Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Industrial Mixed-Use Redevelopment

I remember back in 2007 when "mixed use hotel" projects invariably assumed four or five-star accommodations and luxury residential units with high-end retail amenities and maybe some class-A office space. At the time, I wondered how many such projects the world really needs (not to mention, I was feeling a little left out, given that I needed projects befitting a more practical limited service hotel and a lower cost basis). But it was clear that the craziness of the times made people want for something glitzy and glamorous, with a high dollar development cost that justified all the "juice" on the projects and all the financing that was flying around. I get it, I really do.

Now I'm hoping that all the doom and gloom of the last few years makes people receptive to a more blue-collar notion. Maybe we won't see a Ritz Carlton on every corner, but a few limited service hotels, convenience stores, and other such amenities can be good too, right? I mean, especially if it's an all-in community redevelopment project that really works for the surrounding area.

While Brooklyn's hipster artisan scene somehow gentrifies all that was previously nitty-gritty about that now trendy borough of NYC, there are plenty of other areas with an interesting story to tell, and I think those too deserve similar treatment -- even if not on the same scale of coolness. One such place is Detroit, where interesting things are already happening. Another is much closer to home for me and more typical to my region, in the mostly rural-turned-suburban villages of Phoenix, AZ, known as Laveen and South Mountain.

Here's a recent blog post from my Laveen blog: Laveen-SoMo Motor City. Please let me know what you think, as I really hope this catches on but I'm always open to criticism. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 2011: The Turning Point for Smart Growth (Or Commercial Real Estate's Emergence from an Existential Crisis)

Not that I have much faith that this blog post's title will prove true, but this month marks a crucial time for the commercial real estate community, particularly in the Western states where a couple of huge conferences are slated for this week and next. I sincerely hope that the more innovative ideas presented at each event are better heeded than in past years, as the last fiscal year also marks a more pronounced return to viability and growth for the sector, but we shall see.

As I type this, attendees of the Urban Land Institute's Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum are boarding planes for Phoenix and preparing for three full days of discussions about smart urban planning. According to the event website, more than 2,700 attendees have already registered (about 90% from out of state), and there will probably be more than a few local gate crashers like myself. Judging from the list of events and keynote speakers, it appears that this conference will focus largely on public-private partnerships, changing demographics, and the current state of capital and real estate markets. This is a broad swath of subject matter, with only one specific mention of "the challenges facing cities as they witness the demise of the suburban ring" in one of Friday's sessions. I suspect that others will touch on the topic as well, but with greater emphasis on topicality and immediate returns for investors. Like all industry groups, ULI must answer its membership's question of "What can you do for me right now?"

When the ULI conference closes on Friday, many will head straight to Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual mega retail convention, RECon, which officially begins on Saturday (although most people fly in Sunday night or Monday). In past years, this event has ranged from an insane bacchanalia with a flurry of deals to a more somber drunkfest of desperate moping and hoping for signs of life. To illustrate my point, consider that 2007's conference was marked by a ridiculous all out blitz by Dubai World and wildly expensive and exciting parties hosted by each of the major finance companies, whereas 2009 brought us more modest parties hosted by financiers and a lot of cozy cocktail hours hosted by various commercial brokers; 2010 was much the same as 2009.

Nearly every major national retailer and developer must show up at RECon, as well as anyone else wanting a piece of the pie. The frenzy of professionals flocking to Vegas culminates in an almost overwhelmingly large sea of hungry networkers toting stacks of business cards and brochures from one over-the-top booth to the next, as well as a number of back room deals and dinner business meetings. This year, there seems to be a renewed emphasis on educational events geared specifically toward the agent/broker or retailer communities, although there will also be several workshops and plenary sessions focusing on issues like sustainability and revitalization. The driving force for addressing these topics, however, is pragmatism and expediency in making deals rather than providing vision for the future.

