MarketWatch asked six housing industry experts about the future of city centers as more businesses open their doors and former remote workers head back into office spaces. Economists, real estate experts, and city leaders spoke on the next five years, what can be done to keep downtowns vibrant, and the future of the suburbs. One Harvard University professor of economics said to prepare for a more residential, cheaper, younger, and “scruffier” city center. There will be reduced demand for commercial space, but workers will likely still be required to work from the office, at least partially. The office is not dead, he tells MarketWatch, but it’s mobile.
Many downtowns face considerable risk of losing businesses to cheap, warmer locales. This moment would be a bad time for local governments to treat their local employers like a fixed resource that can be freely taxed. The most important guarantee of enduring economic success is to ensure that the city is a great place to live as well as work.
As for the suburbs…
Fear of contagious disease motivated the first suburbanizers in the 19th century, and it can still have that effect today. The general trend to larger suburban homes over the last 40 years will continue and per-haps even accelerate. Some empty nesters will stick to the suburbs rather than re-urbanizing. Some parents with school-age children will speed up their move to the suburbs. Nonetheless, I see this as being a marginal change in the suburbs, not a great watershed.
Brooks Rainwater is senior executive for the Center for City Solutions
at the National League of Cities.
While the wholesale adoption of work-from-home policies by companies will not be uniformly undertaken, even a movement of 10% of the workforce from downtown business districts to remote offices will have a huge impact on city centers and neighborhoods throughout metro regions.