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  • This is the city of the future.

  • Well, it's a hypothetical one, and this is me Jaden in cartoon form.

  • I wanted to understand how COVID-19 is reshaping the city around me.

  • Because right now my office is sitting mostly empty, shops are closing or struggling to survive, and any plans I had for live events are put on hold.

  • So I did some research to try to understand which changes will outlast the pandemic.

  • Experts paint a picture of a new daily routine that looks more like this.

  • I split my working hours between my apartment and office, where I have to reserve a desk from my phone ahead of time.

  • I pick my groceries up from a local corner shop on my way home, and order my dinner off a digital menu from a nearby restaurant.

  • As the cities around us undergo a transformation, the future is being refocused on health, tech and open spaces, but will that be enough for cities to thrive again?

  • To understand just how big of a turning point this pandemic is for our cities, we need to look to health crises of the past.

  • More people live in cities than ever before with nearly 70% of the world expected to live in an urban area by 2050.

  • But, what makes cities so successful as cultural and financial hubs, also makes them a hotbed for spreading diseases.

  • And the way cities have responded to the spread of diseases throughout history, have had lasting impacts.

  • Just take this medieval city that was built to quarantine traders and travelers as the bubonic plague spread across 14th century Europe.

  • Or how New York city's overheating problem today has been attributed to the Spanish flu epidemic.

  • When radiators were made hot enough, so people could keep their windows open in the winter to get fresh air.

  • Well say you go back another century in the 19th century with London, it helped to improve sanitation conditions, and I think that large shocks are always a cause of things to change.

  • That's Nayan Parekh, she's a principal at Genzler architecture firm in Singapore, and she thinks a lot about how design can reshape cities.

  • COVID-19 began at spread in an industrial city in China.

  • From there, the pandemic has moved from city to city and across entire countries.

  • So Nayan says that after the pandemic we'll have to make some big adjustments, let's start here with how we work.

  • I typically used to work in an office and governments are recommending others like me stagger their shift times if they can.

  • We're probably going to see a mindset shift in terms of the way people are thinking about the work day, especially because of the commute density during those peak times.

  • Future me works 11:00 am to 7:00 Pm while others on my team spread their shifts out, starting as early as 6:00 am.

  • The idea is that staggered shifts can reduce crowding on public transit and in the office as companies try to resume working there.

  • Morgan Stanley for example, is aiming to get about half of its employees back in the office by 2021.

  • But like many other companies, their work might not be limited to the office anymore.

  • One survey found that 60% of corporate real estate professionals expect remote work to remain an option after the pandemic.

  • So, I might do my first couple hours of work from home or walk to a nearby coffee shop.

  • Around 1:00 pm before heading into the office, I'll have to check a dedicated workplace app to make sure there's space for my colleagues and I to meet.

  • I think we're gonna start seeing a huge acceleration, almost using your phone if you like as a digital concierge as you access the space.

  • We might see more integrated booking systems, so the way you book say your meeting room, you might have to book a desk in the future.

  • Once I'm in the Office, there are fewer cubicles, more meeting spaces, open windows.

  • And touchless technology that gets rid of having to touch things like elevator buttons or soap dispensers.

  • Of course not everyone who lives in a city works in a big office.

  • And not every business can afford to invest in these smart technologies.

  • I think that the conversation around kind of smart cities, the conversation around more data to check health and wellness.

  • All of these come from a really good place, but good start creating really, really dangerous divides that exacerbates the haves of the have-nots.

  • There's a whole range of occupations from healthcare workers to teachers or servers that can't really be done from a cafe or modern office buildings.

  • Many of the jobs that can't be done remotely are in the service industry, where many jobs have also been lost overnight.

  • Take retailers for example.

  • You're seeing that if you don't invest as a personal shopper in kind of what's immediately around you, it's not gonna be immediately around you.

  • Which means your neighborhood is totally gonna change.

  • One research firm, estimates that as many as 25,000 US stores could permanently close in 2020.

  • The pandemic has made online shopping, not just more convenient, but necessary as people try to reduce going out, and brick and mortar retailers need to make big changes to survive.

  • The future might look like me adding clothes to an online shopping cart to pick up and try on in a physical store.

  • Or experiential stores that use brick and mortar as more of a branding opportunity, like House of Vans, or Taobao.

  • We did a Taobao store in China pre COVID, it was completely online store and they started creating physical presence just to build that sense of kind of brand connection.

  • So I feel more and more stores would be more about brand connection rather than full on stores.

  • And then there's the 15-minute city a concept that's being discussed around the world.

  • The idea is that everything I need like groceries, parks and schools, are all within a short walk of my home.

  • And cities are already transforming their streets to help people avoid public transit by widening sidewalks and adding bike lanes.

  • So after I finish up work around seven, I might walk down to a local boutique and browse handmade products.

  • Or stop at a street market to pick up locally grown produce.

  • Many experts agreed that the city center will still be the place to go for shopping, and for a night out.

  • More businesses like dine-in cinemas are merging retail with entertainment, and arts and culture is big business in many cities.

  • In New York city, performing arts brought in nearly $2 billion in the 2018, 19 season.

  • I think entertainment really needs footfall.

  • And so there's a kind of economic argument for the city still being the cultural center.

  • When you're kind of buying into entertainment, you also want to see other people that are kind of part of that experience with you.

  • Those shared experiences will probably utilize more outdoor space, with the help of technology.

  • Like when I go out to eat.

  • Smart data that can help with maybe extending restaurant areas into streets after rush hours, because it's reading traffic, those kinds of things I think can really come to fruition.

  • And when I meet up with some friends to go to a big outdoor concert.

  • We might use our phones to guide us through a touch free checking process, and navigate the least crowded routes through the venue.

  • For example, today, if you go into any building in Beijing or Shanghai.

  • You have air quality Monitors because there's an expectation that the building will have healthy air because outside the air is not so healthy.

  • That expectation has created the need for those monitors.

  • And I think in a same way, there'll be certain expectations that people want to see what's going on in terms of hygiene in buildings in the future.

  • So will these changes be enough to still make people Want to live in cities in the future?

  • During lockdowns more spacious suburbs or the countryside have started to look more attractive for some people.

  • But cities have proven resilient in the past.

  • I feel like that that's kind of a dream that a lot of urban residents have.

  • Which when actually realized isn't as fulfilling as the kind of diversity and craziness you get of bumping into people in a dense city.

  • Life in cities probably won't return to exactly how it was before the pandemic.

  • My journey in this city shows a future that could be a lot more digitally integrated, cleaner, and less crowded than before.

This is the city of the future.

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B1 US WSJ office pandemic covid taobao spread

The Future of Cities After Covid-19 | WSJ

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    Minjane posted on 2020/09/29
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