If working from home is to become the new normal for many people, our requirements for where we live will change. Our immediate environment will take on more importance. This will have consequences for existing city centres which might find themselves with fewer daily visitors, with consequences for hospitality, entertainment and cultural venues. Such activities are often in part dependent on a sufficient footfall of office workers.
It is possible that working from home may lead to indifference as to where we live, but it is probable that many will prefer to live in local clusters and many will still prefer to miminise their journey to the places where they meet others. Where offices are still needed, rather than being concentrated in the existing city centres, they may come to be located around existing local hubs like high streets or train and bus stations. Existing spaces, whether public or private, can be repurposed.
There will be an impact on the design of larger new housing developments. Mandatory provision of play space and communal amenity will go unchallenged, but there will also be demand to include provision of more local commercial space and communal office space. Of course, if these more demanding requirements are to be met, housing density will be lower. This could affect the appetite of private investors for residential development.
People’s day to day interaction helps them not feel isolated. With the clear evidence that such interaction is necessary for mental health there will be demand for more local community initiatives in social hubs that can be operated locally and safely. It may be that the reported death of the High Street is exaggerated.
There will also be demand for more green space, as is already evidenced by the renewed emphasis on garden cities and the benefits they can bring in environmental, carbon and ecological terms.
It is not possible at this stage to know how strong these forces will be or how easy it will be to give them effect. We cannot say how important these factors will feel as time passes. The hollowing out of existing centres will involve capital destruction, while the creation of new local hubs will require investment by both public and private sectors at a time when both public and private finances are stretched.
So the big question is just how quickly will new locational preferences become firm, how can fresh ideas about what locations look and feel like be realised and, as importantly, how and by whom will these transformations be funded?