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The Future of the City

Looking Ahead

Earlier today, I asked Matthew Yglesias what urban affairs trends journalists will be writing about a few decades hence, looking back on the 2010s, 20s and 30s. He guessed that falling birth rates will be important. "An awful lot of the postwar built environment is structured around particular ideas about raising children," he said, "which doesn't make a ton of sense if most people aren't actually engaged in child-rearing." A skeptic might argue that even as family sizes have gotten smaller, people have been buying houses that are ever bigger. But I actually think there is something to what Mr. Yglesias is saying.

My own prediction concerns a different subject. In coming decades, I believe that a far higher percentage of workers are going to engage in some form of telecommuting part or all of the time, and that the reintegration of office life and home life -- or at least the cessation of conceiving them as entirely different realms -- is going to lead American cities and exurbs toward very different built environments.

It's folly to imagine that we can predict exactly how these sorts of things will play out, but possibilities include public work spaces that resemble (and may in fact be) public libraries with a lot less space taken up by bookshelves and a lot more by work stations; a growth industry in Internet cafes and coffee-shop/office hybrids; and the conversion of existing corporate office space into places where freelancers can set up shop. Obviously there are many other possibilities and combinations thereof.

As a freelancer myself, this is a trend I welcome, and I think it's also going to make things easier for a generation of dads who want to see their kids more, and moms who want to balance career and child-rearing. It's also going to benefit the more privileged class of white collar workers as compared to retail folks, service industry workers, and others who need more than an Internet connection to do their jobs. A kitchen office may replace the corner office as status symbol.

I'm curious, is anyone against this trend happening?


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