The commercial real estate industry's lack of vision is disappointing, since the real estate sector as a whole faces an existential crisis at present (or perhaps it's emerging from one). But I worry about whether industry leaders have properly balanced the appropriate recovery mechanisms to fully emerge from this crisis. According to Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe's essay "The Last Messiah," there are four basic protections or remedies for a paradoxical dilemma such as this one:

  •  Isolation -- "a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling" [I'd say the real estate industry's collective ego does well enough to avoid thinking of the negative, having even adopted a sort of positivity mantra.]
  • Anchoring -- "characterised as a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness. Though typically unconscious, it may also be fully conscious (one 'adopts a goal')." [Again, I'd say we're mostly good here. See 'workaholic' and strong sense of ideology, the latter being more in keeping with the general provisions of anchoring.]
  • Distraction -- "One limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impressions." [Here we can thank the ego-pleasing nature of buildings, in keeping with Zapffe's proscription that distraction is "'high society's' tactic for living." This is especially true of landmarks and other highly creative developments.]
  • Sublimation -- "a matter of transformation rather than repression. Through stylistic or artistic gifts can the very pain of living at times be converted into valuable experiences. Positive impulses engage the evil and put it to their own ends, fastening onto its pictorial, dramatic, heroic, lyric or even comic aspects." [This one, while periodically present in the field of commercial real estate, is all too often lacking. This shall be our focus going forward.]
As you can see from the above synopsis of Zapffe's remedies for an otherwise destructive "life-panic," they appear to take on a progressive or hierarchical nature. Sublimation, for instance, is both the rarest and most advanced means of protection afforded to humankind. In illustrating the meaning and importance of sublimation, Zapffe states:
"Unless the worst sting of suffering is blunted by other means, or denied control of the mind, such utilisation is unlikely, however. [my emphasis] (Image: The mountaineer does not enjoy his view of the abyss while choking with vertigo; only when this feeling is more or less overcome does he enjoy it- anchored.) To write a tragedy, one must to some extent free oneself from -- betray -- the very feeling of tragedy and regard it from an outer, e.g. aesthetic, point of view. Here is, by the way, an opportunity for the wildest round-dancing through ever higher ironic levels, into a most embarrassing circulus vitiosus. Here one can chase one's ego across numerous habitats, enjoying the capacity of the various layers of consciousness to dispel one another."
Precisely because most of the survivors in commercial real estate have had their "suffering blunted by other means," I worry that the industry cannot transcend to this stage of higher existence. The voice of stewardship -- both in our financial markets and land use -- will continue to ring loud and clear. Many great thought leaders have already become intellectual celebrities in the aftermath of one of the US's greatest ever real estate market crashes (some, like noted economist Brad DeLong, are even featured or mentioned at the conferences described above). But their influence remains strongest in the academic world and their views are most often seen as slightly thought provoking rather than providing prescient guidance for industry practitioners.

The ULI, for instance, in reaching out to local academia, selected Arizona State University president Michael Crow as a keynote speaker at its Spring conference. Michael Crow has been credited with everything from reviving downtown Phoenix to making the city's light rail system a success (some even say he conceived of or implemented the light rail itself). Sounds impressive! But really, all Michael Crow needed to do was to show up and stick with a plan that was already in the works. This took courageous leadership, but not exactly the kind with which he is too often credited. His greatest contribution was to merge the Tempe and Phoenix campuses, which helped promote light rail use as well as to encourage residential and mixed-use development in downtown Phoenix and the oft-ignored "Discovery Triangle" corridors. But to be fair, Crow nearly blew up the deal for Phoenix's biomedical campus due to a naming controversy with the University of Arizona (I wish I was joking about this) and unnecessarily risked burning other bridges upon his arrival in town. He worked out the naming issue with UA, but eventually decided to pull ASU's support (and naming rights) anyhow for financial reasons, which ultimately worked out for the best. But let's be fair: the city and federal governments took a greater role in filling the financial void left by Crow's ASU withdrawal in order for UA to make the project a success, just as others pitched in to help ASU with its downtown campus.

Who else do I think would have been more deserving of a footnote speaker's slot at the conference? A few options come to mind rather easily. ASU recently launched its Institute for Sustainability, while UA boasts its respected Drachman Institute and Professor Gary Pivo's Responsible Property Investing Center (in conjunction with Harvard). Each could have likely added more to the discussion than Michael Crow, and each has far more to gain from positive industry attention.

