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Cities, the magnets of civilisation, have lost their pulling power

Maybe it is Australia’s ageing workforce that has made working from home so welcome as the new normal. All that effort on overcrowded public transport, with stiffening limbs and uncertain balance, is no longer necessary. For the mums and dads, sitting angry and alone in traffic, wasting time that could otherwise be spent supervising homework or footy practice, working from home is also a mostly welcome refuge.

Yes, COVID-19 is changing everything, but it will change cities the most. For white-collar service economies such as Australia’s, the future of cities has never looked so bleak. The world is hell-bent on de-concentrating, and cities may be its first victims.

Deserted city streets ... we need to give them a new allure.

Deserted city streets … we need to give them a new allure.
Credit:Getty

As CT Group’s latest insight trackers’ survey finds, about a third of Australians, British and Americans believe their working lives have permanently changed. Less than half of Australians have returned full time to the office and, even with a vaccine, don’t intend to do so. There is no good news in this for cities. Yet, as elsewhere, Australia’s cities have been the engine rooms of modern growth; we must reinvent them for a post-COVID world or pay an enormous price.

Ever visited a city that didn’t boast grunge (Canberra does not count)? The grungier the city, the more people want to live in it. Melbourne, take heed. You are far too pleasant. Then there’s the street jostling, badly behaved crowds, huge inequalities, hustlers and more than the occasional rat. This is the nature of cities; it brings them their vibrancy, their creativity, their tension, their crime rates. It also brings great art galleries, theatres, public spaces, ideas and other marvels. It makes them the magnets of civilisation.

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