Coronavirus Pandemic Turbocharges Information Technology Shift to Virtual Platforms

by | Sep 1, 2020 |

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It seems that many big cities just can’t seem to catch a break.
First, as discussed in my previous article in this series, the Internet, in combination with smartphone and laptop-enabled email and videoconferencing capabilities, has influenced a rapidly growing number of company employees, free-lance consultants, and entrepreneurs to conduct business from almost anywhere.
What’s more, many businesses, employees and families have come to prefer numerous benefits afforded by this new freedom in more affordable and safer suburban and rural locations.
As also discussed in my 2019 book Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanitymany metropolitan centers were already losing large tax-paying headquarter companies and employees through a digital wave of workplace and workforce transitions away from traditional big office — big city — before the coronavirus hit.


How and Why an Accelerating Urban Exodus Is Forever Transforming America’s Economic and Political Landscape
A Three Part Series:

  1. Tele-Work Affords Business and Family Access to Suburban and Rural Lifestyle Advantages
  2. Coronavirus Pandemic Turbocharges Information Technology Shift to Virtual Platforms
  3. Progressive Politics Hasten the Tragic Demise of Great American Cities

The tele-work trend then became turbocharged by coronavirus-forced business and buyer shutdowns. Resulting social distancing requirements, coupled with ever-increasing city real estate costs during a severe economic downturn, has forced large and small companies to either cut operating costs or perish.
Many corporations over the past decade have already been challenged to squeeze the maximum number of employees possible into their facilities. Social distancing safety concerns are making this increasingly difficult, necessitating that the spaces they provide be either expanded, dramatically restructured, or abandoned.
As the coronavirus preys most onerously on densely-packed places, economic damage from business shutdowns and social unrest are increasingly straining city and state budgets. Financial burdens on those remaining businesses and residents will be exacerbated as “progressive” political leaders inevitably issue ever-increasing real estate taxes and other fees.
New York City serves as an extreme example. Whereas the city’s economy depends on high density, with millions of people crammed together in small apartments, crowded sidewalks and packed subways, these same close contact conditions spread the deadly disease.

New York’s population has already been declining over the past three years. Coronavirus concerns, in combination with rapid transitioning to remote work-from-home requirements, threaten to rapidly accelerate this trend.

John Bowles, executive director of the non-partisan Center for an Urban Future, warns that the number of people permanently leaving the city “could spiral.” He told the Wall Street Journal that if this occurred:

“It would be a huge blow to the city’s finances and leave the city struggling to pay for the things that make New York great, like the subway system, like parks, like schools.”

An exodus could leave the city – as well as others that experience a high number of coronavirus and crime cases – without the workforce needed to attract businesses and the tax revenue to provide vital services.
Seth Pinsky, the former president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation emphasizes that New York officials have to ensure that people feel safe, and that New York City is still worth it.

“New York has always been a difficult place to live,” he said. “The city is dirty, it’s crowded and it’s expensive. But the reason people have consistently made that tradeoff is the benefits outweigh the cost.”

Also writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jon Hilsenrath discusses a confluence of recent economic and social phenomena referred to as “agglomeration” — a sort of gravitational pull of certain groups to densely-populated cities — tech and financial hubs in particular – over the past couple decades that is losing influence.
Hilsenrath notes an urban renaissance that occurred during the past quarter century as educated young workers moved in to revitalize city centers, and as crime rates tumbled, businesses flourished.
Tech hubs like Seattle, San Jose, Boston and Austin not only drew skilled young professionals, but also financed urban amenities such as restaurants, bars, parks and other attractions.
In the process, however, they also became known for snarled traffic and soaring home prices that eventually made them harder to live in, particularly for middle-income workers.
Meanwhile, as some cities became tech winners, others — including Detroit — lost ground to experience industrial decline.
Research by Brookings Institution analyst William Frey found that 55 of the nation’s 89 largest cities added more people between 2010 and 2019 than between 2000 and 2010 partly because of immigration.
That growth already began to wane for many near the decade’s end, while it stayed strong in the smaller cities and suburbs which afforded better schools, less expensive housing, lower taxes, and less crime.
According to a recent Brookings analysis, cities grew about 18% faster in 2010 than the suburbs. Last year, suburbs grew twice as fast as cities.
The national trend has already become particularly evident in businesses and industries associated with finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, manufacturing and construction, and retail industries, along with steady gains in healthcare and law.
Both for better and worse, there can be no doubt that ravaging impacts of the coronavirus and social unrest have already expedited the pace of Internet influences that will increasingly and permanently transform the ways many among our population live and work.
In any case, we can neither turn back the clock, stop it, nor afford failing to anticipate and plan for ever-more rapidly ticking times ahead.


How and Why an Accelerating Urban Exodus Is Forever Transforming America’s Economic and Political Landscape
A Three Part Series:

  1. Tele-Work Affords Business and Family Access to Suburban and Rural Lifestyle Advantages
  2. Coronavirus Pandemic Turbocharges Information Technology Shift to Virtual Platforms
  3. Progressive Politics Hasten the Tragic Demise of Great American Cities

General Series Introduction:
A demographic business and residential shift away from many large metropolitan centers caused by a coronavirus-accelerated tele-work trend and growing crime and social disorder is reshaping America’s economic and political landscape.
As discussed in Larry’s 2018 pre-COVID-19 book Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity, this escalating business and cultural population exodus to surrounding or distant suburban and rural areas will inevitably extend and deepen preexisting regional ideological divides.
Many metropolitan centers were already losing large tax-paying headquarter companies and employees through a digital wave of workplace and workforce transitions away from traditional big office — big city — operating structures made possible by internet connectivity.
Survival necessities, in combination with newly realized remote-working employer and employee benefits, continue to cause more and more corporations to dramatically downsize central city offices, or relocate them altogether.
And it just got worse. A new pandemic of protests, riots, and lootings is certain to propel an accelerated flight of fright exodus of small businesses and affluent residents from turbulent social chaos that is tragically being allowed to rage out of control in many of our nation’s major urban centers.
As Americans we share a common history, common cultural and family values, common economic needs and self-fulfillment aspirations, and a common future. We celebrate our independence to speak and live freely, and we revere the enrichment and empowerment afforded by non-prejudicial diversity expressed and exercised through lifestyle preferences.
Our great nation is presently experiencing a disturbingly dangerous period of economic and social upheaval that threatens to shroud, discredit and to replace our cherished inherited constitutional independent freedoms with government-conscripted conformity.
John Steinbeck painted a grim picture of accelerating outcomes of this disruptive and destructive trend in his 1960 book Travels with Charley: In Search of America. He writes:
“When a city begins to grow and spread outward from its edges, the center which was once its glory…goes into a period of desolation inhabited at night by the vague ruins of men. The lotus eaters who struggle daily toward unconsciousness by the way of raw alcohol.
Nearly every city I know has such a dying mother of violence and despair where at night the brightness of the street lamps is sucked away and policemen walk in pairs.”
More optimistically, Steinbeck adds:
“And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sore and builds a monument to its past.”
The challenge at hand is for human society to now determine what cultural and economic monuments to achievements and failures will ultimately represent America’s future.

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Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the space architecture graduate program. He is the author of several books, including "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), and "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles."

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