Agents of Change
By Bill Ross
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
These words, sung by Bob Dylan in 1963 in The Times They are a’Changin’, are as true today as then. Even more so. The difference, of course, is the pace of these changes and the many directions they are taking.
As planners, we are in the midst of dealing with these rapidly changing conditions. Our job has always been to anticipate change in our communities, counties and states, and to develop plans and processes to take advantage of those changes of benefit and to discourage threats that would tear at the very fabric of the lifestyles, economic wellbeing and social stability of our clients – the public.
Newfound communication channels are making location choices less relevant when you can ‘Zoom’ from home to any remote workplace. You can order virtually anything you want and have it delivered to your doorstep in a day or two. Even dinners are a phone call away.
Though some businesses operate most efficiently with employees together in person, many don’t need that in-person touch. What does this mean for the future of office development? The New York Times recently ran an excellent examination of the office tenants in the Empire State Building and their individual needs for face-to-face or remote communication. The effect on the ground floor retailers and coffee shops was also examined. One take-away was that the full economic impact would not be felt until the leases began to expire; some businesses would want to stay, but with considerably less floor area. Demand for new office buildings would lessen, if not evaporate.
Many have already declared the shopping center dead. Some tenants have already moved to strip centers and individual buildings to escape the higher shopping center rents. Some major management companies are implementing ways to attract casual strollers and event-oriented crowds to generate traffic and thus sales. Even stand-alone retailers like hardware and drug stores are facing growing competition from the likes of Amazon et al.
Planners have always been agents of change. That’s our job and we ply it in the public interest. The mounting movement of residents and changing lifestyles, work styles, worksites and shopping habits is increasing as the “new” becomes the “normal.” Deal with it thoughtfully as you make new plans for your community.