trendSCAN May 2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 01 June 2011 08:37

trendSCAN© - May 2011


In this version:

  • Did You Know?
  • New Normal Insights from 2010 Census
  • Changes at McDonalds and Starbucks
  • What Can We Learn From Other Public Services
  • Take-aways from Observations and Approaches


Did You Know?

  • A growing number of Californians consider obesity to be a "very serious" problem facing children in the state and believe unhealthy fare in schools should be restricted, according to a statewide poll released Tuesday.  Three-quarters of those asked said businesses and governments should promote healthier behavior. Nearly 90% of that group favored requiring physical education classes for four years in high school; keeping school gyms, tracks, playgrounds and fields open when school is out; and making street improvements so it is easier to bike and walk. (Source:
  • The recent results of Nielsen’s Three Screen Report – a quarterly analysis from Nielsen’s Anywhere Anytime Media Measurement initiative (A2/M2) – show that the average American watches approximately 153 hours of TV every month at home, a 1.2% increase from last year. In addition, the 131 million Americans who watch video on the Internet watch on average about 3 hours of video online each month at home and work.  Should we call this decade the “Screen Age”?
  • Energy drinks are now a $7.7 billion industry.  The success of this beverage category has now resulted in the emergence of a “stress-reduction” beverage category with drinks with names such as Unwind, iChill, Be Happy, etc.  (USA Today, May 2011)     

New Normal Insight from the 2010 Census

Census results and analysis are still being released and the new findings pinpoint some trends that have been building for a while now such as:

  • Blacks leaving cities for the suburbs
  • Areas losing children and/or increasing number of older adults
  • Growing changes in household definitions
  • Growing diversity among traditional ethnic groups

Blacks Migration Changing Cities

Much to the surprise of some demographers and urban planners, the last decade witnessed the migration of thousands of blacks from urban centers with long established black neighborhoods to the suburbs.  Some demographers identify this trend as one of the more significant ones of the past ten years.   These cities include Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL: Oakland, CA; and of course, New Orleans, LA (in a large part due to Katrina). 

The picture in California?

  • San Francisco-Oakland metro area lost 8% of its black population
  • LA lost 7%
  • San Diego was down 2%

LA Losing Kids

According to a USC analysis of demographics released in a report “Aging in California and Los Angeles County”, the number of children between the ages of 5 and 9 in the county decreased by 21% from 2000 to 2010 or dropping from 802,047 to 633,690. The average decrease for California was 8.1% according to this same report making LA County’s profile of children quite unusual. 

Fewer Americans Married

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the proportion of Americans who have never been married is at its highest level in the past 60 years.  The rate of Americans who have never been married now weighs in at 30%.  It is suggested that the increase in this percentage relates to the rising age of people when they first marry and the growing trend of cohabitation.

What about California?  An additional USC report "The Changing Household and Family," revealed that there were 32% more households with unmarried couples throughout the state in 2010 than a decade earlier; a 17% increase in the number of California homes with children headed by single fathers.  The increase in the percentage of single fathers was larger than the increase in the number of households headed by single mothers.

Further Growth in Diversity of Households

Ten years ago, 51.7% of American households consisted of a husband and wife married couple.  That percentage has dropped to 48.4% of this nation’s households.  Or as demographer William Frey reminds us

  • In 2010, “husband-wife families with children” represent 20% of American households
  • During the 60s, that percentage was more than 40%.

What about the “older” people?

The new median age of Americans is now 37.2 meaning that one-half of people in the United States are older than the 37.2 years and the other half of the country is younger than the 37.2 years.  The United States has become older in the past ten years as the median age at the time of the last Census in 2000 was 35.3 years.

Utah is the youngest state in the nation with a median age of 29.2 years and Maine is the oldest at 42.7 years.  The median age in California is 35.2 years

The ethnic divide of aging.  The median age for non-Hispanic white Americans is 41. For people who identify as Hispanic, it’s 27.  The number of older adults living in your area or community is largely due to one of the following situations:

  • Boomer Central:  Ten or 15 years ago your area attracted people in their 40s looking for an area where jobs were plentiful and these people stayed there.
  • Migration of Youth:  Areas of the country, particularly in New England and the Midwest, where younger people have left making the percentage of older adults higher
  • Retirement Meccas:  Areas of the country possessing characteristics such as mild climates, affordable recreation, access to natural area and/or a lower cost of living

Changes in Diversity Makeup

  • The proportion of the Hispanic population in the United States is now 53% Mexican; a 4.5% increase since 2000.  More than half of the Hispanic population lives in one of three states:  Texas, California, and Florida.
  • The Asian population is still predominantly Chinese but Indian-Americans are catching up.


