Watch This: “Millennials Don’t Exist” and We Should Stop Pandering to Them

March 24, 2016
Millennial hipster skateboarder just wants to Snapchat all day

Hashtag, Over It

Adam Conover is, like me, an older Millennial. Also like me, he is preeeetttty much done with hearing about our ‘generation.’ I wrote about this last summer, and little has changed since then. Being hammered with messages about what Millennials want and what we’re like is annoying, but worse, it’s so, so boring at this point. We want lots of different things! We’re not all like one thing!

You can’t summarize it into a five step process to help keep your #brand relevant in the Snapchat age.*

One place where Adam and I stop having things in common is that he has a television show, and I do not (yet…?). It’s called Adam Ruins Everything, and it’s relatively popular with the “youngs.” So of course that means he got asked to speak about what Millennials want and how to appeal to them. The video below is the result of that request.

I really enjoyed it because it synthesizes a lot of what I find annoying about the pandering that is so common in conversations about Millennials, and I want to encourage people to watch it. It’s especially good if a) you’re willing to listen to something about Millennials that doesn’t come from someone thirty years older than them, or b) you’re a Millennial yourself and want to laugh at the olds.

Millennial Urbanism

As someone who both writes about and works on issues related to urbanism, it’s impossible to avoid hearing over and over what Millennials want in terms of housing and lifestyles. Supposedly, we want tons of amenities in nice apartments (not houses) in cool, trendy places. We’re not that into cars, and we don’t want to have babies until we’re older, among other things.

All of these observations are probably broadly true enough. But the people responding to these trends tend to miss the point, and it’s the one Adam makes at the end of his presentation. If you want to appeal to Millennials, don’t try to do that. Try to make something you would like, and there’s a decent chance young people will like it, too.

It might not be quite that simple in terms of urbanism, but the principle stands. Young people basically want the same things as all people have always wanted. They want to live good lives. How that manifests evolves over time, but at no point have people thought, “you know, I’m really shooting for a crummy existence here.” For people working in land use, development, urban planning and so on, you’ll do much better thinking about how Millennials define “a good life” rather than thinking “we should put a hot tub on the roof deck because that’s what kids want.”

*You know what we don’t want though? Totally open office concepts with no quiet, private space to work anywhere. Stop saying we want this, corporate real estate people. You want to save money on space. That is all.

A Brief Update on the Hiking Book

March 17, 2016
hiking book best hikes near minneapolis saint paul

Almost Hiking Season

We’re in the very end of the home stretch for Best Hikes Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the hiking book I cowrote with my brother. Just this week, we received the proof for review. What does that mean, you ask? It means this is essentially our last chance to check the text for errors, typos and content clarity. It also means we’re looking at something pretty close to a finished product, complete with photos, maps and all the other design work.

Any regular reader here will know that the hiking book project was not without its challenges, but as I gain some time away from the scramble to finish I can look back on the experience fondly. At this point it’s gratifying to know that we’re just about done and that soon we’ll have an actual, physical book to hold onto. My brother has been through this before, but I am looking forward to being able to point at it and say, “I did that.”

Bonus points if it’s any good, right?!?

So now I’m off to complete what I hope is the last bit of work I need to do before the hiking book actually goes to print. To the handful of new readers that have signed up in the wake of my SEO-based burst in traffic for my urbanism writing, welcome! This week’s post might be a little light on the excitement of those posts, but I plan to be back at it ASAP.

Oh yeah, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, too! Sláinte, and whatnot.

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Search Engine Optimization: That Stuff Works!

March 10, 2016
search engine optimization google bing content wordpress traffic

In the past, I have joked about the utter lack of search engine optimization on this site.* It was true! There was none! Since launching Lost Caws, I’ve made very weak attempts to market this site and no attempt to make it more palatable to search engines. The reasons for this are…complicated, but a recent change of heart provided an interesting lesson.

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Choosing Not to Do Something Is Still a Choice

March 2, 2016

Yesterday was Super Tuesday in the presidential primary election cycle. Here in Minnesota, that means people went out to caucus (not quite the same as voting!). I didn’t, and I feel great about it. This doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in my community or that I’m a bad citizen. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about what happens in the presidential election or the other down-ticket races. I knew the caucuses were happening, knew where my polling place would be, and decided, “nope.”

Part of the reason for this is that the caucus system, which is terrible, is not as simple as just popping in and voting which you can see if you read that link above. Part of it is that the primaries are largely for political party members, something I’m not. But mostly it was a conscious decision that I did not want to take part.

It’s not that I don’t believe my vote matters, and I have every intention of voting come November. But last night? Nah. I had a much better way to spend my evening. I played cards with my wife, a game called Phase 10. It’s a pretty good game, it turns out. And I don’t even like playing cards! We ate cheese and crackers and drank some wine. It was an easy choice, and I’m pretty sure it was a lot more fun than the caucus would have been.

The Starbucks Reward Program and the Importance of Messaging

February 24, 2016
starbucks rewards communication messaging

Several years ago when I was working at Target, I joined the Starbucks Rewards program to take advantage of their ubiquity even though I’ve never been a devotee.* It was common at Target to have 1:1 meetings at a coffee shop or to take a short walk to one for the sake of getting out of the office for a few minutes. I found myself there more often than ever before in my life, so joining was a pretty straightforward mathematical calculation and a case of there being no reason not to.

Here’s how the program works currently. Make 30 purchases in a year, and you reach “Gold” status. After that, for every 12 purchases you’re rewarded with a freebie–whether food or drink. What’s more, at that time our employee discount applied to gift cards purchased at Target stores, further driving down the cost of the company’s otherwise overpriced offerings. Not bad, right?

