just yesterday, Marriott announced "The World's First Hotel Innovation Incubator" - under the name of M Beta - at their Charlotte Marriott City Center. It will continuously operate in a live beta stage where it will be constantly changing, allowing for each piece of the hotel to continue to be prototyped and given feedback from guests in real-time. The evolution of the space will also be shown over time through the brand's social media channels. 

"We are inviting guests to be part of the innovation and decision making," Marriott said. There's physical buttons throughout the inside to give that prompt for response from visitors. Marriott generally is ambitious with involving their customers, even asking for submissions within the Innovation section of their site, of which some have actually even been chosen.

Inside one of the "Stay Well" rooms.

Inside one of the "Stay Well" rooms.

Another example of an innovative step they've taken is one done with a collaborative partner named Delos, a real estate company who's been getting involved in the technology and experiential end too. Marriott is one of the hotel chains who has implemented Delos' unique "Stay Well" rooms into multiple locations of theirs. The idea of the rooms is to provide a health conscious space for travelers. These connected rooms integrate different types of technology that combine to make an experience filled with multiple elements that can work in coordination with each other or on their own. 

The way that these "Stay Well" rooms go about this is to include integrations such as lights that slowly increase to stimulate dawn, air purification systems, special mattresses, nutritious meals. Initially the series of rooms launched at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas a few years back, taking up 41 at the time (now 171). But no matter what location you're in, the rooms always have a dedicated app service for that specific location to give you assistance on some local recommendations or inform you more fully how your technology hooked-up room works. 

Other features are already included, too, one of which using it as a way to fight jet-lag. Inputting your flight duration and landing time, it can advise you on the best time to get that first cup of coffee in or the best time to take "Vitamin D Walks" and exposure yourself to light (important if you've been napping after getting hit by the time change and lack of sleep, for instance). This works in coordination with technology in the room, of course, using elements such as blackout shades that are built in with the windows so that the amount of light shining inside can be more carefully controlled - definitely helpful when managing jet lag. 

Marriott is also experimenting with focusing on engaging the mind of their guests. They're collaborating with TED Talks to host a series of "salons" in five locations around the world next year where TED Talks Fellows will speak. They are also bringing original and exclusive TED content to Marriott outside of that. 

The reason for this, Marriott says, is that "travel expands the mind and sparks news, creative ways of thinking" for people. They want to help you find, develop, and grow the inspiration you get from traveling. According to the company, the guests most often drawn to Marriott are entrepreneurs, innovators, and "individuals who already believe in the power of a great idea." 

And most recently, a new experience called the #MGravityRoom was unveiled by Marriott that anyone is invited to come and try out. The idea is simple: the mock room is designed at a 90-degree angle on the floor. People can get into all sorts of crazy and wacky positions where, when the picture is rotated to its "normal" angle, can look as if people are defying gravity (hence the name of the experience). It's a minimal and fun idea that doesn't take itself too seriously, but provides nice shareable content on social media for those who decide. to take advantage. 

Usually, category leaders just fight for the status quo. Marriott, however, recognizes that these different types of experimental projects should happen fast to make a difference in the evolving hospitality market. This is especially true as the leader. Marriott brands stand to benefit most.

Combining Art with Advertising for Social Media

by Jack Sommer

Brands don't have to be overt with their advertisements anymore. Experiences are showing that brands can be more about just selling their products and that subtlety in social media wins. More and more companies are sponsoring events that are around bigger concepts, often artistic and interactive in nature, which tie back into their brand in organic ways.

Museum Of Ice Cream, New York City, 2016

As a result, new types of branded experience "museums" are connecting brands with their customers. A recent example is the Museum Of Ice Cream (MOCI), which was sponsored by an assortment of brands like Tinder, Dove, and Dylan's Candy Bars. It took place in NYC, right by the Whitney Museum and the High Line, for about a month during August. 

