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The rise and fall or Urban centers

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Looking into the last say 60 years since WWII, many factors have shaped the growth, vibrancy, and ultimately success of our cities.

Suburbanization, the rise of the automobile, the highway system etc, made Detroit a boom town and now a poster child of urban failings. The tech boom led to the power wealth and success of San Jose, and Silicone valley. Deep water ports made NY a shipping powerhouse, and later on Finance has again reinvinted the city.

For whatever reason, we reached the year 2007 with our cities the way they were. Now 3 years later, we are just begining to emerge from a recession. Some might say we are bottoming out. regardless, massive shifts have changed the present and the future of our cities.

What changes in the work force, corporate landscape, built environment etc, have pushed your city or region in a new direction? where are things going from here?

In Hartford, we never really got the boom, but during this recession, some corporate moves might well place is on a strong path to recovery.

Stanley works, is buying Black and Decker, effectively doubling the size of the firm. ING will be spinning off its $20+ Billion North American Insurance unit. All indications are that the company will be Headquartered in Hartford(windsor) United Technologies has made several mergers, and although they are shipping more manufacturing jobs South, the company is stronger than ever and growing like crazy. The New CEO of Cigna plans on staying in Hartford rather than moving to Philly. this might move the HQ to Hartford eventually. Other insurance companies that were at a real risk of dissapearing have rebounded well, including The Hartford. the long term future is still cloudy, but survival is more likely than not.

Mass transit is coming to town in the form of a 3 city commuter rail with 11 stops including the airport. this project has been in the works for a while, but will likely happen by 2015. This would almost certainly pull Springfield into the Hartford MSA (I have no idea how it is not currently) and also further bind New Haven to Hartford. The added connectivity to New York City can't hurt either.

The "boom" allowed Hartford to jump start its downtown residential revolution and with a market annunced last week, it seems as though enough was done to fuel future interest. we will see, but I am optimistic that additional downtown residential projects are not far off.

anyone else care to add? have comments on how your region was affected, and how you see the future playing out?

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Decentralization may in fact be the future as telecommuting becomes even more prevalent. I'm not sure this is positive for our urban centers as folks will obviously spread out into the suburban landscape. Telecommuting is a win/win for most companies and employees with the biggest advantage that it saves both a great deal of money by not having to keep up a centralized location or travel to one.

Things could also play out differently as folks get tired of dealing with choking traffic and wish to move to a more dense urban environment where they can walk or take mass transit for shopping, dining, etc.

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Decentralization may in fact be the future as telecommuting becomes even more prevalent. I'm not sure this is positive for our urban centers as folks will obviously spread out into the suburban landscape. Telecommuting is a win/win for most companies and employees with the biggest advantage that it saves both a great deal of money by not having to keep up a centralized location or travel to one.

Things could also play out differently as folks get tired of dealing with choking traffic and wish to move to a more dense urban environment where they can walk or take mass transit for shopping, dining, etc.

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One thing that strikes me is how telecommuting (and online shopping, etc.) could potentially change society. I feel like I can already see it happening; as people can do more and more with their computers - work, shop, play - could it be that the need for "urban centers" may diminish? Why would you go into an office when you are more productive at home? Why would you go to Barnes and Noble, when you can find a bigger selection at Amazon.com? Why would you go to the mall arcade when you have Xbox at home connected to the internet?

So what are the futures of urban centers? They MUST remain vital to the community - to bring people together, to interact and learn from each other. Look back over my list and understand that a home office does not foster the same competitive and collaborative environment as a traditional workplace. A search on Amazon.com does not provide the opportunity to take suggestions from strangers in the dusty isles of a used book store. And a 14 year old boy will certainly not find a girlfriend sitting at home playing Xbox.

Hopefully, someone out there understands that the "urban center" is not necessarily about commerce, it's about civic productivity.

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People have been talking about the decentralization of companies for years, but nothing ever comes of it. Sure you have more people who work from home, but ultimately human to human contact is essential, and unless you're in IT, you need to be able to walk over to the next office and ask your colleague a question rather than call/text/email and hope that they pick up or answer. Aside from that, America is becoming an increasingly urban nation. People view dense cities as those with the highest quality of life. People are increasingly seeing value in a high quality urban center, even in small cities. The future of our urban cores has never been brighter.

