In the summer of 2020, like most major cities, Toronto was slowly coming back to life. The empty and lifeless streets filled up slowly with a fresh vibe, and it showed great resilience and a sense of community. Now, more than a year after the initial reports of the pandemic, Toronto, like almost all major cities, remains altered in many ways. Specifically, work and travel habits have been modified. Firms, like ours, for the most part, are following the data and the trends and offering the desired flexibility and work-from-home ability. If this trend continues long after the pandemic is under control, it might be a good thing from a human work-life balance standpoint, but it does not necessarily have to be a bad thing for the city and its urban economy.
When looking at downtown real estate, which is linked in part to the flexible work trend, it is clear that the interest in suburban and farther-away communities is tangible within the current landscape. The temporary desire for larger homes, offices, areas for children to be on their own for playing and virtual learning and yards is understandable, to say the least. However, I believe if this trend were to grow and continue, that could lead to a problem for cities and their societies. A large-scale turning of the back to cities could be harmful to our greater communities.
Below are three notable ways to keep supporting your city as a business:
Take your workspace needs to the city to help bring business back to your community, but make sure it fits the needs of your employees. This might mean investing in more spaces across the city or shared spaces — both of which allow for more flexibility — when it’s considered safe to do so. Maybe those work areas can operate at different hours, or people can work there when they are able to.
This also can enable your business to be environmentally conscious, as promoting a lifestyle with a shorter commute can decrease carbon emissions delivered in part by the transportation and energy savings of workers and products.
As a company, you have the ability to create, and that is a great feature and responsibility of operating a business. Work with your teams to create something new and different. This can help your employees work better together and also push others to keep thinking ahead and advancing. For example, we created a real estate buying club called Insiders Condo Club that allowed more people to get access to lucrative investment opportunities. This has been duplicated and adapted since its inception, but the end result was that it helped the sector move forward, consumers have more options and people make more money with their real estate investments.
Investing tangibly in cities can be a great prerequisite for innovation, increased productivity and the advancement of our economy. The collaboration and togetherness of cities create an environment where people can be innovative and creative. This can be true at any time, but perhaps this is supercharged by the current Covid-19 situation. I believe we need more ingenuity and creativity to fix cities and put them in the best spot possible to create wealth.
If you look at what the future of cities will be, the underlying message is that they will look different than they do today. Further investment and innovative thinking are needed in order for these economic engines to continue to spur the kind of thinking necessary to keep countries developing and to foster the right kind of urban advancements.
Urban gentrification has many benefits, and any community member can help create new areas and push them forward for the growth of the entire city. Our firm did this with a number of areas in Toronto, and the early investment not only provided wealth for many clients but also the gentrification of these areas had wide-reaching aspects for its people. Get in early, invest in an up-and-coming area and the city can benefit.
Prior to the pandemic, there was a two-decade or so trend in many central urban neighbourhoods that saw high-income and university-educated people increasingly moving in, reversing an earlier trend of urban decline. And the truth is, the benefits to urban areas “turning over” are great and wide-reaching. Somewhat lost in the idea that the benefactors of this trend are the people who move in and help to convert the area, gentrification also has large benefits to the original occupants of that area leading to increased property values and hopefully less exposure to poverty. Our firm has been involved with many gentrification projects over the years, and urban investment will continue to be a draw for investors and for reasons more than wealth creation alone.
Through whatever means necessary, including simply continuing to invest money, time and other resources, we need to support our cities to be as resilient and powerful as possible so that our community can be innovative and incubate creativity to drive new programs and products that can support the entire country.