Showing all posts tagged: economics

Libraries, co-working spaces lending out sewing machines, iPads, and more

1 September 2023

Australian libraries are no longer quiet places to study or borrow books, writes Bec Zhuang for The Guardian. Today they are community hubs offering working spaces, meeting rooms, film screenings, art shows, and study courses, among other things. And in some places, libraries loan out more than books. Musical instruments, gaming consoles, sewing machines, bike repair tool kits, and, in the case of Waverley library, in Sydney’s east, iPads, are now potentially on offer:

In fact, libraries are transforming into “community hubs” to work, play or access outreach services — at no cost to visitors. The Australian Library and Information Association says forthcoming data from Public Libraries Victoria’s annual survey suggests that, with Covid restrictions now over, participation in free library programs increased by 95% this year.

Up until the pandemic I used to work semi-regularly at a nearby library. Looking around, I’d frequently see the same people each time, and it was apparent many were operating small businesses, or working there. Of these regulars, one often conducted meetings with clients in the library’s foyer, as there were, at the time, no dedicated meeting rooms.


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The perils of a cashless Australian society

23 August 2023

Australian dollar bills and coin, image by Squirrel photos

Image courtesy of Squirrel photos.

Just seven percent of Australians are “high cash” users according to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia. Tap-to-pay contactless payment methods, which are simple and convenient to use, have dispensed with the need to carry wads of money in our bags and pockets.

In addition, the amount of cash in circulation is at an all-time low, down by a billion dollars in the last financial year, as people use other payment methods. That has some pundits already predicting Australia will become a cashless society sooner rather than later. That’s welcome news for those who don’t feel safe carrying cash, and means less cash handling hassle for people like shop-owners.

But a completely cashless Australia does not suit all. Not everyone has a smartphone, rendering tap-to-pay useless to them. Some people — including newly arrived immigrants — don’t even have a bank account. One or two people are still paid cash for their work, and would be put out if retailers refused to accept cash. Or, for that matter, should banks stop handling cash, as is the case in some places in Sweden, which is seen as one of the world’s most cashless societies.

These factors aside though, some don’t like the idea of government agencies, the tax office in particular, knowing exactly how much they earn. Other people meanwhile crave privacy. They don’t want all their spending recorded on a bank statement, that unwanted eyes might peruse. Mortgage applicants, for instance, may not want prospective lenders knowing how much they spend on, say, coffee, something that’s certainly open to scrutiny when using tap-to-pay.

Despite the gloomy outlook for cash, Australia certainly won’t become cashless overnight, and if there are plans to do away with cash, there would be plenty of warning. The future of cheques makes for a good road map here. According to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, cheques, which will be phased out in 2030, account for 0.2% of financial transactions.

That’s far less than cash, and there’s a generous seven year warning ahead of their demise. Implementing infrastructure allowing everyone to transact without cash is a process that could take decades. While I can’t see cash being around forever, it’s not going anywhere soon.



Australian cafes feel brunt of rising inflation, interest rates

17 July 2023

Australian cafes are among those bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. Many are dealing with rising overheads, and reduced revenue, as their customers — who are negotiating increased rent or mortgage payments, among other things — feel compelled to reduce discretionary spending.

As a result, many cafes are going out of business:

About one-sixth of cafes advertised for sale now will close down before finding a buyer. In May, ASIC data showed business insolvencies were at the highest monthly rate in eight years. So far the insolvencies have been dominated by construction firms, but hospitality is expected to overtake it in 2024, credit reporting agency CreditorWatch said.

At a large shopping centre I visit in Sydney’s east, I’ve seen about half a dozen coffee shops close in perhaps the last twelve months. While myriad factors could account for this, including a noticeable decline in foot traffic in the centre, rising interest rates and inflation are surely also to blame.

It’s sad to see. For many people, operating a cafe is one way of realising the dream of owning a small business and being self-employed, together with creating work opportunities, both direct and indirect, for other people.


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WikiHouse a possible solution to affordable housing shortages?

25 June 2023

Housing shortages, along with rising interest rates and mortgage repayments, are presently driving up rents and homelessness. To alleviate the problem, the supply of affordable accommodation needs to be increased. But planning and constructing safe, well-built dwellings, takes time.

The WikiHouse project, based in Britain, are designers of sustainable, open-source, modular housing, and may be part of the solution. Long story short, component blocks of durable plywood can be made, which bolt together, in a similar fashion to self-assembly furniture, to create a house.

Perhaps this is something worth looking at?


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Converting empty offices to housing to reduce homelessness?

7 May 2023

When people started working from home during the COVID pandemic, large numbers of office buildings fell vacant, and many remain that way. So why not convert these once commercial spaces into residential accommodation, and put a roof over the head of homeless people?

At first glance the idea makes sense:

Proponents argue that increasing housing in urban centres through office-to-residential conversions also supports the 15-minute city model, where many of your daily needs are just a short walk or bike ride from home. The model promotes community-building and healthy living, boosts local economies and reduces transport emissions, helping ensure there is cleaner air and a more sustainable planet.

Problems abound though. Repurposing office blocks into housing comes at cost, and some buildings are not always suitable for conversion into residential accommodation. It’s an unfortunate dilemma. On one hand, buildings sit empty, while on the other, there are people without a place to call home.


