Why Face-To-Face Still Matters
This is an uplifting read and makes a convincing case that cities are here to stay, and large world cities will remain the economic engines of prosperity. The pandemic has enabled the authors to verify their findings, which they had developed before COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted how much face-to-face contact matters for human relations overall, but whether large cities will remain the most conducive environments for people, remains to be seen.
Within the world of work, the book concentrates on the knowledge-based economy and therein, higher order service sectors like finance, insurance, business services, the property industry and professional consultancies, which include planning, urban design and architecture. The evidence underpinning the authors’ arguments about the value of face-to-face interaction in making markets, doing deals and talking shop, is based on extensive interviews with protagonists in these sectors, before and during COVID.
The authors say that cities are here to stay due to their size, extensive infrastructure networks, complex cluster effects, and the density and dynamic of their flows. They evoke how cities like London, New York, Tokyo and Paris have survived almost terminal decline. Surprisingly, for London their arguments concentrate on the City Corporation without referring to Canary Wharf and Mayfair, despite their important share of finance and higher order services.
Throughout the book the authors document change and the continuity of faceto-face interaction, and imagine how these will play out during the 21st century with the growing importance of IT and accessibility in the post-industrial economy. Nevertheless, their long view plays down the influence of technological innovation and examines what actions policy-makers, developers, investors and their designers can take to preserve the privileged position of large cities, which in their view will continue to foster the faceto-face contact required to build trust when making deals. It could be argued that cities are more than places for financial transactions and economic growth and that other, non-material criteria also influence urban life and lifestyles. Future authors could focus on these issues and devise a complement of city resilience measure to this treatise on large cities, their economic primacy and the long shadow that they cast over their surrounding regions.