9 Quirky Signs of the Times

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A still-struggling, still-uncertain economy has increased the chances that you can’t help dreaming about the recession, your workspace is shrinking, your roommate could be a millionaire (on paper anyway), and you’re so sick of neighborhood potholes you’re considering filling them in yourself.
Mansion owners are taking in roommates. Around the country, impressive, sprawling homes—ones over 15,000 square feet, with private trout ponds, Viking appliances in the kitchen, and home theaters with leather recliners—are increasingly likely to host a new feature: tenants. To help them keep up with utility expenses and fat mortgage payments, the owners of these homes are welcoming roommates willing to chip in as little as $600 a month, according to a SmartMoney story. For many owners, the idea of turning their mansions into boarding houses comes as a shock: When you buy an enormous home like this, the last thing you’d expect is for people to make use of all that space.

Frustrated citizens are filling in potholes themselves. Fixing potholes and repaving streets is out of the question for many budget-strapped cities and towns. Filling in the gap—and filling in potholes, occasionally—are groups of citizens who buy asphalt patch and fix badly deteriorated streets themselves, reports BusinessWeek.

Rise in recession-related dreams. Psychologists and dream experts cited by the LA Times say that there’s been an upswing in dreams involving cracked home foundations, people in a panic because they’re suddenly clueless as to how to do their jobs, and regular appearances of co-workers and bosses, who sometimes turn into monsters. These dreams are all related to the economy—which makes sense, because we tend to dream most about what concerns us during the day.

Your work space is getting smaller. In 1994, the average office worker had 90 square feet at his or her disposal; by 2010, that figure had shrunk to 75 square feet. Speaking of which, have you been having any dreams about walls closing in on you?

Police horses ride off into the sunset. Again due to municipal budget crunches, cities ranging from Charleston to Newark to San Diego are finding they can’t afford police horses or the stables that house them. Patrolmen who used to do their jobs on horseback are nowadays much more likely to use bicycles, scooters, or their own two feet, per the NY Times.

A private college actually lowered tuition prices. Let’s repeat that, and let it set in: A private college actually lowered tuition prices. I’ve just rechecked the calendar, and it’s not April 1, so apparently, this is the real deal. Sewanee: The University of the South is slashing tuition and fees for the upcoming school year by 10%, or $4,600. Granted, this school—and almost every private college out there—is hardly inexpensive, but the move is remarkable because tuition around the country has steadily been rising at a clip of at least 5% for years. Sewanee said it decided to cut tuition because of the economy:

“Higher education is on the verge of pricing itself beyond the reach of more and more families,” said Vice-Chancellor John McCardell. “The reduction in tuition at Sewanee recognizes today’s new economic realities and the pressures that families face. Our goal is to make an outstanding liberal arts education more accessible to qualified students.”

(Read: College by the Numbers)
Greenhouse gas emissions are down. A bad economy can be good for the environment. The NY Times reports that emissions from climate-altering gases such as carbon dioxide were down 6% in 2009—and the decrease is mostly attributable to a slowdown in industrial output and transportation, not because of an uptick in cleaner fuels and renewable energy sources.

Strip malls are stripped. Per the Economist, strip malls—the “commercial heart of suburbia”—now have vacancy rates nearly 11%. That’s the worst rate in two decades. And with this week’s announcement of Borders’ bankruptcy and the impending closure of hundreds of its stores, there will surely be more empty stores at the strip mall.

Fewer bows on designer dresses. The WSJ reports that because of the recession and an increase in the price of cotton, silk, wool, and leather, fashion designers are using cheaper fabrics and materials, and less of it. To keep costs down, hemlines are apt to be shorter, and bows have been removed from dresses.

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