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February 11, 2022  |  permalink

IBS 2022: Rethinking How Cities Will Function After the Pandemic

(The National Association of Home Builders invited me to deliver a Spotlight talk at this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando, and Builder magazine was kind enough to write it up.)

Many of the early predictions about the future during the COVID-19 pandemic, including that cities would be emptied and that offices were finished, are not likely to hold true, according to Greg Lindsay of NewCities Foundation. Instead, the post-COVID world will reflect an environment where individuals have the capability to work from anywhere and require everything on demand, Lindsay shared during his education session “The Big Rethink: Cities After COVID” during the 2022 International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Florida.

While there was a great migration away from cities during the early stages of the pandemic, the migration pattern has reversed during the past year. While many individuals still desire the space from their neighbors that is afforded by suburban life and require their homes to have a slightly different function than before the pandemic, cities are also highly desirable, according to Lindsay. Additionally, many firms are beginning to slowly move away from fully remote work because of the segmentation it has created in the workforce, another positive sign for the future of cities.

In addition to migration patterns, another major trend that has emerged during the pandemic is the rise of single-family rental homes and build-to-rent as a business model. Lindsay said the build-to-rent space will continue to emerge, and may even become a replacement for the starter home for some individuals.

“One of the biggest trends that’s come out of the pandemic is the huge surge in single-family rentals,” Lindsay said. “We’re seeing large companies now creating entire neighborhoods from scratch particularly in places that have seen a huge surge in migration and a shortage of housing. Perhaps given the incredible return on investment is that starter homes—the lowest rung of Americans being able to build wealth—is now being turned into a rental market. There’s a huge interest in this build-to-rent model, which arguably could be a big chunk of the future of American housing.”

Additionally, Lindsay said the emergence of quick commerce—a service where consumers can expect delivery within an hour of placing an order—is likely to have an impact on how communities are developed. Quick commerce has already led to the rise of “dark storefronts” in many cities, retail distribution centers or former brick-and-mortar stores that cater exclusively to online shoppers. The nature of quick commerce means the service radius of the store is relatively small, allowing for rapid delivery and almost on-demand service. However, as the trend continues to develop, Lindsay said it may become a selling point for communities and developments.

“People are going to scale this up and start combining it with all forms of mixed-use housing services,” Lindsay said. “Perhaps in the future, quick commerce will become an amenity and an offering. You can now get your groceries delivered in 15 minutes or less by servicers on staff.”

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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the chief communications officer at Climate Alpha, an urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, , a senior fellow of MIT’s Future Urban Collectives Lab, and a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative.

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