As coronavirus, COVID-19, started to rapidly transmit around the world in early 2020, the financial, social and health impacts represented a 1-in-100-year shock. Our modern connected society was lost, untested, uneasy and economic markets stumbled.
What became clear is the fragility of urban living and the susceptibility of the urban systems.
The very pillar of urban system is the proximity to fellow humans and the plethora of productive, creative, and spiritual activity and richness that flows from this very proximity. As suggested by overseas experts* we are seeing that pandemics are inherently anti-urban. They prey relentlessly upon and exploit our impulse to congregate.
The staged distancing measures that we are practicing not only run up against our fundamental desires to interact, but also against the way we have built our cities, engineered our lives, and shaped our norms to optimise urban living. Our cities are designed to be occupied and animated collectively, so where to from here?
For many urban systems to work properly, density is the goal, not the enemy, and to achieve this goal, we have traditionally thought that we must be proximate to each other in work and play. But with our technological advances, is this still so?
At Kinetica, COVID-19 is forcing adaptive change through all parts of our office, our community and sectors of industry. Social distancing measures are triggering the implementation of a decade or more of innovation in virtual collaborative workspaces and remote working. As many settle into the routine (or lack thereof) of working remotely there are growing queries as to the value of traditional working “norms”. Queries as to the relevance of the physical office as a congregation point, and the real opportunity cost of the work commute are increasingly littering our social feeds and filtrating our conversations.
At this stage no-one can confidently envisage our work, our communities and cities will look like on the other end of this. Among the haze of uncertainty, we at Kinetica are seeing opportunities being unveiled in front of us, and within a climate of necessity, a focusing on how we could work as opposed to how we traditionally worked.
For professional services, a new norm will be a function of what we learn through this “beta testing” of virtual working and remote collaboration, and more so, that which we are brave enough to take into the new norm. We may collectively be motivated to test the long-established norms which we have come to except through repetition of and the mimicry of the generations before us.
This is a real life, real time, case study on modern life and among other things, an experiment on the aspects of the urban system which may or may not be redundant as a result of technological advances.
During my mounting hours working from dining room table I, like many others facing this transformation, find myself pondering over many a planning, transport, social and economic quandary.
- If indeed a proportion of the workforce shifts to remote working what are the impacts on our roads and congestion? If one assumes less congestion, less need to carry larger volumes, what do we do with surplus infrastructure? Is this the catalyst to redistribute a public good dominated by car to the pedestrian or active public realm?
- If demand for the physical office space is in fact reduced how will we adapt surplus floor area to provide co-working or co-tenancy arrangements? Could there be such a fall in demand that office floor space is repurposed to address the shortfall is housing?
- Would we see a generational migration out of the city? With remote working a new norm, the much-lauded sea or tree change may present as viable options?
- What would this mean for our third places? Would it mean anything? Consider the Melbourne CBD pre 2000. The critical mass derived from density (office and residential) post 2000’s has driven the 24-hour city and culture that we take pride in today.
- Should we, as an industry, collectively raise these issues?
With every question I have my own personal response in both the positive and negative. The amount of legislative, economic and policy reform that would be required to usher in a new norm is mind boggling. Yet the opportunity to collectively explore new norms across our society (forced or otherwise), is indeed a one in one-hundred-year opportunity.
At Kinetica, we are city shapers. We should be a part of any conversation you have on facilitating a new norm. We should lead positive change in the physical environment that anchors new ways of living and working in the design and operation of our cities.
Like uber re-imagined efficient navigation of our cities, and ushered in the new age of the gig economy, this test case of a substantial #WFH workforce should unveil efficiencies within our economy that have long laid hidden, and then prompt collective reflection on how we want our cities and communities to operate in the future. We have a real opportunity to reclaim lost amenity from our urban environments if only we are brave enough to adapt with change.
@ Kinetica we believe in change as a constant.
Contact myself Jonathon’s LinkedIn here or others at the Kinetica team on ways to assist you navigate this change