While plenty of the transformations that will remake our world are still on the horizon, others are already here to stay. Sure, the Cybertruck may look like it is straight out of Blade Runner, but other adaptations are even easier to experience on a day to day basis. For many of us, particularly those in cities, life is essentially cashless. Transit and space, and food delivery are all on-demand services. And at every major event there are at least a couple of drones flying around in the sky.
These are all great things. It can be easy to think that the future is still way off in the distance, especially when you’re living in a house that was built in the 50s or driving a car without a single screen in it. But the reality is that even gradual change is already upon is, if we know where to look. Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than in the workplace. A recent article in Mother Jones pointed to the huge amount of food being wasted from offices that offer free lunches. That’s a great example of a negative, less immediately apparent impact of change in the world of work.
Another example is the ability to work from anywhere. Remote working is a huge force in the modern economy, but do we really understand where it will take us? Earlier this year we published an article attempting to scope in on the long-term impacts of remote work on cities, suburbs, and rural areas, but even remote work is just part of the picture.
Automation is a huge topic, too, and we have run several articles addressing how it will affect teams and the built environment as a whole. But let’s say that automation really does completely change the nature of the labor market. What if a significant percentage of people end up without a full-time job? Sure, we could dive into a great big “what if?” about the fundamentals of human nature and economics, but let’s keep it concrete (excuse the pun). Let’s say that a big chunk of the population winds up automated out of their profession, and with a lot more free time on their hands. Whether the impacts of automation are basically positive or negative, where will all of these people go if they aren’t spending 8+ hours of each day at work?
The first thought that comes to mind is the home. I went remote five months ago, and even though I love travel and quirky coffee shops alike, I’m still more than likely to just work from home on any given day. But the thing is, I’m still working. If I truly had no work to do, I certainly wouldn’t be spending all my time around the house. I’d want to mix it up, with private time spent at my home as well as part of the day or week spent in more social spaces. Sure, there are plenty of studies pointing to how Millennials enjoy staying in, but that trend may well start to conflict with another pattern in the built environment: shrinking apartments. Studios, for instance, have shrunk by over 10% in the last decade. Our automated future could rearrange our society to increase individual purchasing power. On the other, perhaps more likely hand, average incomes may atrophy for a big chunk of people. That could mean even smaller living spaces. How small can apartments get, how many roommates will urbanites tolerate before they start to view spaces outside the home as safe havens to spend on that chunk of time?
What this represents for the industry is an opportunity to create a new vision of socialization. When I lived in Wicker Park in Chicago, I was surprised to find that on any given day, there was basically no where to hang out after 10pm beyond the bars. That may work now, but in a world where more and more of us need to find new ways to while away the hours, we will need more places to simply be.