After all, the ULI's theme this year is "Adapting for the Future," and the local flavor offered by way of "special interest tours" and "mobile workshops" focuses mostly on Phoenix's historical ingenuity in place making (Taliesin West, prehistoric irrigation canals, and tribal economic development, to name a few topics). I wish the group delved deeper into the underlying principles that engendered such impressive feats of engineering and enterprise, and I wish they carried this theme forward more aggressively in discussions about infrastructure and urban revitalization. But I worry that we'll remain stuck in dealmaking mode and demanding that ULI make us more profitable right now. We already know that this will be the case for RECon this year, but I have higher expectations for the Urban Land Institute.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Arizona's Immigration Problem Is Other States' Gain

Arizona has decided to seek a Supreme Court hearing on it's flawed SB 1070 law, which saddens me as a resident of the state. Utah took a much better position on immigration, accounting for its potential regional advantage by countering the vitriol in Arizona with a friendlier voice. Texas, too, has mostly played this one well. But Arizona has decided to double down on a flawed strategy instead of seeking better solutions and paving a way to prosperity for itself.

People on both sides of the immigration debate remain too partisan in general, and in a crazy tribalist or provincial sense of the word. Remember, we still haven't done much in the way of addressing the root problems and assigning costs versus benefits of the status quo versus any prospective solutions -- but there's already a lot of good info out there that could help guide policy decisions.

In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office completed a report that explains quite clearly why we've been lagging in coming up with a comprehensive modern solution for immigration. In its report, the CBO corroborated other evidence that immigration, both documented and undocumented, tends to create positive growth for the U.S. economy. Furthermore, undocumented immigration has not cost the federal government nearly as much as it has created in revenues through economic growth. But the report did indeed state that immigration creates a strain on state and local governments' budgets.

So if we're wondering why the Feds have failed to address concerns of states like ours, it boils down to economics and national priorities. The fact that our federal government has been dragging its feet doesn't invalidate Arizona's claim that immigration is costing the state more than its fair share, but I also can't understand why our state has been so sensational in its approach to the problem. We want something done to help AZ, right? Then let's make a deal.

My proposal is one more like what New York achieved in the 19th century by implementing a massive immigration processing center called Ellis Island (we all know Ellis Island, but many didn't realize that it was borne out of a vicious immigration debate like today's). There were certainly calls to limit immigration or institute a strong quota system (which came later) -- one could argue that immigration was even more burdensome on New York's local economy at the time than it is on border states now -- but the federal government also knew that our country needed the economic growth from immigration at the time. So they reached a compromise that brought many federal jobs to New York and New Jersey as well as easing the burden previously shouldered by New York City and the state of New York. Not only that, but the Ellis Island move also took away some of this new immigration activity from other states that were serving as major ports of entry at the time. Big win for New York in the 1800s, and I think something similar would be a major win for Arizona in the 21st century.

Why must we continue to bicker and give credence to deep seeds of hatred, when we can instead ask what's in this for us? Further restricting immigration or sticking with the status quo does nothing to help Arizona. Creating a meaningful reform policy and embracing our geographical advantage as a major port for immigration could very well fix our current problems and provide much needed economic diversification and growth going forward. Where is this kind of solution in the mainstream debate?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Strike One for Lodging and Flash Sales

We've all seen the discussions about using flash sites. The best article I've found as a reference is this one, featuring hospitality journalist/blogger Adam Kirby. Still, I don't think the travel industry or any others should write off such flash sales entirely, as suggested by many. They should instead respect these deals for what they are and make good use of them as a marketing tool.

But to really understand how these flash sales work and how my industry can use such a promotional tool, I should try it out as a consumer, right? Of course! Thankfully, I received multiple opportunities in December 2010 and booked a couple that offered seriously deep discounts. They both offered plenty of time to book a reservation, so I was merely awaiting a change in weather and more free time to plan my trips, perhaps even as a combo since they were both in the same part of the state.

But all has not gone according to plan.... I received an email from groupon earlier today notifying me that my purchase from a dude ranch in southeastern AZ would be refunded due to a problem with the deal. From reading the discussion page on groupon's site, I gathered that they had overbooked the ranch and were immediately getting rid of the offer.... "sorry for any inconvenience."

As a hospitality industry professional and experienced traveler/yelper, I can't help but be critical of the ranch's handling of this situation. There's already been a great deal of controversy within the hospitality industry about utilizing flash sales like Groupon (and a weak consensus thinks it's always a bad idea). But these guys decided to do it anyway, offering an amazing discount and making too many groupons available, which resulted in the ranch being overwhelmed. Not good, but it's an understandable mistake and groupon deserves part of the blame for not foreseeing this eventuality. Now it's time to make things right.

