City Centres

So how will this all affect the appearance of tomorrow's cities? Business centres will survive, even if they look somewhat different, says Stuart Lipton, one of the UK's foremost philosophers on the future of workspace and the creator of office landmarks such as London's Broadgate complex. But the buildings within them will change. Giant headquarters will be long gone by the 21st century.

This strikes a chord with Bruce Lloyd, who believes the big office blocks which were no more than corporate ego trips in the 1980s will be economic and social dinosaurs by the next century. Major single-purpose developments will simply not take place, as we don't know enough about the future to put up structures for a single use like office employment. Schemes like London's Canary Wharf, one of Europe's largest buildings, would need to be highly flexible - and contain a mix of uses. This is not revolutionary, as such developments are normal in most countries other than the UK.

Buildings will need to express a care for people because companies will depend on creativity and spirit among staff to win new markets. They will be thought of as hotels; a place for workers to meet and interact rather than sweat and toil.

Businesses will concentrate into fewer, more efficient buildings as they seek to cut costs. Some will leave the city centres as they respond to staff demands for a more pleasant way of life, settling on business parks and in the suburbs.

City centres will be friendlier, less formal places, says Geoff Marsh, a leading UK commentator on the changing demands of towns and cities. Information workers released from monolithic offices will maintain face-to-face contacts in cafes, bars and public places, keeping in touch by mobile phone. Office buildings will need to reflect this change, incorporating these leisure/business facilities. Again this would be no revolution, as North American office blocks have had basement restaurants and 24- hour services for decades. They also incorporate shopping - another factor employers will need to consider as they try to keep staff from drifting to better locations.

Much depends, however, on local authorities putting resources into town centres - something sadly lacking in the UK outside London, according to Mr Lipton. People will be driven outwards if transport is poor and they fear for their safety in town centres.

Town centre management repeatedly arises in views of the future. Mr McRae points out that the separation of work from particular places will create an elite group of footloose professionals who can choose not just which city to live in but which country. Governments will need to apply today's strategy of attracting companies to one of attracting skilled workers in the next century. And cities themselves will have to play a big part.

Honor Chapman, who provides a dual perspective as the head of research at international property consultants Jones Lang Wootton, and recent chief executive of London First, set up to promote the capital, says business strategies will be vital for cities to sell themselves in a world market. In fact, this international element puts London on a different track to other UK cities. International financial markets are run by sharp, skilled people working at the leading edge, says Ms Chapman. They do this very efficiently and profitably, and given the right conditions will remain an important force maintaining central London's office community. These are the kind of people who cannot work from home. They need constant face-to-face contact.

Other functions like retail banking and insurance are in a different category. These face the greatest change from fierce business competition and it is imperative that they use the greatest amount of technology. This means replacing people with machines - or shifting them out to cheaper locations. The crucial question for a city like London is whether the efficient international element retains its global competitiveness. A careful eye will need to be kept on changing regulations. The European drive for common regulations, for instance, would add an extra 45 categories of worker requiring a visa to work in London. If this slipped through unchallenged, it could have a significant effect on the London of tomorrow.

Inner Cities

Whatever the scale of home working and slippage to business parks, town centres will shrink. London's City core will retreat from fringe areas where staff find access a problem, says Mr Lipton. New buildings will concentrate around major rail stations to scoop up those staff who still commute to work. The problem then arises about what to do with the "black holes" that emerge. Mr Marsh believes the office development tide that shaped modern cities has already passed its high-water mark. London is already into the ebb, with 250 applications to switch from office uses to housing in the pipeline in early 1996

. Land values will fall and homes will become feasible again. The same goes for hundreds of older office blocks left high and dry by the receding tide. Even if demand for space recovers from today's lows, by the next century they will be obsolete and unlettable. But they are ideal for conversion to much-needed housing. While the need for office space is uncertain, demand for homes is infinite, says Mr Marsh. This will be high-density residential use, involving students, young professionals and housing associations rather than traditional family homes. Many would choose to live centrally today if they could afford it.

This will primarily affect London. There are not the same pressures for homes in other UK cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow - nor will there be the same restructuring of offices.

Spitalfields, an historic former vegetable market on the northern fringe of the City of London is a classic area once planned pencilled in for wholesale conversion into offices but now partly switched to housing and leisure. People in schemes such as this will have the choice for the first time in centuries of walking to work.

This fits Mr Whalley's vision of more short-distance commuting during the week but more long-distance travel on weekends, as professionals will have their primary home in the country and a second one in the city.

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