Even my home town of Spartanburg has seen value by investing in downtown and rebuilding it into a place where people want to go, rather than a place people avoid.

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I think telecommuting will grow in the coming years, but it won't replace the office. The fact is that much of our work life really revolves around "face time" and interaction. There is only so much one can do on the computer. And ironically, the further up you go, where telecommuting becomes more "acceptable", the less likely you are going to have stuff you can do from home. People will still enjoy the escape from distractions at the office, but only some of the time.

I do think more cloud based computing is going to actually cause companies to centralize. It becomes easier for everything to be done remotely from a central office. In the long run I think this will have an interesting reaction effect - smaller companies that can more readily respond to their customers by being local. So I think we will have a kind of duopoly there.

I don't think there is one prediction, though, for the future of the city. Those cities which focus on manufacturing and industry and big business I think will see a decline as headquarters move out to the suburbs, workers go outside the city for lower costs of living, and the inner cities become the less desirable neighborhoods. But those cities that intentionally or not focus on small knowledge and creativity companies will create a urban culture that actually draws people in. Lastly, I think the idea of city and suburb is going to change itself. Suburbs become less bedroom communities and more miniature cities. Likewise, cities are starting to green up and focus on the smaller scale, thus become less metropolises and more dense neighborhoods.

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Haveing not traveled a lot I can only speak for my city of Va Beach. During the boom we benefited greatly as the Town Center grew and now holds the tallest tower in Va. Of course the last couple of years have been tough and the next phase is going slower than I would have liked. Also, nearby vital pieces of land conducive for urban growth are just sitting there. I am hoping in the next 12-24 mos that things will turn around. The long term plan for VA Beach is amazing with over 50 urban blocks hoping to be rezoned from suburban and being redevelopled. Nearby urban centers though have lots of urban apartments and condos going up and it will be some time before these are fully sold or rented out. Now light rail is being built and will be up and running soon,hopefully this will hasten TOD offerings. As far as how the internet has changed people I agree it has been a big change but I think more and more people are desiring human contact and now taking your laptop to coffee shops, the mall and even restaurants is becoming more commonplace. Any weekend go to Panera and you will find plenty of people with their laptops surfing and doing school work, etc. Even Barnes and Noble is offering free wi fi these days. Of course I realize a large reason of the offerings is to pull people into their establishments to spend money. All and all, urban centers are doing well but surely the recession has slowed down the progress but hopefully soon things will turn around.

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As far as how the internet has changed people I agree it has been a big change but I think more and more people are desiring human contact and now taking your laptop to coffee shops, the mall and even restaurants is becoming more commonplace. Any weekend go to Panera and you will find plenty of people with their laptops surfing and doing school work, etc. Even Barnes and Noble is offering free wi fi these days. Of course I realize a large reason of the offerings is to pull people into their establishments to spend money. All and all, urban centers are doing well but surely the recession has slowed down the progress but hopefully soon things will turn around.

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Its funny, because in a robust urban core, the condo or apartment towers lobby or lounge as well as the office building lobby can often act as part of this collective 3rd place you speak of.

I know my old office has a food court built into it. this was once kind of a mall, but it had people in it all the time. sometimes just 30-40, but at lunch it was a community space with hundreds and hundreds of visitors. the plaza outside added to this space on nicer days. the food court has wifi, and small meetings happen there all th time.

my wifes office, was conciderably more formal, and her building lobby has a very inviting sitting area with a waterfall, a tv and wifi. when I go to the bank (just so happens to be in her old office building) I am always tempted to take a break and chill there before heading abck to work.

I think connecting these formal spaces with the commercial gathering places makes for a network of place.

the meetings that happen in these places always amuse me. I saw the police chief, the fire chief, the emergency service chief and some other guy all meeting at starbucks once. very amusing to me. they each have offices and conference rooms, but they chose a very public noisy place to get together. so they could interact more comfortably I am sure.

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