If they want happy customers, the dude ranch should clearly explain what happened and offer customers a choice. I know that I was pleased enough with the deal that I'd opt for a rain check; others may want to cancel, in which case perhaps they should also receive a peace offering like a percent-off future stay coupon. In this case, we would all at least know what's happening and have some say in how we can each be made whole by the ranch's mistake -- we might even sympathize and become more loyal followers of the business.

Instead, I predict much resentment for this dude ranch as a result of the "sorry, but here's your money back," email. Many, like me, were probably trying a dude ranch for the first time and could indeed become repeat customers, especially given the proximity of this one. It is somewhat isolated, but near a single major feeder market (and not too far from a couple others), so I'd argue that the flash sale might have prompted a desirable outcome for the ranch. I somewhat doubt that this will now be the case. Bummer. Next!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tucson Convention Center Hotel

As I digest the news that the Tucson City Council has definitively voted down the TCC deal for now, I realized that there was this fairly thoughtful email (if I do say so myself) that I wrote to a friend on the city council on the subject, dated April 2006.  Almost everything I said back then would still apply today, except that they already did try to scale the project down slightly and obviously the credit markets are a tad different now.....

...Yesterday, we discussed the financial model and size of investment required for large commercial developments  Here's an interesting article stating that large, full-service hotels have a tough time getting off the ground:

That said, several upscale brands have proven successful with 200-400 rooms, hence the popularity of these brands in the marketplace and the availability of easy financing and capital investment.  This option has been the immediate alternative suggestion from any developers to whom I've mentioned the Tucson plan for a 700-room convention center property.

Off the record, I think Tucson could win big by incentivizing one or two competing brands to build at the 200-400 room tier, along with encouraging the existing downtown hotel to renovate and pick up a decent flag, while still leaving some funds available for other related programs.  Here's a list of available brands the city may want to pursue, along with a viable mix:

*Hilton, 307 Rooms (based on converting Hotel Arizona)
*New full-service hotel, 350-400 Rooms (Sheraton, W, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, Wyndham, Radisson, Doubletree, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Renaissance, Embassy Suites)
*New upscale select service, 120-250 rooms each (Courtyard, Hilton Garden, Cambria, aloft, Indigo, Hyatt Place, etc)
*New upscale extended stay, 100-200 rooms each (Homewood, Staybridge, Residence Inn, Element)
*New midscale products to compete with dilapidated supply along I-10 corridor

...I would not easily dismiss a nice, newly constructed midscale or upscale select-service product, as these will only encourage bigger developers with incremental gains in achievable rates - a big issue in the Tucson market, due to a typically slow summer season and high amount of government business year-round. 

Judging by the most recent article in Saturday's Daily Star, other professionals agree that Tucson's hopes for the convention center hotel are unrealistic.  But an easily winning strategy may be to go after something like this:

307-room Hilton (conversion)
400-room Hyatt or Renaissance (or something unrelated to Hilton)
200-room upscale select-service property
150-room upscale extended-stay
200 rooms of midscale brands (2 properties...)
=1,350 rooms of class-A branded hotels added to the downtown, and better market segmentation

Right now, Tucson is not hitting the radar for most of the brands, even though it's one of my top markets.  This should tell you something about the existing demand.  It is wonderful for midscale and marginally tempting for upscale hotels; although upscale hotel developers would prefer to build somewhere closer to existing upscale areas, surrounded by other upscale retail and dining, etc.  The only way to change that dynamic is to incentivize them, which the city already proposes, but do it better than in the existing plan.

Tucson could easily get more bang for its buck by setting its sites on easier targets.  A relatively small incentive could make for a very lucrative deal when you're looking at a $10-50 Million investment that already has a place in the market.  Let's consider someone building a $50-million hotel/mixed-use building, plus a $20 Million renovation of the existing hotel, plus a new $25 Million hotel, and a couple of $15 Million hotel projects.  By offering a small chunk to each of these developers, you not only build up more than the proposed number of rooms downtown, but you also start the ball rolling for other me-too developers.  Incentivizing a $130 Million hotel project that barely makes economic sense, if at all, is a far more expensive and unfeasible investment than dividing that investment into smaller chunks.  Also, you can limit the funds to encourage competition from owner/operators and franchise companies, rather than handing over one big lump sum to a project that might not be sustainable.