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Self identity, work, careers, Gen Z are doing it differently

4 May 2023

Generation Z has an identity crisis. People aged between about ten and twenty-six say they struggle to define who they are. Other demographics, I dare say, would have no such trouble. But, according to recent research carried out by in Australia by Snapchat, zoomers, as Generation Z members are also known, are pretty clear on other things.

When it comes to the identity of others around them though, Gen Z dislike binary definitions, and not just those applied to gender:

More than half (56%) of Australian Gen Z have said they don’t like binary definitions based on sex, gender, ability or culture, and prefer to just be defined as themselves.

Many zoomers also see themselves as intersectional, being people who embrace a number of identities. Gen Z may not have been the first demographic to realise just about everyone is really intersectional, but they may be the first to consider being intersectional as part of who they are.

Gen Z also takes a different view to work and careers. They’re keen to avoid burnout, and what they call the nine to five hustle:

That’s not to say that Gen Z are shunning work however. The vast majority (87%) have said they’re actively seeking new ways to earn money outside of a traditional job, with side gigs and passive incomes (e.g. selling handmade goods, investing in the stock market and cryptocurrency, or becoming a blogger or influencer).

Eighty percent of zoomers say they would prefer to work on a freelance basis, or be self-employed. About sixty percent of survey respondents say they’ve taken courses (from “traditional learning institutions”) to skill themselves for this sort of work.


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Could libraries be a place to offer affordable housing?

21 April 2023

Libraries are more than somewhere to go to merely read, or borrow, a book. They’re often places were people study, work, and, to a degree, socialise. In short, libraries are community hubs.

But the idea that libraries could be expanded upon — subject to certain caveats — to offer affordable housing, is compelling. It is however a proposal the Boston Public Library has been considering, says library president David Leonard:

These three libraries will serve as a model to expand alternative affordable housing options. But Leonard said adding affordable housing may not be right for every neighborhood. Programming studies of the Field’s Corner branch revealed the space was too tight to deliver affordable construction; in Egleston Square, the community valued the existing greenspace over an expanded library/housing footprint.

On paper it’s an intriguing idea. People who need affordable housing would have somewhere to live, and potentially a community to tap into, downstairs in the library itself.


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Sally Rooney on the hardships facing renters in Ireland

25 March 2023

Irish author Sally Rooney, writing for The Irish Times, about the end of an eviction moratorium that may render many people homeless:

The wave of evictions expected to begin from the end of this month is not merely theoretical: we already know that during the period of the ban, tenants in the State sought advice on roughly 1,500 new eviction notices. In a few weeks’ time, if the Government does not reverse course, these evictions will be eligible to proceed. Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has even publicly accepted that homelessness will “very possibly” increase when the moratorium comes to an end.

While the situation is different, the outlook for residential renters in Australia is likewise challenging. In January 2023, vacancy rates nationwide were just 0.8 percent. In some centres — Perth and Adelaide — vacancy rates were 0.3 percent, which might as well mean there are next to no residential properties available to rent.


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The exorbitant cost of luxury goods is why people queue up to buy

12 January 2023

Despite their cost, the goods sold by some luxury retailers are not always quality buys, though such matters seldom deter customers. It’s the price tag they’re interested in. And the higher the price, the better, writes American author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin:

Luxury goods are items that are worth more (to some) because they cost more. The cost itself is the benefit that is being sold.

But the exorbitant cost isn’t the only… benefit. The roped-off queuing areas outside the store, where customers must wait for a sales agent to become available, are another. There’s a luxury in lining up to enter a luxury retailer, it’s the hope of being seen waiting for admission. The picture windows adorning many of these stores, and their relatively confined floor space, are another benefit. They combine to create an additional opportunity to be seen shopping.

A large shopping centre I visit has a dedicated “luxury precinct”, an area set aside solely for luxury stores. I’m not sure all the people I see queuing up outside these stores are exactly in the luxury store demographic, but maybe that’s another benefit of the luxury shopping experience.



Australian CBDs will bounce forward, not back, in 2023

29 December 2022

Rob Stokes, NSW Minister for Cities, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rather than forcing workers back into CDBs, many of whom took to working from home during COVID lockdowns of the last few years, the NSW State government is looking at other ways of reinvigorating city centres across Australia’s most populous state:

Our CBDs are going to bounce forward, not back. They will rebound on a totally different trajectory in 2023. Over the course of the pandemic, the NSW government has invested $66 million in ways to reinvent how our central urban areas function. Programs to move dining into streets and public spaces, pop-up events, new walking and cycling paths, and reduced controls over music, retail and service of food and drinks have all changed the way we experience city streets.

The writing has been on the wall for CBDs for some time. With the advent of robust technologies allowing more people to work from home with greater ease, it was only a matter of time until workers migrated away from city centres. The COVID lockdowns, and work from home mandates, only brought forward the present state of affairs, it did not precipitate it.

None of that helps businesses who have long been based in CBD areas, and are struggling with the change though. Many are still reeling from the impact of COVID, not to mention construction of Sydney’s light rail transit system. Here’s hoping these initiatives are of benefit.

And here’s something intriguing. According to Stokes, the concept of CBDs was devised by white, middle class men, for white, middle class men:

The phrase “central business district” was coined by white, male, middle-class planners in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s, based on the notion that cities work most efficiently when different groups work, live and play in different precincts. CBDs were designed to be used by white, middle-class businessmen, 9-5, Monday to Friday. They were never really designed to include anyone else.


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