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Richard Florida: The Shift from the ‘Last Relic of the Industrial Age’ to Remote Work

Key Takeaways

  • Remote work is the future of businesses in urban areas.
  • The United States is looking at a massive repositioning of all central businesses.
  • Remote work and social, economic, and racial divides are accelerators of the pandemic.

“When I think about the future of greater Detroit, I think about a place that’s a federation of complete communities. Not a place where work and life is separated and there’s giant commutes. But, where people live in complete communities, or 15-minute neighborhoods, where you can live, work, shop, play, send your kids to school,” Richard Florida, author of “The New Urban Crisis” and professor at the University of Toronto, said.

Florida discussed the new urban crisis and what life in urban areas is like before and after the pandemic during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference. During his address, Florida deemed this crisis and shift in urban life the “great urban reset.”

“Urbanization is the greatest force of human history,” Florida said. “It is the fundamental driver of economic growth, and previous pandemics have not dented it. What we have here is a once-in-a-century opportunity to build back our communities, our metro region.”

Florida suggests businesses in Metro Detroit take advantage of this opportunity by adapting to the new way talent likes to work: remotely. He calls the shift to remote work the single biggest accelerator in the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, 5% of all workdays were completed remotely. After the pandemic, it is projected that more than 20% of all working days will be done remotely. That means 80% of the time, people will still be commuting to the office or on-site to work. However, Florida said that is still a significant shift that businesses need to prepare to accommodate.

“We are looking at a massive repositioning of all central businesses, and you need to be thinking about positioning Detroit for this. You need to be thinking about how best you can equip your cities, suburbs, and rural areas to build what I would call—not office work ecosystems or work from home ecosystems—remote work ecosystems,” Florida said.

Florida called central business districts “the last relic of the industrial age,” akin to the previously popular factory workspaces during industrialization. His suggestion is to turn those districts into a central social district or connectivity district to appeal to younger workers who still want to go to downtown areas to socialize and connect with others they do not see during the workday.

Florida also cited social, economic, and racial divides as an accelerator of the pandemic.

“African Americans have been 2.5 times more likely to die, five times more likely to be hospitalized during this pandemic. People with a college degree are five times more likely to be able to do remote work than someone who graduated high school. The pandemic has merely exposed the economic, social, and racial divides that have long haunted us as a region and as a country,” Florida said.