Distributed Work in the Polycentric City

By Philip Ross

Philip Ross is founder and CEO of UnGroup – comprising UnWork.com and Unwired. He is an author, commentator and adviser on the future of work, the workplace and cities.

Mar 7, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

Our cities have historically been shaped by natural resources and human endeavour.

Old London and the River Thames

Old London and the River Thames
Click to enlarge

In London, for example, rivers and tributaries of the Thames shaped the urban plan.  The river Fleet’s valley became Farringdon Road and gave its name to Fleet Street. Marylebone Lane follows the twists and turns of the river Tyburn. Wells and springs shaped the ancient City such as Brook Street; location in an age where physical rivers de-marked boundaries and borders.  And man created civilisation on top of this ancient map. Roman roads followed river beds that are now buried deep below the modern city.  Utilities and transport networks overlaid this map to create the mix that we know today. Even modern, planned ‘grid’ cities have a resonance and rhythm, through zones, transport planning and repetitive certainty; a Mondrian approach to human habitation.

The infrastructure has always been about bringing people and goods into the city centre, and the radial pattern that most cities demonstrate creates a heart, a central business district where the commercial hub was found.  Districts, nodes and termini create a rhythm of use.

Distributed Work

But can or does technology now challenge this norm?  Will the move from an analogue world to a digital one challenge the assumptions of city plan and the lives that people within it lead?

When Frances Cairncross wrote the ‘Death of Distance’ she predicted an era where distance would have no cost.  And so this has come to pass.  The city’s fundamental raison d’être is now being reconsidered.  Co-location is no longer the most efficient way to minimise costs for the corporation as technology allows people to connect and collaborate from anywhere.  Markets no longer require physical presence to trade and function.  Agglomeration has no purpose in a global economy.  Distributed work is challenging the nature of the metropolis.

Potable devices that are increasingly sophisticated and light, blistering wireless telephony and connectivity with 4G LTE and WiFi/WiGig, the cloud and SaaS as well as a host of other innovations are changing the nature of where, when and how work gets done for a large proportion of the population.  And at the same time that this agile workforce is changing the rules, a number of other forces are at play.

We have a perfect storm of ingredients to challenge our cities: population growth, transport constraints, carbon reduction and new technology.  Overlay the corporate desire to cut costs and a realization that offices are underutilized assets that can be shrunk to reflect the real demand for workspace and you have a scenario that has the potential to reshape our cities.

There is a growing realization that cities will eventually become immobile as a forecast 6bn people become city dwellers worldwide by 2050.  We will have to rethink patterns of use of the city.

City 2.0

And so the perfect storm presents the vision of a polycentric city where there is no centre or heart but a series of interconnected nodes – much like the internet.  City 2.0 will be a digital urban landscape, where people are connected with ubiquitous connectivity, no longer tied to the ancient meanders of rivers or termini or transport.

City 2.0 will redefine how we live, work, consume leisure and come together.  It will be a staccato city, no longer in motion but peaking and troughing as new patterns of behavior emerge.  Polycentricity will allow new clusters and communities, a new sense of localism and freedom to choose work settings away from the 9to5 commute that dominates today.

Third Space

Already we have witnessed a dramatic growth in co-working space; new third spaces for work that are shared between like minded people – a return to the guilds and scoulas of ancient times.  Third space will begin to redefine destination in the city as people form new networks and clusters.

Moving bytes around the modern city is not just an iteration. We will slowly witness a transformation of our urban landscape as radical and impactful as that created on the back of the last industrial revolution.  The digital era will shape our cities and buildings and define a new set of behaviours. With it will come a new definition of the corporation, much like Charles Handy predicted… doughnut companies inhabiting a doughnut city.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

No Equity, No Resilience: Minneapolis is All of Us

No Equity, No Resilience: Minneapolis is All of Us

This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.

Update for April 20, 2021:

After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.

-Ron & Stewart

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This