The coronavirus problem is an opportunity — to arrest human havoc.
If there ever was a problem we should look at as an opportunity, it is the coronavirus pandemic. It has somewhat slowed the depredations of burning fossil fuels, rampant construction and unbridled mass travel.
We would be foolish to let everything go back to the way it was. It would be a historic blunder if we did not change our way of life when we know now that we can and how positive it can be.
There are many things we need to alter and make a part of the ‘new normal’. In the first of this series of five ideas, I propose that all the large cities of the world convert eighty to ninety per cent of their office space into residential apartments.
New York has about 500 million square feet of office space. The average size of an NYC apartment is between 500 to 1000 square feet. If we converted 400 million square feet, we would have about 600,000 residences. If we take an average family size of three, it could house about 1.8 million residents. It would increase its existing population of 8.4 million by about 20%.
For London, a similar calculation shows it could house about a million more residents in the city if it converted 80% of its existing 225 million square feet of offices.
We don’t have to restrict this to just the largest cities of every country. It would work well for the second rung cities too. Worldwide, there are about 50,000 cities, with a current population of about 1.7 billion. If we could accommodate 20% more residents in them without new constructions within them, their suburbs or the countryside, it would save about 120 million houses or apartments from being built, globally. Just think of all the material, energy and land saved. And the biodiversity protected. Now, that is a pretty big deal for the planet.
We can expect these positive outcomes from the conversion:
- It will support the growing movement by companies to adopt 80-90% work-from-home through the reduction of an equivalent amount of office space
- · It will reduce the operating costs of employers, which they can invest in new skills and innovation
- It will dramatically reduce commuting as employees will live in proximity to their offices, and even the 10-20% of them going to the office each day would not need private transport. Most may even be able to walk to work, and the rest would use public transport. The reduced emissions would be great for the atmosphere, and the time and frustration saved would increase productivity.
- It will reduce construction activity for residential accommodation in the city by a lot. There would be a direct and indirect reduction in noise, dust and pollution within the city.
- The real estate development avoided far from city centres will arrest the suburban sprawl and save the countryside and its flora and fauna.
- It will rescue commercial real estate companies from financial ruin. They would get the retrofitting work for two to three years for converting the offices to homes, giving them time to move to other stable lines of business.
- The converted apartments would still be affordable as the lower investment required in existing buildings would offset the typically higher cost of city dwellings
- It will boost the income of city restaurants, shops and other businesses due to the increased activity of hundreds of thousands more families for many more hours in the day and late into the evening
- Millions would quickly gain the advantages of urban life such as easy access to medical facilities, education, jobs and innovation
If the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Infosys also turned their giant campuses into mostly residential housing where their employees could live and work in a new way, they would be contributing a lot to the world.
Certainly, more analysis of the numbers and potential outcomes is essential, at a city by city level. But I believe the overall soundness of the premise will withstand scrutiny.
If you think this is the way of the future, please spread the idea. Posterity will thank you.
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