Archive for September, 2008

Learning to be a city

London Freewheel

London Freewheel rolls down the Mall

Andrew Curry writes:

It was European Mobility Week last week, and London marked it with its second ‘Freewheel‘ event on Sunday. Quite a large area of the city centre (St James’ Park and the Embankment from Charing Cross to Tower Hill) was closed to motor vehicles; there were marshalled rides from feeder points around the city; and Sky Sports provided free hi-viz vests to anyone who wanted one. And during the course of the day around 50,000 cyclists turned out, helped by fine weather.

It brought to mind the idea that successful cities have to be both ‘magnets and glue’ (the phrase is Rosabeth Moss Kanter‘s). Magnets are the events and buildings which make a city prominent; glue is what makes people stay there. The first is high profile, the second more about locality and liveability (good parks, good schools). The first tends towards the spectacular, the second towards the participatory.

What’s interesting is the way in which London has used cycling to promote both. There have been the magnet events such as the stages of the Tour of Britain and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. Freewheel, in contrast, is glue – a social day out. But it turns out that a lot of the skills which are needed overlap. The roads closed off last Sunday were almost the same as for the first stage of the Tour of Britain earlier this month. The marshalling skills are similar.

As well as wanting to stage events such as this, cities have to learn how to do it. London has scaled up over time (the first time it closed off city centre roads for cycling it shut down a small area around Whitehall). It’s part of a successful pro-cycling strategy which has seen cyclist commuter numbers double in the capital over the last five years.

Freewheel photos (c) Peter Curry 2008

Freewheel photos (c) Peter Curry 2008

26 September 2008 at 9:10 am 1 comment

Everyday toxins

Rachel Claydon writes:

Momentum around the issue of toxic-free consumption seems to be building. New research released recently by the principal investigator at the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, Professor Richard Sharpe, provides further evidence of links between the toxic chemicals contained in many everyday products and major heath issues. This recent study warns that chemicals found in many cosmetics can damage the reproductive system in male foetuses, especially during the eight to twelve week stage of a pregnancy.

While the research was based on tests with rats and does not provide conclusive proof of harm, it nonetheless resonates with previous studies which point to a link between infertility problems and testicular cancer, pollution and chemicals in everyday products, and pregnant women are nevertheless being advised to avoid using perfume and scented creams.

Cosmetics are not the only products causing concern. Carpet, bedding, cling film, air fresheners and non-stick pans are among a number of household goods containing chemicals that campaigners believe have not been adequately safety tested. And American research published this week suggested an association between Bisphenol A – a chemical found in plastic packaging for food and drink – and the incidence of heart disease and diabetes, although it is a ‘preliminary’ stidy and it didn’t show a causal connection.

Toxic accumulation has been on environmentalists’ radar since the 1960s, and there is a growing body of regulation to try to tackle it. The issue is increasingly reaching the general public through media coverage of this kind of research – “Perfumes linked to infertility” screamed the front page of London’s Metro in response to Richard Sharpe’s research. Increasing consumer awareness of toxins in everyday goods is an important emerging trend, and we are seeing growing interest in toxic-free products such as Ecover and organic cotton. Producers who want to stay ahead of the trend would do well to check for poisons in their supply chains – before campaigners or researchers do.

17 September 2008 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment

Understanding the ‘Aldi effect’

Alastair Morton writes:

The Guardian last Friday splashed pictures of baked beans and ‘Beamers’ across its front page to make the point that consumers’ habits are changing as a result of the credit crunch and other pressures on incomes. In particular, there are some startling statistics about BMW sales (down 40% on last year) and people’s levels of savings (down 48% on last year). In all of this, they suggest that a number of companies are benefiting from the ‘Aldi effect’, meaning that budget retailers and products (such as Aldi, Premier Inn budget hotels and own label foods) are more in demand as consumers tighten their belts.

However, the headline effects of downturn mask some more complex value trade-offs that consumers are making, and will continue to make, as they manage their squeezed finances. Over the last 5 years, discounters (especially Lidl) have added branded goods to their shelves, reaching levels as high as 30% of the product assortment in UK stores (sourced from MVI research). So switching to these retailers need not mean buying different products. Are consumers trading down and buying lower quality, or are they simply looking for the same quality, even branded, products at a cheaper price? Paul Foley, UK Managing Director of Aldi, argues ‘there is no trading down in buying the same quality product. You are just trading down in price.’

In ‘Feeling the Pinch’, a piece of research that we did recently, we were able to dive deeper and unpick the different ways that consumers are managing their money differently. Using a factor analysis, we found eight themes of coping behaviour that consumers are likely to draw on over the coming year, from spending wisely to borrowing to cutting back to reducing ethical consumption. Obviously there’s far more detail in the 70-page report, but a couple of core findings stand out.

First, people’s initial response to downturn is to try to buy the same things cheaper rather than buying fewer or different things. After this they buy less or cut out treats or luxuries. Secondly, levels of anxiety about economic downturn are a strong predictor of consumer behaviour – the more anxious consumers are, the more likely they are to make specific changes to their consumption behaviour in order to save money. Measuring consumers’ anxiety levels about their economic position – and how they’re changing – is the best way to gauge how rapidly consumer behaviour is likely to change.

The ‘Feeling the Pinch’ report is available for £3,500+VAT. Tailored briefings, which explore the findings and their implications for individual companies’ strategies and brands, are available from £6,000+VAT. To find out more, please email

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11 September 2008 at 9:06 am Leave a comment

The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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