Dear Commons Community,
Edward L. Glaeser and Carlo Ratti had a featured article earlier this week focusing on New York City as epitomizing the toll remote working is taking on the Big Apple and other large cities. Entitled, “26 Empire State Buildings Could Fit Into New York’s Empty Office Space. That’s a Sign.” starkly illustrates the commercial rental malaise (maybe catastrophe) that is plaguing big cities.
“New York is undergoing a metamorphosis from a city dedicated to productivity to one built around pleasure. Many office buildings still feel eerily empty, with occupancy around 50 percent of prepandemic levels, harming landlords and the local economy. But 56 million people visited New York last year, making Fifth Avenue in December feel as crowded as Ipanema Beach during Carnival.
The economic future of the city that never sleeps depends on embracing this shift from vocation to recreation and ensuring that New Yorkers with a wide range of talents want to spend their nights downtown, even if they are spending their days on Zoom. We are witnessing the dawn of a new kind of urban area: the Playground City.
In downtowns from Chicago to Los Angeles, the physical layout of the 20th-century city is clashing with the new economy. Since the 1920s, single-use zoning has divided our cities into separate neighborhoods for home, work and play. Work-from-home and Netflix have made these distinctions irrelevant, but our partitioned urban fabric has yet to catch up.
To create a city vibrant enough to compete with the convenience of the internet, we need to end the era of single-use zoning and create mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods that bring libraries, offices, movie theaters, grocery stores, schools, parks, restaurants and bars closer together. We must reconfigure the city into an experience worth leaving the house for. Streets once filled by commuting crowds can be reinvigorated by those who really want to be there.”
As a life-long worker in New York City who now teaches almost exclusively remotely, I believe Glaeser and Ratti might be right.