I don't even stand to gain from this proposition, but I felt strongly enough about it to put this lengthy email together.... I also can't imagine the city throwing so much money into something that doesn't even make as much economic sense as many of the less expensive alternatives.  FYI, if either plan moves forward, I stand to lose a great downtown site that will likely go up in value to the point that my clients won't want it.  But when the dust settles, at least a package deal means incremental growth, which tends to be very contagious and better for everyone involved. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Self-Cannibalization in Real Estate

I'm sure this view will draw the ire of many professional contacts, and I would mostly understand.... We are driven by the market and too often lack the power to make huge changes in "the way things are done."  But I also hope that you recognize the flaws in how things have been done in recent years -- and not just from an economic perspective, although perhaps reevaluating our typical investment strategies/perspectives could go a long way in making things better.  I'm speaking of course about the community impact of real estate, since these two components of our world are inextricably linked.

What happens when the economic life of an investment has expired?  What is one's responsibility to the community with regard to the grayish area of perceptions of blight, value, impact, etc.?  And finally, how does an all too typical 3-5, or even 10-year investment timeline impact the likelihood that we leave blight in our wake while moving on to create "greatness" or other "enhancements" and "community amenities?"  Is there a better investment strategy that also accomplishes more in the way of making our world better?  Thankfully, there are many leaders in the real estate, planning, and economic development communities finally asking these questions and applying the scientific method to our varied theories of how things ought to be done.  I plan to focus on these elements going forward, hopefully blogging more frequently than I have in the past with some thought provoking issues and their proposed solutions.

For now, I offer my follow-up comments on an article that appeared recently in the local newspaper, The Arizona Republic.  This article was posted by local business leaders seeking to take back greater control of Phoenix and frustrated that the retail landscape here is mostly undesirable to small businesses for one reason or another -- mostly due to not offering the kind of main street connectedness that they seek within the market, and yet local businesses should be the key to an economic recovery.  So without further ado:

If you've been in any area of Phoenix for a considerable amount of time, just reflect on how that area has evolved over its first two decades (or the last two if it's an older part of town). What too many in our real estate industry readily accept as a cyclical market is really just wasteful self-cannibalism in many cases.
Having grown up in South Tempe, I often think about all the office space and retail that was built on the edges of Awhatukee. Back in the 90s, this was one of the hot spots to be in the Phoenix area, but then the market "shifted." The reason for the shift? Ambitious new plans for Chandler Mall and the 101 corridor. The same thing has happened again and again throughout Phoenix, and we end up with dilapidated shells of buildings that serve little value unless, miraculously, the surrounding neighborhood gets "revitalized."
The failure of this formula is that our community often treats housing exactly the same way -- get into the neighborhood while it's new, sell high, and move on to the next booming area..... How's this working for us today? Is it maybe time for a change in how we treat our surrounding community and overall environment? I think so.
This issue has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  In fact, as I type this, I await the final word on a controversial zoning hearing for a downtown permit application to demolish an older Phoenix hotel.  One of my acquaintances appeared in this news story about the case and he has blogged extensively about it.  I too have engaged in many quite similar debates about prematurely laying older buildings to waste, or overbuilding a particular area in one way or another with little regard for the surrounding land uses, infrastructure, and/or community needs and wants.

As we throw around such massive amounts of money in the development industry, I feel that it's perhaps important to remember what it should mean to "invest."  We're dealing with a rather illiquid investment instrument here, after all.  So why not try to reap the greatest possible long-term rewards by directly serving the community and always gaining buy in from the local residents who will inevitably become customers, strategic partners, and even co-investors in a project?  I know several successful developers already employing this kind of strategy to their projects, but think the industry as a whole has a long way yet to go.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Will Future Generations Contribute to Our Economic Development

The Kaiser Foundation recently published a not-so-surprising report about increased media consumption among 8-18 year old kids.  The KFF survey, as you probably expected, demonstrated that overall media consumption has risen significantly in this age group.  However, it's equally important to note that TV viewing remained fairly stable, as did book reading.  So while others reprint the study's findings and emphasize deterioration in grades among heavy media users, I'd like to go ahead with the alternative hypothesis that "The kids are alright" -- a line more or less straight from "Talkin' bout my [dad's] generation."