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The Scourge of Traffic Congestion

February 18, 2016
traffic, congestion, infrastructure, urbanism

Did you know traffic congestion in Columbus, OH is basically the worst ever? No? Well you’d be surprised, as I was.

About a decade ago* I was at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field with my roommates when we lived just a few blocks away. Sitting behind us, we overheard a guy from Columbus, OH who was in town visiting friends. The three of us had gone to college near Columbus and two of us lived in Columbus itself for a year or so after graduating. We were pretty familiar with the city, so we found ourselves eavesdropping. This was also due, in part, because this dude basically would not stop talking. Loudly. We weren’t so much eavesdropping as we just happened to be in his vicinity. He wasn’t shouting or being aggressively obnoxious, but he lacked what you might call “situational awareness.”

At some point, the guy went on a surprisingly long soliloquy about how he thought traffic in Columbus was such an unbearable nightmare until he drove into Chicago. He expressed bafflement that anyplace could have it worse than Columbus so driving in Chicago came as an utter shock to him. How do you people live? he seemed to suggest. I distinctly remember one of my roommates and I beginning to turn to face him with our faces twisted into confusion as if to say, “are you serious?” We did not, but we did nearly laugh out loud at his…analysis.

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The Infrastructure Canary Is Dead: There Are Flints of All Kinds to Come

February 11, 2016
infrastructure, Flint, iceberg, taxes, roads, bridges

Hey! Remember that depressing post I wrote last week about pedestrian fatalities? Well I’m back with more lighthearted fun about American infrastructure!

Over at the New York Times–which I’m told is an organization where they put their blog posts on large pieces of paper that people purchase (why???)–Nicholas Kristof describes how the terrible situation in Flint, MI is the tip of the iceberg with respect to lead poisoning in the United States. It’s a good article with plenty of interesting information on how Congress has defunded anti-lead programs, how there are 24 million homes with lead paint across the country, and how lead poisoning affects people–children in particular.

His argument is fairly simple. We stopped fighting the lead problem, and now it’s likely to get worse unless we put some real money towards it, starting at minimum with restoring the funding that was previously cut. This sounds like an easy enough solution, and given the disaster in Flint there might be some opportunity for action in Congress because it presents opportunities for politicians to claim victories. I can imagine a scenario where there’s even a bipartisan bill that restores some of the funding that enables testing and remediation with a senator or two soberly claiming that “this is not a political issue but a moral one” or some such. It would be good if something like that happened, even if it is a transparent attempt at scoring points.

But what about everything else? And by everything else, I mean, without exaggeration, nearly all of our public infrastructure across the country. Roads and bridges. Water treatment and pipes. Gas lines. Our near-failing electrical grid. All of it is decaying, and though there’s lots of talk about dealing with it, there’s very little practical action on the issue. Fixing the lead problem sounds good and all, but it’s little more than infrastructure whack-a-mole given how much other stuff is deteriorating at an incredible pace.

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On Pedestrian Fatalities: Let’s Just Admit That We’re Okay with This

February 4, 2016
urbanism pedestrian safety fatalities walkability

It Began as a Pedestrian Evening

On Tuesday of this week, I was planning to take a short road trip with a friend down to Ames, IA to see a college basketball game. I didn’t have any particular connection to the game. It was an excuse to hang out, the kind of thing you do because why not? We didn’t end up making the trek, and it turned out that was probably a good thing.

By early afternoon, a snowstorm was causing havoc with driving across much of Minnesota, so much so that chunks of major roadways were closed altogether. Had we tried to go, it’s possible we would have been just fine. It’s possible we’d have given up somewhere along the way and either turned around or hunkered down somewhere for the night. It’s possible we’d have ended up in real danger.

When a snowstorm clobbered the east coast, particularly the Washington D.C. area, a week or so ago, many of us in points further north and more accustomed to large snowfalls sneered at the freakouts that lead to store shelves stripped bare. I’ll admit, it’s sorta funny to see people rush to buy up every spare roll of toilet paper. What exactly were you planning to do during the storm, D.C.? I don’t want to come to that party.

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January 27, 2016

I do not like the word “busy” very much. I think we often treat it as a crutch, a vague descriptor used to reflexively tell the world we are put upon by its demands. It pushes responsibility for that feeling outwards when it seems to me that a state of “busyness” is something we mostly do to ourselves.

“How’s work?”

“Ugh, I’m so busy.”

For whatever negative emotions we associate with feeling too busy, there still exists a cultural value on saying we are busy. It’s perfectly acceptable–expected even–to talk about how stressed and busy we feel, for example, but the reverse is not true. When asked how things are going, it is permissible to say “good” or “fine” or even “great,” but we are not allowed to elevate that to stating outright how not busy we are, that we feel we have all of our priorities in order and a enough time to adequately engage in them to an extent we find satisfying. This would come across as terribly smug.

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It’s Cold. So What?

January 20, 2016

For much of the last week, temperatures here in Minneapolis have been at or below zero. To most people, this is probably nigh unbearable, but here’s my little secret. I kinda like it.

Not a secret anymore, I suppose.

I don’t want it to be this cold forever or even for a particularly long stretch, But I do enjoy a few days of it every winter because there’s one pretty good thing that generally comes with such desperately cold temperatures, and it makes it worthwhile for me.


The coldest days of the year are often very sunny, and with the right stuff on, I actually quite like being out for at least a short walk when it gets like this. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make for, say, 7-14 days a year before I get sick of it.

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