For those of you who live in the city, ask yourself: What is it that makes it indispensable despite pollution, noise and traffic? Maybe the many restaurants you like to dine in. Or the nightlife, the cultural scene, the parks, the museums. What if much of this disappears? Would you still like to live in the city?
This possibility worries many as the pandemic has erased much of what makes big cities special. The heart cries, for example, to see Milan reduced to a deathbed.
Many contemplate escaping from cities to rural or suburban areas, with an accomplice opportunity to do if nothing else smartworking (for those who can).
Skilled labor pools allow for the transfer of knowledge and skills.
The presence of so many companies generates more business for the peripheral sectors: for example, a large banking sector creates jobs for accountants and lawyers.
The closeness between people facilitates contact which leads to the maintenance of trust and the exchange of information.
Cities that abound with these characteristics summarized in the expression "cognitive capitalism" will recover. Those that have more routine industries may not. Cities based on the knowledge economy will grow faster than those based on production and manufacturing (delegable elsewhere or to others, human or non-human).
Cities, in short, will still survive for a long time because they are all in all one of humanity's greatest inventions.
The power of cities: sharing, matching and learning
Density is what makes a city special. Only where a significant number of people live in close contact can a place support a great variety of different cultural events.
During a pandemic, however, density is the last thing you want. This is why many people think about moving out of the urban core and the offices remain empty.
It won't last forever.
New vaccines and better treatments will soon end this pandemic. And when the density is no longer cursed by contagion, cities will reaffirm their magic, their ability to improve sharing, matching and learning.
Economists refer to these three mechanisms as types of economies of agglomeration because they represent the advantages of concentration. It is the incentives that bring people and production to live side by side, bearing the high cost of dense urban areas. Economies of sharing, matching and learning explain why cities form and grow.
The economies of agglomeration
The sharing economies refer to economies of scale. For example, companies specializing in the repair of high-quality tools and intellectual property legislation provide important services, but they are consumed only rarely and sporadically. These companies prefer to settle in large cities where the fixed costs of operations can be spread across many customers, making it more likely that their services will always be in demand.
The economies of combination they refer to the time and cost savings in finding goods, services and jobs in a large city compared to a less populated area. Piano tuners and patent attorneys, for example, possess a narrow set of skills that are of great value to particular employers who regularly need these services. So workers with these specialist skills will prefer to settle in larger cities, where they are more likely to get matched with one job or quickly find another if they lose it.
Economies of learning they refer to the value derived from fortuitous interactions. People learn from each other, whether through intentional encounters or casual encounters. Learning through intentional encounters can take place wherever people seek each other. But learning through casual encounters will happen more frequently in denser cities, where there are simply better chances of meeting other people. Consequently, companies and workers will prefer to settle in cities where they can achieve higher profits and higher wages associated with learning that occurs through fortuitous interactions.
The risks and costs of contagion will vanish. And then workers and companies will not be able to resist the advantages that arise in the most densely populated cities. These are the factors that explain the forecast.
Cities will survive all right, and will soon be running again: I hope on foot or by bike, polluting less.
Gianluca Riccio, born in 1975, is the creative director of an advertising agency, copywriter and journalist. He is affiliated with Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists. Since 2006 he directs Futuroprossimo.it, the Italian resource of Futurology.
Futuroprossimo.it is an Italian resource of futurology opened since 2006: every day news about the near future. Scientific discoveries, medical research, prototypes, concepts and predictions about the future for free.
Gianluca Riccio, copywriter and journalist - Born in 1975, he is the creative director of an advertising agency, he is affiliated with the Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists.