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The situation at New Seabury Shopping Center in 1986 was a bit of a mess.
The Cape Cod strip mall – which included a grocery store, pharmacy, bank, and small cinema – was looking worn down. Two busy state highways on either side made the site feel daunting to navigate. And a sea of parking lots around the outdated buildings limited the area’s potential.
Arnold Chace had only recently entered the family business around this time. His father had developed the New Seabury Shopping Center in the 1960s. Now his son needed to determine the land’s future.
Chace made an unusual decision. He realized that a successful redesign didn’t need to feel exciting. He didn’t need to make any splashy or trendy changes.
Instead, he prioritized basic, time-tested ideas. He reverted back to what he knew had consistently worked in the past. From his perspective, shouldn’t a retail and business district feel approachable to its customers, workers, and residents?
So his idea for a path forward revolved around accessibility.
In 1986, popular opinion and common practice would have turned New Seabury into a modern shopping center. Writer Thao Thai explains why:
“In 1956, [U.S. President Dwight] Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, prompting the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways that connected suburbs to the cities where many worked. This development, along with the mass departure of white populations from more diverse urban centers (commonly called White Flight), led to a migration into the suburbs where an entertainment gap emerged. [Developers] saw an opportunity to fill that gap with malls, or what [they] called “indoor downtowns.”
Amid these “entertainment gaps,” shopping malls did offer some value. As architect and mall pioneer Victor Gruen wrote in 1943, a shopping center could “contain the necessities of day-to-day living.” Then, shopping can become “a pleasure; recreation instead of a chore.” Jillian Steinhauer adds that, once air conditioning became a common feature, shopping malls became a “rare type of place intended to encourage hanging out” year-round.
But at what cost?
From 1980 to 2000, the total population of the United States rose by 24 percent. Total vehicle miles traveled, however, increased by 80 percent. We all started driving cars more often, particularly in the suburbs.
This trend supported the basic premise of the shopping mall: we should drive a meaningful distance to access numerous services in one location. And the shopping mall, in turn, encouraged the driving trend. As a result, neighboring towns soon competed with one another to build new malls that offered even better retail and entertainment.
By the early 2000s, we were stuck.
Real estate companies and local governments willingly played this development game. Other stakeholders, though, argued – with strong evidence – that their projects increasingly failed to align with local interests. The rapid growth in shopping malls was a short-sighted solution to a more systemic, underlying problem.
Over time, shopping began to feel less like recreation than one of the most burdensome chores for suburban residents. We felt worn down by the ever-increasing drive times required to complete our shopping list.
Cities and towns had invested significant resources in this particular vision of the future. But when you eventually realize you don’t like the result, how do you proceed? If Chace had recommitted to the default approach, he might have built an automated parking garage or advocated for wider highways.
He decided, however, to play a different game entirely.
Decades later, a University of Paris professor detailed a vision for what this different game might look like.
He looked past near-term profits with uncertain legacies. Instead, he proposed a very different objective: accessibility.
In pursuit of this seemingly basic goal, Carlos Moreno introduced the “15-minute city” model to the world. Ultimately, he sought to “improve quality of life by creating cities where everything a resident needs can be reached within a quarter of an hour by foot or bike. The 15-minute city requires minimal travel among housing, offices, restaurants, parks, hospitals and cultural venues. Each neighborhood should fulfill six social functions: living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying.”
In many ways, the 15-minute city is not a novel concept. Its key features – Walkable neighborhoods! Diverse business types! – have existed in numerous cities for centuries. But that dynamic also empowers Moreno’s model. He’s reverting to fundamentals. He’s encouraging us to reject the unnecessary complexities that rapid societal growth have created.
Our financial decision-making resembles rush-hour traffic before a long holiday weekend.
Why does personal finance feel like a slog so often? Getting from Point A to Point B with our money shouldn’t be so messy. But we constantly pursue “better,” or some notion of “perfection.”
We do so with the encouragement of several external and internal forces, including:
In this pursuit, we willingly play a game that does not align with our interests. We make short-sighted decisions, then begin to feel worn down, daunted, stuck. And as a result, we limit the potential ways that money might benefit us.
In our financial lives, more complicated, newer, sleeker, or different is not necessarily an improvement. But we’re constantly surrounded by voices that aim to convince us otherwise:
To be fair, a new financial product or a complex financial strategy may offer some value at times. But at what cost to our time, attention, and energy?
Instead, what if we embraced 15-minute finances?
What if we aimed to make the majority of our financial decisions within 15 minutes?
Impossible, right? Not if you accept a simple premise: the most basic foundational financial decisions will determine whether you achieve the outcomes you seek. Not if you accept that consistently “good enough” decisions will lead to excellent results over time.
For 15-minute finances to be possible, though, we need money to feel approachable and accessible. We need to feel comfortable:
There will always be exceptions to this approach, in the same way that a long drive – even in some traffic – can be worthwhile under certain circumstances. 15-minute finances reject bigger, better, and more as ultimate goals, though. Instead, we prioritize time. We work within the time constraints we have, both in life overall and for making day-to-day decisions. And we also recognize that time delays – specifically from inaction or procrastination – play a central role in hindering the financial progress that we do need to make.
In 1986, Arnold Chace demolished the New Seabury Shopping Center. In its place, he began to build Mashpee Commons.
It wasn’t a shopping center. It was a neighborhood.
“The premise behind the project,” writes Sarah Shemkus, was “not some innovative theory.” In fact, according to developer Douglas Storrs, “the development is based on some very traditional principles. ‘It’s really looking at historical patterns on Cape Cod and in New England and replicating those patterns,’ he said.”
“To achieve the desired town-center feel, the design of Mashpee Commons reflects traditional New England architecture. Buildings are laid out on intersecting streets rather than in one unified mall; those streets are lined with spots for parallel parking, creating a buffer between the road and sidewalk that makes the area more pedestrian-friendly.”
The development also included 40 apartment units and a retail mix featuring independent businesses. Over time, a Catholic church, a post office, and a public library also have opened in the area.
Mashpee Commons didn’t feel exciting to the surrounding community. But it worked, which offers some insight into how we might approach financial decisions. Like Mashpee Commons, it isn’t a bad thing if money feels a little boring.
It’s a different game, but it’s one that works.
Hi, I’m Kevin. I’m a financial advisor in Washington, DC. I’m also the founder of Illumint, an independent financial planning company in the District that specializes in financial planning for Millennials like you. I empower our generation with the confidence to invest an inheritance, financial gift, or extra savings. If you’re new to Financially Well, welcome – you now have access to the leading finance podcast for Millennials. I encourage you to read, watch, or listen to the ideas I’ve shared about making your money work for you. And then when you’re ready, please send me your thoughts & questions!
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