Alan Noiloan


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Alan Noiloan

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Work has taken on such a place of primacy in our lives that it has subsumed our identities, diluted our friendships, and disconnected us from our communities.Individualism induces work obsession, and that work obsession in turn keeps us mired in individualism.We have forgotten how to care for each other outside the bounds of family, or gather with each other outside the compulsion of our jobs or our children’s activity schedules.We have lost or are barely clinging to our support systems.This devolution has been happening for years.We’ve just distracted ourselves from it with a quick vacation to convince yourself you were living a balanced life.There has to be something more.So what’s the answer?Do we all just start going to religious services again?Pick a hobby, any hobby, buy some gear, and go for it?Our best selves can aim to do so, but if work maintains the same place in our identities and worlds, it’s simply not going to happen.You’ll google info on a group and forget about it, donate some money and step away, make plans to attend a meeting and cancel.Because this detailed, diligent labor to liberate ourselves from our addiction to work will be meaningless if its benefits extend only to people who work and live and look like us.You might feel powerless or nihilistic about our potential as a society, convinced we will never be able to actually embrace collectivism again.But, as Putnam argues, there is convincing evidence that we are at the beginning of an upswing in collectivist sentiment, because the promises of individualism have proven so thoroughly unsavory for all but the most rarefied elite.There is such tremendous promise to a potential shift to hybrid, remote work.What follows aren’t intended to be detailed policy solutions.But as we move forward in our thinking about the future of work and its place in a more collectivist society, there are so many areas that will demand attention, assistance, and protection.Here are some initial, but by no means exhaustive, ideas for where to focus.Instead, they should attempt to take personal cars or rely on cabs or ride shares.But the actual epidemiology doesn’t matter.But those cars haven’t disappeared, and neither have the newfound habits around them.Whether because of increased remote work, increased reliance on personal vehicles, general reluctance to be in proximity to other people, or moves out of the city, the overall demand for public transit has gone down.What does that take?A change in how and where we work will likely change what we want out of our cities and their transportation infrastructure.But it will also require fixing and expanding the infrastructure that’s already in place, even if ridership has gone down.6Just because we’re not commuting five days a week doesn’t mean we don’t still need mobility.People working from home will still have to travel and go to meetings and live in their cities, Welle told us.For many transit systems ridership is the success metric for the health of the system and often tied to funding.But if ridership is down, it could lead to more funding cuts and create a vicious downward spiral.To combat that, Welle said that the transit community is starting to look at different metrics besides ridership to gauge success.How can it provide accessibility?Our current mobility system doesn’t do a very good job of providing adequate access to this in most cities, but the pandemic may be a moment to reimagine what we want from these services, he said.There’s a common misperception that a world where we spend less time in offices means a world spent isolated in our homes.That’s certainly a risk, but it’s all but guaranteed if we don’t adapt our cities to our way of life.And that means creating more opportunities in our cities to have amenities within close reach of people by way of walking, bicycling, or a short bus or subway ride.I imagine there’s going to be a real acceleration in people wanting to have access to walkable urban neighborhoods, Welle told us.It’s a very slippery, very steep downward slope.But it’s all going to go to hell if we take our eyes off how this overall shift could affect our cities.Instead of jamming this way of working on everyone, we should be stepping back and meeting with city planning officials, she said.Meeting with transportation people, meeting with politicians and public government organizations that address tax policy.We have to be working together to create a dynamic new vision of what the city is going to look like. Yost lives in one of the long string of towns on the New Jersey transit line that, before the pandemic, funneled hundreds of thousands of workers elsewhere in the New York metro area every day.7 In December 2020, the transit line sent out a survey, asking workers about their current and projected transit usage.They’re going to cut trains, Yost said.And then train service will be even more horrible than it was before.It becomes this reinforcing downturn, Yost said.And no one’s committed to figuring it out.There’s just a total lack of imagination.If you own a corporate office, you need to be calling up the transit people and saying, we see the data, we