The Zoom effect
The growth of cities — along with real-estate development and capacity — has traditionally hinged on improvements in transportation, says Zachary Patterson, a professor at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE) who is plugged into how changes in transportation technology affect where people live, work and shop.
But what happens when more and more people no longer need to commute — or even leave the house to meet basic needs and acquire certain goods and services?
“Zoom and other platforms could have a major effect on cities and how cities grow,” acknowledges Patterson, who used to work as a transportation modeller with Montreal’s Agence métropolitaine de transport.
“But how large an effect will depend on the degree to which telework will endure past the pandemic.”
COVID-19 has shown employers a future that could include much less investment in office space.
For employees, the pandemic has laid bare the pros and cons of telework — one of the benefits of which is surely the freedom to live even farther away from the office.
So could this all signal the decline of central business districts like downtown Montreal?
Not at all, according to Patterson, who forecasts that big urban centres will continue to grow.
“I don’t think we will see the death of downtown. The reasons cities existed in the first place are still there. There are things that will always need to be done in person. In order to trust someone, you still need to be able to look them in the eye — that’s an immutable fact of human nature.”