The 10 Minute Lifestyle and Social Entrepreneurship

Our challenge is to offer everyone in the United States the option of living in communities where they can walk or bike to everything they want or need.  In a country dependent on the automobile, this is a daunting task.  Outside of a few cities, a car is a necessity.  There is one categorical exception: University towns, where cars are often unaffordable, prohibited, or unnecessary, but where restaurants, coffee shops, and entertainment venues are within walking distance of housing.  By integrating mixed-use buildings with apartments, shops, and office space and locating them on shared streets near mass transit, we can achieve walkable community.

Millennials are the most obvious target.  Americans coming of age in the 21st Century seem to value their smartphones more than their drivers’ licenses.  A less obvious target is Baby Boomers.  While some 90% of Boomers state that they would like to age in place, most studies show that once they stop working, the majority will not be able to afford their car-dependent lifestyles.  With 10,000+ people turning 65 EACH DAY for the next 15 years, we have a major problem.  The solution?  Walkable communities.  According to the AAA, the average cost of car ownership is over $9,000 per year.  So a couple living in a car-dependent city or suburb can reduce their annual costs by $18,000 (less the cost of public transportation and (Zip)car rentals) by moving to a walkable community.  And if they sell their house and rent an apartment, they can cut additional costs and add significantly to their savings.  Thus economic necessity rather than desire will probably fuel demand for this new lifestyle.

What will it take to make a truly walkable community and fulfill the 10 minute lifestyle?  In addition to great public transportation and bike infrastructure, we will need more shopping, more “third places” (beyond the home and workplace), and more jobs.  Luckily, with the inflow of retiring or semi-retiring Baby Boomers, we have the human capital to make business and job creation happen.  One hundred years ago, few people lived beyond the age of 65.  Now, the average Baby Boomer can expect to live to 83.  Rather than play golf or sit by a pool, many will want to stay engaged and help rebuild communities.  In the words of university town developer and visionary Tim Elliott, it is time for a fusion of “campus, commerce, and community”.

Many university towns already have lifelong learning centers.  Add social entrepreneurship to these and we have the right environment for the transfer of business skills.  Facilitate the retired banker, accountant, and marketer to team up and help the promising baker open a pastry shop, the talented chef a restaurant, and the budding impresario an entertainment venue.  The virtuous cycle of more people spending more money locally leads to more jobs and more money being spent.  Beyond building businesses to serve the 10 minute lifestyle, our social entrepreneurs can work with graduate students and professors to start businesses of potential national and global importance.  The goal would be a multi-generational, knowledge based community in harmony with nature.