Dove offered towering serving bowls of chocolate and Dylan's Candy Bar offered candy samples, but Tinder took it to a different level. Tinder had an interactive exhibit within MOCI where visitors could "discover their true flavor match" or use a space within the museum, called Tinder Land, as a place for a first date. If you wanted to seesaw with your date on a giant ice cream scooper or swing together on an ice cream sandwich, you were in luck. And yes, you could even get an ice cream cone, too! It all came with your ticket admission, and each week was a different flavor ice cream at a price of $18 for one person or $36 for couples. 

Even in a short amount of time, though, it made a strong impact. Especially on social media. In fact, it was specially designed - or at least very much kept in mind - for thinking of it in terms of being ideal for sharing (on Instagram in particular, confirmed by the museum's Social Media Director, Madison Utendahl, as it's such a visual experience). The interactive "sprinkle pool" was one of the main attractions as a colorful, appealing, and unique setting for a photo.

Pantone Cafe, Monaco, 2016

Factoring in social media, and Instagram in particular, is certainly not something unique to only the Museum of Ice Cream. This summer, a Pantone Cafe (that we also wrote about here) opened with Pantone color swatches decorating everything from the facade of their booth to the food and the napkins. In the Cafe's newsletter, they described it as "the most Instagrammable restaurant of the summer." This social-sharing geared mindset is a reality now. It has to be at least considered, although it shouldn't necessarily dictate the constraints of ideas entirely. 

Glade did their own "Museum of Feelings" last Fall where they made a temporary exhibit that 56,000 people attended. The idea of the exhibit was to get people to remember a smell (one of many from Glade's scented products) to create a memorable experience by connecting the scents with feelings and visuals.

The different rooms within Glade's experience had their own theme and scent. The five emotions representative of each room were Optimism, Joy, Invigorated, Exhilarated, and Calm. 

glade_1374.jpg
  • Joy - An "LED jellyfish forest" of green vines dangling from above and reflecting on a ground mirror. Also had a faint smell of fir trees 
  • Invigorated - A halo of color and motion tracks the footsteps of people in the room, who are given 3D glasses to fully experience the types of graphics in this specific space
  • Calm - A glowing purple "cloud room" with a fog machine and carpeted floor
  • Exhilarated - A pink room of kaleidoscope of mirrors 
  • Optimistic - A room filled with curtains that guide the user to the center of the room and activate sensors that trigger ambient audio and light as people move through the space

The idea of these was to have each of these sensory experiences to explore the relationships between scents and emotions in a fun, interactive, and colorful way.

It's more interesting to go to these brand museums and installations - overall categorized as "Experiences" - are a way to connect with audiences in an artistic, subtle promotion. We hope that the trend continues as it's more interesting to go to a museum - especially these branded museums and share it on social media - than it is to get a pre-roll Ad on YouTube or looking at a billboard through your car window. 

Tesla May Be Evolving The American Dream

by Jack Sommer

Tesla is known for innovating in their products, but the products success is not just up to them. How the world adopts their products into our lifestyle and behavior is in our hands. There's a town called Yarrabend, in the suburbs of Australia, that is being built where each home will be built around a Tesla car. Each home will have a solar panel energy system on the roof, which is connected to the Tesla Powerwall electric car charger - which also acts a backup household energy source.

That means no money spent on gas, nor time spent searching for gas stations. Residents at YarraBend can feel good about being environmentally conscious by using solar power and saving money. Plus, you may get the satisfaction of driving a stylish, sporty car by Tesla. This type of community could be a blueprint for future developments. Not even a far distant future either, these changes are undoubtedly going to at least begin within the next decade. And while the American Dream of the past - a home in the suburbs with a lawn, car, children, and a dog - is still very much relevant, it may be revised in the years to come to include to be an electric car and a solar-powered energy system. This dream is soon to be tested in this community of Australia, and possibly roll out afterwards to America.

