I was recently shocked to learn that 1/5 of our Nation’s working class are no longer full-time employees, but rather are under a temporary contract, a characterization traditionally called ‘freelancing’. This number threw me for a loop, and I immediately harkened back to a thought experiment I preformed while in graduate school: How do we rethink the design of communities, now that the knowledge economy is the number one largest driving force in urban revitalization.
First off, industry is not what it used to be. Long gone are the assembly lines and smoke stacks of yesteryear. In that economy, towns focused on attracting and growing companies. Town management knew that the people who worked in those companies, with more or less interchangeable skills, would seek out employment regardless of quality of their surroundings. Today, however, we are moving toward a ‘knowledge economy’ or ‘creative class’. Towns are no longer focusing on attracting the company, but rather the person. A computer programmer, a student, or even an architect no longer needs to live in a town that houses their industry; they can live anywhere, and contribute to any town. Just add internet.
How do we adjust? By focusing on what attracts this elusive talent. Many towns spanning from coast to coast have chosen a facelift with the intention of moving away from traditional industry and into this growing sector. Their revitalizations began by focusing research on how to attract the highly educated and skilled workforce that is now driving our economy. Many towns came to the same conclusion: these individuals are looking for amenities in close proximity to where they live, learn, play and work. They want to ride their bikes to their place of business, under a canopy of trees, and through a variety of open spaces. They want to live in a remote town, but eat world class food. And they want to be able to live and work in the same community.
Talent is now mobile, and those in this desired pool are demanding a better quality of life. Public transportation, leisure time possibilities, and a genuine sense of place can no longer be relegated to vacation destinations, but now must be at the core of any town planning.
So, I challenge all of you to ask yourself: what do you consider the best town in the world? What qualities about the town make you feel that way about it? Are you currently living somewhere that lives up to your lifestyle requirements? And finally, how has your perception of design changed, now that the creative class is in the driver’s seat?