are seeing the research, this is going to be a new reality.There’s so clearly still a need, Leslie Kern, a geographer who studies urban design and gender, told us.The pandemic showed us that.What would new city planning look like that actually accommodates a more varied understanding of the tasks and needs of all over the course of a day?Skyscrapers, for example, have been very single use, Kern told us.So how could we reimagine the skyscraper as a multiuse space? Clive Wilkinson, who designed Google’s corporate campus and spends his days thinking about the future of office design, is energized by the sheer number of opportunities.Instead of the office as city, the city as office.Most of the clients we have, reps from and heads of real estate and facilities, are very confused, he said.It will take a few big companies to create a new paradigm and reframe the office as a highly communal social place that supports episodic work.There’s so much potential, but I get the sense there’s a fear and a certain laziness about it.Some of these big reimaginings are exciting.But even small overhauls in other metropolitan areas show a viable path to a healthier city.What might that look like?In Westfield, New Jersey, a commuter suburb about an hour’s train ride from Manhattan, the pandemic put the nail in the coffin of a sprawling Lord & Taylor department store that had been struggling for years.Who knows how long it would take to revive this time?But the city council saw an opportunity to transform the empty department stores and parking lots into a space that would actually keep commuters local.It voted 8–1 to approve a redevelopment plan of eleven different downtown properties, plus the Rialto, and seven parking lots.And elsewhere, as it turns out, is booming.Many are college towns with lively downtowns populated with locally owned small businesses and restaurants.They have burgeoning or robust arts scenes already in place.Many Zoom towns, particularly those that function as gateway communities to outdoor areas in the West, have found themselves in a precarious position as the very attitude, vibe, and community that attract people to the area in droves are threatened by the influx of coastal salaries.Right now, Rumore says, the elected officials and leaders in many of these small communities are relying on anecdotal evidence and observations, which don’t tell the entire story.Leaders in, say, Sandpoint, Idaho, don’t have to go through these growing pains without guidance, the wisdom of experience, and which arguments will never really be settled.We hear communities endlessly debating whether this is good or bad for their community, and the hard truth is that when you’re one of these towns, you don’t get to make that decision, Rumore told us.The ideological split can make something as seemingly straightforward as a community meeting incredibly fraught.When you frame discussions around what’s worth preserving, it can bring people together, even if they disagree on the way to actually go about protecting the places and spaces they love.The questions towns need to be asking are ‘What tools and techniques and resources do we need?’ and ‘Who do we want to be when we grow up?’ We have people who say we don’t want to grow up.You can’t close the door behind you, Rumore said.Some midsize cities have been grappling with the constant drain of talent for years, coupled with the dawning reality that there is no new company that’s coming to town, building a skyscraper, and throwing a thousand jobs into the mix.Yet there is very little accounting for the ways that an influx of remote workers disrupts the quality and texture of other residents’ lives.They can create a more fractured and volatile cultural, political, and economic environment, particularly when there’s little guidance, funding, or past experience to draw on in order to handle new stresses.Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers one template.Back in 2018, the city, with extensive support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, embarked on a new experiment, offering remote workers a $10,000 incentive to move to Tulsa and take part in an intentional effort to build community.Ben Stewart, the executive director of Tulsa Remote, told us that they struggle with cultivating the necessary balance.We take each applicant so seriously, he said, noting that the goal is to build what he referred to as an intentionally curated community.We are looking for people who want to add something, he said.But they also understand that in order for the program to work, it needs continued nurturing.There’s potential for a program like Tulsa Remote, which has been duplicated in northwest Arkansas, Vermont, and northwest Alabama, to help bridge the gap between a new set of residents and the more rooted community, especially as new citizens begin to get active in local politics.There’s so much more access to power and decision makers in any smaller community, and you have the ability to impact and make change right away, Stewart told us.But you want to help foster the natural collaborations, which means finding those people who are the glue in one community and bringing them together with those who are the glue in another.

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