Wednesday, December 21, 2022

How ya gonna keep 'em in Paree after they've been down on the farm?

One of the lasting impacts of the pandemic, I think, will be the destruction of the "downtown office" concept as an organizing principle for cities. 
Historically, it has always taken wars to get North Americans to travel -- the Civil War was the first time that significant numbers of Americans ever travelled around their own country. In World War One, we got the song "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down in the Farm After They've Seen Paree?" as an question of why the soldiers who had travelled overseas would ever be content with living a rural life again. Likewise, World War Two resulted in millions of Americans and Canadians travelling to places they would never have gone to otherwise, within their own countries and over the oceans. 
Now, we have the aftermath of the pandemic - another kind of war, really - that showed just about everyone that we they can be just as productive working at home as we were in the office - providing that the internet is working, of course - and without the hassles of public transit, commuting, parking, office politics, lunch line-ups, crowds, somebody microwaving fish, cube farms, etc. 
The New York Times writes about "What Comes Next for San Francisco's Emptied Downtown?"
The coffee rush. The lunch rush. The columns of headphone-equipped tech workers rushing in and out of train stations. The lanyard-wearing visitors who crowded the sidewalks when a big conference was in town.
There was a time three years ago when a walk through downtown San Francisco was a picture of what it meant for a city to be economically successful. ...
“This area was always packed with people,” recalled Maria Cerros-Mercado, a Mixt manager who built her career in food service downtown. “People would get off the BART, buy coffee, buy this, buy that. There was always just so much walking.”
Today San Francisco has what is perhaps the most deserted major downtown in America. On any given week, office buildings are at about 40 percent of their prepandemic occupancy, while the vacancy rate has jumped to 24 percent from 5 percent since 2019. Occupancy of the city’s offices is roughly 7 percentage points below that of those in the average major American city, according to Kastle, the building security firm.
...“Imagine a forest where an entire species suddenly disappears,” said Tracy Hadden Loh, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies urban real estate. “It disrupts the whole ecosystem and produces a lot of chaos. The same thing is happening in downtowns.”
The city’s chief economist, Ted Egan, has warned about a looming loss of tax revenue as vacancies pile up. Brokers have tried to counter that narrative by talking up a “flight to quality” in which companies upgrade to higher-end space. Business groups and city leaders hope to recast the urban core as a more residential neighborhood built around people as well as businesses but leave out that office rents would probably have to plunge for those plans to be viable.
Below the surface of spin is a downtown that is trying to adapt to what amounts to a three-day workweek. During a recent lunch at a Mixt location in the financial district, the company’s chief executive, Leslie Silverglide, pointed to the line of badge-holding workers and competition for outdoor tables.
It was also, she noted, a Wednesday — what passes for rush hour. On Wednesdays, offices in San Francisco are at roughly 50 percent of their prepandemic levels; on Fridays, they’re not even at 30 percent.
...In a typical downturn, the turnaround is a fairly simple equation of rents falling far enough to attract new tenants and the economy improving fast enough to stimulate new demand. But now there’s a more existential question of what the point of a city’s downtown even is.
The city, and business groups like Advance SF, are trying to reframe the urban core as a more residential and entertainment district that draws from throughout the region and may in the future involve the conversion of office buildings to residential use.
This is what we used to think about downtowns: And of course, this:


Mike Milner said...

While there are many advantages from working from home (especially the costs of owning a car and commuting), the concept also allows the corporate world to downsize the workforce even more. Workers from home are more likely to be contract or part time employees. The employer doesn't have to provide a workspace, or a computer. That is now the employee's responsibility. How do you organize a bunch of employees working from home? Will they want to pay union dues if they all work different hours for different compensation? Sometimes you have to be careful what yo wish for.

Merry Christmas Cathie.

Cathie from Canada said...

Yes, I know there are issues - I think companies are going to embrace WFH as soon as they realize how much easier their corporate lives will be - no corporate office leases, etc.
Some offices do provide laptops, and there is a vast increase in technology that companies now need to make it work, but I worked from home last year in a 4-month contract and it was great.
I hadn't thought about the union organizing aspect - unfortunately, companies will likely seize on this "advantage" too!

Thanks for your best wishes, Mike, and Merry Christmas to you, too.