Lightning Round: Work Habits Are Changing: Cities Need to Keep Up

Filipa Pajevic, Richard Shearmur / City Lab

August 31, 2018

The key challenge I am following this week is how cities are and will continue to evolve as a result of changing work paradigms. The authors of “Work Habits Are Changing: Cities Need to Keep Up” ask that given recent trends and projections about changing work, especially the rise of remote work, should cities care? Are cities responsible to respond to such trends? What would a reaction to these trends look like?

The authors note that companies are at the “front-line of changing work practice… and they manage related cultural changes.” They assert that many of the cultural changes based on workplace paradigm shifts are business considerations and may not be viewed as an issue for the city to address. Pajevic and Shearmur note, however, that where and how we work affects a myriad of issues that have traditionally been the domain of city policy. These include how we site and design buildings, the development of transportation networks, and the provision of public amenities such as open space or Wifi access.

The article calls on planners and policymakers to reconsider the entrenched notion of the relationship between economic activity and the city. Only through rethinking this relationship, the authors argue,  can cities successful pivot with the changing nature of work. They contend that there are a variety of planning and policy arenas that should be considered including zoning code, public amenity provision, and public transportation investment (especially reconsidered in the context of a decentralized economy).

These questions signify the need to consider the evolving role of the city in the wake of workplace paradigm shifts. The authors call for planners to take a wide view of the city and reconceptualize the “link between economic activity and urban space” rather than attempting to address individual issues in a piecemeal fashion.


6 thoughts on “Lightning Round: Work Habits Are Changing: Cities Need to Keep Up”

  1. This topic interests me very much, Brian. Thank you for posting!

    I read this asking myself whether there are examples of cities that can set an example for how to adapt to the changing working world — and whether our own city is too large/unwieldy to make a conscious effort to adapt. Looking at the three key points in the article:

    Transportation — New York City has a transportation network that is starved of capital investment (and therefore innovation). 🙁

    Public amenities — For amenities such as wifi, workers would presumably need a high enough speed to support videoconferencing — and as far as I can tell, only Helsinki, with a municipal income tax of 18.5%, provides a service like that ( Though they say it is not particularly expensive, so perhaps it is feasible.

    Building codes/zoning — I wonder how these ideas would translate into policy. Our own city’s recent rezonings are driven by a need for more housing. It seems to be the chief concern here, and most New Yorkers I know (especially in the outer boroughs) would be wary of creating the “cool” spaces talked about in this article, because of the fear that this would further drive up housing costs.

    My guess is that smaller cities — and/or former rust belt cities, where land and housing are inexpensive, but where economic activity is lagging — would be better poised to turn the ideas in this article into reality, to foster work environments for the next generation.

    I am curious to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    1. With regards to wifi (or internet in general) I think municipal (or other government entity) owned systems are a necessity. The level of service provided in some major cities (NYC included) is astounding when compared to price. Establishment of such a system in Seattle was a hot topic when I lived there about 5 years ago. Ultimately they have decided not to go ahead with the project for now – citing major costs. In my view these costs are being paid no matter what. In our current system it is borne by each and every consumer paying for subpar access and gouging prices.

      I would challenge the assumption that NYC rezoning are “driven for the need for more housing.” I would agree that this is often how it is sold to the public but if you look closer I think profits in the real estate markets play a much larger role. This is exacerbated by the fact that (to my knowledge) New York City is the only major city in the US that has never had a comprehensive/master plan. I think this point is especially salient to the authors call for a comprehensive review of policy.

      I would recommend Tom Angotti’s book “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City” to anyone interested in the subject.

      I agree the the creation of “cool” spaces is a contentious subject for many New Yorkers. However, I think there is a way to create such spaces for current community members as well as new ones. There are several non-profits doing great work in this area such as the Neighborhood Plazas Partnership who have partnered with city agencies to created community spaces such as Corona Plaza. Of course I can cite numerous hip public places that are all too symbolic of the worst of gentrification as well.

      There is a lot of interesting work (both academic and practical) going on in the rejuvenation of rust belt cities. I am not super familiar myself but I think it would be interesting to follow up on in this class.

  2. Given the growing urbanization of the world’s population, this is a key discussion point. When we get to talking about trends, we should focus specifically on public transportation, as you suggest. (I took Via to work this morning…..)

    1. I don’t blame you for taking Via! I had a horrible experience waiting for the new NYC Ferry service this weekend – where after waiting for an hour a Ferry employee told me I should probably just take an Uber or Lyft instead (after all, that’s what he does!)

  3. I thought this post had a unique angle when thinking about the future of work because usually, companies are the ones which adjust to changes in working environments. I am interested in where our class discussion will lead us on this matter. Also, I like the concept of a co-working place and wonder how cities can support such a concept.

  4. Thank you for the recommendation of the Angotti book. I just added it to my Amazon wishlist (though I bummed there’s no kindle version 😤). I’ve been watching the rezonings across the city and will soon be dealing with one in a more hands-on way professionally.

    Corona Plaza looks like a great project for all residents — longtime and new. Closer to where I live and work, we’re getting a waterfront plaza park in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island. Though it won’t look like the other DOT plaza parks, it is part of the same program, and local residents are VERY eager to see it completed.

    As for municipal WiFi, you’re saying that the level of service is astoundingly good? I actually find myself turning off WiFi on my phone when I’m on a subway or ferry, because the pop up page to agree to terms rarely comes up for me. It would be great if it were high speed and seamless.

    Your experiences with rideshare and public transit say a lot about the shortcomings of our current network 🙁 Congestion pricing + capital investment in public transit is long overdue.

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