Cities reconfigured: How changing work, shopping, community, and transport will transform our collective lives


One of our companies, Future Exploration Network, recently created a detailed report for a client delving into the most important shifts shaping the next decade and beyond.

One of the themes was Cities Reconfigured. The section began:

Urbanisation has proved to be a dominant global force, shaping both developed and developing countries. We know cities are both spreading out and become denser at their centres, but radical shifts are now reshaping the structure and shape of cities. The rise of flexible, remote and freelance work and shifts where and how people shop and socialise are significantly changing travel patterns. The widespread deployment of data sensors is providing real-time insights into environmental, traffic and infrastructure conditions, enabling rapid response and a deeply-needed increase in urban efficiency.

In highly summarized form, some of the most important shifts reshaping cities are:

Changing work
Work is becoming increasingly location-independent, with employees dividing their time between traditional offices, home, and co-working ‘third spaces’ that provide attractive collective work spaces far closer to home. Many more people will work independently or across a portfolio of activities, while many low-skilled service jobs will be replaced by new high-touch roles.

Shifting retail
As more purchasing of everything from fashion to groceries moves online the mid-tier of retail will shrink, leaving highly localized offerings and larger complexes that incorporate not just shopping and entertainment but also work and community centers.

Community at the heart
Always-on digital connection is, paradoxically, driving demand for real community and connection. Retailers, property developers and even banks are recognizing that they can only succeed if they support the drive for community, with local social networks supporting a shift from government to citizens in providing vital social support.

Networked transport
Car sharing, ride sharing, and new driver networks are providing lower cost and more efficient alternatives for travel, while driverless cars could transform how people move around. Collective public transport will increase in importance, but cities will vary enormously in their success at meeting demand for attractive, comfortable systems. However the context is that transport needs could be dramatically different from today.

Public data
The explosion of data available on everything from micro-traffic trends to air quality and even commuter moods – almost all shared publicly – will enable the design of government and commercial services that support efficient use of resources.

Environmental imperative
Well-designed dense urban living has a substantially lower net environmental impact than a more distributed population, however people will only want to live in cities if they are clean and beautiful. Thoughtful development and restructuring will shape urban environments.

Many people and organizations are acting with an implicit belief that cities will have similar shapes in the future that they have now.

However fundamental forces are reconfiguring the very nature and structure of how people live together in major urban centers, and there is a long way further for these forces to play outt.

Image credit: Twelvizm