For as long as civilization has existed, cities have served as the economic hubs for thriving societies. America is no exception, and for centuries our cities have shone across the world as providing the best opportunity for social mobility and the American Dream.
The pandemic, though, has shifted things around. Fully half of American workers went fully remote when the pandemic hit, and though that share has gradually declined to one-quarter today, it’s clear that some changes are here to stay.
A recent article in the Atlantic points out that “even though the percentage of workers who will remain fully remote is relatively small, a big majority of office workers will likely be partly remote for the long haul. That has significant implications for employers and cities. Every owner or user of an office building is going to end up either paying the same or more for less usage of space or reconfiguring to use fewer square feet per worker. It’s just a matter of time before every U.S. office market gets in on the trend.”
So what does this mean for downtowns?
Since the pandemic began, stimulus dollars have buoyed local governments, transit agencies, and downtown businesses. But as incentives change, and some form of remote work becomes the norm, we will see that more fundamental change is needed. The public and private entities that depend on downtown money are going to need a path to a new normal. This future will require plenty of office workers—but also more residents, shoppers, visitors, tourists, and students.
Since we started Vistity as a tool for Downtown Los Angeles, then publicly launched at the IDA conference at the end of last year, we’ve learned so much not just about what downtowns want, but also the incredible value they provide our society. Downtowns are great for business, but they also are the home to incredible cultural institutions, the most delicious restaurants in town, historic hotels, and unforgettable tourist attractions. We’ve seen how our customers are using Vistity both as an economic development tool, but also to market their destination to tourists and consumers.
Some cities may hope that this is all just a flash in the pan, that everything will once again return to normal, but this is short-sighted. Hybrid work was becoming more popular even before the pandemic, and is certainly here to stay now. Cities can future-proof their marketing by offering cutting-edge virtual tours that highlight not just economic development opportunities, but all the fantastic food, art, and culture that can be found in our downtowns. And Vistity can help.