The future of cities is at a pivot point — and employers hold some critical cards

The future of cities is at a pivot point — and employers hold some critical cards

Three years after Covid-19, downtown occupancy is still lagging on a day-by-day basis. Transit ridership hasn’t recovered. Restaurants and retailers dependent on foot traffic have closed their doors or shifted their business models.

Richard Florida, the author, urbanist and futurist who recently spoke at our Future of Cities event, said American cities are no stranger to reinventing themselves.

And that’s a good thing, because a reinvention is in order for the post-Covid-19 world.

Here are three ways businesses will shape the future of cities:

1) Return-to-work policies

“The schedule’s going to be a little bit more free-form and free-floating,” Florida said at our Future of Cities event. “[Employees] are going to come in when they need to, and they’re going to work where they need to.”

2) Office space decisions

Florida said employers are realizing they have to rethink the office by making a great space and by thinking about issues like wellness and child care.

“I think the office as we know it is going through a historic shift, and maybe the office is the wrong word. … I think we haven’t had enough great spaces and enough great places for people to work. If we don’t provide those spaces, people don’t want to work in them anymore because they have choice,” he said. “I think we are going through a revolution, and you see it now dawning on real estate developers, office developers, landlords. They’re realizing the office has to be better.”

3) Companies as community stewards

the community impact dynamic of the situation isn’t one that should be taken lightly, because the potential is vast. In many cities, a cluster of keystone employers has the potential to significantly shape a downtown’s recovery by tweaking their onsite requirements.

As the job market softens, employers will find it easier to push for more time in the office; the trend is already happening. But “easier” doesn’t translate to “popular.”

Experts have said time and again that companies need to focus on the “why” of the return and have noted that increasing productivity or “because we said so,” aren’t viewed as good answers.

Could “because it’s good for the city” or “because it will help keep downtown vibrant” become a rallying point for employers seeking buy-in for increased time in the office?

“No city’s going to escape this,” he said, noting that businesses and city leaders alike are finally getting the message that downtowns will have to change to succeed in the post-pandemic world. “The good news is we’ve done that a lot over the past century, and I think we can do it again.”

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