We are in urgent need of upgrading the American Dream. Early generations, mostly settlers to the New World, were hooked on the promise of freedom and prosperity, but over the years, the ethos has changed, with collective aspirations now more focused on material possessions. Keeping this evolution in mind, it is easy to envision America's picture-perfect suburban life: a posh house with a large yard surrounded by the illustrious white picket fence -- swing-set, Oldsmobile, and Weber grill included. The reality, however, is a different and rapidly changing one.
It is estimated that home ownership will continue to decline, with renting on the rise and first-time buyers becoming much older; not exactly a surprise considering that the cost of real estate remains steep in historical comparison, adjusted by inflation or today's available median income. On the other hand, America (and the world) is also adapting a different viewpoint with respect to the proverbial Land of Opportunity. It may be more appropriate to think of Cities of Opportunity; migration patterns in the U.S. are clear proof that suburban life is in decline, and city life is flourishing.
Emerging metropolitan centers are not only a U.S. phenomenon, however. More than half of the world's population lives in urban areas, which have become the magnet for talent, cultural empowerment, and economic performance, accounting for 80 percent of the world's GDP and two-thirds of all energy consumption. The new world order represents a delicate balancing act for politicians and urban planners, as global cities are becoming even more productive compared to their mother countries: New York City's GDP per capita is nearly 36 percent higher vs. the overall U.S., and London's productivity exceeds that of the broader U.K. by 72 percent.
The American Dream, in its original version, was cozy and full of protective, communal elements. Today, this sort of secure "feeling of belonging" is captured very differently, made possible via technology. Our definition of "home" has expanded beyond physical space, as many of us carry our most precious belongings, from family photos to books to music collections, in the palm of our hand. Even travel has become easier, not only judging by the alarm clocks and treadmills with ready-made plugins for your device, but also by the engaged global "sharing economy" of cars, homes, music, and experiences.
Resisting the technological embrace, the "Old World" is fighting back vigorously. Ride-sharing company Uber, in pursuit of changing how the world moves, is currently facing multiple lawsuits by parties eager to preserve the status quo. The same was true when two teenagers launched music-sharing platform Napster in the late '90s; labeled as "unlawful" out of the gate, and shut down in 2001, we know that change was irrevocably manifested. Sharing music has become the ultimate standard and, especially for many younger listeners, the only accepted and known way of consuming their "tunes."
There are distinctly different but interrelated trends unfolding. Even when considering the very uneven distribution of national incomes and created wealth, along with the ongoing trend of large cities becoming the focal point for the ultra-wealthy, socioeconomic diversity may not have to suffer. The preservation of the "cool hipster status" may inherently be linked to the new, modular world in our pockets, and living "small" but multi-faceted has become the new realm of optionality and opportunity.
If I have learned anything from my work as a financial professional, it is the notion that possessions easily and very often become a burden; with this in mind, the present global trend of modular and technology-supported urbanization makes me hopeful. Human kind, first and foremost, will center on aspects of freedom rather than objects. We are currently witnessing an exciting "rebranding" of the American Dream, back to its roots of liberty and sharing of ideals, instead of the accumulation of possessions.