The advantages to this YarraBend concept are not just about cost and efficiency. Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla, envisions ride-sharing in his Master Plan: Part Deux. His goal is to create a system where you could add your car to the Tesla Fleet of shared cars - where you could then make money on it when you're not using the vehicle. Imagine how that could apply to a community - where you go to a party across town and can enjoy sharing a few bottles of wine without having to worry about driving back. That is, with thanks to being able to get a ride from an autonomous vehicle from the Tesla fleet. Or what if a mother was picking up one daughter at soccer practice and the father needed the car to go to work. The father could just hail a car from the Tesla ride-sharing fleet in order to get to his job on time. This might actually reduce cars needed per household (cost saving), less driving accidents (safer roads), as well as fewer arguments on who gets to use the car (marriage saver). 

Future communities will undoubtedly be going more in this direction than not, it's just a matter of how long. Elon Musk may have not thought of the idea himself, but we're pretty sure he's excited by it and the prospects of how Tesla's progress can push the world forward. It all starts somewhere, even if that somewhere is a small community in Australia. Time will tell how Australia will incorporate these Tesla products into their daily lives. Until then, we'll be watching the American dream evolve via YarraBend.

Airbnb Says "Hi" To Alexa

by Jack Sommer

A few months ago we wrote about Amazon's Alexa technology and the interesting ways it's being applied. For a refresher, Alexa is a voice activated assistant connected to a portable bluetooth speaker hub (a product line that so far includes an Echo, Tap, and Dot). Connect the device to an Amazon account and then order any physical or digital goods offered by the company. Anything from paper towels, to a new pair of headphones. There is also the ability to stream music, check the weather, or schedule appointments - all through voice command.

Now, there's another company who sees the inevitable benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) home devices, such as the Alexa IoT products. Airbnb is looking to find ways to improve their customer's experience through voice technology. “We want to think about how people improve the entire experience,” said Joe Zadeh, Airbnb's product VP, in a recent Recode article. “I don’t think people that are traveling halfway across the world want to stare at technology.”

Zadeh said that Airbnb recently held a company hackathon where three different projects ended up being made that linked with the Echo product and Alexa system. He could not confirm whether these specific ideas will happen, but we are hopeful about all the prospects.

In our opinion, Alexa makes perfect sense as a partner to Airbnb. Imagine going into a reserved apartment in Barcelona, or any foreign city, and just verbally asking where the nearest park for a jog is or what the best rated restaurant is in the neighborhood? No sitting on your phone, tablet, or computer searching for an answer - just a quick verbal reply in your own language from Alexa.

It would also be interesting to see how search results, through voice technology, might be tailored more specifically for Airbnb's purposes. For example, Airbnb could ask any host, as part of their profile, to provide a few of their favorite local attractions, eats, or activities. Airbnb then could package this data to create curated selections for traveling guests, picking the most popular choices from all of the local hosts. And if just the personal favorites of the guest's host were desired to be known, that could be shared too. It eliminates your search from hundreds of options to just focus on the locals' favorite spots.

What makes Airbnb special is their vast network of people from all walks of life, hosting their one-of-a-kind personal homes. This community's level of insight could certainly provide a sophisticated hyperlocal travel content system. Without even a huge shift in their process, Airbnb could turn itself to one of the most popular and highest quality global travel publishers. 

Whether or not Airbnb will take it this far, we will have to see - although perhaps it is more just a matter of when. Amazon may want to help insure this program happens sooner than later, however (even if it comes at a cost, like free Alexa products for hosts), because it certainly will help them sell a lot of extra units globally and get more new user trials for Alexa. 

Virtual Reality (VR) - Beyond Entertainment

by Jack Sommer

When people think about Virtual Reality (VR), it's a pretty safe bet to say that most envision entertainment. But what about education? In a recent TechCrunch article, they point out that teaching with VR is an opportunity waiting to be further developed - and they're right. 

Currently, there are professional job training programs and virtual world education experiences. The Air Force uses the technology within their training program, making flight simulations a more realistic experience to train their pilots. In education, an example of a project already made and in-use is a VR experience where students snorkel down a river Tennessee and learn about biodiversity in the region, water pollution, and environmental conservation. "Whenever we take students snorkeling in the Conasauga (River), they are changed by the experience,” said Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), who developed the VR experience. “They see all of this life – right here in our backyards - and realize that we live in a special place worth protecting.” 

