by Michelle Landers
As we put 2020 behind us and enter 2021, it is a time of hopefulness and unpredictability. We are all eager to enter the recovery phase of the pandemic and recession.
As I look at the year ahead, I am hopeful that we will all soon get back to enjoying the places we cherish most. Like many communities large and small across New England, what makes Boston special is that it is truly a place to live, work, and play. That phrase – live, work, play – has become a cliche and a marketing tag but the reactivation of our living spaces, workplaces, and recreation/entertainment spots cannot come soon enough. As 2021 unfolds and our communities are able to access vaccines to keep us safe, it is a good time for our industry to reflect on how we will live, work, and play into the future.
Many of those with the privilege and resources to work remotely have left the city for second homes or to save rent by hunkering down with mom and dad. Those with essential jobs or on the lower end of the income scale have stayed put. Like many trends accelerated or accentuated by COVID-19, the past year has shown that while residents in luxury apartments have choices and demand may waiver in disruptive times, demand for affordable housing is durable and unrelenting.
As creative and innovative minds have found solutions to many problems over the last year, I hope we can use the incredible brain power in our city to increase production of housing for all members of our community, especially those who proved themselves to be essential in 2020.
While many workers have continued to go to the office, lab, construction site, or supermarket every day, many of us are eager to return to the workplace after spending nearly a year working from home. The often touted, but equally undervalued, activity of collaboration has been sorely missed as people have come to long for the in-person interaction with colleagues and fellow professionals that took place in offices, lobbies, cafes, and public spaces around the city. As lucky as we are to have online meeting tools, nothing beats lunch or a conversation over a cup of coffee to build relationships and innovate together.
A new model of work will provide opportunities for innovative developers and owners who may find themselves with empty space. The trends of short-term leases and turn-key office space will accelerate as small and large firms provide flexible options to their employees. Suburban satellite offices or hot desks in coworking spaces will be popular for those who enjoy or necessitate remote work, but do not have an ideal work from home set up. Outdoor amenity space as well as meeting space that easily allows for teleconferencing will be popular as workers return to downtown.
The loss of live music, crowded bars, theater, movies, ballet and other entertainment was a huge blow to city living in 2020. In addition to the signature events and gatherings that draw residents and visitors alike, 2020 also saw the departure of many important and beloved restaurants and retail establishments. In normal times, there would be new restaurateurs and entrepreneurs eager to take over the empty space; 2021 will be different. Owners and city officials will need to work together to find creative uses to activate the ground floor of many buildings throughout the city. There will be new business and likely new industries that pop up to meet the needs of our post-pandemic world. Let’s be flexible and collaborative as we rethink the street level experience in communities large and small.
There will be new challenges and disruptions in the year ahead, but as we are able to reconnect and rebuild city life in Boston, we have an opportunity to create an even better and more equitable place for all Bostonians to live, work, and play.
Michelle Landers is the executive director of ULI Boston/New England.