Tagged : future

A new urban model

In the 1920s, experts estimated Amsterdam would grow to 960.000 people 80 years from then. They were wrong by a big margin (2000: 740.000 people). In October, experts again calculated Amsterdam (the Randstad) will continue to grow rapidly while the rest of the country faces a population decline (Volkskrant, October 2011). I believe experts are wrong again. Here’s why.

In the digital age we currently live in, everyone has a laptop and smartphone. Most people are connected via Twitter and Facebook and information gets stored in the Cloud. All these innovations make it possible to work anywhere and anytime we want.

These developments depart from the current urban model which is used by most experts. Put simply, employees wanted to live as close to work as possible while still retaining as much space and luxury as possible. For example, the Dutch city of Almere continues to grow because of its proximity to Amsterdam in combination with more affordable housing (more bang for their buck). But what if people could live even further away from Amsterdam without sacrificing their jobs?

In recent years people started to work from their houses more often. Distance becomes less relevant, since house equals workplace. Within years, current cities and the current urban model no longer suffices, thus suggesting a new urban model.  How do we get the Netherlands future proof?

Later this week I’ll post three of my solutions. Stay tuned.

Read about three of my solutions in part 2 of this blogpost.

A promising scenario

If twenty percent of the Dutch labor force spends one day a week working from home, it would generate some two billion euros a year. If people spend two days a week working from home, the benefits would go up to almost three billion euros. This is what made headlines today in the Netherlands. Newspapers cite research done by consultancy group PWC. As a result, we’ll see a reduction in the number of cars on Dutch roads. About 180.000 cars stay home. It’s an interesting piece of research. Below are some of my thoughts about it.

180.000 cars stay home

When I read this, at first I thought “wow”. That’s an incredible number of cars. According to the article, 1,7 million people working from home equals 180.000 cars less. Suddenly the number of cars sounds a lot less incredible. That’s why I want to know: How did they calculate this? I decided to give it a try.

– Dutch population: 16,5 million
– Dutch labor force: 8,5 million
– Total number of cars: 8 million
– For 40 percent of travels longer than 10 km, public transportation is used
– On a daily basis, 1 million people use public transport
– 30 percent of the total population uses a car
– 1,43 people use a car on average (less during rush hour)

Interesting you might say. But what’s you’re point? Well, based on this information, 360.000 to 637.500 cars would stay home. Which is a lot more compared to PWC’s calculations. I guess my question stays the same. How did they calculate this?

A promising scenario

Perhaps most promising is the scenario researchers used. A scenario in which twenty percent of the labor force spends one or two days a week working from home. And they’re not talking about the distant future. Nope, researchers used the year 2015. So imagine a scenario for 2020 or 2030. Will we see half of the labor force spending three to four days a week working from home? If so, imagine how a city or an entire country would look like.

Downside

Benefits would come from the reduction in cars on the roads – which in turn would cut traffic, improve air quality and cut accidents. Also companies can reduce their office costs and home workers are more efficient, PWC says. Sounds great?! Not so fast. Despite the positive aspects, home workers also tend to overwork, and it is proven to be difficult to keep work and private life separate. And this makes sense. If you have the ability to work wherever and whenever you want, you’ll also feel the pressure of doing so. Resulting in longer work hours, more stress and less private space (after all, house equals work). It’s the architects job to prevent this from happening, which will be a major challenge. Working from home should be a benefit. Not a downside.

Do people really want to live in cities?

Yesterday we welcomed the 7 billionth person into the world. This is why (Dutch) newspapers were flooded with charts, statistics and analysis about the United Nations report predicting the world’s population growth. It seems experts agree we shouldn’t agree with experts (in this case the United Nations’ researchers). Many questions were raised. But none of them questioned the United Nations’ prediction about the percentage of people living in cities. Which, according to the UN, continues to grow on every continent. No exceptions. And let’s be fair, all data (and most experts) suggests the same. So it makes sense to assume this actually will be the case. But…

Do people really want to live in cities?

You might say this is an irrelevant question. Don’t we all have to live in cities? Won’t we run out of space otherwise? Ehm. No. We’re not about to run out of space any time soon. We could however run out of resources, but this has not so much to do with cities. So let’s get back to the question raised before. Do people really want to live in cities? In order to answer this question we have to ask ourselves another question.

Why do people live in cities?

For matters of simplicity we’ll divide the people who live in cities in two categories. There are (1) people who love to live in a city, because of their social life, the buzz, entertainment and services. And there are (2) people who need to live in a city because of their jobs and/or education. They might not have had a job otherwise, or pay is higher, the job is more interesting, et cetera. I bet if you’d ask any urbanite (a person who lives in a city) he or she wants a bigger house with a garden and a safe neighborhood for their kids (if they have any). Instead, changes are big they live in a small apartment in a generic suburb of a city. Some of them love cities so much, they’re willing to make the tradeoff. Others just need to live there because of their job. They simply have no choice.