A game that the company Alchemy Learning is developing that takes place in the Amazon River.

A game that the company Alchemy Learning is developing that takes place in the Amazon River.

Google in unsurprisingly leading the way in taking the VR educational experience to the next level. With their Google Cardboard goggles — which brings VR technology to people in an inexpensive way — they started a new program called Google Expeditions. Select students in classrooms across the world can put on the Google Cardboard goggles and (virtually) transport to places like The Great Wall of China or the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. It allows there to be a new type of "Field Trip" that is highly accessible. Yes, it may not exactly be the same as actually going there, but it's a pretty great alternate - especially for kids who may never get the chance to go to travel internationally. Over a million students across 11 countries have already taken an Expedition. So it's already making a global difference.

When you think about all the possible scenarios with VR and 360 degree environments, this could definitely get students more excited about learning. Bringing in this type of a simulation and lesson could really transform how kids think. Even back in 1998, when the technology was a far less complex, there was a study by the Institute for Defense Analyses around VR and education that found students motivating to be "extremely high." 

While entertainment games may be an adoption point for development of VR technology, we predict there will be some pretty interesting real world applications. For example, let's say you're going to be moving to a foreign country like Japan and you want to learn and experience as much of the culture beforehand so that you adjust faster. You could learn with VR about social customs through roleplay, practice language conversations, and even familiarize yourself with intimidating tasks like how to (and what to) order in a traditional Japanese restaurant. 

Not every single lesson in school and life should be simulated via VR. However, the technology could become a part of the educational mix  - like reading textbooks and listening to lectures. What will be interesting to see is how this method ends up impacting actual learning results. Do students test better with that higher engagement? The proof will be in the results, although it won't necessarily show right away. It may take a while for teachers and schools to figure out how to find the most efficient VR experiences for teaching. But if all goes well as we predict, there could be an entirely new and exciting education system ahead.

(Internet Of) Things Are Really Getting Interesting With IFTTT

by Jack Sommer

You may already know about the magic of If This Then That, it is a service that helps make your life easier. IFTTT accomplishes this through "recipes" - which are simple (code) connections between products and apps. For example, if you post a picture on Instagram than it can automatically save it to Dropbox. Thousands of these recipes are added everyday for you to choose, or you can easily customize your own. Over a million people use it daily.

Currently, Amazon's Alexa IoT product is utilizing IFTTT to great success. For example, right now 56,000 people have installed a simple recipe for Alexa where you say "find my phone" and she will call your phone for you. Traditional stores are getting in on the fun. Tesco, a giant British supermarket chain, has now partnered with IFTTT to integrate the services into their online shopping experience. This includes tracking the price of a product when it falls below a certain price and automatically adding it to your cart for purchase. All done automatically, all delivered to your home, via this simple service.

We were comparing the Alexa recipes to the Tesco ones and noticed something interesting. With Alexa, monitoring of the changing temperature outside is mostly limited to equations that involve adjusting your Nest thermostat. Tesco has taken that idea beyond Nest, however, and brought it into a food retail realm that sees things differently. One of the recipes in the Tesco section says that if the forecast for weather is over 85 degrees for five days, than you can put in an order for a pack of popsicles. Advanced settings could be integrated further, so that excess amounts aren't auto-purchased in a row, and more intricate recognition patterns will continue to be added as the technology begins to grow. Now, (Internet Of) things are really getting interesting.

Imagine having 20 different actions in your home and daily life automated each day. Companies that try and push a prescribed use of IoT (Internet Of Things), will never be able to cover all of the nuances. The real magic is when the customization comes into play instead. In a 2013 Forbes article, the writer said, "There aren't easy ways to make the devices work as one system if you wanted to trigger an event after an event." And now, here we are. It's possible and you can make it your way. 

