There is an ongoing process of dichotomizing the “dream concept” of the cities of the future (post-Covid cities). We have made cities grow dramatically to encourage the concentration of labour by bringing the worker ‘closer’ to the place of production. The main cities have still a medieval concentric organization of the territory where the city hall and the cathedral have been replaced by the trade center, the wealthy people live in the first circle, middle class (bourgeoisie) in the second one, etc. All aimed at the “confinement” of the labour market where demand rejoices as the supply increases and the cost of the worker (in terms of wages and free time) tends to decrease drastically.
Phalansterian cities such as London, Paris, and larger capital cities, in general, have developed economically and urbanistically according to this principle in which construction has established its application module. Architecture has thought and develop the minimum unit of housing and the standards for habitable rooms (below which it is impossible to reduce but that represents the maximum achievable for the buyer), and has regulated the physical “space of life”. Precisely because the trend was to optimise space for the production machine and not for a human being with his occupations, activities, and diversions. Man/woman is a production element and tends to spend a third of his life in the workplace (until overtime was introduced and then man spent half of his life in the workplace). Social relations have altered, accelerated, and followed consumerist styles like any product on sale, often to use and throw away.
Suddenly, however, this trend suffers an emotional threat: a virus that could interfere with the Darwinian concept of man according to nature and the concept of the “anthropic” man, rendered to the extreme as productive capital. Suddenly the question arises as to how we will live remotely. A distance that is now measurable, they call it “social” distance, just to emphasise that it is morally social to stay at a distance if it falls within the established, measurable metric canons. A distance that can be bridged and overcome by technology, as a substitute for the emotional sphere of social contact.
The mental (psychological?) distance at which we are used to living is no longer considered distance. How are we going to live within a bubble of a two-meter radius? How will we interact? How will we rearrange the functional space? Will it even be possible and economically sustainable to do so?
For a moment we set aside the canonical sustainability of the term. Before social distance, sustainability had another meaning; less profound, more “distant” (greenhouse effect, ozone hole, melting glaciers, etc). Something about the world out there and not the next social world. The future now imagines itself set on distance – considered ‘smart’ for some reason – and without negative connotations, relativised precisely by technology. There is talk of smart working. An effective way to regain space and think about the sustainability of an environment that would regenerate itself by reducing travel and pollution because we will work from home.
So what’s the point of concentrating inhabitants in megacities? Following the new dream in that fateful 2050, will there no longer be two-thirds of the world population concentrated in the cities? And what about the physical expansion in progress? The strategic plans to intensify construction and the offer of new housing? Will the march at the pace of hundreds of thousands of new homes a year be halted?
We need to understand things better. Those who work from home will yearn for larger houses with certain ‘livability’ standards, perhaps with surrounding green space and with sufficient living space for the whole family, including that for the partner who will work from home. Who can afford these spaces in big cities? Does the city even have enough space? Does the average worker have suitable capital? Have the market and policies considered making their workers truly autonomous and independent by allowing them a choice to adapt to the desired change? Smart working will mark the emptying of cities from my point of view. And, from my perspective, this view is certainly not of great economic interest, therefore not very practicable in a global capitalist market.
I personally believe that in the future we will see so much past and accepted normality as a cost of the capitalistic concept of progress. The trend will remain unchanged and will return to the (un)sustainable approach to life of all time. Already I see people barging in the underground, I hear the car horns honking, looking for a parking space near the workplace that will perhaps take on new terminologies but with the same meanings. If all this does not happen and a new space-time relationship will regulate our life, could we reconsider in the medium-long term the property rent and the consequent value of lands and buildings in the city center?
Max Strano / Bureau69 Architects