The situation described above (which I simplified quite a bit) is basis for the current urban model. This urban model is used by most architects, urban planners and also researchers like the ones who crafted the United Nations report. Since these researchers predict the percentage of people living in cities will continue to grow, they assume the current urban model will continue to exist for many decades to come.

But what if people don’t need to live in cities anymore? If this would be the case, the current urban model becomes irrelevant. Right?! And that’s exactly what’s happening today. Slowly we see a new way of working emerging. Because of technological innovations like smart phones, laptops, tablet computers, video conferencing and data storage ‘in-the-cloud’, employees can work wherever and whenever they want. As a result employers can cut costs because they need less office space for each employee (they’ll work from their houses more often).

These developments suggest a new urban model. Distance becomes less relevant since house equals workplace. Employees don’t need to live as close to their offices anymore allowing them to live wherever they want. For some people this will continue to be a city. They simply love to be there. But for others, their dream house could be located in a small town near a lake, in a forest or maybe in the mountains. More companies will adapt to this new way of working (which is already happening) thus speeding this development.

This new urban model creates major possibilities for (rural) areas which currently face a population decline. For them it is important to invest in education, health care and other services. But most importantly, they should invest in the best (Internet) connections possible. If these (rural) areas succeed in doing so, don’t be surprised the percentage of people living in (mostly western) cities will decrease in time. After all, do people really want to live in cities?

The end of the nightclub

Last week Dutch news agencies reported within ten years nightclubs will have disappeared. This might come as a shock to many, but it makes total sense. According to research, it’s the financial crisis and smoking ban to blame. Nightclubs themselves can’t be blamed. It’s not their fault teenagers have less money to spend.

Wrong.

The primary function of nightclubs is (1) provide entertainment, (2) a place to hang out with friends and (3) meet new people. During the past years the way we’re entertained and hang out with people changed (think Facebook, Twitter). That is why nightclubs, if they don’t change, will disappear within years. They continue to lose relevance in our ever changing digital world. Instead of putting blame on others (financial crisis, smoking ban), they should review and change their business model. Which in turn will change the function of a nightclub all together.

Luckily for nightclubs, their situation is not unique. We could compare their situation with the music business or major television networks which both face a decline. Instead, I choose to compare nightclubs with movie theaters. They compare well on three important topics;

1. Main product (movie > DJ / live band)

2. Venue (movie theater > nightclub)

3. Technology (3D, large screen > powerful audio system, light shows)

Several years ago movie theaters struggled to stay open. Why pay money to watch a movie elswhere while you can watch it at home? People were not interested in leaving their house for just a bigger screen, which was essentially the only difference between home and a movie theater. Movie theaters had to change their business model. Which is what they did and continue to do.

1. Main product (movie)
Every movie theater needs a great product, which is the movie. Audiences are less interested in movies starring expensive actors. Instead, they are more interested in unique stories and/or a movie utilizing the most awesome technologies (think Avatar, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3).

2. Venue (movie theater)
According to George Lucas’ book Blockbusting, the most frequented theatrical venues were megaplexes averaging sixteen screens. “These megaplexes were destination locations complete with food courts, video games and shopping.” Why megaplexes? People demand choices. A wide choice of movies (“sixteen screens”), a wide choice of restaurants (“food courts”), et cetera. They don’t visit a movie theater for ‘just a movie’. They want the full package – On a side note, I won’t be surprised if “video games”, described in the book Blockbusting, will be replaced by social networking lounges – In essence, a movie theater turns in an entertainment venue with movies as their killer-app.

3. Technology (3D, IMAX)
2D no longer suffices. Most new movies are made in 3D. And screens are getting larger. IMAX, movie theaters with the largest screens, went mainstream. About ten new IMAX venues open every month. A movie in 3D and/or IMAX is an experience instead of ‘just a movie’.

As a result of this changed business model, moviegoing showed an increase in both box office returns and attendance. What can nightclubs learn from this development? Well, first of all it is important to acknowledge the fact people continue to love music and hang out together. Just as with movies, they still love the product. But this is no longer enough to attract people to visit nightclubs.

1 Nightclubs need to focus on a product everyone wants to see. Could be a famous DJ or unique live band. Without a great product, people won’t be interested in nightclubs. No matter what they try.

2 The venue needs to offer a full range of entertainment. Several dance floors, multiple bars, a restaurant, several lounge areas and maybe other functions, like a gym. Also some quiet areas (without music) are needed. Those areas feature comfortable sofa’s, a bar, free wifi and big tv’s.

3 It’s all about technology. Nightclubs should give their customers the most unique experience possible. Imagine a club with the biggest and/or most spectacular light show of the country, a fully lit dance floor or maybe a movie theater like auditorium but instead of chairs, there’s a dance floor or a restaurant. Imagine watching a movie while dancing or having dinner. How cool would that be!

Without changing the function of the nightclub, people won’t be interested in going there anymore. For club owners, the solution involves the complete package, ranging from product to venue to technology. And remember; it’s not about the music, meeting other people or about the drinks. It’s about the experience!