Can cities transform “dead town centers” by converting offices into apartments?
The Washington Post editorial board recently commented America’s “dead downtown” problem. The tourists are back, but the office workers are still missing… [R]restaurants, cafes, shops and public transportation systems cannot sustain themselves without more people in city centers….”
The problem? America “is in the midst of one of the biggest workforce shifts in generations: Many have now experienced what it’s like to work from home and found they prefer it.”
Their proposed solution? The Post’s editorial board is urging cities to adapt to the new reality of workers wanting to work two or three days remotely in part by converting business offices into apartments and entertainment venues.
The goal is a “24/7” downtown with expansive workspaces, apartments, parks and entertainment venues that attract people during the day and have a core of residents who keep the area vibrant after the storm. return of commuters home. not return to pre-pandemic levels. Even cities in Texas that didn’t shut down during the worst of the pandemic are down 20-30% in office occupancy in 2019. New York, Los Angeles, and DC are still down more than 40%. This is a classic oversupply problem. Cities have too much office space, especially in older buildings that companies are fleeing in search of new builds with lighter and more flexible spaces.
Mayors and municipal legislators have reason to be bold in seizing this opportunity. There is growing interest among developers and investors who want to be part of the office-to-apartment revolution. They are already considering the easiest buildings to convert: those with elevators in the middle, windows and light on all sides, and the right length and width. The challenge for city leaders is to arouse interest in buildings that are “perhaps” candidates for conversion.
The Post’s suggestions include announcing targets for new residents living downtown and speeding up city approvals like permits and rezoning. “America’s cities are ripe for new skylines and new streetscapes. The best leaders will start soon.”