The Center Cannot Hold

The future of cities

Aaron Mayer


[Originally published on Substack — subscribe here!]

I’m typing these words from Maui.

Why am I living in Maui, you ask?

Of course, asking the question reveals its obvious answer: why not live in Maui?

It’s pretty hard to beat!

In the last decade, and particularly in the last year, we have witnessed a cultural shift that has upended a long established trend: urbanization.

It’s important to identify why these trends are happening if we hope to understand what our futures may look like, and we can attribute these trends to three key factors.

The first and most dominant factor is the advent and popularization of remote work.

In the information economy, geography itself is rendered irrelevant. These days, teammates at a company can communicate just as effectively when one is in NYC and the other is in SF as they could if they were on different floors of the same building.

In a world where manufacturing jobs have been outsourced and retail/service jobs are continually being automated away, more people are entering the information economy. Where before the image of a worker was a factory employee, that image is now a hipster behind a laptop.

The importance of this trend cannot be overstated, and it has far-reaching implications for the future of work, the increase in inequality, the irrelevance of universities, and more; but for now we’ll be examining how the information economy has furthered de-urbanization.

If employees can be anywhere in the world and still be (roughly) just as productive as if they were co-located, then the pull factors of cities become weaker and the push factors to rural or exotic locales become stronger.

Historically, people have flocked to cities as a means of economic mobility; they moved to the city because that’s where the jobs were. These days, of course, that’s no longer true.

Granted there are still tons of jobs that exist in cities (grocery store clerks, laundromat operators, locksmiths, etc.) but the existence of those jobs is a function of many people congregating in one place, and if fewer people lived in a city, the grocers and launderers and…