This is a pillar of the future of downtown cities in general, and Seattle downtown in particular, as normalcy gradually returns from the epidemic. The two are intertwined, but stand out because of some of Seattle’s unique challenges.
The national thunderstorm occurred earlier this month when Salesforce announced a permanent policy from anywhere. The cloud-based software company is the largest tenant of San Francisco’s tallest building, the second tallest building from Chicago, naturally known as the Salesforce Tower, which occupies 36 of the 61 floors.
It is combined with other terrible epidemic predictions. The emigration of workers leaving the superstar cities permanently of the last decade, and the traditional offices և central business districts are obsolete.
One reader who regularly reports to me about the aftermath of distant work considers this to be the deepest change since the Industrial Revolution.
However, it is not clear what happens when we get out of this long winter. Google has said it plans to expand its leaseholds to offices off the coast of San Francisco. Even Salesforce expects 65% of its employees to switch offices one to three times a week.
Down in Silicon Valley, Google is moving to a larger university that will transform the center of San Jose. It will consist of millions of square feet of space for thousands of employees, all of which are close to the և Francisco Caltrain Railroad.
At the same time, the pre-skinned Superstar Boston saw the biggest outflow of people, but now that is changing as the “regret of the COVID driver” begins.
Indeed, despite forecasts of perpetually distant work, Big Tech is still building offices mainly in city centers, urban areas that are centers of talent and innovation.
Political scientist Richard Florida wrote in tweets that this phenomenon is “very important. Young technicians supplying fuel to these industries will still need offices. Larger city economies, such as NYC և London, will become more and more technology-intensive, with less FIRE (finance, insurance և real estate).
But the banks are also preparing to return to their skyscrapers. For example, Goldman Sachs has announced plans to return all of its staff to New York headquarters by the end of the year.
And not just the biggest cities. Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of a devastating earthquake a decade ago, is rebuilding its central business district, even though parts of its suburbs have been called uninhabitable.
Carlo Ratti, Architect ղեկավար Head of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, joined Florida to promote the Sy Syndicate empire. What economist Joseph’sz Schumpeter called “urban destruction” on a city-wide scale.
Some of them are already happening, such as the closure of the boulevard about 2 miles long in Paris for cars in favor of pedestrians and bicycles (it helps to have a city with a stable metro system). Other aspects are more inspiring. For example, office towers could be turned into apartments, especially low-income apartments. They write: “One-dimensional business districts can become lively neighborhoods.”
Another vision is the “15-minute city”, where one of the city centers could, in fact, be replaced by many. Here, “basic daily activities, including work, study, and shopping, can be accomplished through a short walk from home or a bike ride.”
I’m a little skeptical of their most visible hopes. Even Jane’s Jacob Jacobs Greenwich Village was not a 15-minute city until 1961, when her final book, Death and Life in America’s Big Cities, was first published. There were no major museums, concert halls, or hospitals in New York, but only a few.
I am also skeptical that the capital will be able to find office buildings for housing, at least in the near future. Property owners will discuss this “absorption problem” և will live at a high rate of vacancies.
And creative destruction can work in two ways. Interstate highways, suburban federal subsidies և “urban renewal” sank the nuclei of American cities for decades. Some were destroyed forever.
There are even more highways and suburbs, which disproportionately contribute to climate change and the confusion of necessary rural lands. Without a realistic focus on rejuvenating the city center, a repeat of the urban crisis of the 1960s could have occurred. This poses a particular danger if “density as a COVID vector” becomes the conventional wisdom that studies have dismantled.
It all depends on how you control the epidemic, how people feel safe.
On the other hand, the attractiveness of good centers will remain, especially for talented young people և empty nest booms. Centers continue to be the most productive collection for businesses, retailers, arts, hotels, sports venues, hospitals, transit centers, and more.
Even if people work from anywhere, many will want the amenities of a quality downtown. High talent will not escape the suburbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In any case, the idea that most companies can operate effectively through widespread remote work seems to be stretching. To give you an example, one of the city centers calls for people to “communicate creatively” with each other, brainstorm ideas, collaborate face-to-face, and meet prospective customers over lunch.
Maybe I’m wrong. But it is too early to make large-scale generalizations about the death or decline of urban nuclei. If this really happens, the entire metro area: environment will suffer.
As for Seattle, my colleague Paul Roberts studied the difficult situation last Sunday.
Among other figures, he said only one in five former employees in the city center had returned to their employers’ offices as of December, and hotels in the city center had been up 15% since the beginning of this month.
The long journey back is hampered by the City Council’s willingness to tolerate shoplifting, other crimes, such as allowing it to be widely camped along the city’s central streets, even in front of a bus stop, and blocking pedestrians. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on “homeless emergencies” have only exacerbated the problem.
At the same time, the City Hall’s hostility to the “big business” on which the small business’s tax base depends is an obstacle to recovery in most cities.
In the past, Seattle’s genius of reinterpretation has always made him stronger. With the urbanization of the Pike Place Market, the Boeing Bust and the ossified idea of the Great Recession, Seattleites never gave up on the city center. They got better, they won the whole city and the region.
If this time is different, if this great American city dies, the epidemic will not be the main cause.