Penelope Trunk recently provided seven predictions on the future of work. Many will require changes to how people live in cities. Old style sprawl will not allow for new styles of working. Here I’ll address her first two predictions:
The end of gender disparity
Pay is equal for men and women until there are kids. This inequality will change when Generation Y starts having kids because the men are committed to being equal partners in child rearing. We see already that among Generation X men and women are willing to give up pay and prestige in order to get time with their families. Generation Y’s demographic power will provide critical mass for big change.
The end of the stay-at-home parent
Women have already widely rejected the idea of sacrificing their time with children to a relentless, high-powered, long-houred job, and men are following suit. Women have also found that staying at home with kids all day is boring. Institutions are responding – finally — to these trends. Parents will choose some form of shared care. Each parent will work part-time and take care of kids part time.
These predictions and observations will require many families to abandon suburban life for a more urban existence. The suburbs evolved when one parent working outside the home was the norm. The other parent could then dedicate herself (or occasionally “himself) to getting the kids to schools and other activities, as well as looking after them at home. If the working parent had to commute 60 minutes each way, that was considered acceptable to have a large back yard and a white picket fence.
In order for both parents to share care and have careers, they’ll need to live in proximity to their employer or clients (for the self employed). Although the internet and mobile technology allows for some types of work to be done anywhere, face to face communication is usually essential some of the time. It builds trust, is part of networking, and is required at least occasionally for effective collaboration.
Having a home in a distant suburb makes it harder for two parents to blend work and family life. If you live 10 minutes from downtown (or a major employment area) — or live downtown — it’s easier to get away for a one hour meeting, which will only cost you 1 hour 20 minutes of time. If you live 60 minutes from downtown, a one hour meeting will cost you 3 hours, two of which will be fairly unproductive if you’re driving in traffic.
For those who need to make regular appearances at an “office” (or the equivalent there of), living close to work and the kids schools means that you can zip home in a few minutes if there is a problem or dash to the school to attend a concert for an hour. It also means less time wasted commuting and therefore more time with your kids. Plus, when it comes to negotiating flexibility — such as an option to work from home occasionally, or to work in the evening in return for having a shorter day at the office — it’s more workable (and an easier sell to employers) if you can get back quickly in an emergency.
So, the future of work and the future of cities are interconnected. Of course, living in higher density areas will usually mean living in a smaller place — maybe a condo or townhouse and playing at the park rather than in a big backyard.