Traditional grocery retail is a big step for integrating IFTTT, but it won't end there - think about a construction company having connected toolboxes that order nails when a sensor compartment feels the weight of the nails. All these reasons are why IFTTT is so successful and makes sense across so many different platforms and individual preferences. It's retail, it's hardware, it's IoT, it's customized... it's everything! 

If this is the future, then we're ready for it.

A Wheelie Worth Waiting For...

by Jack Sommer

In the movie TRON, there are bikes with orbital wheels. At the time of the film's premiere back in the '80s, and even within our current times, this was a futuristic and not-yet-realized concept. Now, while it has still not fully come to life, there is a new GeoOrbital wheel that is looking to revolutionize the biking experience in a similar vein. And while it may not be as drastic a change as the bike proposed in the movie, which we may see eventually, this is still a big pedal forward. 

The "GeoOrbiter" wheel, which can be easily attached as the front wheel to your existing bike to transform into an electrically powered bike. It can heighten your speed and endurance. With only a few pedals, you can go up to 20 MPH and keep speeding along for 20 miles. You also don't have to worry about running out of power, the battery packs are removable with space for backups. There is even a place in the wheel to charge your phone as you ride. 

Of course, it's not perfect. 20 seems to be a common number among statistics for the GeoOrbiter, and so far have been positive, but this next instance is one that hurts - the wheel itself weighs 20 pounds (vs. traditional bikes at around 6 pounds). Extra weight could impact the ability for quick narrow turns. Another hurdle may be the price, estimated at $600-700, which is a lot for a regular bike - let alone one wheel. Then again, it's not a lot for a moped retrofit.

People seem to be excited about the potential and GeoOrbiter has raised over $775,000 on Kickstarter, more than ten times its goal. The fact that it can be integrated into your pre-existing bike is definitely a huge plus, and who wouldn't want to go faster for less work? Pedaling is for spin class, after all!

Originally written about on Core77.

It Takes Two (Percent)

by Jack Sommer

In a recent Adweek article, Jason Alan Snyder - an accomplished inventor - broke down why agencies are doing ok at inventing, but not necessarily at innovating. Snyder is also the Chief Technology Officer at Momentum Worldwide. He's authored many patents to successful inventions like the award-winning "Luci" product, an all-in-one solar lantern and flashlight. 

Snyder explains how the invention is the start and pure form of the idea. But the innovation, that comes in when you apply that same invention to make a difference in the business world, industry, or culture to make money. He simplifies it by saying, “Invention is seen as the conversion of money into ideas. Innovation is viewed as the conversion of ideas into money.”

Snyder says that he appreciates the agency projects he works on as they can feel both energizing and challenging, they have opened him up to opportunities that he may not have gotten otherwise. But in terms of innovation, he says, agencies can be quicker on their feet. They create the ideas, patent them, but then grow afraid to take the leap from there. 

Why is that? Take big companies for instance. If they have a monopoly on a certain product category or technology, they don't have incentive to push out those new technologies as soon as they're ready because they want to keep their profits coming in from their existing products. What ends up happening is they hold off pushing their new technology until it is too late and change to category is inevitable. For example - Kodak sitting on new digital camera technology, while they continued to make profits from film. And we all know how well that strategy worked out (badly!).

Agencies face a similar issue as these companies, even though they're not dealing with specific products in the same way. Instead, agencies have compensation systems that are about hitting certain revenue projections for their services, and may be reluctant to experiment with non-billable time to develop their own inventions and innovation strategies. Snyder remarks in the article that, "Agencies reward managers for making their numbers, not for building new businesses. Who wants to risk their bonus for an upstart technology that threatens the cash cows?"

So what's the solution? He says that we need to encourage taking these risks from the highest executive levels to support those experimental creative teams with budget and expertise. It could take as little as two percent of a company's own money towards innovative solutions for agencies to re-invent themselves. Now that makes the future of agencies feel bright.

Original article posted about on Adweek.

* Disclaimer: Jason Alan Snyder is represented by Sovrn State management.