 USA Today, May 2011


Changes at McDonalds and Starbucks

Two of the better known and successful well-known customer driven companies, Starbucks and McDonalds, are undergoing changes reflecting the current trends.  Starbucks turned 40 this year.  McDonalds has been around for 56 years.  What are they doing in today’s new normal?

What, if anything can we learn from these two companies that recognize and act upon the need to change with time?


  • McDonalds is trying to make its facility a warmer and more upscale place where people ‘want to hang out’;  this is a significant change since its inception when patrons were encouraged to ‘drive thru’ or eat their food quickly and leave
  • The facilities will include free Wi-fi and large screen TVs
  • The design of the new facilities create divided dining areas to accommodate larger groups, eat and run types, and the let’s lounge around for a while types.
  • Fiberglass chairs are being replaced by wooden ones
  • Drive-throughs are being doubled to speed-up the service to the car customers
  • The bright red and yellow are being exchanged for more muted versions and tones

The risk?

McDonalds is investing $1 billion and trying to become more similar to Starbucks?  Do they risk losing the family with young children customer base? 


Moving well into its third decade, the strong hold that Starbucks held on its part of the market began to erode.  While some experts felt it was the impact of the ‘new normal’ with its impact upon $5 cups of coffee, others believed it to be the fact that Starbucks was just “everywhere”.  Still others recognized growing competition for affordable coffee coming from of all places, McDonalds.

Anyway, Starbucks has entered what they refer to as “Phase 2” of the company’s long range plan and the originator of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has returned to lead the company into this new phase.  Some of the actions, activities, and adages applied to Phase 2 include the following:

  • Reports that Starbucks has“lost its soul”and will regain it ASAP
  • Letter to employees indicated that Starbucks must shift its focus away from bureaucracy and back to customers
  • Temporarily closed many outlets pending the “repurposing” associated with Phase 2
  • Has started serving beer and wine as a way to address “non-morning” times of the day

What Can We Learn From Other Public Services

It might be of interest and some value to look at the approaches being taken or being placed upon other public or quasi-public services.  In this case, let’s look at public libraries and water and sewer agencies; one a discretionary resource and the other considered an essential service.

Clean Air and Water:  Life’s Essential

When push comes to shove, “the only” aspects that are required for continued life support in both the long and short term are clean air and water.

Relationships between clean air and water and parks and recreation?

  • People can’t live without a potable water source, but they can survive without visiting a park or taking a yoga class; notice the term is “survive” versus “thrive”
  • Even though clean water is essential people must pay specifically for the amount of consumption of water and sewer that they personally use.
  • Nobody is required to pay for “clean air” and that may be because no one has figured out a way to charge for it.  (trendSCAN recommends a levy based upon the clean air in a neighborhood and the presence of trees and plants)
  • Clean air and water, life’s true essentials, are directly connected to preservation of open space.
  • The inequalities about what services require payment and what services are free can or should be issues for both service delivery systems.

The “free” Library System

This is NOT to suggest that public libraries have not shared the hit on budget cutbacks in the ‘new normal’.  Libraries across the country have experienced shorter hours, staggered service days and locations, etc.

However, if you look at some of the similarities between libraries and public parks and recreation:

  • Both groups serve all age groups from toddlers to older adults
  • Both groups operate facilities
  • Both groups offer specialized programs and activities
  • Both libraries and parks and recreation provide instructional and recreational services

How are these two public entities different from one another?

  • You don’t have to pay a membership fee to enter the library; granted some libraries are now charging for initial library cards
  • But residents and  visitors alike can still enter at “no charge” or “membership requirement”

Take-Aways from these Observations and Approaches 

What lessons, suggestions or applications can public parks and recreation take away from these observations and retooling examples by McDonalds and Starbucks?  What impact does or should fee structure have upon essential versus highly desirable public services?

  • Feeling welcome and comfortable at a facility is a GOOD thing and we should do a quick check of our entries, facilities, and park areas to determine ways we could make people feel more welcome and comfortable.  A good thought is to ask “real people” to enter without “previous announcement to staff” and provide feedback.
  • Try to rethink the “membership card” approach used in many community centers across the country.  Imagine feeling as if you could not enter the library without showing your membership card?  How would Starbucks do with a monitor at the door people entering the building how much they planned on buying and how long you would be staying?
  • Do a check of some of the smaller fees and charges associated with “general” use and determine if it is more costly to collect the fee than the monies actually collected.
  • If residents and visitors can enter public libraries without a charge why can’t the same be true of public parks?


trendSCAN© is created by Dr. Ellen O'Sullivan at Please feel free to share interesting trend information with her as well.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 August 2011 08:25