The future of towns and cities will rest heavily on the people who live and work there. Businessmen in particular, will be a crucial factor. Yet few appear to think this far forward. As one managing director of a major public company said: "I have enough trouble working out what will be happening next year. The next century is a total mystery."

But most are willing to provide informed guesses - providing they are guaranteed anonymity. "Any hint of what we would be planning in the next century would be meat and drink to our competitors," said the chairman of one of the country's top retailers.

A poll of 80 listed companies covering the spectrum of the UK economy threw up the following responses.

Are you optimistic/pessimistic about the city of tomorrow ?

What will be the major problems?

Major benefits Will you be in the city of tomorrow? Will you be using less or more space in 20 years Are you using more or less space than five years ago

The picture emerges of gloom outweighing hope, but also a great deal of uncertainty. Poor transport, unemployment and pollution loom on the horizon for most businessmen. Nor are they happy about the prospect of getting satisfactory premises. On the other hand, few expect to desert the towns and cities. The very factors they criticise, like transport, rate too highly to leave behind. But notice that shopping and entertainment rate more mentions than even access to staff and customers. We will return to this vital function of the city later.

When it comes to premises, an even balance appears to be struck between expansion and contraction. Yet almost a third admit to not knowing - and further questioning usually brings an admission that judgements about expansion and contraction are mere guesswork.

This is not surprising when a remarkable 35% of companies are not sure whether they are using more space now than five years ago. If they cannot judge for today, they may be poor pointers to the future.

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