How is this relevant to us?  Well, for the same reason that other business-related media sources are discussing this topic: The kids are our future and they've got plenty of disposable income, family spending influence, and time on their hands (not to mention their potential future lifetime purchasing behavior, which is quite valuable to businesses catering to teens).  Duh!  Like, seriously, it's so lame I had to even point that out.  But then it's also important to me because, as you can quite clearly see in my last sentence, I am now part of the adult ruling class -- inept at capturing an even remotely passable tone of today's teen language -- and frankly, somewhat frightened about our lack of connection with teens today.  As I work with fellow community leaders an real estate professionals in my own neighborhood, it's become clear that we had better work with the kids who are often vandalizing private property and potentially threatening our local businesses, or else see our community deteriorate in the future.  To better work with them, of course, we need to better understand them and relinquish some of our perceived control (which is mostly futile anyway, in my opinion) -- in other words, genuinely try to collaborate.  This begins with learning to appreciate their worldview and how it may be different or similar to ours.

Furthermore, let's look at the ways they develop that worldview, via media consumption patterns and application to other aspects of their lives.

In our post-information age, we often like to think we've somehow progressed beyond the simple need to produce and present information as a means to advance our collective knowledge and innovation base -- yet this remains a critical focus in much of our lives.  The mere availability of information in a disorganized and uncontrolled environment arguably remains one of our biggest hurdles to effectively utilize media to enhance knowledge on a widespread basis. (Yes, media companies do indeed organize information, but typically as a sole means to meet their demand feedback loop, which often contributes to bias and closed-mindedness).

If increased media consumption is indeed acting more as a distraction or mindless escape to our youth (and their parents), then maybe we ought to focus more on enriching it to promote intellectual curiosity.  Why should a teen's grades begin to fail because he/she spends more time taking in media presentations?  I can't fathom why, twenty years into the information revolution, we haven't found a way to make learning more stimulating -- unless we have and we just don't realize it (see, for instance, the current dialog about how we are already using the all-new iPad and its promise for mobile computing).

The three questions we need to ask are:

1.  Are we evaluating the wrong measures of learning, by failing to account for positive aspects of increased media consumption;

2.  What ever happened to our once strong cultural respect for the venerable fourth estate (great post about financial coverage here) and the ongoing value of creativity expressed through contemporary art or, better yet, direct observations about pop culture; and

3.  Why are we highlighting the perils of media consumption, rather than focusing on opportunities present in this finding?  We should be taking notes on the popularity of interactive and multi-platform media in the commercial space, typically developed to either enrich private sponsors' marketing opportunities (i.e. click-throughs, surveys, etc.) or to enhance the value of an entertainment franchise (i.e. Star Wars, Lost, Avatar, Nine Inch Nails, and others using ARGs or similar).  What's wrong with using these examples to promote better parallel learning mechanisms?  (And yes, I know that some are doing this, but why not en masse?)

Just as when I was a student in the 80s/90s being told to beware outdated maps in the library, or assertions about scientific findings that were since disproved, kids today should be encouraged to forge their own learning paths to some extent.  From the top-down perspective, we could use closed captioning or voice-/ video-enhanced text at an early age to help with language acquisition.  This could then be paired with a bottom-up approach that enables students to seek ways in which they can explore related media (for fun or learning) or perhaps contribute their own interpretations through wikis and discussion boards.  Meanwhile, this could better train teens to seek contextual clues to the often dreaded classic literature, history, humanities, or boring science lessons -- which in turn better promotes the notion of democratized and engaged learning.

I'm a little disappointed that the study emphasizes the fact that parental media rationing is key to getting kids back on track.  Instead, what if parents and teachers did a better job of engaging with their kids in more enriched media consumption?  As a kid who grew up on the tail-end of gen X, I see the same perception wall that hindered communication about media consumption in the 80s, where it was too often viewed as a purely recreational activity in one's leisure time that crept into more productive activities.  This attitude contributed to a popular uproar over Ronald Reagan's observation that video games should be used to develop the skills necessary to our military -- how long did that view take to institutionalize, 20 years?  Or my parents' early lack of understanding about my music consumption habits, which helped create a passion that I leveraged into more critical interpretation of media -- I still benefit from this as an adult.  And would you really complain that a future environmental biologist or investment banker is glued to Discovery Channel or CNBC as a teenager?  What better time has there been to learn from available media, and at the same time teach kids to analyze and understand the source.

So this just looks to me like the saga continues between kids and their parents, who "just don't understand," as stated by one of my dad's favorite actors, Will Smith.  Hey, wait a minute, I thought he was one of us....