1. Cities are not finished – not by a long way
If you’ve ever been to Siena, you’ll have seen the sad view from the loggia of the Palazzo Publico: a 13th century plague meant it never grew to fill the space enclosed by its city walls. Allotment gardens fill the empty acres, a tribute to the dramatic effect of disease on urban space. Post-pandemic London and the other big cities could share a similar fate as businesses and residents stampede to the suburbs and countryside.
You’ll have sat-in on dozens of Zoom chats full of this kind of talk, and it’s what lots of property people thought, too. By mid-lockdown they had bought into the idea of spoke-and-hub offices as the new post-pandemic property model. Base some staff in town, some out of town, and businesses would be more resilient and coronavirus-proof – or so the argument goes.
Unfortunately, this bird is not going to fly, according to most late-lockdown observers. The pressure that forced AstraZeneca from the Cheshire countryside to Cambridge city, and took Vodafone from the gentle Thames Valley to roaring Shoreditch, are real and continuing, says Centre for Cities policy officer, Simon Jeffrey.
‘There’s a reason why city centres are popular, and that’s because they are in the centre of things. Literally. If employers need to reach a wide labour pool, head to the centre. If you head to the periphery, you shrink your labour pool,’ Simon explains.
David Ainsworth is Chief Executive at CO-RE, the development specialist behind a string of monster central London schemes, including the forthcoming 450,000 sq ft office tower at 20 Ropemaker, EC2, designed by Make Architects for Old Park Lane Management.
‘The centre will remain the hub and people come to work in hubs, not just offices there. So, long term, the city centre remains the logical solution for major tenants,’ David says. These views are widely shared. Maybe occupiers will want less, or healthier, offices in the future, but those offices will still be in cities.